Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 19, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

A variety of animal bones used to play traditional Inuit games


Sad to admit, I am not a huge history buff nor one who spends idle time hanging around museums. My misspent youth involved lots of sports and other than trips to Ireland and Scotland, my family tree knowledge can be found on one leaf of said tree. I have never been accused of being cultured or refined but I’m ok with that. I am a big fan of lifelong learning and am curious enough to want to continue my education even in the late innings of the game.

A few days ago, I took my class to the Pingualuit Museum. It is also called the Interpretive Center. It is a first-class museum and one that is attempting to preserve Inuit culture and language. Truth be told, we didn’t get to see many of the exhibits but that’s OK because we got something more precious – time with the director of the museum, Mary along with staff members, Lydia and Maali. Pasha, who runs the Family House, came over as well to spend the time with us.

I was very interested to learn about the rituals surrounding the birth of a child. When a baby is born a member of the family or community is invited to attend to cut the umbilical cord. This person is called a sanajik. The sanajik is there to bring wishes that the newborn grows up to be a strong woman or man. Such is the reverence of the sanajik, that when the child grows up, it is customary that they give a gift to this person. It could be the first kill of an animal or fish or it could be their first craft. It is a sign of respect.

The Inuit carry several names with them throughout life, mainly of their ancestors. For the longest time, the Inuit didn’t have last names but when the government of Quebec finally realized that indigenous people were living in their northern region, this changed. Not only were they given last names, but they were also given a dog tag with a serial number because they couldn’t or wouldn’t take the time to learn their Inuit names. This was one of the many humiliations bestowed upon these proud people.

Pasha demonstrated an Alaskan drum dance. As Mary slowly played a drum, Pasha and my students made beautiful movements with their arms, legs and body set to traditional music. It was mesmerizing.

We were then treated to some traditional Inuit games. We all played Nullutauti which involved a walrus tusk suspended from the ceiling with a hole in it. We all stood around with wooden spears and tried to put the tip of our spear into the hole. It’s much harder than it looks!

When an animal is killed, very little is wasted. We were shown a variety of toys made from the bones of whales and animals. One seal bone, called an arsaquq, was often used as a forecaster of sorts. The Inuit were constantly preoccupied with food. Many died of starvation. The arsaquq was tossed in the air. If it landed right side up, it meant that the hunt would be successful that day.

We had great fun playing napiraruti. Seal flipper bones of all shapes and sizes are put in a bag. A string with a noose is placed in the bag. The bag is closed and shaken. When the drawstring is loosened, the participant slowly pulls the string out of the bag and the winner is the one who has managed to snag the most bones in the noose. Each bone signifies something. When I played one of the  two bones that I pulled out of the bag denoted an old man. How apropos! The bones can also be assembled to make things, very similar to a Lego set.

What struck me most was how engaged my students were for the entire ninety minutes. It is hardly surprising. They are learning about their ancestors. This is who they are. I can totally understand why they find school boring. They are people of the land. Mary was quick to point out that while preserving the culture was of utmost importance, she felt that it was imperative that the Inuit children learn to read and write in either French or English.

I felt very privileged and honored to share this time with these wonderful women.

This is one museum that I plan to visit many more times.

You can teach an old dog new tricks… and some new games too!

Have a great weekend.


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