Thursday Tidbits

Posted on February 4, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

To the beat of Mary’s drum.


“Paingupaa paingupaa paingupalii Alakuup irniapinganuut.”

“I miss, miss, miss Alaku’s lovely son.” This song was created probably in the 1940s or 50s by someone who missed Pausi, Alaku’s son. This family was living on their own on a campsite or campsites just like any other family before everyone was forced to settle in Kangirsujuaq by the Government of the day in the late 1950s. (Translation by Mary Argnak)

I hardly know where to start.

Every once in a while, I think that I am starting to understand the north. More often than not, I’m wrong. I could live up here another 25 years and I doubt that I could even scratch the surface.

As mentioned in a previous post, I was invited to join a group of young children who meet after school at the museum to sing songs of the Inuit, play drums and throat sing. I was asked to play guitar. I was not brought in as a guest throat singer! During a normal year when a global pandemic is not raging, this troupe, led by Mary and Lydia, perform in the community and also at Pingualuit National Park. They perform for their community and they also play for visitors and tourists who are looking for an authentic experience.

I wandered up to the museum after school on Tuesday for my first session. I kind of resembled the Pied Piper as a string of youngsters walked along side me and behind me. One of my students volunteered to be the roadie and carried my guitar. This was the first session in a very long time and the organizers weren’t sure how many to expect. Twenty-five students ranging in age from 8-13 crowded into one of the main exhibit rooms, a place oozing with culture and history. I recognized most of the children. Many of them have been known to cause teachers to sprout gray hair. I think you get my drift. They’re a handful in the classroom and in the school yard.

Without any fanfare, Mary started by passing out song sheets written in Inuktitut. I wasn’t surprised to see the group sitting in a circle. There is something about a circle that speaks of family and unity. She first explained the songs in their native tongue and then translated for my benefit. Many of these children who find it hard to stay still in a classroom, were transformed right before my eyes. They were in their element, with their people, singing their songs. This was obvious a veteran group. Song after song, they joined in without any hesitation. There was no shyness and no erratic behaviour. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. At least a third of the group were boys and they were singing every bit as loud as the girls. Often at this age, boys are far too cool to actively engage in song.

The gathering was joyful as Mary and Lydia rolled out song after song. There was clapping, foot stomping and drumming. I was able to pick up the rhythms of many of the tunes and was even able to sing some of the lyrics in a rudimentary fashion. Mostly, I just stared at the faces of the children and sat, rapt, as Mary passed along stories from the elders.

All the while, one thought kept running through my mind. I realize that educating the children in school is important, but what and how we teach them is like trying to put the proverbial square peg in the round hole. No wonder the students are bored to tears much of the time and act out. When they are speaking their mother tongue, singing songs from the past, hunting and fishing, using their hands to create things of beauty, they are truly alive and engaged. I am not blaming the people who are designing the curriculum but when I see children in their element, they are very different people. As John Prine once sang, “you are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t.”

Lydia is an extraordinary throat singer, and she is passing along her knowledge to the next generation. One by one, many students got up and stood in the middle of the circle facing Lydia. They grabbed each other’s forearms so that they could feel the movements of each other. The first song was about a little puppy and the two participants exchanged sounds so extraordinary, I am unable to describe them. One of my students was asked to join Lydia. I am putting it mildly but over the past two years, this young girl has caused my last few remaining hairs to fall out. Respect for privacy does not permit me to go into any further detail. I was dumbfounded to hear this young girl exchange sounds from deep inside her throat and her soul. It was simply awe inspiring. I was close to tears. I have no doubt that she has the ability to become a famous throat singer later in life and will no doubt pass this along to the next generation. I was so proud of her… and a bit sad in a way.

Traditional school is not the answer for so many of these children. True, instruction in the younger grades in our school is still done in Inuktitut but at grade four, they have to be educated in either English or French.  Luckily, the community provides them with extracurricular activities so that they don’t lose their language and culture.

“Unnuangulirami Taartuulirpatuq qila takuguviuk tarqiq nuivattuq ammalukitaatsiaq tarqivalutsuni qungattujuujaartuq takunnaasugu, qirngutiqarqunga suungujukallamik takugunnatara qaningnituugaluaq upaguminartu qaujiguminartuq qanuittuusarmangaat sanasimaninga.”

“This song was written by my sister-in-law, Ulaayu Pilurtuut and it goes something like this. When it is night time, as it gets dark and you look up and see the moon (nice round moon- full moon), it looks like it is smiling at you. I have a good telescope; I can see clearly to the moon. Although it is far, I dream to go and see how it is (or how it was made). (Translation by Mary Argnak)

Nakurmiik. (Thank you).

Have a great weekend.




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