Aua's Snow Palace
By Jobie Weetaluktuk
Saturday, April 09, 2005
It took months of planning and a heritage of knowledge to construct. Then on Friday, March 18th, 2005 the replica of Aua's snow palace was constructed. It is just a few kilometers north of Igloolik, easily accessible to the local residents. Yet to most Iglulimuit, it is respectfully not treated as a curiosity.
The complex consists of seven structures. The gathering place (qaggiq) is the largest section and the center of the complex. Aua's dwelling, which is slightly smaller, is right behind the gathering place. The passageway begins from an u'qu'taq (uncovered wind shelter). There is a wooden door, which in times past would have been constructed from driftwood. Such a piece of wood would normally be left in the camp location, even when the inhabitants leave to other camps for a different season. An igloo of this stature designates the location to be a pre-annunal winter camp.
The wooden door of about a metre and a half leads to the tur'suuq where food is stored. In it are what an early 1900's Igloolik igloo would have. A torso of a seal, hindquarters of a walrus, some fish, and the head of a walrus. This is the set for the film. Cast and crew sample the frozen set. Some brave souls try to place the texture and taste to their palate of reference. Some come back for seconds, some linger and chip away at the set. Louis Uttaq the Art Director encourages the chipping away at the set. Walrus chips give it authenticity. "I love the sight of chips on the porch floor, it takes me back to a time of my youth."
Through another passageway, is the qaggiq, the common area. This is where group visits happen. This is the party room. Drum dancing, singing, games, feasts, physical competitions usually happen in this section. This is where the communal activities would happen. Jokes, performances, songs, and laughter dwell here. It is central to the complex and five passages lead from it. One leads to Aua's dwelling, one to the porch. The others lead to smaller dwellings such as Evaluarjuk's, Natiq's, Natar's, Uyarak's and Kublu's place.
Qulitalik, the cultural isumataq (leader) reviewed the complex with a learned eye. To the untrained eye, the whole complex is very impressive. "See the difference between Aua's quarters and the central structure. Aua's igloo is not as well constructed. To many hands made it. The one in the center is better constructed. It had one principal builder," said Qulitalik.
Nevee Irngaut Uttaq an actress in the film asked Qulitalik if his mother would be right at home here. "All the older people will know and be right at home here," Qulitalik responded. This type of building was constructed as the winter home. More transitory igloos tend to be smaller and of more humble construction.
Qulitalik further continued "we used to live in complexes like this." Yet not all Inuit of his generation even have that experience, Uttak, the Art Director, has never lived in such a complex. In his experience, the igloo dwellings were the masters quarters and "the sons or son-in-laws" quarters. Even in a large camp of 30 people, two-part dwellings were more common. Aua's snow palace is rightly called a snow palace.
Susan Avingaq, in her 60s is the set designer/dresser. She is a gracious warm woman. She is also a talented seamstress and designer. Her skin clothes and kamiks speak of quality. She dressed her grandson Gilles Ungalaaq Choquette in skins and hides, which quickly became the envy of many cast and crew members.
At Aua's igloos, Avingaq teachers Nevee Uttak the fine art of lighting and tending the qulliq. Qul'li'sa' jaq or uk'ku'sit'saq, the soapstone from which the qulliq is made, is something of a godsend. It can withstand extreme temperatures - from being frozen to bearing a flame within its bosom. Other types of stone crack and break when in contact with fire. Soapstone is also made into uk'ku'siq, the stewing pot. In modern times, it is the world famous medium of Inuit carvers.
Avingaq has fond memories of the qulliq from her childhood. In her childhood, the family used to travel to another location in winter. Avningaq, thirsty from the days' travel, could hardly wait for her mother to light the qulliq. Once the flame was properly set, her mother would set the kettle over the flame. Avingaq would then listen for the snow melting inside the kettle, knowing that it would be just moments before she could have the of pleasure a drink.
The Inuit of Greenland continue to train for their parts. Qillaq Danielsen is the props manager. He has been acquiring skins for thongs, lines, and lashing. He can take an alliq (a large marine mammal harpoon line, which can stop the strongest walrus) into several dog lines. Then he can take dog lines and further divide lengthwise it into qamutik lashings, with a stead and confident hand. To make 2, 3 metres of 7mm length takes a good blade, patience, and immense skill.
Danielsen and Piuaitsoq have been training the local dogs in the Greenlandic manner. Piuaitsoq plays Miteq in the film, a skillful hunter. He is a carpenter, an avid soccer fan, a member of the Greenlandic handball team. He loves to play soccer and laments every ounce of fat he is gaining.
Jens Jørn Spottaq is dressed as Knud Rasmussen, the famed Danish explorer and man of the arctic. Jens is set to inadvertently interview Orulu about her life as Rasmussen did eighty years ago. He is waiting patiently to get to the set. His na'nu'raq (bearskin pants), kamiks, and canvas anorak are too hot for the Isuma office. He prefers to wait outdoors to maintain a more comfortable body temperature.