Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border - by Alootook Ipellie
It Was Not 'Jajai-ja-jiijaaa Anymore - But 'Amen'
It was in the guise of the Holy Spirit
That they swooped down on the tundra
Single-minded and determined
To change forever the face
Of ancient Spirituals
These lawless missionaries from places unknown
Became part of the landscape
Which was once the most sacred tomb
Of lives lived long ago
The last connection to the ancient Spirits
Of the most sacred land
Would be slowly severed
Never again to be sensed
Never again to be felt
Never again to be seen
Never again to be heard
Never again to be experienced
Sadness supreme for the ancient culture
Jubilation in the hearts of the converters
Where was justice to be found
They said it was in salvation
From eternal fire
In life after death
And unto everlasting life in Heaven
A simple life lived
On the sacred land was no more
The psalm book now replaced
The sacred songs of shamans
The Lord's Prayer now ruled
Over the haunting chant of revival
It was not 'Jajai-ja-jiijaaa' anymore
These Simple Heathen Prayers
"These simple, heathen prayers," wrote Knud Rasmussen, "whispered out into the air from some spot in the snow where no foot has left its mark, were for the Eskimo sacred words, which in some mysterious way brought aid."
These words were written in the early 1920s when Rasmussen and members of his 5th Thule Expedition were travelling through the circumpolar Arctic, collecting the songs and poetry, as well as the artifacts of the Inuit. These Arctic explorers had a foreboding sweeping changes were imminent inside the gut of an ancient society that had stood still for thousands of years. With the Inuit living on one of the last virgin places on Earth still largely unknown and untouched by any other peoples, the 5th Thule Expedition could not have happened in a more timely manner. Metaphorically speaking, an Inuktitut word spoken today may well be forgotten tomorrow and left to rot away slowly inside the dust bin of history - and this same train of thought also included its material culture. An old traditional life and it customs were on the brink. Some wise men saw the future and it did not look as optimistic as some would have preferred. Preservation for posterity was foremost on their agenda. And they travelled far and wide to go on their honourable pursuit.
"Songs are thoughts which are sung out with the breath when people let themselves be moved by great force, and ordinary speech no longer suffices.
"A person is moved like an ice-floe which drifts with the current. His thoughts are driven by a flowing force when he feels joy, when he fears fear, when he feels sorrow. Thoughts can surge on him, causing him to gasp for breath, and making his heart beat faster. Something like the softening of the weather will keep him thawed. And then it will happen that we, who alwayss think of ourselves as small, will feel even smaller. And we will hesitate before using words, but it will happen that the words that we need will come of themselves-
"When the words that we need come of themselves - we have a new song."
The above were spoken by Orpingalik, a Netsilik man, as recorded by Rasmussen after he met and interviewed Orpingalik in 1923. Rasmussen wrote, "Orpingalik, a shaman in high esteem, was an interesting man, well at home with the traditions of his tribe, not only intelligent, but having a fertile wit. As a hunter, he stood high, and from the respect shown him I could see that he was a big man among his people. In fact, I was told later, when I arrived among the Arvilingjuarmiut at Pelly Bay, that he was a strong and deadly archer and the quickest kayakman of them all when the reindeer herds were being pursued at the places where they cross the lakes and rivers...
"...Orpingalik was not alone a famous shaman; he was also a poet. His imagination was a luxuriant one, and he had a very sensitive mind; he was always singing when he had nothing else to do, and he called his songs 'comrades in solitude,' or he would say that his songs were his breath, so necessary were they to him, to such an extent were they part and parcel of himself..."
Over the years, I have found inspiration from reading words of wisdom such as those spoken by Orpingalik. It is through no small effort by Rasmussen that these inspirational gems can be found in the pages later published at the conclusion of the expedition. I doubt these particular words and others would have survived to this day had Rasmussen not recorded them for posterity before Orpingalik passed on.
I wonder what Orpingalik would think, if he were still alive, to find out that the words he wrote some 83 years ago still do inspire those who were born many years after him. It is indeed a small miracle that this shaman of long ago is able to make such a connection with me. Perhaps the reason for this is that I have always been a believer that some magic words spoken or attributed to others through the written word are truly timeless.
We Inuit are facing a world that is increasingly relying on the written word to deal with daily social, business, and political affairs. It is now part and parcel of living in a wage economy in our communities as opposed to living off the land as our ancestors did. Welcome to the global information and instantaneous communications age regardless of the constraints of time and space. I am not sure whether or not Orpingalik, being a shaman, would at all be impressed by this so-called "progress" that we have forged since his day.
Even in this modern age, most of us are continually searching for words of inspiration from others, whether these individuals are our friends, members of our families, our political or spiritual leaders. It has always been our nature as human beings to look to our elders for guidance to help us deal with a world we invariably take for granted. And this we do with a certain amount of innocent curiosity when we first begin to understand and speak our mother tongue as young children.
And to think of it, here I am, a person who considers himself a mature adult, poring over other people's writings on daily basis. I will never stop searching for those rare, inspirational words that help open my eyes to the mysteries of the human psyche, and in turn, allowing me to understand better other parts of this wide world which squire peoples of diverse cultures and histories.
It is the wisdom contained in the spoken words of our ancestors, such as Orpingalik's, that have helped me to gain a greater sense of attachment to my Inuit heritage and culture. Orpingalik has also given me hope that, I, too, will one day inspire others with my musings about life on Earth, whether these are through the spoken or the written word.
They Migrated Along Coasts in Little Flocks
This day, at a hunting camp in the Arctic, just as the day before, is like all the days which have elapsed century after century. Waking up before the sun comes up over the horizon, the hunter has one serious matter on his mind: to hunt the animals which may or may not be found in the vicinity; or to fish the lakes, rivers and seas that are known to have these provisions of the natural world.
The main reason why the hunter and gatherer gets himself up from the slumber of the long Arctic night is to go out and pursue for himself and his family the required food to sustain them for this day and the days to come in the near future. The natural world is the provider, and if one is lucky in his hunting or fishing and gathering, another day will come to pass without the presence of unwelcome hunger pangs. Dreadful starvation is thankfully held at bay for the foreseeable future.
Over the course of millenniums, the Inuit migrated east from Siberia to Alaska, through northern Canada and finally to parts of Greenland. During these formative times in an inhospitable environment, they were able to adapt to this harsh, largely tundra landscape, by inventing hunting tools and weapons to help them survive while living in it permanently. Since they were the only people living in the Arctic, they could not rely on any other peoples to help sustain their subsistence. It was either depend solely on the land's flora and fauna, or the awful alternative was to perish forever as a distinct people.
In the brutal cold of mid-winter, their daily tasks were always daunting, but they had no other choice except to live life they were bom into doing their utmost best to hunt or fish and gather in order to live for another day in reasonable contentment.
As far as they knew, they were the only people living in their homeland - the Arctic world. For this reason, they were the only ones responsible for their survival from one season to the next. They knew their way of life would stay the same from generation to generation since this was the only world they knew. All they could do was follow the hunting traditions taught to them by their parents and elders.
Knud Rasmussen, the famous Danish anthropologist, who was part Inuk born in Greenland, wrote: "They wandered so widely simply because their means of existence, and the number of animals to be caught demanded that they must fly away from each other. It took large stretch of ground to provide the single individual with necessities of life; the fewer the hunters the better were the chances, so they migrated along coasts in little flocks."
In a world that had remained untouched by men other than Inuit for thousands of years, the first non-Inuit humans that began to trickle into the Arctic landscape were deemed aliens or outsiders by the original inhabitants of the vast land. Over time, the strangers to arrive first were explorers with their sailing ships, then came whalers and traders; later followed by the missionaries, government officers and administrators, law enforcement officers, medical personnel and educators.
These initial encounters stoked anxiety among the locals. This anxiety turned into curiosity, and finally, reluctant acceptance. Learning that these strangers were willing to trade with them for items which were initially alien to their culture but soon immeasurably improved their ability to hunt and fish the resources of the land, they became a welcome peoples not to be turned away. The traders later brought other trade goods such as tobacco, tea, hard tack biscuits, flour, dried milk, aluminum pots and kettles, among others.
As it turned out, some of the most prized items for the Inuit hunters were the guns and ammunition, and cast iron that enabled them to make much more durable knives and ulus. These became indispensable to their hunting culture. The fresh knowledge in the minds of ancient hunters that these were superior hunting tools and weapons soon planted within their hearts that they wanted to gain possession of these items whenever they had the chance and the means to trade for them. The method of hunting in the Arctic was slowly changing without any of the hunters so much as lamenting the gradual lost of the use of their once-indispensable traditional hunting tools and weapons.
In any given hunting situation, the superior fire-power of the rifle pretty much effectively superseded the ancient hunting weapons, including the harpoon and the bow and arrow. Who, even a great Inuit hunter, was going to protest against such extraordinary progress within an ancient hunting culture?
Over time, one of the great Inuit inventions, the harpoon, was now used mainly as an accessory on hunting excursions, making way for a superior weapon. Along with this change, the original Inuktitut names of all the components used to make a harpoon were being slowly forgotten. Not only that, but also how to make such a harpoon and from what materials. A hunting weapon that had once been the most essential for the survival of an ancient people was relegated to virtual obscurity in many parts of the Arctic, with a "virtual tombstone" aptly inscribed: "R.I.P."
This initial superseding of an ancient Inuit hunting weapon with a modern one would not be the last. As modern material goods were introduced to Inuit, many aboriginal hunting implements and utensils were set aside as if they had become entirely useless. And in this way, as each new generation arrived, the long-replaced Inuit cultural items and their original names were slowing being abandoned alongside the roadway to progress. These, now-hardly-used-items and their aboriginal Inuit names were being irretrievably lost from common, everyday usage. As old-world Inuit possessions and inventions were replaced, such as hunting tools and weapons, utensils, clothing, games, shelters, water-crafts, dog-teams, and sewing materials, they also adopted modern names to replace age-old names.
As an anthropologist and writer, Knud Rasmussen's lifelong vocation was to record the stories, mythologies, legends and songs of the Inuit. He spent years on long journeys visiting with Inuit who were always migrating seasonally "along coasts in little flocks."
In the beginning, most of his anthropological travels were in and around the island of Greenland in the early 1900s, collecting artifacts and folklore of the people, and doing mapping of certain areas of the lands he and members of his expeditions visited. It had occurred to him what he was recording on his travels were in danger of being forgotten and lost forever with the advent of contact with peoples coming from other lands. These settlers were bringing with them their alien ways, material culture, languages and religions as they gradually settled among and between hunting camps in the circumpolar Arctic.
The Long Sled Journey
What would cement Rasmussen's career as one of the world's greatest Arctic explorers was the completion and the resulting Report of the 5th Thule Expedition. The expedition was very humbly called "the long sled journey" covering 24,000 miles from north Greenland, across northern Canada, and to Alaska and Siberia from 1921 to 1924. This expedition brought home an enormous collection of Inuit artifacts - with a total of 15,000 items - which would eventually be housed in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Rasmussen was able to speak with individual Inuit as well as their leaders and the shamans of camping groups and record their songs and poetry for posterity.
At one point, Rasmussen took one sled journey which lasted one and half years visiting all the Inuit settlements along the Pacific coast accompanied only by two Inuit from Thule, Arnagulunguak, who did the cooking, up-keep of the house as well as with the sewing and timely repair of their clothes, and Mitek, who acted as the sled driver and hunter.
Early on, in Greenland, Rasmussen had noted that contact with European civilization had already made Inuit depended on it. For instance, the introduction of guns and ammunition; trading with whalers and explorers, such as the American explorer Robert E. Peary, who was a frequent visitor to the land of the Polar Eskimos during his many years' quest to become the first man to discover the North Pole. Eventual setting up of trading posts would gradually secure Inuit reliance on trade goods and the introduction of a bartering system which soon greatly assisted with their subsistence.
What was once a secular society in all its aspects as a traditional culture, and a world unto itself, was on the verge of being invaded by a-largely material culture that had in its societal core reliance on an economic engine supporting its burgeoning industrial and urban societies that needed raw materials such as minerals, oil and natural gas resources. If there was money to be made, exploiting the potential riches of the circumpolar Arctic was too good a potential financial bonanza to be left untouched.
In the 1800s, whalers discovered the riches in the Arctic waters and came year after year to harvest the whales - evidently to the brink of extinction. Fur traders soon followed to exploit the renewable fur-bearing animal resources. Latterly, mineral and oil multinationals followed to claim their stakes on the virgin land. Needless to say, the savage heathens needed saving from the perceived clutches of Satan and Hell. In time, a steady stream of religious zealots with different denominations soon built their mission stations and began dotting the "unholy lands" of the heathenish Eskimos. These savages were to be "tamed" from the ancient grip of their ancient religions and customs. "Hallelujah!"
Assimilative-minded government administrators followed suit since the poor souls needed to be administered to, to prepare them for education about the so-called "superior culture" of their civilized world. Educators with peculiar tongues were hired so the savages could be taught a new language to help give them the "required" instrument essential to join the workforces needed to fill the available new jobs opening up in their midst. According to the administrative authorities, the savages, for too long, had been living a life stuck in neutral, "stone-age" mode.
It has taken only the passage of two to three generations for a once-formidable ancient Inuit culture to be transformed into a people in modem times that is neither strong within its traditional entity as a distinct people with its rich language and customs nor able to completely morph into a truly modern, civilized Eskimo society in the modern Arctic.
It is for this reason, today, the majority of the Inuit population is snugly stuck in vortex flux - between two vastly different cultures. They are suspended in a life living as quasi-Eskimo and half-European peoples. The once-proud culture with its strong custom of attachment to nature and its natural resources in flora and fauna has fragmented into a modern Eskimo populace whose future is, at best, a little out-of-focus. This has happened since each new generation is being pulled variously in opposite directions by two very different cultural tides that are impossible to meld into a modern-day, all-knowing European man of today or a real Eskimo who would turn into a mellowed person of wizened temperamental disposition in his advanced age on a virgin land.
In these modern circumstances, an Inuk child being brought up between two cultures is vulnerable to mixed-messages about which culture to duly follow. They are not being given optimum opportunity because of unforeseen circumstances, to become a strong proponent and loyal follower of either culture. It is this present life-dilemma that has produced its share of modern-day Inuit victims who are stuck in the middle of Eskimo and European cultural, intellectual societies.
This is the price that many of our people have recently paid and are presently paying. They have not had much of a choice but to face this life-and-societal-changing juggernaut when it hit them smack square in the heart of their traditional culture. Their sad loss as a distinct people has been the hundreds of forgotten Inuktitut words from their once-powerful original language that included distinctive expressions clearly describing everything surrounding their world, during the course of their individual lives. These include the names of everything they made from natural materials. References to wildlife with names of various carcass, bird or fish parts when these are butchered or cut up. The proper names of all their fur and skin clothing, and the nuances of their spoken, once-primitive Inuktitut.
This happened due to a foreign educational system being put in their midst with the foreign educators given the full authority to decide what would be included or left out of the school curriculum presently taught to the Inuit children. What really caused some exasperation in the Inuit communities and settlements was the fact that any reference to their traditional customs and language had been excluded from their school curriculum.
A young child growing up to adolescence was, until recently, inundated only with the learning of a foreign language and culture inside the walls of the school and its classrooms. If a student did not come from a home with strong Inuit family ties and values, he or she was a perfect candidate for assimilation into the majority culture. Cultural genocide was the main aim of the new educators with the teaching of the savages with only the academics as its main goal. Their "civilization" had taken a strong foothold on the Arctic landscape that cannot be easily removed.
The result today is that many of our youth now speak in broken English peppered with halfhearted, fractured Inuktitut. They live a life walking both sides of the cultural divide and not fully in either. They now do their thinking and speaking in two or more languages in their daily conversations. Some of them have unfortunately lost their original language forever, having spent their formative adolescent years in government-sponsored residential schools where they were strictly forbidden to speak Inuktitut or suffer the consequences of being caught doing so.
It was with this memory of having experienced cultural displacement as a young person in a changing Inuit settlement environment of Iqaluit that I, too, often felt the consequences of trying to follow two cultures and not quite succeeding in living fiilly in either. I wrote a poem about that formative experience:
Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border
It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Separating my left and right foot
I feel like an illegitimate child
Forsaken by my parents
At least I can claim innocence
Since I did not ask to come
Into this world
Walking on both sides of this
Each and everyday
And for the rest of my life
Is like having been
Sentenced to a torture chamber
Without having committed a crime
Understanding the history of humanity
I am not the least surprised
This is happening to me
During this population explosion
In a minuscule world
I did not ask to be born an Inuk
Nor did I ask to be forced
To learn an alien culture
With its alien language
But I lucked out on fate
Which I am unable to undo
I have resorted to fancy dancing
In order to survive each day
No wonder I have earned
The dubious reputation of being
The world's premier choreographer
Of distinctive dance steps
That allow me to avoid
Potential personal paranoia
On both sides of this invisible border
Sometimes the border becomes so wide
That I am unable to take another step
My feet being too far apart
When my crotch begins to tear
I am forced to invent
A brand new dance step
The premier choreographer
Saving the day once more
Destiny acted itself out
Deciding for me where I would come from
And what I would become
So I am left to fend for myself
Walking in two different worlds
Trying my best to make sense
Of two opposing cultures
Which are unable to integrate
Lest they swallow one another whole
Each and everyday
Is a fighting day
A war of raw nerves
And to show for my efforts
I have a fair share of wins and losses
When will all this end
This senseless battle
Between my left and right foot
When will the invisible border
Cease to be.
© alootook Ipellie 1996
Inuit Cultural Amnesia and Effaced Memory
It is no great surprise that most of the last two or three generations of Inuit in the circumpolar Arctic have contracted cultural amnesia and effaced memory about the history of their ancient past and the gradual loss of the innocence and fluency of their spoken Inuktitut. The cultural genocide machine is not about to turn off its engine in the near future. In these modern Arctic times, the traditional Inuit society has largely become a society of no return to its former state as a true Eskimo culture.
During "the long sled journey," Rasmussen recorded the songs and poetry of the Inuit, including the mysterious sacred chants and songs of the shamans. He knew that if he and his expedition members did not do something to help preserve these cultural gems, they were in danger of being lost forever or remain in perpetual obscurity in the years to come. Rasmussen made sure that these songs were properly attributed to individuals who created them for the purpose of song-festivals that were held inside the qaggiq, an igloo made to hold large gatherings of Inuit in the wintertime. These song-contests during song-festivals would sometimes last long into the night.
The individual performers had created these songs and memorized them specifically for the forthcoming contests. This practice was an ancient tradition that had survived centuries and was always preceded by a feast and often happened during full moon. The same two individual song-opponents would have had a-long-standing song-feuds that lasted for some time, if not years. Therefore, these singers were serious about their composing and memorized their songs long before a particular qaggiq was to take place. It was those inside the qaggiq listening to and watching the song-contestants that decided which singer won the contest - at least until the next feast and song-festival at a future date. This was one way of preserving the songs and poetry of the Inuit. This ancient traditional practice of composing songs and spoken poetry has largely been abandoned in modern times, along with the organizing of traditional song-dueling contests.
The Arrival of Religious Times
Over the course of Rasmussen's journey, one of his expedition's concerns was the arrival of missionaries and how their sermons would impact on the Inuit and their traditional beliefs. Especially of concern was how their Christian teachings would affect the shaman and his craft.
In the end, Christian missionaries were to play a pivotal role in the colonization of the Inuit and their territories. This happened - without military force - but by manipulation of mind and spirit. This was accomplished in an effective and decisive manner with numerable missionaries targeting all the heathenish populations of the Arctic world. The new moral codes introduced by the missionaries did bring an end to feudal killing among Inuit. At the same time, the introduction of a Christian common sin led Inuit to deny their own traditional religion. This was a spiritual invasion, and one which is difficult for posterity to pass judgement on. The history of the Church has never been analyzed and, hence, nobody has determined who to blame. The Christian doctrine was written by the priests, and they never acknowledged their ultimate responsibility, least of all to the once-heathenish Inuit.
The Christian church and Danish morals put a stop to both "snuff the lamp" and wife-swapping. Peter Freuchen, a Dane who accompanied Rasmussen on some of his expeditions, has written this was an old custom where couples got together in an igloo, especially during difficult times, when the hunters were finding it hard to locate and kill game resulting with the morale of the group becoming especially low. The entire group got together in an igloo and, with everyone naked, someone would put out the lamps. The couples, in pitch darkness, found a partner andswapped husbands and wives. After some time, the lamps were lit again, and witty remarks followed, with joking among the group. In this way, the strained nerves were forgotten for a time and the individuals were once again cheerful. This practice, in many ways, was a psychological tool to uplift everyone's morale during low periods in their struggle to survive.
With the harshness of the Arctic weather, deprivation or starvation was always lurking in the minds of Inuit during their long history struggling with their individual live's survivability. When Christianity was introduced to them, Christian religion promised salvation and the cleansing of the soul in life after death in Heaven.
What could be more appropriate a message than what the missionaries brought with them as they spread their "angelic wings" across the huge expanse of the Arctic world? In an unrepentant land, Inuit were an easy target to be "saved" from their sins. If you preached to them that, if they became followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ, then they would be saved just like Jesus after His crucifixion and following that, His "resurrection and ascension" to Heaven. Having lived as heathens all their lives, finally, they saw the great hope of salvation - even in death. There was no better "lifetime-deal" any single person had ever before put in front of them in a land whose history was dotted with experiences of great suffering and the constant threat of starvation. The missionaries of the Saviour had arrived! The crux of their message was this: an everlasting "ideal world" was at the end the tunnel in the image of Heaven as Paradise with a simple motto: "Jesus Saves!"
The arrival of Christian religious ideals and mores had profound impact on Inuit. Many of them were converted to the teachings of the missionaries about Christianity, baptized and become devout Christians for a lifetime. Since then, many Inuit have adopted Christian names taken straight from the pages of the Bible to name their newborn.
An example is my extended family when I was an adolescent growing up in Iqaluit. As a young man, I went to the Anglican church every Sunday since this had become a ritual in our settlement and since we always listened to our elders. One of my uncles, Arnitoo, became an Anglican lay minister for life before he passed away. Also, my maternal grandfather, Inutsiaq, who became famous for his carvings of Inuit in little groups, wresting scenes, childbirth, and Inuit singing from the hymn-book or praying with the Bible, passed away while walking on a road one fine autumn day. He was on his way to the Anglican church that particular Sunday morning in 1967. He was in his 80s. He had lived life both as a stone-age nomad on the land, and later as a modern-day settlement man. He had seen many Inuit societal changes, positive or negative, that his people were forced to go through.
People From Our Side
In 1975, "People From Our Side," [Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton] subtitled, "A life history with photographs by Peter Pitseolak and oral biography by Dorothy Eber," came out. In the introduction, Eber says that she had come to Cape Dorset, the south Baffin Island Inuit community, now-famous for its arts and artists in print-making and soapstone carving, to collect "biographical material on the remarkable graphic artists of this Hudson Strait community." There she first met Peter Pitseolak when she went to see him with an interpreter in 1971 when he was 71 years old. She went there "to ask his help in making a family tree showing the relationships of some of the artists. He immediately produced two booklets in which he kept in neat syllables Cape Dorset's vital statistics. 'These are old and wise notebooks,' he remarked. He had been keeping the notebooks, he told me, for many years, since he was a young man. I had no idea he was also writing a history of his people."
Eber writes that "the manuscript was translated by Ann Hanson of Frobisher Bay [now renamed Iqaluit] - no easy task since the manuscript was filled with what Ann described as 'beautiful sentences,' words and constructions that today would most probably be labelled 'archaic' Eskimo. Fewer and fewer people know their meaning. Next, after discussion it was decided we should try to fill out the manuscript with more stories of what Peter Pitseolak called the 'old Eskimo ways we had' which he feared in a few years would be forgotten. 'The people in the world should learn about them,' he said, 'because the Eskimo language is disappearing'...As everyone knows, there is a great tradition of storytelling among the Inuit - the 'only people,' as Eskimos call themselves.
Peter Pitseolak relates his memories in his book about celebrations in the big igloo:
"In the old days they [Inuit] didn't know about Christmas but in the very short days they used to have celebrations. They used to build a giant snow house - a 'kagee,' I've seen two kagee; one was large, one not too big. At the time of celebration a lot of people used to sing together. In the large igloo they had a kudlik - a seal oil lamp. The snow blocks were piled up and the kudlik was on top. These people would sing and look at the lighted kudlik. The song would be a hunting song, made by a hunter. Many women would sing along with the men; they had learnt the words... The shamans were there in the kagee and the shamans would perform... They would wrestle and pull each other and do drum-dancing - 'kilautjoktot' I suppose in the giant igloo some used their magic. It is easy to think so because I have heard that when the shamans were over-happy the 'toonigak' - the spirits - would come to them. The shamans would imitate whatever spirits they had in them, the spirits of animals or sometimes the spirits of dead people.
"Many years before I was born, when my father was young, a traveller who was captain of a skin boat crossed from Arctic Quebec and reached Tikerak [not far from Cape Dorset]. This was Johanasee Igegeejuk's first wife's grandfather. When the boat landed the people began singing. They didn't realize it but they were singing a real hymn - a hymn from the hymn-book. They told the people in Tikerak they were singing a song that belonged to the spirit of the earth.
"These people didn't know God. They had probably heard about him but they had forgotten. They had got their song, they said, from the spirit of the earth! I was born when Christianity had already come to Baffin Island. For myself, I did not like the old, old way because the shamans would kill the people they did not like. When the ministers came the shamans stopped their killings. Reverend [E. J.] Peck - Okhamuk - ('the one who talks so much') was the first minister to bring the word of God to Baffin Island. People were very fond of him because he was so loving with all the people and very friendly... The people had seen Okhamuk and a few - only a few for at that time they were just starting to learn syllabics (the phonetic system of writing introduced by the missionaries in late 19tn century) - had learned to read the Bible. There's a story about a man who was prideful of his possessions. All his clothing was in bright colours. They [Inuit] did not wish to be like him. A person like that could never be saved. So the people threw away all their good clothing and anything they had -rifles and beads. They kept their bad clothing and tried to have good hearts."
Close to the end of "People From Our Side/' Peter Pitseolak relates: "When I was in Winnipeg [with a kidney ailment] in the south I heard people say that many more white men would come to this land. They said, 'The Eskimo will be changed; he will talk like a white man in years to come.' I've always expected this and now it's happening. I'm not surprised.
"Change came with the whalers. They were the first to start change. The whalers and the people who were after the shiny rocks - the mica. They were also people who thought the Eskimo people were not very smart. The Hudson's Bay Company people were the first to stay. The Company built in Lake Harbour in 1911 and in Cape Dorset in 1913. It was a big change when people began to work. When the kaluna [white man] things came here, that's when people thought they were rich. That's when they changed. When they thought they were rich in the white man's way they started to ignore the riches of Eskimo life. So much was available to them from the white man. Later it turned out we were not as wealthy as we thought.
"There was an increase in the white men in the 1930s. It started with the Baffin Trading Company in 1939 and that same summer the Catholic Mission came. They built their houses. That was the start of having many white men. After the 'Nascopie' sank [it hit the bottom on July 21, 1947 while being piloted by a new captain into Cape Dorset] I was asked by government people who came on the ship whether or not I wanted teachers and nurses in Cape Dorset. They said, 'If you want them or don't want them, it's up to you... because you're boss here.' I had to say whether or not they should come... After this I had to think it out. I did not want to give any rush answers. I knew there was no doubt white people were coming to our land. Since I knew the white people were coming anyway, I thought to myself, if there are no teachers in Cape Dorset and there are teachers in other places, then Cape Dorset will be behind.
"So I said, If you want to, let them come.' But I knew it would be the beginning of difficult times. I knew that some [Inuit] would sink down and fall away from their own people. I knew that life would be changed.
"I knew that some would learn English but that others would not learn enough; that people who went to school and learned something might think themselves better than those who did not... What I thought in my mind has come true.
"There's big change today. Now there are more white missionaries in the North there are more problems. When Eskimo people were teaching each other there were fewer problems. The old Eskimos were very smart; very intelligent. When there began to be many white missionaries the people went wrong. But the Eskimos are not having more problems because of those white missionaries. Things that never happened before are happening now.
"But it's not happier living in today's world. Today the Eskimos are not so poor, but not long ago I never saw grown-ups fighting. They would argue but without getting mad. Now, everywhere, when they get drunk, they fight. The young people think they know a lot but really they do not know enough. The younger they start drinking the smaller the brains they have when they grow older.
"One of the problems is keeping honest. Years ago, people were so honest that if a man found a cache of meat and was hungry, he would take only a little bit. Then he would go around the camps and find the owner. He'd say, 'I wonder whose was that cache of meat I ate from?' When someone said, 'It was mine,' he'd say, T'm sorry; I was hungry.' And the owner would say, 'That's all right.'
"People are less honest today.
"I know people were happier in the old days. But I know for sure they were not happy every day. They would get angry; they would get jealous of someone trying to take their wife. Nobody can be happy every day. I have known this since I was growing up. Not all of our young people will learn the good ways, but the better ones, the ones who care about themselves, will learn the new ways. I have often thought that one day there will be an Eskimo doctor. Not now but in the future. Perhaps one of my grandchildren when he grows up. I think this because my mother was almost a doctor. She was always cleaning the wounds.
"For myself, I am sad that the Eskimo way has gone."
As demonstrated by the findings published in the Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, twenty-first century Inuit have forever forgotten much of their ancestors' traditional heritage and customs, including the lost of their distinctive heathenish religion. Some of what was not yet lost was recorded by Rasmussen and his expedition members. It was only then that these were written down on paper for the very first time. Through gradual conversion to Christianity, their belief in shamanism was wiped out from the face of the Arctic, never again to be practiced. Along with this, was the loss of their tradition of composing and memorizing songs and poetry for the sole purpose of using these in song-festivals. When a people stop memorizing its own history, a large part of their aboriginal roots are lost or left to remain unseen and unread in the pages of obscure government reports or long-forgotten books, magazine articles and newspaper clippings.
With this sad reality, today's school textbooks do not contain any material that has been lost during a protracted Inuit cultural devolution and societal change in the circumpolar Arctic. Those who had ultimate responsibility for the lost of cultural entities that were once sacred to a people, may not be the "only people" to be asked to begin the recovery project of parts of a culture now deemed an effaced memory of modern Inuit.
It is the descendants of the First Peoples of the Arctic who have the ultimate responsibility to dig through materials that have been recovered from their long-lost forebears' stories, legends and mythologies. This should happen thus, to ensure today's living generations are left with "reincarnated cultural treasures" that will serve to enlighten today's Inuit youth. A modern Inuit population without a connection to their past do not possess the stories and histories that make them the people they once were, especially in the face of rapid societal changes happening amidst them.
It is Inuit-owned-and-run publishing and film companies, such as Isuma Publishing and Igloolik Isuma, that have to take the Umimmaq by the horns and run with it. Not only that, but it is also the prerogative of appropriate Inuit-controUed government departments and Inuit organizations to make sure adequate funding and programs are made available for these most-worthwhile recovery projects.
It is today's present living generations who owe it to people like the aforementioned anthropologist Knud Rasmussen, writer Peter Freuchen, and photographer-historian Peter Pitseolak, to thank them posthumously with heart-felt reverence for the incredible effort they expended to help preserve our ancestors' voices after all these intermediate years with their respective published works. Zacharias Kunuk and his film company, Igloolik Isuma, as well as its publishing arm, Isuma Publishing, are on the vanguard of helping a vanished people and their songs and stories to be "reincarnated" in modem times with such films as "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen." It is through the dissemination of such works of art to retell what has gone before us that will help recover our Inuit cultural amnesia and effaced memory of our once-virgin past. We can then ask how did this all begin to happen, what were the root causes of the changes that took place among our people, and what has been the resulting "new face" we Inuit possess in modern times?
What resulted in the entire circumpolar Arctic can truly be termed "mass cultural amnesia." The meaning of this is simple: Inuit "forgot what they forgot."
Some Inuit history is still sitting in obscurity in some archives in the circumpolar Arctic and elsewhere, not yet formally "rediscovered." Perhaps rediscovering a people's history such as our Inuit history is better left to our own people to pursue. This is a huge task. However, good historians always make it seem easier than it really is to help remember what has long been forgotten. It is time we began cultivating Inuit historians who will one day possess the talents with a collective "Midas' Touch." When Igloolik Isuma and Isuma Publishing foresaw the future, they knew this recovery project had to begin "from home."
Lost Visions, Forgotten Dreams
The first explorers of the Arctic
Ancient you mav or
To our modern times
But sure-footed you were
With wit and execution
You crafted the tools of survival
So your precious children
May have a chance to live their lives
In good stead
You also relied on spirituals
To guide you where you went
To face another day
And sing your songs of joy and sorrow
You have not died from our consciousness
But you return today in spirit
To remind us of our human weaknesses
In the comfort of modern times
We honour your ancient history
With due respect
We will you
To rest in peace