Friday, 13 July 2012

Inuksuit

I'm doing some very interesting transcription work right now on IQ (Inuit Knowledge) of a certain part of Baffin Island where the elders are talking about traditional land use before and since exploration (apparently, on and off since the fifties in that particular area) and the abundance and scarcity of prey animals, especially caribou.

I was having a light meal yesterday with my best friend when he started talking about his regard for (his love of) the land. Since he's of non-Inuit extraction, he said that he couldn't imagine the depths of IQ re the land, how the subtleties and vagaries of the land accumulated generation after generation must give an entirely different cast for Inuit, especially those who go out day after day, year after year. And I thought about the work I'm doing right now and thought how very true his words were: not only is there attachment to the land and the animals but there is a familiarity and regard for the land as one has for family and friends.

Since climate change and the acceleration of exploration and development in the Arctic, the elders have seen and witnessed drastic changes; some liken it to watching helpless as a venerated old friend slowly ages and deteriorates - much like the process that one see's in alzheimer patients as they slowly become strangers to those who love them.

One of the interviewees said that we are foolish to think only of ourselves, that we should be thinking about our descendents who will most likely only hear stories of how things used to be and not believe. I tell you, this brought tears to my eyes.

One other thing that I just learned about is the hidden code of inuksuit (stone cairns and likenesses of human form that dot our lands). I know that inuksuit serve different purposes: to act as a corral in hunting caribou; to mark fish lakes and rivers; to guide Inuit as they travel in-land. But what I didn't know - and am totally blown away by, the intelligence and creativity I mean -  is that the terminus points (at each end) of navigational inuksuit which are a series of them going for miles on end, must be made of white stone or at least partially. Inuit call these inuksuit, pigiarviit (beginning points).

The land doesn't seem marked by humans at all because the markings are part of the land in its prestine condition - just the way Inuit want it and always intended it to be. Inuit civilization's monumentalism is extremely subtle and refined and practical (ie, beyond egoism). The markings and monuments are designed that way because Inuit do not want the prey animals they rely on to be spooked where none is intended. Then there are also fishing weirs that are centuries old, maintained and amended when used, that one would miss entirely if one didn't know where and what to look for.

The great subtlety and refinement of IQ, which always impresses me greatly, makes me wonder then about whether there really are "savage" societies in the world. Simply because we're ignorant doesn't make the people we don't understand savages. Our ignorant state of them makes us ourselves the "savages" and barbarians, especially when our contemporary society seems hell-bent on outright destruction and garish modifications of what is beautiful in the first place.

IQ shows us that our modifications and "improvements" must be done intelligently (isumaqaratta - we have a rational mind, after all) and with a long-term view that is geologic in nature. The seemingly infinite patience of those raised in real IQ for us ignorant folk makes me realize - at least in part - where that profound philosophy comes from. The Hopi say that all is beautiful, all is beautiful - how very true.

Jay

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