Igloos, History and Art

Trip Start Aug 01, 2010
Trip End Feb 16, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Nunavut,
Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today we had the privledge of going to a drum dance and throat singing presentation at the long-term care facility.  It was amazing to watch the experienced performers handle the big drum as if it  was light as a feather, they really did make it dance! It was also very special to see a young boy try the drum.  This would be a beautiful tradition to be carried on to future generations.  Some of the "foreigners" gave it a try too and it was well received with laughter and cheering. I was too shy to try it in front of everyone but my husband got up at the end and drummed while an elder sang to the beat.

For a little while, two elders did the throat singing.  The two ladies sat face to face with the microphone between them and made breathing noises in a way like a duet.  It must take a lot of practice to get the song memorized and I don't know how they make that noise in their throats, it's so low and gutteral. Very strange, somewhat haunting, and beautiful in it's own way.

On a near-daily basis, someone asks us if we'd like to buy their art.  We have been appraoched in the grocery store but ususally we get knocks on our door.  Sometimes we say no because we can't buy all the art in Gjoa Haven, but sometimes the carvings or wall hangings or drawing are irrestiable.  There are some very unique colours of stone here which makes the carvings unique to others from the north. 

Most nights over the holidays there have been community games going on at the old gym.  Everyone participates and has an opportunity to make some money if they win.  The games are simple such as throwing dice to get a certain number, untying a long string of knots, passing a ball around in a circle until the music stops, and seeing who can drink a baby bottle full of juice the fastest.  It's a great way to get the community together for a laugh. Almost all the adults play the games, whilte the parents of small babies sit on the sidlines and the young kids run around together.  It's cute to see the older ladies whispering to each other in the same the way that the little girls do.  The elder men seem so comfortable with each other, almost youthful in their teasing and chatting.  It makes me think that everyone here has likely all grown up with each other.  I think the people of this town must know each other very well.

I think it was in 1903 that the Norwegian explorer, Captain Amundsen, 'founded' the hamlet of Gjoa Haven.  He and his crew were the first to sail through the North West Passage. They traveled in a little ship called the Gjoa Haven.  When the arctic weather got bad, they pulled into the little sandy bay which provided natural protection from the sea and they settled there for two years.  The purpose of their expedition was to find and study the Magnetic North Pole.  And so they did,  while getting to know the local people who at that time were nomadic.  The Norwegian explorers learned a lot about how to adapt to the arctic wilderness from the Inuit people.  They became friends.  Many of the local people are now proud to be direct descendants of Amundsen.  There is a monument and lots of plaques to read about the captain, his crew, the little ship called Gjoa Haven, and anecdotes from 1903.  

One story I particularly enjoyed reading was of the Norwegian people trying to build an igloo (or as they spell it here 'iglu' which means house).  While the Norwegians made an unsuccessful attempt at building a house out of snow, the Inuit people looked on and began to comment and laugh. They soon were laughing very hard. The story read that they laughed so hard they were falling over and crying, hooting and hollering at the funny way in which the Norwegians were building an iglu.  I really find this story amusing because it articulates how different two cultures can be from each other.  In the end, the Inuit people helped the Norwegians by showing them how to build an iglu properly.  

An expedition of a diferent sort happened near Gjoa Haven sixty years later, in 1963. This one was of a Anthopological nature and performed by the explorer Jean Briggs from Newfoundland. She came to this area to study the Eskimos (as they were called at that time, now Inuit is the respectful term) and aftewards wrote a book called Never in Anger which is a facinating read about cultural emotions.

We walked out to the Amunsum monument on a day that was so cold we were bundled up from head to toe. The only exposed body part was our eyes but even still the skin between our eyes was freezing and we had to hold our mittens over it. Even out eyes were cold! We saw there had been an iglu building competition to see who can build a small snow house the fastest. We did not get to witness the competitive action but we did find the iglus next to the monument where I read the story of the Norwegians trying to build them.  It was the first time I"ve seen a real iglu from the north.  

Tomorrow we will celebrate the New Year at the top of the world!!

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