Monday, 10 April 2017

An Intimate Wilderness

Finished April 8
An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons by Norman Hallendy

To understand the value of this book, you have to know the author's background. Hallendy has spent over fifty years building relationships with the Inuit, from translators to elders, to the elders' families. He was given the name Apirsuqti, which means "the inquisitive one." He is the world's leading authority on inuksuit. He has received recognition for his work from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He is an ethnographer of international renown.
This book contains observations, descriptions of experiences, conversations, storytelling, Inuit history and legend, intricacies of the language and the importance of naming, and as with many things, the parts add up to so much more together than they do singly.
His work has allowed him to immerse himself in their culture, learning the words for places, experiences, symbols, people, nature, and ideas. He knows when to listen and when to ask questions. He respects the culture and you can tell he really wants to understand and know what he is asking about. He cares about the people he meets.
While this book tells of places, events, and ceremonies long kept to themselves, his telling of them is not a betrayal, but becomes a trusted, well-researched archive. Due to the influence of white colonizers on this culture, a disconnect has been introduced between the older people who still remember either for themselves or from their parents and grandparents the way things were done, the way lives were lived before and the younger generation who live in towns and lead a more modern way of life. As he says "There came a time when the elders no longer handed down tales, songs, customs, and mysteries. Instead, catechism and schooling were the shape the Inuit child's knowledge and future." This book is a bridge between those two world, to ensure the stories and traditional way of life are not forgotten.
There are so many beautiful and important things in this book and I am so glad they have been gathered up before they were lost to history. As one interaction goes "...when I asked him about myth and reality he explained to me that there are things said to have happened that may or may not have happened. It doesn't matter, as long as they are believed. The expression he used was sulinngikkaluaqtut ukpirijaujut, the reality of myth."
The book includes photos, drawings, maps, art, and other visual aids to understanding, some specifically made for the book.


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