Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Story of the Inukshuk

Inukshuk sculpture in soapstone

The inukshuk (or inuksuit) is a symbol that is widely recognized in Canada but rarely understood. It was recently chosen as the official 2010 Vancouver Olympic symbol, but it is much more than a mascot and its tradition runs deep in Inuit culture. Often, in our gallery, guests from all corners of the earth will exclaim, "Ah! I know this symbol but...what does it mean?" Below, please find a brief history, as taken from The Silent Messengers by Norman Hallendy.

Figures made of stone called inuksuit are amongst the most important objects created by the Inuit who were the first people to inhabit portions of Alaska, Arctic Canada, and Greenland. The term inukshuk (the singular of inuksuit) means "to act in the capacity of a human". It is an extension of Inuk meaning "a human being". 

These stone figures were placed on the temporal and spiritual landscapes. Among many practical function, they were employed as hunting and navigation aids, coordination points, indicators, and message centers. The Inuit also constructed a stone figure called an inunnguaq which means "in the likeness of a human". In addition to their earthly functions, certain inukshuk-like figures had spiritual connotations, and were objects or veneration, often marking the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit-the Inuit who knew how to survive on the land living the traditional way. 

So compelling was the desire of the Inummariit to create inuksuit that they appear not only on the earthly landscape but in legends and stories, in figures that emerge from movements of fingers playing string games, and in a winter-sky constellation. 

Many Inuit who lived most of their lives on the land retain a strong attachment to inuksuit believed to have been built by their ancestors. Some of these "old" inuksuit are mentioned in Aya-yait, the traveling songs passed from one generation to the next to help travelers remember a series of directions for long trips. Often these old inuksuit are venerated regardless of their function. Even today, the appearance of familiar inuksuit on the landscape is a welcome sight when one is a long way from home. 

Whether they symbolize their maker, acted in his capacity, or were the object of veneration, inuksuit functioned as helpers and messengers created by an infinite arrangement of stones. They were an integral part of the hunters' language and endure as indelible signatures upon the Arctic landscape.

We are pleased to feature a delightful variety of inukshuk sculpture hand crafted in soapstone by Inuit artists in our gallery and online. Please visit sometime to learn more and see for yourself!

79 Rue St. Paul Est
Montreal, QC

1 comment:

  1. Please refer to the little figures presented on this page as Innunguait. They are not Inuksuit. Inuksuk refers to an object acting in the capacity of a human while an Innunguaq refers to an object in the likeness of a human. They are two distinct figures.
    Cheers - Norman Hallendy