The Magic of the Arctic: Inuit Culture

“A Greenlandic kayaker from Ilulissat performaing a roll in a traditional kayak” Photo by Inesa Matuliauskaite

Our world is big, beautiful, and diverse. It is home to about 195 different countries all with various languages, traditions, and cultures of their own. All regions along with their cultures are fascinating but today we are going to focus on the ‘coolest’ region of them all, the Arctic. Over 4 million people live in this area despite being the opposite of what one would assume as having a welcoming climate. This wintery wonderland welcomes people from all over the world while also managing to keep its indigenous culture alive and well. The Arctic Circle is curious in that, it is an invisible dotted line that halos the Northernmost part of the earth. This polar region features 8 counties including Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States. Today we are going to discuss Inuit, the indigenous people of northern Canada, Greenland and Alaska, customs and norms. So, let’s get to it! Read on for more information about Inuit culture.

Culture defines human evolutionary identity
The Intuits are humanity’s most northern culture that has almost exclusively developed north of the Arctic tree line. This age-old culture is still shaped by tradition, family values, and Qaujimajatuqangit. Qaujimajatuqangit is an Inuktitut word that is often translated as “Inuit traditional knowledge” but can be literally translated to mean “that which has long been known by Inuit”. The Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles are;
1.Inuuqatigiitsiarniq (respecting others, respecting relationships and caring for people)
2.Tunnganarniq (fostering good spirit by being open, welcoming and inclusive)
3.Pijitsirniq (serving and providing for family and/or community)
4.Aajiiqatigiinniq (decision making through discussion and consensus)
5.Pilimmaksarniq or Pijariuqsarniq (development of skills through practice, effort and action)
6.Piliriqatigiinniq or Ikajuqtigiinniq (working together for a common cause)
7.Qanuqtuurniq (being innovative and resourceful)
8.Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq (respect and care for the land, animals and the environment)
It is unsurprising that Inuit culture has its own set of principles. Like most indigenous communities the Inuit feel a strong connection to their land and share a strong sense of community, an attitude that is only magnified by the Arctic’s severe environment.

Inuit Culture influenced by the harsh climate and stark landscapes of the Arctic tundra
Inuit people have developed brilliant survival techniques for getting by such frigid winter conditions. Many researchers claim that Inuit society have managed to survive due to their utilization of dogs. In Inuit culture, especially in Greenland, dogs are vital for transport. They are the Inuit survival companions. To make use of the dogs the Inuits would have to rely on sleds. They would build sleds of animal bones and skins and attach them to their trusted thick coated dogs. Although sleds have become a lot more modern and have managed to evolve with the times, dogsledding is still practiced today and remains a traditional activity within the community. The Inuit people also learned to navigate the waters of the Arctic Ocean using small boats called qajaq. This Greenlandic word translates to ‘hunter’s boat’ and later became adopted in English as kayak. As you might have assumed by now, kayaks are an Inuit invention that were originally used for hunting. Larger boats called umiaq were used to transport people, dogs, and supplies. The kayak is still a valid and popular method of transportation and recreation for many people of the Inuit community as well as those visiting and or residing in countries such as Greenland.

“Traditional kayak and paddle in Ilulissat” Photo by Inesa Matuliauskaite

Inuit Culture and the Art World
Katajjaq, otherwise known as Inuit Throat Singing, is a female art of song. This curious performance is usually performed as a duet, and features various throat singing techniques that mimics the natural world. Elements like wind, ice, and sea as well as animals like birds the dominating themes of the sound’s inspiration. Katajjaq is a fascinating and unique musical performance that can only be found among Inuit communities. its bird sounds dominate. The traditional form of Inuit Throat Singing consists of two women creating breathtaking effects while standing in a close face-to-face formation and with no instrumental accompaniment. Several artists have managed to break from the traditional by mixing the classic sounds with mainstream musical genres.
Sculpture has always been popular among the Inuit community. Figures depicting animals were used as ornamentation or shamanic purposes long before the people came into contact with Westerners. Today, Inuit continue to carve pieces entirely by hand and the materials used have evolved from antlers, ivory, and bone to now soapstone, serpentine, either deposits from the Arctic.
Other aspects of culture continue to remain despite the passing of time. Storytelling, mythology, and dancing remain fixed and still form a very important part of Inuit culture. The Kalaallisut language is also thriving, it is very common to hear Kalaallisut being spoken on radio stations and throughout the entire nation. Although Inuit life has changed significantly over the past century, many traditions continue to live on.

“A bone carver creating new figurines in Tasiilaq in East Greenland” Photo by Mads Pihl – Visit Greenland

Throughout this article we have discussed various aspects of Inuit culture in a general way. Although Inuits share many traditions, words, and philosophies it is important to note that many cultural aspects vary depending on their geographical location. For example, Canadian Inuits are different from Greenlandic Inuits who are different from Alaskan. Despite sharing many similarities, it is within the nuances that we find the true Magic of this fascinating culture.
If you’re interested in getting to know more about Inuit culture, specifically Greenlandic, we suggest you book a trip and get to see first-hand what it means to live like an Inuit in Greenland. Our Inuit Village Life or Hike & Cultural immersion experiences features a guided walk around the settlement and traditional lunch with local family. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and try something new!

“Picture from “Inuit village life” activity with PGI Greenland,settlement of Oqaatsut” Photo by Inesa Matuliauskaite