Inuit Culture and Legends
Learn about the myths, legends, and stories that make up the Inuit culture.
Inuit "culture" and Inuit "ways" do not have comparable words in English. The word illiquusiq means "ways and habits" and refers to all aspects of living — survival skills, games, clothing, arts, weather, land, sea. Culture in English frequently means music, theater, dance or anything involving entertainment. Isomainaqiijutiit is used to describe this kind of culture. Literally it means: things to make us realize when chores have been completed. And sviilaqujutiit describes culture in the sense of "making fun."
Myths, legends, historical accounts, and storytelling have been part of the Inuit culture for centuries. In the winter, people gather in a qagip (a giant snow house) and in the summer outdoors to celebrate and have games and storytelling. Stories are often accompanied by a song that describes an event or helps to explain the purpose of a story. The storytelling and the legends themselves are very important to the Inuit culture. And they help save and enrich the language tremendously.
The songs were created specially for different occasions and were verbally "copyrighted." No one would be allowed to use them unless they were properly introduced and rightfully credited. They could be about anything - from children and humorous moments to hunting or starving times.
The following story is by Saali Arngnaituq, and can be found in the book Inuit Stories, published by National Museums of Canada, 1988.
"Then again, there is the story about Qisaruatsiaq. The one who became a wolf is called by this name. It also is a story of a time long ago when there were no white men here in this country. This one used to try to make a living only by fish. She was almost abandoned to herself alone although she had two sons. She had two sons who tried to support her, but she did not appreciate being looked after. She would always build a snow house for herself alone. They tried to have her in one house together with other people, but although an old woman she always built a house for herself, deliberately trying to get herself abandoned and forsaken by the rest. Being very bad and stealing habitually, she would take people's fish when they were asleep. She used to go fishing and make a living by that, but if she did not catch any fish, she used to steal. Being like that, she was abandoned to herself, although her sons tried to keep her. She couldn't be made to stay in a house together with others because she was causing herself to be forsaken.
One day, while off on her daily fishing, she stopped coming back. Because she did not return anymore, she was searched for at dawn. And so her fishing spot was reached, but there was nobody there. Directly away into the vast interior her tracks led. The one who was searching began tracking her down. He tracked her for a long time, even when it was getting dark. Still tracking while it was getting dark, he went up inland more and more. When it was just turning very dark, he was positive by the tracks that her feet were bare. They got smaller and smaller the longer he tracked her. As he really went on to find out, one of her feet became wolf while the other was human. As she was like that, the one who had tried to track her down turned back.
Hunting caribou, she used to have them for food. Afterwards, when people went after caribou, they were positive about her [being turned into a wolf]. When they used to go up inland hunting caribou they were certain about her. She had taken off her other boot as well. In this way, having gotten herself abandoned, she had become a wolf. This too is a story; that it how its words go."
- Nelson, Richard K.,Hunters of the Northern Ice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.
- Nungak, Zebedee & Arima, Eugene,Inuit Stories. Hull, Quebec: National Museums of Canada, 1988.