Monday, September 17, 2007

Tungasugits! ...

A seal being skinned and butchered as a welcoming treat in Kimmirut

In Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit, tungasugits means welcome or "finding solid ground," as in "you will find the ground solid under your feet here." And in Kimmirut, I felt really welcomed and honored to be there. I was truly on solid ground.

The people of Kimmirut seemed to spend days preparing for our arrival. We were divided into small groups and with our guides toured the town. Rosemary our guide, told me that the children of the town had spent the day before picking up all of the litter from the ground and indeed, there was not a candy wrapper to be found. We sampled freshly made bannock, toured the visitors center and a gallery where Bill and I bought a lovely carving of a muskox, an animal the inland Inuit hunt for their meat and warm hides. Back in the days when I was a spinner I was gifted with some muskox hair to spin. The hair as soft and light as cashmere, is prized for warm knitted caps and scarves and is a lovely chestnut brown in color.

But the big fanfare of the day was the skinning, butchering and sharing of a freshly killed seal. After a communal prayer of thanks to the seal and the hunter, an Elder of the village, skinned and butchered the seal. Certain parts and I'm not sure which, were set aside for only women to eat. The rest of the animal was shared with us and the rest of the villagers. At the time I chose not to try it, but now I wish I had. It would have been the proper thing to do in view of the welcome we were given and in return would have said, " I welcome your culture into my life and heart." Next time ... and I hope there will be a next time.

Every part of the animal is used. The skins are used for clothing and boots. Even the bones were traditionally used for needles.We were shown a game, similar to Monopoly, played with some of the smaller bones from the flippers. Sled dogs also are fed seal meat.

This seal was shot with a gun, but traditionally they are speared at their breathing holes, which the seal claws through the ice. Inuit hunters, stand bent at the waist, peering down into the hole with their spear raised and at the ready for the seal to come for a breath of fresh air. They can stand stone still like this for hours.

Once the seal is taken and dragged up onto the ice, the hunter, melts snow in his own mouth and lets it dribble slowly into the seals open mouth. This is done to provide the seal with fresh water (unsalted), which in life, they never have the opportunity to drink. This assures that more seals will come to be hunted and given fresh water for their pleasure. This is a way of paying respect to the animal and saying thanks for its sacrifice.

This woman is flensing or scraping the blubber or fat from a seal skin. The fat will be rendered down and used in seal oil lamps and for other purposes. The skin will be stretched and dried. It will or will not be tanned depending on what it will be used for. Tanned skins do not retain their waterproof quality. Skins used for traditional clothing and kamiks (footwear) are not tanned but rather chewed to soften the skin, so that it can be worn more comfortably.

I am so taken by how balanced the life of the Inuit is. Living in an environment of cold, harsh weather, they are constantly on the edge between life and death. They take from the land, but they also give back to the land. Their abiding respect for the animals they take for food is heartening and could be used as an example in other places ... such as this country.

A ringed seal skin stretched and drying.

1 comment:

Star said...

These people obviously take pride in all they are associated with; I cannot imagine the children in my city clearing litter for anyone's arrival. This is not to say we're all slobs, just that many do not see a need to go the extra mile to pick up after another--"it's not my job." Their use of the complete seal also demonstrates a respect for the world we live in.

I'm learning so much for this series of posts; thank you for sharing so much from your trip.