Arctic Circle Alaska Map

Throat singing is a traditional Inuit musical style. Two women face each other, creating deep, resonant sounds from within the throat, using special and well-practised breathing techniques. The women are interpreting and expounding concepts of nature like the Northern Lights, the forces of wind and the wildness of the sea. The only other people to practise throat singing are the Mongolians, primarily the men, who live in a land-locked country between Russia and China, possibly as far removed in terrain and locale from the Arctic as it is possible to be. Strangely enough the Inuit and the Mongolians have very similar physical features and also share their laid-back temperaments.

Originally the Inuit had their own forms of law and regulation, usually arising out of family and peer pressures. However, there were no specified punishments for crimes and each act was decided on its own merits or lack of them. Inuit leaders were chosen because of their accepted abilities and prior knowledge, particularly their skills as hunters, the highest accolades within the community. However, they still did not have specific powers and therefore no one was obliged to follow their decisions. Naturally this could lead to all kinds of confrontations and in order to calm things down the families concerned would meet inside large igloos or dance houses to participate in ceremonial music events as a way of settling disputes and creating harmony between them.

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One way of dealing with a problem was to shame or embarrass the individual concerned. As an example, if someone was not pulling his or her weight in carrying out certain duties, then others would go over and do them instead, hopefully shaming that person by this procedure. The focus of Inuit law was not primarily to punish the individual or offender or even to provide what was perceived as justice, but more to ensure that the community remained in a state of harmony and equilibrium. Eventually the old ways have come to be considered unsatisfactory in these modern times and they have agreed to accept the dictates of the rule of law. However, traditional life has not been abandoned, but has just adapted to the modern and new ways.

When the Inuit kiss they do not consider it rubbing noses in the way others try to express it, but as an act of love, emotion, compassion and romance. As it is said in the words of one of the more succinct love songs, ‘It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.’ Inuit don’t need an elaborate way of life. They live close to nature. They understand the essence of ice, snow, the cold and know how to relate to them. Henry Thoreau, the American philosopher, who lived for two years in a bare log cabin, might very well have had the Inuit in mind when he stated, ‘Our life is frittered away by detail simplify, simplify.’

One of the myths that has grown up around the Inuit is that they have 200 words or more for the word snow. This is just not so. The Inuit think of each snow form or description as very different to any other, so that light falling snow (qannialaaq), wet falling snow (,masak), snow packed hard like ice (annniugaviniq), drifting snow (natiruviaq) and so on, are totally different concepts and must be described as such and distinguished one from another. There are just two snow root derivatives; qanniq, meaning snow in the air or snowflakes and aput, meaning snow on the ground. Every other description of snow stands alone and should be considered as an entirely separate word. As the American Broadway star, Miss Ethel Merman (almost) once said, ‘There’s snow business like snow business, there’s snow business I know.’ Perhaps one of the myths that should be buried in the mists of time. An Inuit joke is to describe their four seasons as Winter, Still Winter, Not Winter and Almost Winter. I think that says it all.

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