I am learning Inuktitut but I am finding it very difficult. I have studied a language before (Italian) but with that, there was so many roots I could connect with, so much that I could see. This is different. I keep going back to the beginning to try to find a way to bring a visual memory to the simplest terms. Then an exchange with Mrs Breslin, a neighbour 20 years ago, came to mind and finally I have a way of remembering.
How can he be so beautiful yet so murderous?
Such is the power of these things, you can feel the earth move.
From a box of Arctic artefacts stored in her daughter’s loft.
- Bone snow goggles with caribou leather straps. To protect eyes from snow blindness.
- An ulu (plural: ulut), a woman’s knife. Used to cut and scrape skins (Gilbertson used hers for chopping onions).
- ‘Hairs from a polar bear tail’. Living or dead when sampled, we do not know.
- Miniature kamiks (seal skin boots). Sold as souvenir charms, possibly from Coral Harbour or Grise Fiord.
I’ve been playing the computer game Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), a fascinating collaborative project between the games developer Upper One Games and elders of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska. It takes you on beautiful but no-holds-barred race (if you don’t save her, she dies) for survival through the snow and ice with Nuna, an Iñupiaq (Alaskan native) child and her Arctic fox. Between challenges, the supplementary histories and interviews with the elders takes you into their world and their way of seeing it.
Despite once working as a tester for VIS Entertainment in Dundee in the mid 1990s, I have never been a gamer. However, I am now exercising new muscles in a desperate attempt to stop Nuna being mauled by the polar bear.
You can buy it here
All of this time I have been researching Jenny Gilbertson in the Arctic I have been asking my fellow schoolmates at Dunrossness Primary School, ‘do you remember when we did the Arctic?’ Thanks to Gilbertson’s daughters, I have finally found the book we used. It was by the British Museum and was called ‘The Eskimos Project Book’ and was used alongside a programme by BBC Schools. Gilbertson came to schools in Shetland to speak about her experiences and her Arctic films: she didn’t come our our class but my sister who is four years older than me remembers her visiting and talking about seal hunting.
Incidentally, the first film Gilbertson made in Coral Harbour in 1970 was for the BBC and was produced by Peggy Broadhead. It may have been called ‘The Eskimo Settlement’. The BBC archive and myself are yet to track this down but I can’t help wondering if this was the programme that was shown.
This book has a guide to Inuktitut, with an introduction to affixes and infixes, words that would never again be mentioned in my Scottish primary or comprehensive schooling.