after Man Giving Water to Dead Seal by Lukasi Ananagi Amamartua, b. 1935
Does he sense the tumbling generations
standing at his shoulder?
They watch through plastic cases
in art museums, they thumb through iPhone catalogues.
Captured in blue-green argillite,
the Inuk hunter tells a story.
It was a time of sled dogs, not snowmobiles,
of soapstone lamps lit by seal blubber
in snug homes of ice and snow,
not of pipelines and power plants.
The Inuk bends over the slain seal
to thank him for his gifts—
light on endless Arctic nights,
warm sealskin boots
when snows howl
under curtains of color,
food for dogs and the Inuit
living near their prey and trustworthy ice.
The supine seal’s mouth gapes open.
From the hunter’s open mouth
do they imagine water pouring?
Does he hope they will ask
if they don’t understand his story?
He thanks the kindred spirit
who in death gives life. He uses all,
wastes nothing, takes no more than he needs.
He tells the watchers—
listen for the rhythms receding with time.
“The Watchers” was first published in Gaia’s Cry by Nan Lundeen. Visit her at www.nanlundeen.com.
Inuit Art Teaches Harmony with Nature
by Nan Lundeen
When my husband Ron and I lived in Anchorage, when snow was piled up to the eaves and moose wandered about town in daytime darkness hunting for a bite or two of shrubbery, the topic on everybody’s tongue was when winter would relax its icy grip.
Keeping a 102-year-old springtime tradition that continues today, Alaskans bet on the exact time and date of the ice breakup on the Tanana River at Nenana near Fairbanks. When a tripod, which is erected in March and is connected to a clock, rides the ice 100 feet downriver, the clock stops and a winner is named. They call it the Nenana Ice Classic, and it carries a six-figure jackpot.
This year the ice is reported to be only 16 inches thick, the thinnest on record. Average thickness is 43 inches.
Fairbanks sits at the edge of the Arctic, a vast area undergoing elemental change due to global warming. Glaciers are melting, uncovering previously ice-cloaked land that hasn’t been exposed for 40,000 years. The changing climate threatens the culture and lifestyle of the Inuit who fish and hunt on disappearing ice sheets. The Inuit are First Peoples of Greenland, Canada, Siberia and Alaska.
As their culture changes with the inexorable march of technology to include snowmobiles, high-powered rifles, permanent settlements rather than a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and melting ice, Inuit art reminds us of the wisdom of respecting Mother Earth upon which our survival depends.
Ron and I walked into an exhibit of Inuit art on a recent trip to Traverse City, Michigan. Here were carvings, etchings, woodcuts, stencils, engravings and other forms of art created by the Inuit of Canada reflecting the eloquence of living in harmony with nature and of the stunning beauty of running caribou, the pique of a grey owl’s glare, the joy of a dancing bear.
One small carving, Man Giving Water to Dead Seal by Lukasi Ananagi Amamartua, caught my imagination. It was on display in the center of a room among other carvings. An Inuit hunter stood over a dead seal, pouring water into its gaping mouth. It seemed to me a moment both sacred and impractical.
Traditional Inuit religion holds that souls inhabit all animals not only human animals. To reconcile the apparent contradiction in taking the life of another creature the same as oneself, the Inuk pours water into the dead seal’s mouth to assuage its soul’s thirst. He takes the life so that he and his family will survive, but he shows the animal respect and gratitude. This according to Janet C. Berlo, author of Native North American Art, (Oxford University Press, 1998).
I envisioned future generations standing at this exhibit, viewing this small sculpture and receiving a legacy of respect for nature, the gift of sculptor Amamartua.
Art mirrors, remembers and celebrates.
We were visiting the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College which houses one of the largest collections of Inuit art in the United States. Visit dennosmuseum.org.
The Inuit are people of the Arctic, living in Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Greenland. Amamartua is from Akulivik, a village in Nunavut, a territory in northern Canada where the Inuit are in the majority.
Although not recognized as such by our highly technological society, indigenous peoples may be the most powerful among us because of their knowledge of Mother Earth—her signs, her intricately balanced systems, and the wisdom of sitting gently on her lap upon which our survival depends.