Let’s talk about Inuksuit!

2 Jun

Visitors coming into the museum are greeted by an Inuksuk by Adam Noah Alorut. These are one of the most recognizable symbols of the Canadian Arctic. The plural of inuksuk is inuksuit, which means “acting in the capacity of a human”. These manmade rock formations have been created for over 2000 years and are an important survival tool in the Arctic environment, where natural, easily distinguishable landmarks can be few and far between.

“Inuksuk” (2011) by Adam Noah Alorut from Saniarjak (Hall Beach), stone, MIA Collection

We often hear the comment that visitors have seen these stone structures around. Whether by the side of the road, or on top of a hill, inuksuit seem to pop up everywhere. When I was looking into inuksuit, it was interesting to find out that there are actually several types of stone structures.

Director David Harris and Educational Coordinator Alysa Procida in front of a large inuksuk in the centre of Kangirqliniq (Rankin Inlet)

The innunguaq means “in the likeness of a human” and is a stone structure that resembles the form of a human. These are easily recognizable because of their characteristic “legs” and “arms” that give them the human-like shape. Interestingly enough, innunguaq are not actually considered inuksuit because they do not serve as a functional tool.

There are a variety of categories of inuksuit and they are divided by their intended purpose. For example, a tunillarvik, which is characteristically defined by having one large upright stone among a variety of little ones, is used to provide healing and protection to those that venerate it.

The nalunaikkutaaq is a stone structure that means “deconfuser”. It is often in the shape of a single upright  stone standing on end and is used to remind its builder of a variety of things, like where he cached his summer equipment, for instance.

tikkuuti is a pointer. These can be made in different sizes and shapes, suck as a triangular rock lying flat on the ground or a simple arrangement of rocks places in a straight line.

An inuksummarik or an inuksukjuaq, are often rounded boulders placed to form the shape of a pyramid and noted for being larger than average size. These are used as directional aids.

Within these categories, inuksuit can get pretty specific. For example, a niungvaliruluit is an inuksuk in the shape of a window which is used for sighting and aligning. Sometimes, you can see the next place marker within the frame of the niungvaliruluit or the destination itself. Even though it has its own name, because it is a directional aide, it belongs to the inuksukjuaq category of inuksuit.

For more information about these stone structures, you can check out the book Inuksuit: Silent Messengers of the Arctic by Norman Hallendy that we have available at the front desk. Next time you see an inuksuk in the great outdoors, or in our museum,  you can now know its intended purpose, since they are all so different!

Posted by Karolina Tomaszewska, MIA’s Development Officer

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