As part of the 'Diving Deeper' project funded by Designated Development Fund, Arts Council England, Hull Maritime has partnered with Toronto Inuit Association in Canada. Our Curator of Social and Maritime History, Robin Diaper had the opportunity to visit and join the team in Pangnirtung in Nunavut to gather research, memories and local knowledge of some of Hull Maritime Museum's Inuit collection.
Here's Robin's second blog.
“Kivalliq,” said Mary Aliqatuqtuq within seconds of seeing the picture of children’s boots. She casually dropped the picture of a child’s pair of boots (called kamiit in Inuktitut) to one side and looked at other pictures.
“What was that?” I asked, pen in hand, struggling to keep up. In what was now a familiar pattern it was patiently explained to me that Kivalliq is a region west of Baffin Island and the summer boots in the picture were from there.
The word was spelled out for me. I don’t think I stuck my tongue out whilst writing but it might have been appropriate, given my status surrounded by so much expertise.
Meeka and Donald were my perpetually generous hosts, and we were in their kitchen. The table was covered in photographs of our collections and Meeka and her sisters were going through them.
As they laughed and chatted in Inuktitut it was a pleasure to listen, with occasional explanations in English. Their patience even extended to doing the whole thing again later in the week when we were ready to film them. You couldn’t buy this kind of knowledge.
And so it went on. A curved snow knife made from antler was described to me as being for keeping a seal hole clear in the ice and for attracting the seal by scraping it on the edge.
Small dolls were quickly identified by everyone we spoke to as being from Greenland. Wooden snow googles were named for me as being called ‘aajuraq’.
A long, polished narwhal tusk that has always been believed to be some kind of lance was revealed to me to be a specialised snow probe, for testing the quality of snow for igloos.
The specialist and exact nature of many of the tools we have in our collection reflect the expertise and skills needed to survive and hunt in the Arctic.
The range of tools the Inuit used and developed reminded of the Hull whaling implements we also hold at the Hull Maritime Museum, with many of those being for very specific purposes too. Being specialists in fishing and whaling is something the two places have in common.
Everyone we showed the pictures of our collection to were fascinated. The age of them seemed to really strike a chord, and people recalled memories or made links with modern tools and methods they used.
One hunter called Charlie Qumuatuq quickly identified some of our more solid harpoon heads made of steel and walrus tusk as being for ‘big game’, such as whale or walrus. I was only sorry it had been impossible to take the collection items over themselves to show people.
Early in the week we visited the Angmarlik Interpretative Centre which has displays about Inuit life in the region and the connections to whaling.
It was great to have a tour from Denise who worked there and to get to see another side of the story. Part of a bowhead skull was on display along with a full-sized replica tent called a gammaq, which people had traditionally lived in during the summer.
There was a strict way of laying out the interior of the gammaq, which also applied to igloos. At the back was the sleeping platform, raised off the floor.
On the left as you enter was the place for the qulliq, the all-important seal oil lamp, cooker and heater all in one. On the other side was the place for tools. In the tent a broom made out of the wings of an eider duck was used to keep the place spick and span.
Once again this fed back to my understanding of our collections, as our small toy igloo made of bone is laid out in exactly the same way.
As Denise took us around the displays I began to feel very at home, with the items in the display cases looking familiar. Many of the items there were modern replicas and useful for me to see how they were constructed.
The method of ‘loading’ a sealing harpoon with a small bone tag fastening to the shaft was especially interesting. The bone tag with holes we have is clearly a recycled piece of scrimshaw bartered off a whaler and then bartered back as a souvenir Inuit tool.
Two of the most important and unique items we hold at the Maritime Museum are the life casts made of two Inuit teenagers brought to Hull by Captain Parker in 1847.
Traditionally known as Uckaluk and Memiadluk and I learnt that the correct way to spell the girl’s name was Ukaliq, meaning ‘hare’.
Memiadluk doesn’t have a meaning but is just a name. They caused a large amount of interest and their faces were described as being very typical for the Cumberland Sound area. Not all insights were as poignant. The cast of Captain Parker’s head was accurately described as looking like the film actor Robin Williams. I will never look at it the same way again.
The most revealing thing from the Ukaliq and Memiadluk’s story was a unanimous challenging of Captain Parker’s account of events.
He claimed Ukaliq was left as a destitute orphan and he had no option but to take her in. Everyone we spoke to said that sounded like nonsense and no one would ever have been left destitute, especially an orphan.
This tied in with the importance of operating as a community, sharpened by the fight for survival in the Arctic. As one lady called Madeleine Qumuatuq said, “You’ve got to do it together, otherwise you’re going to die.” I saw this community spirit first hand when we had been out on a long boat trip in the Cumberland Sound. After 10 hours of standing up, concentrating and driving our skipper Jackie came across some local fisherman trawling up scallops.
He pulled alongside, hopped onto the other vessel and immediately helped in sorting out the catch. After some time, and with a bag of fresh scallops he popped back into our boat and we set off again.
I also learnt that traditionally a hunter would bring his catch back to the community to share and not start eating it whilst out on the ice. This was part of life in this maritime community.
Another day we interviewed Madeleine, a funny, charming and creative lady. Out came the photographs of collections again which caused much interest. She looked at the children’s boots. “Kivalliq”, she said.
This time I was prepared. “How do you know that?” She pointed to the decoration, the stitching and style and then fetched her own summer boots to show the difference.
There was also a personal and human element to knowledge shared as well. In looking at a fish harpoon it was identified as a kakivak.
I might have been able to find that out after after several hours research, I might not. But Madeleine added, “These are fun to use, you hold them like this.” She demonstrated how you have to aim from the side, at an angle to the water and not throw it straight down.
Madeleine also shared many personal memories and for all her jokes and enthusiasm her stories took me on a journey, connecting the collection items to the past life of their elders, a life taken from them and a reconnection to it with the resumption of restricted whaling in the 1990s. It was all interconnected and becoming increasingly difficult for me to view our historic collections separately from this context.
As the week’s filming continued this became more and more the case. I had come with an open mind and my main task was to keep that door propped wide and listen.