Thursday, January 22, 2009

Try Building One Of These At Home!

Earlier this week as I was doing some classroom reading I came across an account of how a qamutik* (traditional sled) was constructed.** Qamutiik are pretty much everyday sights in Nunavut's smaller communities and great fun to travel on in the spring months. What made this qamutik interesting to me was how it was made. The account in the book mentioned how in traditional times, qamutik could be made out of fish in case of an emergency. Yes, fish. It seemed pretty surreal to me.

But no. The next day, a student showed me a video he had borrowed from the high school culture classroom showing two hunters doing exactly this, in -35C weather too I should add. The footage was good old black-and-white stuff from 1965 in which two hunters from Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) made a "fish sled", first by lining up some frozen char and wrapping them in seal skins to create a set of runners. Once this was all frozen up, the two used caribou antler for cross-pieces secured with seal skin lashings. The finished product, pulled by a couple of sled dogs was strong enough to endure the bumps and ruts of the sea ice while transporting 2 adults and 2 children. I only wish I was able to show a visual of the feat. Pretty ingenious and indicative of how Inuit often took what resources they had at hand and made them work, simply because they had too.

I also recall once being told of how some locals, after breaking the prop on their boat, took a piece of metal and fashioned a replacement to help them get home. I don't recall exactly who told me this but I know Clare once mentioned it on his blog. Anyhow, I do plan to discuss a few more culturally-related things in the coming weeks as cultural items are one thing I hoped to write about when I started this blog so many moons ago. I will spend a week next month interviewing and learning from a local elder but I will write more about that as the event draws closer.

*the word is also sometimes spelled "kamotik", among a few others, though I believe many of these were crude attempts at rendering the Inuktitut language into Roman orthography
**Traditionally they were constructed of whalebone fastened together with strips of seal hide. Today they are made of wood, lashed together with rope with plastic runners. Not a nail to be found.)


Matt, Kara and Hunter said...

Fish!! Wow, that is really neat. I had never heard of that either.

dogsled_stacie said...

Yeah, I love that! I remember seeing a film (maybe that one?) back in anthropology class back in the day. I was fascinated! And who knew I'd be on a sled, having my own team one day. I totally want one of those big sleds.

Kate Nova said...

I've heard about runners made of walrus a few times, two long hunks of meat frozen in the right shape. I bet the blubber, with the right amount of warming friction, would just sail along.

Heather (aka Mum) said...

I almost bought a piece of walrus ivory that was thought to have been a piece of a runner from an anchient Qamutik ! I really regret NOT aquiring it :(

I'd dearly love to experience a sunny day on one of those! I've about 10 sleds in the yard at home already, but there is something about a Qamutik....hummm...perhaps one day :)