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Photo Aklavik hospital operation 1939

You call it Supernatural, for us it is Survival!

Abraham Okpik
In the old, old days there was no doctor, of course. There was a shaman, maybe. Some women would have a hard time delivering a child perhaps because she broke a taboo, or a family member broke a taboo. For example, there were certain foods pregnant women couldn’t eat. Well, once she started labour, the baby had to be born. So some people got together, relatives, and they sat around chanting a name. They sang out Nuvujaq, cloud; Tulugaq, raven; or Nannuq, polar bear or other names. Somehow they used what you call in your language the power of words, or the power of suggestion to find the right name and allow the child to be born. When they said something, it became what was said. …People followed a different system then. Now they think it is taboo. But they had some instinct, which is nothing bad! There was no way you could change that, because that was how they survived. … When we name a child, the namesake lives on. The soul dies and the body is gone, but you have the name, and you have to raise the child as the person you knew. … There is a drum dancing song in the West that, before my namesake Auktalik died, he taught my father and three brothers to sing. They still use that. It’s a kind of chant, to make people happy. We call that atuvalluk. It means, leaving a song of love...
Abe describes aspects of traditional Inuit culture that are still strongly held, ideas about the power of words, about belief and intuition, visualization, instinct and survival. When the missionaries came to the North, they convinced the population that their link with the supernatural world was wrong, that their chants and their traditional stories were irrational nonsense. For the Inuit, this connection with the supernatural world was a matter of survival: if they found the right name, their child would be born, be healthy; if they spoke to the walrus and the raven, the animals would help them in their hunt, even something as small as a caribou sinew could help a trapper. The flow of values and traditions was transmitted through the power of naming.