The image of a traditional Inuit stone structure, or inuksuk, silhouetted against an Arctic sky, is a common symbol in the Far North. Yet, for many people, the purpose of the inuksuk remains a mystery.
An inuksuk is a stone structure that can communicate knowledge essential for survival to an Arctic traveller. Inuksuit (the plural of inuksuk) are found throughout the Arctic areas of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland.
In The Inuksuk Book, artist and children’s author Mary Wallace, in consultation with Inuit elders and other noted experts, gives a fascinating introduction in words, pictures, and paintings to the many forms of the inuksuk structure and its unique place in Inuit life and culture.
Inuksuit take on many forms, the most recognized being the inunnguaq ("like a person"), which is built in the shape of a human. Mary Wallace explains ten of the major types of inuksuit while archival photographs and exquisite silk paintings bring these shapes to life.
About the Author
Mary Wallace is an award-winning writer, teacher, artist and author of Make Your Own Inuksuk.
Read an Excerpt
Inunnguaq -- Like a person
An inuksuk is a stone structure that can communicate knowledge essential for survival to an Arctic traveller. Inuksuit (plural) are found throughout the Arctic areas of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. Inuksuit have been used by the Inuit to act in place of human messengers. For those who understand their forms, inuksuit in the Arctic are very important helpers: they can show direction, tell about a good hunting or fishing area, show where food is stored, indicate a good resting place or act as a message centre.
Every inuksuk is unique because it is built from the stones at hand. Inuksuit can be small or large; a single rock put in place; several rocks balanced on top of each other; boulders placed in a pile; or flat stones stacked. One of these stone structures is known as an inuksuk, two are called inuksuuk and three or more are referred to as inuksuit.
An inuksuk is a strong connection to the land: it is built on the land, it is made of the land and it tells about the land. Inuit are taught to be respectful of inuksuit. There is a traditional law, which persists today, that forbids damaging or destroying inuksuit in any way. New inuksuit can be built to mark the presence of modern-day Inuit, but the old ones should never be touched. Traditionally, it is said that if one destroys an inuksuk, his or her life will be cut shorter.
Over time, the style of building inuksuit has changed. In the past, most inuksuit were built by stacking rock in a particular way, but usually not in the shape of a human. However, many modern inuksuit are built to look like human figures made of stone (with a head, body,arms and legs). In Inuktitut, these are called inunnguaq. Some Inuit believe that this type of stone figure was first built about one hundred years ago, after the arrival of the qattunaat (non-Inuit) whalers. Others say that this human look-alike originated long before this century.
All things change with time; Inuit ways are not exempt. Today, as traditional ways are changing into contemporary ways Inuit, and even non-Inuit, sometimes build inuksuit simply to mark their presence-both in the Arctic and in their travels outside of their homeland.
Table of Contents
Nunavut Our Land
Inunnguaq Like a person
Niugvaliruluit That has legs
Nakkatait Things that fell into the water
Tupjakangaut Footprints of game
Aulaqut Makes things run away
Qajakkuviit Kayak rests
Pirujaqarvik Where the meat cache is
Inuksuk Quviasuktuq Inuksuk expressing joy
Inuksuk Anirnilik Inuksuk with a spirit
Nikisuittuq North Star
Qilangmi Inuksuk Inuksuk in the sky
Build Your Own Inuksuk
Building an Inunnguaq
Guide to Inuktitut Words