by Sarah Silou
Inuit Oral Traditions: The Social Conscience of Inuit Culture
Traditionally, Inuit have used oral communication to pass on stories and information about their culture. From birth, Inuit children have listened to their parents recite stories and songs in the Inuktitut language, and then have shared the same songs and tales with their own children.
Some Inuit stories are for children's amusement and involve word play or rhyming. (Listen to two young Inuit girls.) The stories might also provide lessons, such as why killing is wrong. Someone who commits murder, for example, is prohibited from eating certain foods and interacting with people; therefore, he or she cannot live life to the fullest. Other stories are more for the amusement of adults, with songs within the stories that require wit to be understood. And still other stories tell about how people lived in the past, what tools and equipment they used, and how and where they hunted.
Nobody knows the historical origin of these stories, although real places are mentioned in many of them. We do know that these stories have taught-and continue to teach-Inuit about their ancestors and how they lived-everything from how objects were placed in igluit (snow houses) and in tents, how rocks were used to cover corpses in Inuit burial grounds, how to use Inuit tools, and how to show respect to Elders, as well as Inuit beliefs and taboos. The stories have also provided information about the animal world, the living land and even words that are no longer used by the present-day Inuit, who live in a very different world than their ancestors.
Visit the Media Gallery—Inuit to see more from the Library and Archives Canada collection.