Lesson #67: The Inukshuk

Autobiographical note: I was blessed with a stupidly good sense of direction.* I can go somewhere once and six months later get myself back there without a map. It astounded my travel companions in Hungary that it took me less than three days to memorize the layout of the city and that when they thought I had no idea where we were going and was going blind without a map and I had to fight them every step of the way to trust me, I landed us back to a point where they knew where they were. It made me laugh when they just stood there in the square, perplexed, and went “how did you do that?” It’s really too bad this isn’t a marketable skill because I take an inordinate amount of pleasure from seeing how quickly I can learn to get around a new place.

Given that the symbol of the Vancouver Olympics is an inukshuk, I thought I’d look into them in more depth.

Here’s what I know about the inukshuk: they’re traditional Inuit structures made of stones to serve as navigational guides way up north where there are no trees or houses or roads to use as bearings.

Here’s what I learned: the plural is inuksuit, the word means “likeness of a person” in Inuktuit, they can be a single rock or many and can range from a few inches to a couple hundred feet tall, they were traditionally used as directional guides for travellers, but also to warn of danger, to indicate hunting or fishing grounds, to mark stashes of food or weapons, to mark a place of respect, or to assist in the hunt, there are different styles that mean different things, whether they indicate open water, direction, hunting or fishing grounds or a memorial. Most importantly Inuit tradition forbids the destruction of an inukshuk, which may explain the fact that so many survive and that they are one of the very few types of similar navigational guides that existed in the ancient world that remain intact.**

*How this happened is a bit of a mystery, to be honest. My maternal grandfather was famously bad with directions.

**More information can be found here.

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