Study reaps knowledge from names
“Richest detail came from people with most experience on the land”
Communities should record and locate traditional place names in Inuktitut because they hold a wealth of information about the environment, culture and history.
An anthropologist from the United States is helping the hamlet of Cape Dorset document this place-name information, with funding from Nunavut’s department of culture, language, elders and youth, the Inuit Heritage Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
This month, Anne Henshaw of the Coastal Studies Centre at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, will meet residents, municipal officials and students in Cape Dorset to discuss place names she recorded in the community with the assistance of residents Aksatungua Ashoona, Pootoogook Eli and Akalayuk Qavavau.
“The richest detail came from people with the most experience on the land,” Henshaw said in a telephone interview before her expected arrival in Cape Dorset on Dec. 8.
The Inuktitut language, she said, is the repository of generations of experience. The names reveal information about ice, animal migrations and snowfields. She said the place names helped Inuit deal with changes in climate and remain safe when travelling on the land.
Place names around Cape Dorset that are connected to how people see the world include:
* Amanguatuq: a place that resembles a women carrying a baby in an amautiq.
* Aiviqqat: the islands resemble walruses swimming as a group.
* Sinarnaq: a place that resembles a husky dog (the fur and the gray and white color).
* Taliruat: a place that resembles a walrus flipper, lots of seals and walrus during sea ice break up.
* Pitsik: a place where animals appear to be bouncing off the water.
Among names showing environmental knowledge are:
* Pattitaituk: a lake that doesn’t freeze all the way to the bottom.
* Arviturlik: a small bay for bowhead whale.
* Naujaaraajuit: a seagull nesting area, for fledgling birds.
* Qasigijjat: a place of harbor seals, nesting area for eider ducks.
* Sarvaalu: an inlet that doesn’t freeze in winter, where currents are very strong, with flowing water.
And some names that show history are:
* Ungujaqtalik: a place where lots of people lived in igloos.
* Tunniqjuat: the original camp of the Tuniit.
Recording place names doesn’t require more than willing collectors and a map, Henshaw said.
“It’s not rocket science, but it does take some science,” she said.
The science comes in when traditional place names are matched, one by one, with Global Positioning System locations on a digitized map.
Providing CDs showing an exact map location and photo of each place would be the next step in this project, so the names could be used in schools to pass on the knowledge to the next generation.
Better knowledge of place names could also lead to more culturally informed climate change policies, Henshaw said, because there would be a richer official record of the land’s role in peoples’ lives.