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Some Ethnolinguistic Notes on Polar Eskimo


Stephen Leonard

This book serves as an insightful ethnographic introduction to the language and oral traditions of the Inugguit, a sub-group of the Inuit who live in north-west Greenland. A unique work, it encompasses an overview of the grammar of Polar Eskimo – a language spoken by about 770 people – as well as a description of their oral traditions (drum-dancing and story-telling) and the most extensive glossary of the language compiled to date. The book presents the Polar Eskimo language in the orthography established by the author in conjunction with the local community in Greenland, an extremely difficult task for a language made up of such an aberrant phonology and with no written tradition. By exploring their ways of speaking and ways of belonging, Leonard provides an original ethnographic interpretation of the nature of Inugguit social organization and their world-view. Some Ethnolinguistic Notes on Polar Eskimo will serve as an invaluable resource for linguists who specialise in the Eskimo-Aleut group and will be of much interest to anthropologists working in the Arctic region.
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Chapter 12: The Tradition of Drum-Dancing



The Tradition of Drum-Dancing

Hauser (2010) provides us with a very comprehensive account of drum-dancing and singing in the Thule area, and therefore just a brief summary of the tradition and its current status will be given here. The most salient comment to make is the regrettable demise of the tradition over such a short period of time. Hauser worked in the region in 1962 and collected over 300 songs. Today, it would be difficult to find much more than a handful of people who remember the songs and who play the drum for anything other than a commercial reason.

The generic term for drum-songs is inngerutin. The only songs that are remembered today are drum-songs related to a specific person and sung purely for entertainment. These are called piheq and were sung previously on festive occasions, often in connection with a meal. Piheq are traditional, pre-Christian songs, accompanied by a simple drum rhythm of three beats interspersed by a short rest. The first or third beat in the drum series tends to be accentuated and the drum is typically held in the left hand.

Drum song performances comprise singing, drumming and dancing. During the performance, the singer will often close or partially close his eyes and enter a sort of trance-like condition. The first description of the songs comes from Sir John Ross in his book, Voyage of Discovery (1819). He had come to the area in 1818 in...

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