June 9th, 2006


The airport in Halifax had one of those “buy stuff made in this area” stores in it, which worked out well for me since I was having “I’m leaving the country without anything to remember it with!” thoughts. They had shirts, throw rugs, painted shells, food – all the normal things stores like that have.

I picked up a couple of small things for gifts, but didn’t really see anything I wanted for myself. I was just about to leave the store when something caught my eye. It was a little statue made up of flat stones and it was labeled “Inukshuk.” I didn’t know what to make of it, but there was a sheet of paper with a description in the case with the statues. After I read it, I decided very much I wanted one of the little statues. When I asked the lady to get one for me I mentioned that what really did it for me was the printed description. She, being Canadian and therefore extra-nice, offered to run a photocopy of it for me. I thanked her, bought my statue, and headed for my gate.

Here is a picture of my Inukshuk and then the text of the description in the case:


The Inukshuk, a construction of rocks configured to resemble the human form, has been used by the Inuit for thousands of years. Literally translated the word “Inukshuk” means “pretend person,” a useful construction in a land so sparsely populated.

In this vast and often lonely land, the Inukshuk has served many purposes for Arctic travellers. Constructed without arms, an Inukshuk traditionally indicated the territory of a family group. In the barren lands of the Arctic, an Inukshuk with one arm served as a guide for travellers, pointing them in the direction of the most favourable route. Some Inukshuk featured a peephole in the centre through which travellers could view the tiny dot of another distant Inukshuk.

Often, an Inukshuk indicated the presence of a food cache intended to sustain a traveller on the next leg of a journey, or the abundance of fish, caribou, muskoxen or other animals in the area. Always, the Inukshuk was a sign that, though it may have been thousands of years ago, another human being had been there before and survived. The Inukshuk is a timeless sign of the mortal, a part of the human continuum.

“Whenever I am around an Inukshuk, I am never afraid. I see the Inukshuk and know that it was built by people, and as a result, it will protect me from bad spirits.” – Inuit belief

While I don’t believe a statue will “protect me from bad spirits,” it particularly hit me that the Inukshuk was a sign that other people had been there before and had made it through. It reminded me that we all go through the same things because we’re all human.

King Solomon said it best “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in ancient times before us.”

The shame of it, though, is that even though we all go through similar problems and heartaches, we rarely talk to other people about them. We don’t feel like we can because it’s something too personal, too embarrassing. The exact help we need is in the people around us. It’s a two-way street: if someone comes to me, it’s my responsibilty to do what I can for them. Being shocked or not wanting to help or belittling their situation is a betrayal to our connection as humans.

Maybe this won’t seem all that great to you and you might even think it’s a little weird or funny that it struck me so much, but I like being reminded that, no matter what I’m going through, someone else has been there before, and they made it.

Somehow, that’s comforting.

5 Comments on “Inukshuk”

  1. HorizonPurple says:

    I'm going to admit this made me cry a little. In the good way. *hug*

  2. Jigsaw Pig says:

    Well spotted, that little gem about them leaving little Inukshuks with peepholes through which they could look to see another, more distant, Inukshuk was wonderful. I will treasure the image.

  3. Zeegs says:

    Hey, I found your site through a Theatre Hopper Guest Strip you did with Joe Dunn and noticed your Inukshuk and that you got it in Halifax near where I live.

    This is a link to a historical commercial about Inukshuks that they run in Canada as part of a series. I'm not sure if you've heard of these before, but they are pretty big up here.

  4. wew says:

    Great post, Mark – you could have made your own Inukshuk though. We saw them on top of the many rocks we drove by – all made by people passing by (somehow – we couldn't figure out where they would have parked a car & riding a bike would have meant miles upon miles, but then, I am old . . .), but I liked the story that accompanied it. And thanks for your added wisdom.

  5. TheBon says:

    There are so many forms that inuksuit take, but my favorite is the innunguaq or human-shaped ones like the one you picked up. I did some cataloging of images of some Alaskan inuksuit last summer when I worked up there, and then ended up doing more research and writing a whole paper for them last fall. There's a great book by Norman Hallendy that talks about them and has really stunning photographs of them. They're fascinating, with all of their forms and meanings.

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