As one travels across the Canadian Arctic, one will see piles of rock slabs and stone built to resemble the shape of a person with arms stretching out. These stone structures put up by Inuit are known as inukshuk (pronounced 'in-ook-shook'). In the Inuit language Inuktitut, inukshuk means "likeness of a person" or "in the image of man". The plural form of inukshuk is inuksuit or inukshuit. The inukshuk is a well known symbol in the Canadian north.
Traditionally, multiple inukshuk structures are used to guide or channel caribou into areas where Inuit hunters could easily harvest them. The hunters would often hide behind the larger inuksuit. The inukshuk can also be found along Arctic coastlines as markers to open channels for navigation. Inland where the tundra is treeless, the inukshuk could indicate direction of a valley for travel through mountains. The longer arm of an inukshuk points in the direction that one should travel to. Sometimes an inukshuk could have a peep hole in the middle and if someone looked through it, another inukshuk in the distance could be seen.
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An inukshuk could serve as a marker for fish. This inukshuk would be placed at an equal distance from the shoreline to where the fish could be found in a lake. A food cache can be marked by an inukshuk although in this case, the figure would be more like a neat pile of stones without arms or legs. Sometimes caribou antlers would be placed on top of an inukshuk marking the food cache.
Occasionally, an inukshuk functioned as a spiritual or sacred object. Inuit sometimes tell stories and legends where older inuksuit that were built by their ancestors are mentioned. Large inuksuit built on hill tops were also used to mark the territory of Inuit family groups.
The Inuit inukshuk has evolved into more than just stone markers. It has become a symbol of leadership, cooperation and the human spirit. Each stone of an inukshuk is a separate entity but was chosen for how well it fits together with other stones. The stones are secured through balance. Each one supports the one above it and is supported by the one below it. Together, the stones achieve strength through unity. This effect is applied to a philosophy for people where a group can achieve greater success with cooperation and team effort rather than individually. The inukshuk stands for the importance of friendship and reminds us of our dependence on one another.
This significance of the Inuit inukshuk is so popular that it has been incorporated into the flag and coat of arms for the Nunavut territory of Canada as well as the flag of Nunatsiavut which represents the Inuit region in Labrador (see Arctic Region of Inuit Art).
Rankin Inlet has a giant inukshuk overlooking the Inuit community. Small versions of inukshuk could be found along highways in southern Canada as well, often on top of rock ledges. Even the Toronto International airport has contemporary inukshuk sculptures outside one of its terminals pointing the way to the entrance for passengers. The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics mascot Ilanaaq is also based on the Inuit inukshuk.
The inukshuk is a popular subject for Inuit art carvers. Some carvers prefer to carve details on a single piece to resemble the separate stones of an inukshuk while other carvers will glue together smaller, separately carved pieces to build an inukshuk carving. Below are some examples of nice inukshuk Inuit carvings. See the Canadian coin with the Inuit inukshuk.
Today, the Inuit make some very nice inukshuk carvings. Just imagine having such an interesting piece of artwork displayed in your home. See Inuit art carvings including inukshuk pieces at very affordable online prices at Free Spirit Gallery.
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