Introducing the science of Qallunology


NASIVVIK By Zebedee Nungak

Windspeaker Columnist; Archives 2006

Nasivvik is an Inuktitut word that means vantage point. It can be a height of land, a hummock of ice, or any place of elevation that affords observers a clear view of their surroundings to make good observations.



Before explaining Qallunology, let us first briefly touch upon a respectable branch of academia called Eskimology: the study, by others, of Inuit traditions, customs, and languages.

Anthropologists the world over have earned eminent reputations, and compiled huge volumes of works from their studies of how Inuit live in all corners of the Arctic. Numerous universities and museums around the world possess great collections of Inuit artifacts and stories.

To put it bluntly, Inuit have been studied to death. There is nothing in Inuit life that has not been examined, analyzed or documented. Some scholars of Eskimology have attained enough knowledge in their specialty of the science to dare to be on the threshold of "out-Eskimo-ing the Eskimos."

Eskimologists gather every two years at events called Inuit Studies Conferences in different cities all over the world to talk shop about their respective knowledge and acquired expertise. Reflecting on this subject one day, I recalled the times when the few Qallunaat (white men) we encountered lived in warm wooden houses, while we lived in igloos. They seemed to lack no material thing. Their food was delicious, all their women were beautiful, and even their garbage was good!

As a boy, I had an innocent ambition to be like the Qallunaat. The measure of my success would be when my garbage equaled theirs. In my youth, I lived among the Qallunaat for seven years in their land. During that time, my discoveries of their peculiarities sparked my interest in what could be called Qallunology. This is the study of Qallunaat ways in such fashion as Inuit ways have been the subject of Eskimology.

The operative curiosity in Qallunology may not be scholarly in an academic sense, but is no less informative. Nobody has an academic degree in this discipline. None can yet be referred to as "that eminent Qallunologist." But, many Inuit who have been exposed to Qallunaat-dom through deep immersion in their world could write some credible discourses on the subject.

Having coined the term "Qallunology", I might rightly claim to be a Qallunologist. But, such a claim would have to be backed up with a body of academic work, eventually sufficient to organize the first Qallunaat Studies Conference. There's much to cover in this richly exploitable subject. Qallunaat names are a translator's delight: Noseworthy, Goodenough, Middlemiss, Sexsmith. Some names have no obvious translation, but sound like they have character: McCorkindale, Vandervoort, Hotchkiss.

Their custom of abbreviating first names doesn't seem to follow a standard formula. Robert can be Rob, Robbie, Bob, Bobby or Bert. Charles is Charlie, but can be Chuck. What sleight of hand makes a Henry a Hank? And how does Richard become a Dick, if not a Rich or a Rick?

Their language contains scores of weirdnesses. For example, they will never use a Q without it being followed by a U. By this rule, the science of Qallunology would have to be spelled Quallunology, which is nonsensical. If you're making your debut, don't ever say de-BUTT. If you score a coup-de-grace, make sure you pronounce it KOO-de-GRAAH.

We know Qallunaat, of course, by the way they eat; with a fork and a dull knife known by Inuit as nuvuittuq (without point). There is a whole etiquette to eating too cumbersome to describe in detail. If you have the misfortune to burp, belch or fart during a meal, you have to be civil and say, "Excuse me!" in a sincere enough demeanor to the other diners.

Having visitors over (having company), is mostly attached to some ritual of activity, such as a bridge game. If alcohol is served to guests, it's amazingly incidental, and not the main item of attention. Nobody gets drunk, but there's a lot of talking! Then, there seems to be an obligation to talk even more at the door before guests leave. Guest and hosts lingering forever at the entrance to talk volumes about nothing in particular is one of the surest tradmarks of being in Qallunaat-dom.

Their samenesses and distinctnesses can be utterly baffling. An Irishman from Northern Ireland looks exactly the same as one from the South. Why is there such savage conflict among same-looking civilized people? Some rate their own calling. The French are called Ouigouit by Inuit, but this label could have gone either way if the first of their arrivals had kept saying "Non-non" instead.

My original fascination points about Qallunaat were transformed over time. Their food is, after all, not all delicious, and becomes quite dreary after a while, for it's mostly squeezed of all blood. Not all of their women are beautiful. And, nowadays, our garbage is just as good as theirs, an indicator that, we have, in many ways, become "Qallunatized". Any way you look at it, Qallunology is an intriguing study subject!