July 13

The Great Northern Arts Festival is still in full swing and I attend a different performance every evening.

One of the great passions of the Inuvialuit is to tell stories through dance and music.
Most of the stories are quite old but still have significance today since they are stories of everyday life. A few examples: the story of a hunter who comes home empty handed after having spent a long time trying to find game. Another story about a successful caribou hunt and how long the community can live off the meat.
A further story about the enjoyment of a family gathering and the cooking of a big meal. There are many more, all handed down from generation to generation.
It seems that each community, or town, have the similar, but not quite the same stories and presentation. Also, some, like in Inuvik, take great pride in wearing traditional costumes for their performances while others, like Paulatuk, have a very relaxed attitude where the only distinguishable type of a costume is that they wear white shirts.
What they all have in common, though, is that each dance only lasts a very short time, from between 30 seconds to roughly 90 seconds.

Last night I attended a performance of a very different kind; throat singing. Two women performed songs that consisted only of sounds. The sounds vary from very soft and subtle to very loud and harsch in indescribable melodies. Some "songs" were calm and soothing, others were fast, loud and rhythmic. Each "song" lasted for up to five minutes. I was able to capture some on video; I hope they come out well.

One evening the audience was given a preview of what is a big event all of next week; the native games.
These are competitive sporting events of sports that one will never see in the Olympics. Some of them are:
single handed ball grab: the athlete balances his/her body on one hand and with the other hand tries to grab a ball, suspended at a certain height. The height is increased until the final contestent cannot grab it anymore.
Another contest is the single ball kick; a small ball is suspended from a pole and the contestants need to kick the ball with one foot. They are allowed a distance of about ten feet to create momentum for the jump. The highest we saw was about 10 feet; incredible strength and power to kick that high from a near standing position.
A third one, quite funny, was rope jumping. The contestant sits on the floor while two people swing the rope.
The contestant has to clear the rope by lifting his whole body from the ground so that the rope can pass underneath; he/she does this by, literally, jumping off his/her butt, using arms to create the momentum.
Everybody had a lot of fun with this one since it not only looks funny but also is quite painful for the contestants landing on their sitting bones between "jumps"; the expressions on their faces told the story.
These games are not only meant to be athletic events; some of the events are to demonstrate the tolerance to pain.
This was very evident in the "toe walking" event in which the contestants bend their toes under their feet and walk as far as they can.
It should be fun next week.

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