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Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner - An Inuit legend of disharmony and ultimate healing

The Legend of Atanarjuat and Amajuat


Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is the first Inuit-made feature-length movie ever produced. It is based on an Inuit legend, an intricate narrative of disharmony, conflict, and ultimate healing that focuses on events surrounding two brothers: Atanarjuat and his older brother Amajuat.1 Several variants of the legend are in circulation in the Igloolik area. One was told by Michel Kupaaq in an interview with Therese Ukaliannuk on 6 March 1990:

I have seen two stones that used to be used as benches. One near Pingiqalik and one at Iksivautaujaak. I am not sure what it means; however, this I know – that in the winter time the walrus usually frequent around the area where the bench is situated at the place near Pingiqalik. And in addition, in a place where we usually refer to as Iksivautaujaak on this island, there used to be two stone benches, but the bench that the older brother Aamarjuaq used had now been knocked over. The bench that the younger brother Atanaarjuat used still had not been moved at this moment.

One still can see the gravel that they used to make their walrus cache in around the grounds of the stone bench.2 At that time they did not have shovels or anything like that, so they buried their cache using bones for a shovel. Higher up there are stone formations that are said to have contained seal skin blubber containers. Further up there are qammat [small shack] ruins.

It is believed that the two brothers used to keep a watch for their floats that had been used on a bowhead whales earlier in their hunts. So they would wait on their benches for the floats to show up around that area. These harpoon floats were made from a bearded seal skin. When the winds started to blow from the southerly direction, the harpoon floats would become visible out in the horizon. When the floats came into view they were usually attached to a bowhead whale. With the help of the currents and the wind, the floats would come into view. The main purpose for the floats was so that the carcass of the whale would not be missed when it passed through. As the two brothers were successful hunters, the rest of the hunters felt jealous about their hunting ability. Both brothers had two wives with them. The other wife would be staying in another place while the other stayed in another one, more particularly one would be staying with the rest of the people that stayed at the old sod houses that are still visible at Igloolik Point. Because the rest of the hunters were jealous of their ability and the fact that they could not outdo the brothers in any way, a plot to kill themwas put into motion one spring. The rest of the hunters knew that once the ice had left that the two brothers would again practise their mastery of hunting skills to kill bowhead whales and wait for the floats to show up on the horizon while they waited on their stone benches. In the spring time while the two brothers were out hunting on the ice not far away from their camp, as a matter of fact the tents were still visible from the location where they hunted, they could see some activities going in the other camp. When the two brothers returned to their camp they asked their wives to go and check the other camp to see what might be going on in the other camp for they have seen some activities silhouetted against the sky. While the two wives still had not returned from the other camp both men went to sleep.

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