The Hungry Wolfs
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Notes from DaVic Gallery: ‘The Hungry Wolfs’ – The Inuit respect wolves for their hunting abilities, particularly their speed and endurance. If parents wanted their child to be a good caribou hunter, they would place on his ankle, or on his first footwear, an anklet made of the muscle fiber of the feet and lower leg of a wolf. This helped to ensure that he would be able to run with the speed, strength, and endurance of a wolf, ensuring that he would catch many caribou. When they had time to spare, both young and older Inuit often played the game amaruujaq, “the wolf game”, a version of “tag”.
Wolves are associated with caribou, mainly because they closely follow migratory caribou across the tundra. In fact, one legend tells how wolves were created in order to keep the caribou healthy. Another describes how a great shaman, Arnakpaktuq, was born as a wolf and learned how to hunt with them. Inuit traditionally did not hunt wolves for meat, although if one were killed its fur was used for parka trimmings and other purposes. Wolves occasionally robbed meat caches, which made them very unpopular.
The life of the wolves is seen as very tiring – they are so busy pursuing caribou that they barely have time to mate. For this reason, wolves mate even more quickly than dogs. Female wolves give birth to their young in a den known as a tisi, where the pups are nursed and the males supply food. Once they grow big enough, in August or September, the young wolves accompany their parents on the hunt.
Oral history from Igloolik does not include many stories about wolves; they were encountered mostly on the mainland, in outpost camps or during caribou hunts. However, the Inuit do mention the existence of packs of “famished wolves” known as kajjait. These kajjait, starving because of the lack of prey, could attack parties of people out on the land, and had to be guarded against. This is one reason for including the wolf, along with the polar bear, in the group iqsinaqtuit, “those that make one frightened”. Normally, though, wolves do not attack people, relying instead on caribou and smaller prey, such as lemmings, hares, and ground squirrels.
The traditional hunting method would be to erect a series of inukshuiit in a funnel shaped pattern narrowing to a dead end on a hillside. The hunters would hide behind the inukshuiit armed with their bows and arrows. The women and children would herd the caribou towards the hunters by waving hides up and down to create loud noises, enabling the hunters to move behind the herd. The inukshuiit would also double as landmarks or cairns (stone piles) identifying the locations of caches of stored meat.
The owl may be considered a protector for the hunter from evil and monsters that attack hunters when travelling alone.