Throat Singing, Mama Parkas and Eskimo Kisses

Two women throat singing.
A man in a kayak.
Women wearing parkas and one woman carrying her son in the hoodie.
Two westerners rubbing their noses together.
A mother and her child sharing the same hoodie.

Inuit culture has undergone major changes in recent years. However, many traditional cultural characteristics do live on, at least in certain local communities. One of these characteristics is the kunik, which is an affectionate greeting between family members. This greeting involves pressing one’s nose and upper lip against the other person’s cheek and breathing in, making a kunik basically the same thing as sniffing someone’s facial skin.

Throat singing

Another, very emblematic, Inuit custom is throat singing. This is a type of competitive song consisting of repeated but varied sounds produced in the throat, which typically two people sing together at a set pace. While singing, in throat singing’s competitive tradition, the person in the duet who runs out of breath first or is unable to keep pace with the rhythm loses, giving throat singers with good stamina an advantage. Inuit women, with or without good stamina, are the ones in the Arctic community who are most dedicated to throat singing, although some men also enjoy the practice.

Continuing with women’s traditions, many Inuit women still maintain the practice of carrying their babies in large hoods on the back of their parkas. In this way, babies get their very own compartment within their mother’s hood, and depending on the weather, can rest completely sheltered under the outermost cover or stick their heads out and see their surroundings. The practical mama parka can be worn all year round, but above all proves its usefulness on cold winter days when families need to go outside.

Eskimo kisses

Moving on to Western conventions as they relate to the Inuit, people of European origin have traditionally called the Inuit Eskimos. Today, due to the word Eskimo being considered offensive, this is seldom done, but the classification itself lives on in Western culture in the term Eskimo kiss. An Eskimo kiss, according to Western tradition, takes place when two people rub their noses together, and it is believed to be a popular way for Inuit people to show affection to each other. However, rubbing noses is not something that Inuit generally do, and the idea that Arctic people Eskimo kiss each other probably stems from the kunik being misunderstood or misrepresented.

Kayaks

An imitation of Inuit tradition that, contrary to the Eskimo kiss, has not been subject to misrepresentation is kayaking. Kayaking was first undertaken in the Arctic, with the first kayaks being made of driftwood or bones covered in seal skin, and when Westerners saw this Arctic invention, they replicated it and began producing it in their factories. The industrially-produced kayaks later became available to the Inuit too, and instead of continuing to make them by hand, the Inuit nowadays often rely on industrially-produced kayaks as well.