Fascinating wooden charts of the Tunumiit

So much of my work is about the incredible potential of hand held memory devices. These carved maps of the Tunumiit culture of Greenland combine the two methods I use most: the landscape and handheld devices. How logical is it to make a portable pattern for the sung landscape to use as a memory device for vast amounts of practical knowledge?

Why didn’t I think of that? I am now going to carve a piece of wood to match one of my landscape walks. Click on the images to get the whole story.

Holm wrote: “A native from Sermelik, called Angmagainak, who had never had a pencil in his hand and had only once visited the East coast, drew a fine chart for me covering the whole distance from Tingmiarniut to Sermiligak, about 280 miles.” They also provided him with incredibly detailed descriptions of terrain, flora and fauna, and, in some cases, local weather patterns and lunar and solar cycles.

There are examples from all over the world of the ignorance of the Eurocentricity doubting the intellect of indigenous cultures – of anything different from their way of doing things:

Some contemporaries of Holm doubted that Inuit people were capable of producing these types of maps, and that they were just the result of mimicry—classic Eurocentrism. In 1886, one Mr. Hansen-Blangsted argued in the French Minutes of the Meetings of the Geographical Society and the Central Commission that it was highly improbable that an “Eskimo” could possess the mental faculties to “invent” a three-dimensional wooden map. It was much more logical, he posited, that some shipwrecked European sailor taught the practice to the Tunumiit hunter—conveniently ignoring, of course, that no Western seafaring tradition had ever produced maps like this. Holm disputed Hansen-Blangsted’s racist claims and jumped in to defend the skill, memory, and intellectual capacity of the East Greenlanders he had gotten to know.

Thank you, Sue McLeod, for pointing me to this article.





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Author: lynne

I am an Honorary Researcher at LaTrobe University. I am the author of 19 books, the most recent being 'Spiders: learning to love them' (Allen & Unwin), 'Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies' (Cambridge University Press, 'The Memory Code' (Allen & Unwin, AUS; Pegasus Books, US and Atlantic Books, UK), 'Memory Craft' (Allen & Unwin, AUS; Pegasus Books, US) [and foreign translations, audio versions and so on]. My latest book is co-authored by Margo Neale. 'Songlines: the power and promise' and published by Thames & Hudson with the National Museum of Australia.

6 thoughts on “Fascinating wooden charts of the Tunumiit”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing, this is fascinating, would love to hear and watch someone interpret those maps, but that wont be happening – it seems they were made specifically by one person for another, like a mud map and field guide combined?
    I read the linked article with great interest. I have a teeny hiccup each time I see ‘Inuit’, as have read debates on how we generalise words that came from specific peoples – but that is not what the essence of the article is about, so probably shouldn’t mention.

    1. I agree with your hiccup. I find this issue so often – what is the correct term to use for indigenous cultures? If at all possible, I use the name of the specific language group. But what if you want to talk about a group of related cultures? There is often debate between those cultures about the correct term to use.

      The reason that you may not hear the interpretation is that it could be restricted information – only available to those initiated to that level of the culture. This is common in most, if not all, oral cultures because that restriction ensures accurate recall. Otherwise information can be corrupted by the so-called Chinese whispers effect.

      The big lesson for us is the way we can learn the memory techniques from the experts in memory systems – indigenous cultures.

      Thank you for your comment and apologies for the delay in replying!


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