Tallorutit – Maya Sialuk Jacobsen

The markings on the chin on Inuit women date back at least 3500 years. The very first image of an arctic human is a tiny mask of a Tunit woman whose face is adorned with magical lines. The Thule Culture that took over the lands of the Tunit shared a worldview and animistic spirit beliefs. With roots in their spirituality, women of the arctic have tattooed their bodies and faces for millennia. The mask woman shares the lines on the chin with Inuit women of today.

The Tallorutit marked the end of childhood and the beginning of womanhood with immense spiritual responsibility. As women, we were birth givers and bleeders, both connected to the spirit realm. That is why we had the Tallorutit – the chin lines that symbolized the breath of life.

The breath of life, the Tallorutit, has a new meaning in our postcolonial reality of today. It is not that we cease to be children, but that we start to be Inuit, unashamed and full of pride and resilience.

Those who have described our people have mainly paid attention to the Inuit men. The hunters with their exceptional ability to hunt game in the arctic frozen nature, which is as harsh as it is endless in size. The knowledge of nature’s ways and the technology of hunting tools evidences a highly specialized people. The Inuk women were often left out in the staggering amount of scientific reports on Inuit life. We are one of the most researched people on Earth, but no one has paid attention to the role of women, and how they survived the arctic circumstances.

In the old religion and world view the woman held a key position. Almost all of the more than 500 rules of life revolved around the woman and her daily chores. Taboos and rites limited her freedom, but secured the settlement goodwill of the spirits and thus good hunting. As the arctic permanently frozen land was impossible to cultivate, and the winter’s ice and snow covered the land for too long to plant or harvest, survival was based solely on what nature granted.

In our old religion Life was everything and everything was Life. The spirit of everything gave life and awareness to the spirits in everything. The ocean, the land, the sky, the rocks, the fog, the wind, the thought, the tool, the voice, the plant, the sleep. Everything had spirit and every spirit was connected to everything.

Everything being the arctic nature. Nature allowed us to experience and feed on nature. We were submissive to nature. Nature was the creator and the ancestors were the experienced ones who taught us how to live in the grace of nature through thousands of myths handed down orally from generation to generation. When in doubt, we asked the ancestors – they had done it, so they knew.

A woman ruled the sky together with her brother: the sunsister and the moon. He created all offspring in humans and animals alike with his control over tide, time and the female cycle. The sunsister granted the circumstances for living, sprucing andblooming.

Women tattooed their faces for the Sunsister. Initially, she was human and repeatedly raped by her brother so she fled in shame into the sky with burning moss in her hand and turned into the sun. Her brother ran after her. His burning moss went out from the speed of his leap and he began a chase of his burning sister on the sky, as a glowing light. When we wore the markings of the sun, we were reminded to be ever good and lifegiving despite life’s harsh circumstances.

A woman ruled the ocean and the animals that inhabited her realm. She was also human at first. She was thrown into the ocean as a young girl and when she attempted to rescue herself, her finger joints were cut off. Every finger joint became an animal of the ocean. When humans behaved according to the rules, she granted them animals to kill for food. When humans ignored taboos and rules, she held the animals back and the humans would starve and eventually die from famine.

Women tattooed lines on their fingers to remember to live right, and to honor the Ocean mother.

When the christian men from the South arrived to our shores they brought with them a new way of living, thinking and a new division of responsibilities between men and women.

Like everywhere else where Christianity arrived, the goddesses, the female rulers, the female healers disappeared. The protestant church that arrived in Greenland had even removed the mother of Christ.

The more than 500 rules of living disappeared. Nature was no longer the master. God was the master and his second in command was a pale man from another world.

The spirits of our tattoos no longer had power. Our drum songs were ridiculed and called simple. Our healers were baptized and reduced to normal subjects of an absent King and their healing powers were powerless against the new and strange illnesses that the men from the south brought with them.

300 years have passed and we now know that the spirits never died. They live in the knowledge of our ancestors. The drumsongs are still and again powerful and we admire their beauty and strength. We heal our souls from cultural assault by holding on to language and knowledge of nature, and by placing pigments in our skin with tiny stitches as we take our faces back from colonial goals of westernized and caucasian looking Inuit people. We escape the politics of blood quantums and hybrid breeds that are designed to divide us into categories of worth. The lighter skinned the easier the life. The more fluent we speak their language the easier the life. We now see the systemic racism and taught colonial mechanisms designed to keep us from ever becoming whole as individuals and as a people. Slowly we dismantle those mechanisms and slowly, we are building up the courage to ask the descendants of the colonizers and the missionaries to help us dismantle and turn the union under the danish flag into a truly equal one.

Person by person, song by song, stitch by stitch we become whole again.