Elisha Kilabuk, a master Inuit throat singer and storyteller, will be performing this coming Saturday, September 26, at the Unikkarvik Visitor’s Centre in Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut Territory.
Kilabuk, who was born in Iqaluit, learned stories from his mother, Mukpaloo Kilabuk, who learned them from her father, Inuksiaq. “I’ve been hearing stories and telling them most of my life,” he told a Northern News Service reporter. He said they did not have video games when he was growing up, and while they were outside most of the time, when the weather was bad they would play indoors until their mother got tired of the running around. She would then start to sing a song, her prelude for a story.
He recalls her storytelling fondly. “It’s like watching a movie when you’re hearing a story of legends,” he told the reporter. The legends, he said, mostly concerned orphans overcoming troubles and how the birds and animals came to be. But the stories also had social significance. “The stories teach of discipline and how you have to treat other people and how people can retaliate even though they’re smaller than a person who is important and much bigger. They teach you how to treat people nicely.”
For Kilabuk, the importance of telling these stories to younger audiences is the fact that they are passed along orally, from one generation to the next, the way he learned his tales from his mother. He feels that the Inuit are in danger of losing their spoken language, and preserving their oral heritage, their wealth of stories and songs, helps maintain it.
The Commissioner of Nunavut, Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, expressed her admiration for Kilabuk. She said she was amazed at how many stories he knew, and that he had learned them so effectively at a young age. “We were blown away the first time we heard him in public,” she recalled. She gave him the Acquisition of Special Skills award for Nunavut Territory in 2006 because of the way he effectively introduces Inuit children to traditional songs and stories—and helps older people treasure their cultural heritage.
He shared both his songs and his stories this summer at the Iqualuit visitor’s center, captivating audiences constantly. Steven Curley, coordinator of the center, commented that, for the audiences, it was as if they were watching TV. “He could just go on for hours with the stories he knows,” Curley said. “He is a very talented Inuit artist. We’re very fortunate to have him in Iqaluit.”
He will be performing at the Visitor’s Center with Annabella Piugattuk beginning at 1:30 PM on Saturday afternoon.