Dada Comes to the Inuit

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Devoutly Muslim Afghans destroy great big Buddhas. Devoutly Christian Eskimos destroy ancient Dorset carvings:

qajartalik.jpg

Canada's only major Arctic petroglyph site—a 1,500-year-old gallery of mysterious faces carved into a soapstone ridge on a tiny island off of Quebec's northern coast—has been ransacked by vandals in what the region's top archeologist suspects was a religiously motivated attack by devout Christians from a nearby Inuit community.

For years, heritage advocates have sought special protection for the ancient etchings at Qajartalik Island, located about one hour by boat from the 500-resident village of Kangiqsujuaq. Experts believe they were created by the extinct Dorset culture, an artistically advanced civilization that occupied much of the eastern Arctic before they were killed or driven away by the Thule ancestors of modern Inuit….

duchamp.jpg

But the site has been dubbed "the Island of the Stone Devils" because some of the faces—possibly depicting a Dorset shaman in religious costume—appear to be adorned with horns. In the past, crosses have been scratched on the "pagan" petroglyphs and some area residents have told researchers they believe the site is infested with evil spirits.

My art history's a little rusty, but I think Duchamp offered the same explanation when he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Anyway, I figure there's two natural libertarian responses to this. One is to call for the privatization of Qajartalik, on the grounds that archeology buffs will do a better job than the government of protecting the north's frozen heritage. The other is to celebrate the cross-carvers, on the grounds that they're rejecting the staid hierarchies of the past and treating human culture as a living conversation to be joined. And of course, those of us who have watched too many horror movies must also consider the possibility that the devil-fearing vandals are right.

NEXT: What Drove Karr?

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  1. Why is pagan in scare quotes? Was their religion originally from Abraham?

  2. Because they aren’t pagan carvings — that’s just what the inuit were calling them

  3. Privatization would be nice, but it’s not a condition precedent for insisting that people not go around destroying that which does not belong to them, whether public or private.

  4. We must wipe out the devil worshippers and their artifacts wherever we find them. We shall slay them. We shall erase their footprints from the earth. It is our obligation to our One True Loving God, (insert name).

  5. But of course they will not vandalize all the scrimshaw for sale in the Inuit stores…

    Nose-rubbing ice-dwelling fish-eaters.

  6. And yet, as the members severally shook their heads and confessed defeat at the Inspector’s problem, there was one man in that gathering who suspected a touch of bizarre familiarity in the monstrous shape and writing, and who presently told with some diffidence of the odd trifle he knew. This person was the late William Channing Webb, Professor of Anthropology in Princeton University, and an explorer of no slight note. Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic inscriptions which he failed to unearth; and whilst high up on the West Greenland coast had encountered a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness. It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little, and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless rites and human sacrifices there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil or tornasuk; and of this Professor Webb had taken a careful phonetic copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how. But just now of prime significance was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around which they danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cliffs. It was, the professor stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone, comprising a hideous picture and some cryptic writing. And so far as he could tell, it was a rough parallel in all essential features of the bestial thing now lying before the meeting.

    This data, received with suspense and astonishment by the assembled members, proved doubly exciting to Inspector Legrasse; and he began at once to ply his informant with questions. Having noted and copied an oral ritual among the swamp cult-worshippers his men had arrested, he besought the professor to remember as best he might the syllables taken down amongst the diabolist Esquimaux. There then followed an exhaustive comparison of details, and a moment of really awed silence when both detective and scientist agreed on the virtual identity of the phrase common to two hellish rituals so many worlds of distance apart. What, in substance, both the Esquimaux wizards and the Louisiana swamp-priests had chanted to their kindred idols was something very like this: the word-divisions being guessed at from traditional breaks in the phrase as chanted aloud:

  7. We must wipe out the devil worshippers and their artifacts wherever we find them. We shall slay them. We shall erase their footprints from the earth. It is our obligation to our One True Loving God, Whiskey!

  8. Canada needs a lesson from Alcatraz where the US Park Service maintains all the graffiti and damage done during the AIM occupation in the early 1970’s because it’s also part of the history of Alcatraz Island

    Or maybe they should just burn the village to the ground and shoot all the locals.

  9. Not to brag or anything, but back when I was still a believer, my God was a totally kickass omnipotent deity who could create the universe out of pure thought and alter the very fabric of time and space itself any damn time he wanted. How pathetic do you have to be to worship some wussy loser who can’t even handle the threat of a stone carving without your help?

  10. Speaking of whiskey, maybe it was just a bunch of drunk teens looking for fun?

  11. Holy cow, that’s a cool Lovecraftian take-off!

    Esquimaux! hee hee hee!

  12. What Jennifer just said….

  13. In West Texas they have these fabulous cave paintings out by the Pecos River. I forget how old they are. They have to guard them 24/7 to keep people from putting up grafitti. Man, those evangelical Inuits really must get around.

  14. “Holy cow, that’s a cool Lovecraftian take-off!”

    Actually, that’s not a take-off, that’s a direct quote from “The Call of Cthulhu”: http://magnus.gustavsson.se/cthulhu.pdf (see pages 8-9).

  15. To follow up before the server squirrels take their lunch break, Lovecraft was interested in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and thus they feature in several of his stories.

  16. If anyone cares: I like to do just like the rest, and I like my sugar sweet.

  17. **runs to Quinn the Eskimo**

  18. Did the carvings look anything like this?

  19. Thanks SR,

    I didn’t know Lovecraft was in the public domain. I haven’t read that story in years. I think he gets the prize for darkest writer of time. I guess growing up Providence will do that to you.

  20. “I didn’t know Lovecraft was in the public domain.”

    The publishing firm Arkham House obtained a legal opinion letter several years ago finding that Lovecraft’s works should be considered public domain based on the combination of the time of Lovecraft’s death (1937), the apparent failure of Lovecraft’s literary executor (August Derleth) and his successors to file paperwork with the LOC to preserve the rights through various amendments of the copyright law, and the tortured history of how the works were written and published (often there were collaborative drafts with other authors; Lovecraft borrowed extensively from earlier writers like Dunsay; many of the stories were published in pulp magazines that didn’t really keep track of rights in the first place and frequently went out of business abruptly; etc.). AFAIK, no one has challenged this determination. (It also certainly helps that Lovecraft died without any direct descendants and his closest family members hated his writing and pretty much disowned it.)

  21. Hey – thanks for the Call of Cthulhu url, SR. I think I’ll add it to the post.

  22. Though the past is a foreign coutry, parts of it were privatized long ago. Stephens bought Copan from a CentralAmerican Republic latifundista for $50 in 1848, and Thompson likewise purchased Chichen Itza before he dredged its Sacred Well.

    If Bamiyan had made the grade as a tourist attraction, the Buddha would still be standing, and it is not too late to save Mesopotamia for civilization by turning it into The Mother of All Theme Parks.

    Is it not an excellent thing , to waterslide in triumph through Persepolis ?

  23. Jennifer,

    back when I was still a believer, my God was a totally kickass omnipotent deity who could create the universe out of pure thought and alter the very fabric of time and space itself any damn time he wanted. How pathetic do you have to be to worship some wussy loser who can’t even handle the threat of a stone carving without your help?

    Working off the assumption that your religion was Judaism when you were a believer, I have only one question: have you ever, ya know, read the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures? Cause there were a lot of instances of your coreligionists destroying idols at your (and my) God’s behest. In particular, I seem to recall a certain golden calf being ground up and eaten, while its worshippers were having their throats cut.

    It just cracks me up how many Jews portray Christianity as being intolerant and irrational, while pretending that their religion has always been a bastion of tolerance and rationality. As the Drug-Free America kid would say, we learned it by watching you.

  24. Speaking of “The Call Of Cthulhu…”

    http://www.cthulhulives.org/cocmovie/index.html

    I picked this up last fall. Besides being the most accurate translation of Lovecraft put to film, for a movie made by die-hard fans on a shoestring budget, it’s DAMN good.

    (Yes. It does feature “Esquimaux” at one point.)

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