Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner





Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner

The release of Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner in 2001 marked a defining moment in the Northern American history in cinema. Being the first ever Inuit-produced feature, the movie gained popularity as the only wide-release film done in native language. Characterized by narrative elements of revenge, love, struggles for power and jealousy, the movie best described as a universal, mythic nature likening to such fictional film classics and narratives in history. The award winner of the Camera d’or for best first film feature film, the Canada’s Official Selection with an Oscar for the Foreign Language, winner of the 6 Genie awards and the Best Canadian film award among many others displays the impact and quality of the movie on the population upon its release (“Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”). The film opens up with a detailed introduction and focus on the Igloolik community comprising of 1200 people living on a small island to the north of Baffin locality within the Canadian Artic, whose archeological evidence proves having been inhabited fro the  past  4000 years. Due to lack of writing knowledge, the nomadic community renewed their traditional knowledge and culture through story telling throughout its generation. Notably, one of the primary themes displayed in the film is the life-threatening struggle between supernatural and natural characters as they lived as hunters and gatherers. The characteristics of hunters and gatherers unfold in the story while illustrating the moral of the film, Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner, which is significant in anthropological studies.

Hunting and gathering communities are characterized by their dependence on the immediate environment for survival. Such societies are characterized by over reliance on the environment for food and with little to no process involved during the processing of the foods and shelter. Nomads prefer to take their food raw and fresh from the lands. The film unfolds the salutary tradition of the Igloolik community that depended on Arctic Tundra in order to feed their animals. Additionally, due to lack of innovative measures in preserving the naturally available resources, hunters and gatherers tend to utilize all the available resources resulting in the extinction of the said products within the same locale. Since they depended on the same naturally occurring fruits, it was anticipated that the Iglooliks would run out of food resulting in the need to search for more food from other locations as it is evidenced in the movie when Atanarjuat left his home to go hunting caribou before meeting up with Puja (Kunuk, “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”).

As a dramatization of a traditional myth, the film is set in a temporal realm far from the effects of historical events that transform Inuit lifestyle that is characterized by division in labor. Due to the mobile nature of nomadic communities, each individual was assigned with roles that best suited his or her talent depending on their gender. Similar to most societies, the women were left at home to take care of the young ones while they take care of the less task jobs within the household. Men and elders on the other hand were accorded the responsibility for fending for themselves. Since there was a noted shortage of foods and the men were therefore, obligated to go out hunting in the wild and forests. Such a phenomenon is also evidenced among the Igloolik community as Atanarjuat leaves his family to go hunting caribou (Kunuk, “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”). The men hunted animals and gathered vegetables and fruits while the females made clothes, gathered plants and raised their children. Their roles as males also included protecting the community from potential attacks from outsiders as viewed in the film.

Occasionally, hunting and gathering communities tend to become pastoralists as they seek for water and shelter. These groups move from one place to the other within a period of selected years. In order to ensure that the groups utilize most of their environment, hunting and gathering societies subdivide into smaller manageable groups that can be able to move together. A relatively smaller group is beneficial to such societies as they are able to explore the lands further and make maximum use of the available resources. Apparently, the Iglooliks also existed in smaller groups as the book illustrates the size of their population being approximately 1200 people. This size is relatively easy to manage during migration compared to if the group consisted of tens of thousands of people. Hunters and gatherers are also exemplified by their sacrificial nature. An individual from such communities have the likelihood of sacrificing their individuality for the sakes of the entire community as a means of protecting them from potential harm. Such a point is illustrated by Atanarjuat as he tries to save the community from the consequences of the Shaman curse (Kunuk, “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”).

As much as these communities as characterized by their mobile nature, they also believe in some form of contemporary tribal beliefs that create their culture. Having moved from other areas, culture is bound to be erode by new practices in foreign lands, thus, hunters and gatherers try as much as possible to preserve such tradition. Such an event is evident in the film when Atanarjuat flees naked into the treacherous ice floes in order to avoid his own death (Kunuk, “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”). Each community is characterized by certain traditions that guide their day-to-day activities and in this case, the main character, having sinned tried to evade death by engaging in an activity that the community believes in restoration of life. Furthermore, hunting and gathering communities have their own spiritual beliefs. The community in Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner unfolds the taboos within the society guided by the presence of Shaman. Acting as a lesson to kids, breaking of taboos among such communities resulted in the Shaman curse that generated and proceeded through generations of the Iglooliks. As a result, the entire community was almost swept way, as the earlier respect for elders, sharing of resources during scarcity and strict attention towards family relations were precipitated by the Shaman curse.

Atanarjuat reconstitutes the Inuit world unmarred by the losses and dislocations of colonialism, which reflects a significant but indirect ways on the consequences and losses of European domination. As the film relates to the outside influences that ravaged the community, it unfolds its purpose as a narrative as well as a colonial allegory about identity reconstruction. The curse that descends on the community results in a change in the leadership that offers parallel relationships with colonial policies that similarly altered traditional practices and social relations. With its strong uptake on tradition and culture, the film aimed at enlightening the younger generation about the community in the past as it engaged in activities such as hunting and gathering, thereby, acting as a tool for relaying of information from one generation to the other. Oral tradition, in the general sense occurs as it refers to the spread or rather transmission of culture and its materials through vocal expressions. The key descriptor of folklore acts as a tool in anthropology as cultural practices and meanings are passed throughout generations with a goal of maintaining its beliefs and practices.


Works Cited

Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). Igloolik Isuma Productions, 2007. Web. 3 November 2014.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Dir. Zacharias Kunuk. Perf. Madeline Piujuq, Sylvia Ivalu and Natar Ungalaaq. Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 2003. Film.



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