Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Culture of Illiteracy and Fear of Reading

well, i actually hope people of all kinds read this post, especially if you are Inuk and/or a northerner of some many years.

here it goes.

I have been in Pang for the past four months now and i would like to offer an explanation as to why i hardly write on my blog anymore. It is pure and simple. There just isn't a culture for reading in this town and i imagine other Inuit communities as well, where you develop a love for books or magazines that broaden your view on anything.

And then there is the other side of the story. Not all people are like this but one of the comments i have received, when he saw me reading a book was, "do you really think books really make you learn? Don't you think you would rather do something than sitting around and reading? Is it not such a qallunaaq thing to do, to read." There is fear that you, as a reader, are losing your culture if you keep on reading english books and that you are more interested in the qalunaaq world than i am at my own culture. Which is far from the truth.

This fear, that many Inuit have about losing culture and language, is and has paralyzed my zeal and passion for books and writing. You just don't see people here reading and if they are, they are reading Jim Bell's opinionated editorial pieces or the bible. You never see books on bookshelves, except they're filled with porcelain polar bears and angels, or knick knacks.

I'm no longer going to say what is good and acceptable anymore. This is not acceptable is it? Should we be afraid of books and if we are afraid of them, under what grounds? Is it because they're in english and have western ideas? Is the snowmobile not a western idea? are we afraid of it and how practical is it? Don't you think books are like snowmobiles for your mind, useful for something, like hunting for that definition or that idea?

I mean, people here are willing to pay 120.00 for a 26 ounces of alcohol, but not willing to spend 5.00 on "Bambi" or "Cinderella" or "where the wild things are". People here are willing to spend there child tax benefits on a gram of weed for 50.00 but cannot fathom to spend 20.00 on Bill Bryson, Faulkner, National Geographic magazine, or even any sort of novel or non fiction.

And what of the library? I have been there a couple times and in one instance where i opened a book, the last take out of the said book was in 1997. I'm not criticizing the library, i love those places, but if not utilized, what is the use?

I am not trying to lecture anyone about this, i am just merely writing down my observations.

And i think i have to admit this fault: that many of us do not try to get kids to read. we fail at this from the onset of children's love for new knowledge. Also, we have to admit the relatively new notion of knowledge coming from books, rather than our elders or parents. Our history tells us that Inuit never had a writing system and that knowledge has been passed down through oral teachings and lessons. There is also the fear of losing out language to english and most of the books are in english, so i can see the apprehension people have and i don't blame them.

But, honestly, we cannot stop that from making us read and becoming an avid literary culture. We can definitely produce books and that can be easy enough. What we have to overcome is the fear that we are losing our culture. you cannot lose culture, it merely changes, unless we all die, thats is when our culture dies. As of right now, we are in the midst of some changes, they may seem enormous right now, but in the long run, i think, we will realize that we never did lose anything, we merely changed our opinions on various matters and how we react to them.

Just so that you understand why i am hardly writing now, this is a big reason. The other reason is that, I have been going out hunting whenever possible, when the weather allows and if nothing happens. Seals, fish, ptarmigans and geese are available right now. Its spring and the weather is mild enough to be outside for hours on end, where computers don't necessarily work in. We also get a free tan, courtesy of mother nature and mr. sun.

All i am really hoping for is that I'll get over the issues as to why i am not writing as much as i used to. I hope to get over this cultural mishap that we think anything new coming to our part of the world is all bad influence and is breaking down our culture to smithereens. We have to stop fearing literacy and become literacy ourselves.

Soon, in five years I hope, to say that we are the story and the story was made by us. One day we will embrace books on our shelves. One day, i hope that we are the Hemingway of literacy. That we produce not just opinions, but scientific history, not only relating to our world, but to the whole earth and beyond.

there is an article in Nunatsiaq News about Greenlandic scientist, who happen to be Inuit, where they urge inuit to become scientist and that knowledge is knowledge, regardless of who holds it. I think this is very apt to what i was talking about except he is talking about science and not books. But he says:

"Last July, Rosing told delegates at the ICC general assembly in Nuuk that Inuit should change their attitude about there being “two kinds of knowledge” in the world, traditional environmental knowledge and western scientific knowledge — because there is only one kind of knowledge.

“Knowledge is knowledge — whoever has it,” Rosing said.

Rejecting what science has to say can be “an impediment for the Arctic to be heard in the world,” he said.

Inuit should play by “the same rules” as everyone else when it comes to understanding the world, Rosing said.

“it’s putting you in a corner if you go on and say you’re really, really special,” Rosing told Nunatsiaq News during the recent Arctic climate change and pollution conference in Copenhagen."

by rejecting the world, we are rejecting our possibilities.

i hope you understand.


Alannah said...

good stuff. missed reading your stuff:) and your awesome point of view. getting back to my book now:O

Lesleigh said...

I lived in Greenland for a couple of years in the 1980's and found myself without reading material in English. I always knew I was addicted to reading but had never had to face not having a regular supply.

But I saw Greenlanders reading in their own language because there had always been an initiative to translate books. And that is what makes the difference. They can read Robert Ludlum spy thrillers or Charles Dickens or the Harry Potter series in their own language. And it starts with the children's books. They translate them, that encourages the literacy and now they have their own writers who will be translated into other languages in turn.

The Canadian Inuit don't have that. Their only real reading material is in English. And, unfortunately, if there is nver any agreement on a common dialect, they will never reach the literacy of the Greenlanders. The Greenlanders are taught in a standardized dialect, regardless of what they speak at home (which is how we do it in English).

I have a friend in Greenland who is involved with their Language Secretariat and he is so excited because the young Greenlanders are texting in Greenlandic! Their language is evolving with the youth and technology. It will remain strong.

Unfortunately, Inuktitut may not survive...

Tommy Eh said...

well, i'm pretty sure inuktitut is going to survive for a long time still, with Kalaalitut being strong and importable to other inuit regions, as a last option.

Knowledge is knowledge - as Rosing said, and whatever language it might be in, it will still be understandable.

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