Inuit Art of Canada

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Nipikti the Old Man Carver

Alootook Ipellie

The Inuit Co-operative Federations play an important part in life in the North. In some settlements in the North people rely on them for everything from water delivery and garbage disposal to the buying of carving for resale in the South. This story by Ipellie, which first appeared in Nunatsiaq News, gives some idea of how ritualized buying day at the Co-op has become for many old Inuit carvers.

Nipikti was now an old man and took three times as long as any young Inuk to get from one point to another. Almost every week, he would get up from his small carving studio at home and start walking out to the Co-op where he sold at least a half a dozen carvings he had finished during the week. He hung the bag of carvings over his shoulder and started out the door, his walking stick leading the way for him.

"This is the day I will get the upper hand of the deal with the Co-op manager. I have no doubt that he will fall in love with the carving I finished today," he said as he closed the door behind himself.

On the way to the Co-op, Nipikti would stop several times to rest his tired old legs by sitting on the same rocks he had sat on for the last twenty years or so.

"Ahhh! Hi, Ojagajaak, it feels good to rest on you," he would say to the first rock, as if the rock was an old friend of his. "These legs of mine are a little weaker than last week, so I will have to sit on you for an extra five minutes if you do not mind."

There he sat to rest on Ojagajaak and looked across the land where he had lived as a young man. That is the place where he had hunted the good animals of the land. That is where he had taken care of his wife and family when they were growing up. "Those were good times of the past," he thought, "times when carvings like these were toys and tokens to us Inuit."

He got up slowly and continued on to the Co-op where he would get the money to support his family. The Co-op was still quite far away.

"If I had my way, I would prefer to carve the stones and ivory to make toys for my children, and hunt the animals like I used to. I wasn't such a bad hunter in those days," Nipikti said to himself.

"I never thought I would be living off the very carvings I used to make only to keep my children happy."

Nipikti finally came to the rock where he sat to rest the second time along the way to the Co-op and said, "How are you today Ojagakaluk? I have come again to rest on you. I am an old man now, you know."

He sat on Ojagakaluk and took enough rest there to make it to the next rock. "I shall see you again on my way back. Just make sure the bulldozer doesn't push you under before then," Nipikti shouted back to the second rock as he slowly started walking on.

When he came to the third rock, he sat down and said, "You know, Ojagakutaaq, you are probably the most comfortable rock I have ever sat on in my life, I must say I will certainly miss you the day they remove you from this spot to make way for the new road. You have been a good rock to me and I must thank you in case they start building the road while I am at the Co-op."

He then got up to walk the last leg of the trip to the local Co-op and said to himself that it was time to think about how much he would persuade the Co-op manager to pay him for his carvings. Especially for the good one he finished earlier that day.

"I should be able to sell the good carving for $150 easily," he said. "I'm sure there isn't any other carving this week that was done any better than this one."

When he got to the Co-op, Nipikti took the six carvings out of the bag and laid them on the desk for the manager to look at.

The manager picked up the carvings one by one and looked them over carefully. When he came to the carving Nipikti had done that day, he immediately offered Nipikti $120 for it.

Nipikti stood leaning on his walking stick and counted on $150 as planned. Nipikti knew by experience that the carving was worth that much or even more, "$150," he said.

The manager looked up at Nipikti's face, then picked up the carving in question and mused over the fine detail of the work Nipikti had done. "Okay," he finally said, "I'll give you $130 for it."

Nipikti looked at the manager's face and thought about the last offer for $130. "If you think you are going to play games with me, you might as well be prepared to do it for the rest of the day. I am not going to play that long," he said in Inuktitut.

The manager clearly understood that Nipikti was not about to change his original asking price of $150. He knew that the price was right for the carving. But he decided to try once more to buy the carving for less than that. "$140," he said.

Nipikti just stood there and cleared his throat, then said for the last time, "$150". And with that, he tapped the top of the desk with his right hand. It was a sign that he meant business.

At that moment, the manager decided to give up trying to persuade the old carver to say yes to what he wanted and agreed to pay the $150 he was asking for.

Nipikti had won the battle this time around. He took the money for the carvings he'd brought in and went out the door to begin his journey back home with his walking stick in hand and money in his pocket to support the family for the next few weeks. He looked across the land and saw that the three rocks where he sat to rest each week were still there. No one had started to build the road yet. And he just smiled and said to himself that it was good.

"I had better make sure that they do not bulldoze my rocks away. The way I see it, I am sure to win my case over that too," he said for the last time, and he slowly moved toward home where he would start the next carving.

Nipikti the old man carver lives on.

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