This story comes from a wonderful talk from Wade Davis that formed the second half of this podcast from Big Ideas. The ideas presented as ancient wisdom confirm a lot of my beliefs about the nature of culture but one part of the lecture really stood out to me – the “shit knife”.
The Inuit didn’t fear the cold; they took advantage of it. During the 1950s the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements. A family from Arctic Bay told me this fantastic story of their grandfather who refused to go. The family, fearful for his life, took away all of his tools and all of his implements, thinking that would force him into the settlement. But instead, he just slipped out of an igloo on a cold Arctic night, pulled down his caribou and sealskin trousers, and defecated into his hand. As the feces began to freeze, he shaped it into the form of an implement. And when the blade started to take shape, he put a spray of saliva along the leading edge to sharpen it. That’s when what they call the “shit knife” took form. He used it to butcher a dog. Skinned the dog with it. Improvised a sled with the dog’s rib cage, and then, using the skin, he harnessed up an adjacent living dog. He put the shit knife in his belt and disappeared into the night.
The “Shit Knife” is such a wonderful metaphor
Here’s a video of that story (you can also watch the rest of the lecture if audio doesn’t do it for you).
Image: Walrus Hunting CC0 (public domain)