Who Was "Nanook"?


Quick Answer

Nanook is a figure in Inuit mythology and is also the word for "polar bear" in the Inuit language. The name was popularized outside of the Inuit culture following the release of a documentary film made in 1922 called "Nanook of the North."

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Full Answer

In Inuit mythology, Nanook is a giant polar bear that grants fortune to hunters and decides if the hunter should have success. Hunters who break taboos are thought to incur punishment from Nanook and have unsuccessful hunts.

"Nanook of the North" was filmed in northern Quebec under the direction of Robert J. Flaherty. An Inuit man called Nanook (real name Allakariallak), his wife Nyla and child Cunayou are the central figures. The film follows the family as they build igloos, hunt for food and trade for goods. It was later revealed that much of the film was scripted and that Allakariallak was not actually married to Nyla or the father of Cunayou. The film ended when Nanook died while hunting walrus, but Allakariallak actually died of tuberculosis. The dangers of walrus hunting were believed to have been exaggerated by the film. Though some parts of the film were staged and scripted, Nanook became a popular figure for his ingenuity and ability to adapt to harsh conditions.

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