Nanook of the North

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Nanook of the North  (1922) 
by Robert J. Flaherty
A 1922 American silent documentary film, picturing the struggles of the Inuk man named Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic. It has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Key (info)
In scene
Video Camera Icon.svg The following is a transcription of a film. The contents below represent text or spoken dialogue that are transcribed directly from the video of the film provided above. On certain screen sizes, each line is represented by a timestamp next to it which shows when the text appears on the video. For more information, see Help:Film.

Preface by Robert Flaherty

This film grew out of a long series of explorations in the north which I carried out on behalf of Sir William Mackenzie from 1910 to 1916. Much of the exploration was done in journeys lasting months at a time with only two or three Eskimos as my companions. This experience gave me an insight into their lives and a deep regard for them.

In 1913 I went north with a large outfit. We wintered on Baffin Island, and when I was not seriously engaged in exploratory work, a film was compiled of some Eskimos who lived with us. I had no motion picture experience, and naturally the results were indifferent. But as I was undertaking another expedition. I secured more negative with the idea of building up this first film.

Again, between explorations, I continued with the picture work. After a lot of hardship, which involved the loss of a launch and the wrecking of our cruising boat, we secured a remarkable film. Finally after wintering a year on Belcher Islands, the skipper, a Moose Factory half-breed, and myself got our to civilization along with my notes, maps, and the films.

I had just completed editing the film in Toronto when the negative caught fire and I was minus all. The editing print, however, was not burned and was shown several times--just long enough to make me realize it was no good. But I did see that if I were to take a single character and make him typify the Eskimos as I had known them so long and well, the results would be well worth while.

I went north again, this time solely to make a film. I took with me not only cameras, but apparatus to print and project my results as they were being made, so my character and his family could understand and appreciate what I was doing. As soon as I showed time some of the first results, Nanook and his crowd were completely won over.

At last, in 1920, I thought I had shot enough scenes to make the film, and prepared to go home. Poor old Nanook hung around my cabin, talking over films we still could make if I would only stay on for another year. He never understood why I should have gone to all the fuss and bother of making the "big aggie" of him.

Less than two years later I received word that Nanook had ventured into the interior hoping for deer and had starved to death. But our "big aggie" become Nanook of the North has gone into most of the odd corners of the world, and more men than there are stones around the shore of Nanook's home have looked upon Nanook, the kindly, brave, simple Eskimo.




Passed by the
National Board
of Review



The mysterious Barren Lands—desolate, boulder-strewn, wind-swept—illimitable spaces which top the world.

The sterility of the soil and the rigor of the climate no other race could survive; yet here, utterly dependent upon animal life, which if their sole source of food, live the most cheerful people in all the world—the fearless, lovable, happy-go-lucky Eskimo.

This picture concerns the life of one Nanook (The Bear), his family and little band of followers, "Itivimuits" of Hopewell Sound, Northern Ungava, though whose kindliness, faithfulness and patience this film was made.

The hunting ground of Nanook and his followers is a little kingdom in size—nearly as large as England, yet occupied by less than three hundred souls.

Chief of the "Itivimuits" and as a great hunter famous through all Ungava—Nanook, The Bear.

Nyla—The Smiling One.

Nanook comes to prepare for the summer journey down river to the trade post of the white man and to the salmon and walrus fishing grounds at sea.





… and Comock…

The desert interior, if deer hunting fails, is the country of death—for there is no food. Even moss, upon which the deer depend and which the Eskimo use for fuel, grows only in patches here and there.

This is the way Nanook uses moss for fuel.

The kyak's fragile frame must be covered with sealskins before the journey begins.

The long trek to the river.

The omiak, of driftwood frame, covered with the hides of seal and walrus.

On harpoon points, boots of sealskin drying in the sun.

Landing at the white man's "big igloo"——the trading post.

Nanook's hunt for the year, apart from fox, seal and walrus, numbered seven great polar bears, which in hand to hand encounters he killed with nothing more formidable than his harpoon.

With pelts of the Arctic fox and polar bear Nanook barters for knives and beads and bright colores candy of the trader's precious store.

Nanook proudly displays his young "huskies," the finest dog flesh in all the country round.

Nyla, not to be outdone, displays her young husky, too——one Rainbow, less than four months old.

In deference to Nanook, the great hunter, the trader entertains and attempts to explain the principle of the gramophone——how the white man "cans" his voice.

Some of Nanook's children are banqueted by the trader——sea biscuit and lard!

But Allegoo indulged to excess, so the trader sends for——castor oil!

Castor Oil

A wandering ice field drifts in from sea and locks up a hundred miles of coast. Though Nanook's band, already on the thin edge of starvation, is unable to move, Nanook, great hunter that he is, saves the day.

Upon his skill in traversing dangerous floes his success depends.

Spying out good fishing ground.

No bait. Instead, a lure of two pieces of ivory, jigging at the end of a seal-hide line.

Nanook, overjoyed at the sight of food once more, kills the big ones with his teeth.

His day's catch.

Nanook gives a brother fisherman a lift into shore.

The sea is once more free of ice and the salmon gone. For days there is no food. Then one of Nanook's look-outs comes in with news of walrus on a far off island. Excitement reigns, for walrus in their eyes spells fortune.

With the discovery of a group asleep on shore the suspense begins.

A "sentinel" is always on watch, for, while walrus are ferocious in water, they are helpless on land.

Weighing as much as two tons and armored with an almost impenetrable hide, the walrus, when charging, tusks agleam and sounding his battle cry "uk-uk," is well called the "tiger of the North".

While the angered herd snorts defiance, the mate of the harpooned walrus comes to the rescue——attempts to lock horns and pull the captive free.

Rolling the dead quarry from the undertow.

They do not wait until the kill is transported back to camp, for they cannot restrain the pangs of hunger.


Long nights——the wail of the wind——short, bitter days——snow smoking fields of sea and plain——the brass ball of sun a mockery in the sky——the mercury near bottom and staying there days and days and days.

Nanook, seal hunting bound, becomes involved in the giant rough ice fields at sea.

When driven before the fury of the winter gales, the wandering ice fields at sea collide with the fixed ice edges of the coast; the mass buckles under the tremendous drive and gigantic blocks are rafted high.

Among there chaotic wastes two miles or less is often a weary day's sledging.

Nanook, seeing a white fox approaching one of his traps, signals the family to detour.

The brief days nears its end, and Nanook comes on ahead to look for camping grounds.

Deep snow, packed hard by the wind, makes good ground for building the igloo, the snow dwelling of the Eskimo.

So as to cut more easily, Nanook licks his walrus ivory knife, which instantly is glazed with ice.

While father works…

To keep out the piercing cold, Nyla and Cunayou chink with snow every seam and gap in the igloo walls.

To the babies igloo building is a bore.

Complete within the hour.

Now only one thing more is needed…

To reflect the light through the window.

From the inside Nyla cleans her brand-new ice window.

This little seal, until Nanook makes another kill, is all the food they have.

A few robes of bear and deer skin, a stone pot and stone lamps is the list of their household belongings.

Time for work and time for play.

To be a great hunter like his father.

It is cold sport for a little boy's bare hands. Rubbing them on his cheeks, Nanook warms them.

The hearhstone of the Eskimo…
Seal oil for fuel—moss for wicking—a stone pot for melting snow.
The temperature within the igloo must be kept below freezing to prevent the dome and walls from melting.


Nyla chews Nanook's boots to soften them, a most important operation, for sealskin boots become stiff and unwieldy overnight.

Rubbing noses—the Eskimo's kiss.

Breaking camp, Nanook and his family, ever on the quest for food, prepare to start for the sealing grounds at sea.

If Nanook had not put his sled on top of the igloo for the night the dogs would have eaten the seal-hide thongs which bind its part together.

As Arctic snow is dry as sand, the sled runners must be glazed with ice to make them slide easily.

The tiny igloo Nanook made for the puppies has kept them warm all night and safe from the hungry jaws of their big brothers.

The puppy rides in Cunayou's hood during the day.

The kingship of Nanook's master dog is challenged.

On the vast ice fields of frozen sea.

How Nanook hunts the "Ogjuk"——the big seal.

Being a mammal, the seal has to breathe frequently, so from the time the ice first forms in the bay, each animal keeps at least one funnel-like hole open to the surface so it can come up for air at twenty-minute intervals.

From the smell of flesh and blood comes the blood lust of the wolf——his forebear.

The most desired of all meet if that of seal. It affords the maximum of warmth and substenance. The "blubber-eating Eskimo" is a misconception. Blubber ther use as we use butter.

With a relic of the feast, a seal flipper, Allegoo and his companion enjoy a tug of war.

"Ikee! Ikee!"
("Very cold!")

It is now getting dark and the family is a long way from shelter, but the dogs cause a dangerous delay.

By the time the team is straightened out, a threatening "drifter" drives in from the north.

Almost perishing from the icy blasts and unable to reach their own snowhouse, the little family is driven to take refuge in a deserted igloo.

The shrill piping of the wind, the rasp and hiss if driving snow, the mournful wolf howls of Nanook's master dog typify the melancholy spirit of the North.

"Tia Mak"
(The End)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.