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Alaskan Native Americans: Inuit Throat Singing

Throat singing is a particular style of singing that is produced in the throat using more than one note simultaneously. Many people think that you can only sing one note at a time, but throat singers have proven otherwise. This technique tends to rely on short, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations of breath, as well as succinct movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, and larynx, to create the unique sounds.

Throat singing has been around the Native American population for many years. In fact, it may be the oldest form of song. It’s quite popular in Central Asia, Canada, and parts of South Africa.

Intuit Throat Singing

In northern Canada, the Intuit people are well-known for throat singing. Whereas throat singing in parts of the world like Mongolia are primarily men, the Intuit throat singers are primarily women. In the early days of throat singing, the women mainly used the songs to lull their babies to sleep. They also gathered in community to sing while the men were away hunting.

Christian priests banned throat singing in the Intuit area over 100 years ago, because they thought the sounds sounded satanic. The tradition almost died completely, until an elder in a small village on the Hudson Bay, Puvirnituz, asked the elders who knew how to throat sing to pass on the skills to the next generation of women.

Throat singing has been slowly making its way back on center stage for Intuits and other cultures. They believe it’s part of their cultural heritage and want to practice, preserve, and hand it down to future generations. They believe it helps them feel more connected to their ancestors, as well as each other.

Intuit Throat Singers A Hit On Tik-Tok

Shina Novalinga and her mother have become a hit on TikTok, as they do what they love to do – throat sing together. Shina, a 22-year-old Inuit, started learning throat singing from her mother during the pandemic. She started posting her videos on Instagram and TikTok within a year, had over 2.3 million followers.

Shina sings in a higher pitch and mother sings a lower one deep in their throats. Together, the sounds they create can sound like the wind, birds, or a river’s running water.

Shina and her mother live in Montreal, Canada. Her mother has kept the tradition of throat singing alive and well, even after Christian missionaries banned it from the Native culture. Her daughter is very proud to bring back and make popular a sacred part of their life that was once shamed.

Shina says, “I always feel like I’m being taught by a professional throat singer just because she was taught by an elder who knew how to throat sing,” she said. “My mother has always taught me to throat sing with my heart and it’s so much more meaningful when you are invested in wanting to learn.”

How Did Intuit Throat Singing Begin?

Intuit legends believe that the original throat singers were small birds, rather than humans. The birds were called Tunirtuaruit, characterized by human-like features. The legend teaches that the birds were shy and small and lived together in abandoned homes.

Humans came to mimic the birds, where women typically faced each other and produced various tones in their throat. The women take turns with the sounds, trying to match each other’s rhythm until one of both of them stops or begin laughing.

If you’ve never heard people engaging in throat singing, do a simple search on YouTube or Google and watch some of the videos of people enjoying throat singing around the world. You’ll find men and women enjoying the tradition in places like Canada, Mongolia, South Africa, Russia, India, China, and Japan. You may even find some Buddhists chanting using throat singing in Indian monasteries.

For native cultures that appreciate ritual and tradition, throat singing is simply another way that they enjoy their unique heritage. Passing such traditions down to the next generation means a great deal to elders and the community, as this is a beautiful way to engage with one another.

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