by Jordan Parker
Special to Wreckhouse Press
Jennie Williams' chronicling of the famed Nalujuk Night started as a hobby, and has now morphed into a short film.
Williams has taken audiences up-close and personal for the Labrador Inuit tradition that happens each year on January 6th in the Inuit community of Nain.
“When I moved there, the first year I just went to experience it. I found it so interesting, and I just wanted to know more. I began to research and I took photos for 12 years. I had photographs and exhibits,” she said.
But people would consistently ask questions, trying to grasp the interesting and terrifying tradition further, and she decided the medium of film would best represent it.
“Even in Newfoundland & Labrador, people don't know about this tradition. I wanted to show people about this thing that inspired me,” she said.
On that night each year, the Nalujuk appear on the sea ice, and make their way over to Nain. Covered in skeletal, animalistic and otherworldly dress – including masks, fur coats and more, it is a way to mark the new year, and wish each other good tidings.
“We always say to the children to be good or they won't get treats on Nalujuk Night. They need to respect people, listen to their parents and have love for others to avoid the scary parts of that night,” said Williams. “They visit houses, and children sing, trying to earn handshakes and treats. Everyone gathers in the middle of town, and everyone sings and shakes hands. It's an amazing time. Kids can be chased, and there are emotions of fear and excitement at the same time.”
If the Nalujuk know you've been bad for the year, you can be chased and hit with a stick. It is certainly not as scary as it seems, and it's a strong celebration that's endured for decades.
“A lot of traditions fade out, but this one is celebrated every year. It really stuck it out. Elders have said they did it when they were kids,” said Williams. “It's so important to keep things going. The night has changed over the years, but the themes stay the same. It's about helping others and reminding all of us to be good and have a good year. It is a way to encourage children to be there for others.”
To bring the film to life with the support of the National Film Board had been huge for the first-time director.
“I worked on this film for four years. I traveled to Montreal to work and took my kids with me. The NFB set me up, helped me, and were kind through the whole process,” she said. “We are doing festivals now, and they are still here to help. They've just been amazing every step of the way.”
She's happy to see the film at the St. John's International Women's Film Festival, for an audience in her home province.
“To know people in the area will see it – and that it's also available to stream further out is amazing. There are people in this province who still haven't heard of this, and I want them to learn about Nalujuk Night,” she said. “Learning about this piece of Labrador and Inuit culture is so important, and this is an accessible way to do so.”