How to build a traditional igloo

Here is an excerpt from ‘The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga’ (p 142-143 of Harvest Edition, 1983), which describes how the Inuit built igloos.

“That afternoon Sarkak and the hunters took their long thin probes and their snow knives and walked across the wind-packed drifts. So hard was the new snow that it squealed like small animals beneath their feet and took no footprints. They carefully drove their probes downward to test the snow, and in this way they selected the best places to build each igloo. The men worked in groups. Cutting straight down into the snow with their long knives, they freed and lifted big blocks and stood them upright one against the other in a ring. Slowly, six houses rose in coiling spirals, each snow block cleverly cut to fit against the next. The builder inside each new house never stepped outside. He constructed the entire house using only the blocks he had taken from the snow floor inside the igloo. The waist-deep hole he first stood in became the new floor of the snow house. Finally, the wedge-shaped key block was carefully lifted and fitted into place in the top of the dome, immediately giving the house enough strength to bear a man’s weight.

Outside each snowhouse the women chinked the cracks between the blocks with fine snow, and a man built a meat porch and a long twisting entrance tunnel, sloping down from porch to house, to keep out the wind and cold. Finally, a fist-sized hole was cut in a short snow chimney for ventilation, and a large clear sheet of fresh-water lake ice, the thickness of a man’s wrist, was placed in the sloping wall above the entrance passage to allow light to enter the house.” 


sisimiut - rainbow igloo-night-nuka kristiansen

The modern rainbow igloo. Photo: Nuka Kristiansen

Today, igloos are only really built for fun, at least in Greenland. Only yesterday this rainbow igloo popped up in Sisimiut! Read more about how the rainbow igloo was built.

P.S. If you are interested in the traditional Inuit way of living, I would recommend that you read ‘The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga’ by James Houston. It was lent to me by a friend and sold as an easy read. It is the first book I’ve finished in awhile – apparently it was even turned into a film!

Set in 1896, three European survivors from a whaling misadventure are nursed back to health and adopted by a small Inuit community for a winter and summer. It is based on true stories retold by the Inuit people in the Canadian East Arctic. Lots of topics are covered in the book, and even though this saga is based on the Inuit of Arctic Canada, I really do notice some parallels between Inuit life in Greenland and Canada. I also see some cultural traits and habits described in the book that help to give me different insight into societal interaction, culture and problems in Greenland today.


3 thoughts on “How to build a traditional igloo

  1. Pingback: How to build a rainbow igloo | The Fourth Continent

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