In the town’s centre, the brave gather to greet these frightening figures. Year-round, children are warned that if they misbehave, the Nalujuk will get them, but if they have been good, the Nalujuk might give them a treat. The townspeople sing an Inuktitut song to please the Nalujuit, and then line up to shake the fearsome hand of each Nalujuk, wishing them a Happy New Year. Now, the frigid night is heavy with anticipation; soon there will be running, chasing, screams and laughter as the Nalujuit stalk the snowy streets of the community. Tomorrow there will be stories of courage, fear, terror and, for the lucky, escape.
Despite the frights, Nalujuk Night is a beloved Labrador Inuit tradition, showing that sometimes it can be fun to be scared. Rarely witnessed outside of Nunatsiavut, this annual event is an exciting chance for Inuit, young and old, to prove their bravery and come together as a community to celebrate culture and tradition.
Inuk filmmaker Jennie Williams brings audiences directly into the action and provides an up-close look at this exhilarating tradition in her short documentary, Nalujuk Night. After 12 years of capturing the thrill of the Nalujuit in striking black-and-white photography, Williams brings her still images to life, to share the story of this special night like no other.
Credit: This video was originally published in the Press Kit for Nalujuk Night. COURTESY NFB.
Every year on January 6 in Nain, Nunatsiavut, people gather to await the Nalujuit (plural for Nalujuk): startling figures that come from the eastern sea ice, dressed in torn and tattered clothing, animal skins and furs. It’s a tradition that is truly unique, and mostly unheard of by anyone living outside of Labrador. Nalujuk means “heathen” or “non-believer.” In Nalujuk Night, I document the movements of the Nalujuit throughout Nain on this special evening and explore the night’s purpose in the community.
Parents talk about the Nalujuit all year long, using the frightening nature of the Nalujuk to encourage their children to behave themselves. They warn them that if they are disrespectful and don’t listen, the Nalujuk will “get them” on January 6. The children get scared and think twice about how they’re acting. The kids know that the Nalujuit run extremely fast while shaking their sticks, and it’s very hard to escape them when they chase you.
In contrast, on the very same night, the Nalujuit can also be friendly. They will shake hands with people and give out treats to kids who are good or who do a good job singing to them in Inuktitut. If the kids sing well and loudly, they are sometimes rewarded.
I photographed and researched Nalujuk Night in Nain for 12 years. I made this film to share a piece of Labrador and this unique tradition with people who would otherwise not have the chance to experience or know anything about it. The film shows how important it is to maintain Inuit traditions, and how Nalujuk Night provides a form of celebration for the community every year.
About the Lab Doc Project
The Labrador Documentary Project (Lab Doc Project) supports Indigenous storytelling by working with first-time Labrador Inuit filmmakers to create and distribute Inuit stories from Inuit perspectives. The Lab Doc Project is led by Inuit through community collaboration and focusses on topics selected by the filmmakers through a process of reflection and community engagement. This initiative aims to elevate Indigenous storytelling in Newfoundland and Labrador, create film opportunities for Inuit and proactively diversify our industry. There are four films in this Project: Evan’s Drum, Nalujuk Night, Hebron Relocation, and Miss Campbell: First Inuk Teacher.
This story is part of the NFB Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.