The qilaut: unifying force for a divided people
When I was about 10 years old, my family travelled to Northern Quebec where
I became acquainted with Inuit culture. I was fascinated by how important music was
in the North, despite vast plains of silent snow. This is why I am pleased to
share my research with you about the qilaut, an instrument just made for this job.
The qilaut is a very important instrument in Inuit culture. In addition to
being one of the oldest examples of indigenous musical instrumentation, it has
remained faithful to its original construction and is still made of ordinary
materials found in daily Inuit life. It is divided into two sections: the isik, or surface
that is struck; and the pablu, or handle of the drum. The drum is played with a
kututarq, a simply constructed mallet. The diameter of the qilaut averages about
Originally, native people intended the qilaut to be a religious instrument. It was used
to summon animist gods during ritual services. These ceremonies helped protect
hunters and fishers from the risks of their trade and families were able to ward off
After the shamanist period, the qilaut changed roles and became the central instrument
of Inuit social life. It was used to play music for the drum dance. Once a year, Inuit families
or clans would get together to take part in a friendly competition The music was judged to
decide which was the happiest clan. The beat of the qilaut also accompanied a similar
competition for Inuit dancing. These festivities helped to celebrate reunions and accept
new arrivals in the village or the tribe.
The instrument's special feature is its soft tone, due to the choice of non-resonating materials
like caribou skin, with which it is made. However, during special ceremonies, the skin
is dampened to give it a special sound. The qilaut is thus an instrument that anyone
can use. In summary, music has a unifying force for the Inuit in Northern Canada and the
qilaut is the best evidence for this. Because it is easy to play and is available to everyone,
it has a universal character. Its role is very similar to the African darbuka or rain stick.
Here is a brief summary of the parts of the instrument. I sincerely hope that you will
send me a description of the musical instrument typical of your country that you like the best!
Drum and drumstick. Drum with single head in caribou skin, stretched taut
by a cord around a circular wooden frame. It is made of modern
materials (in the past, seal tendon and driftwood were used).
A wooden handle is fitted to the frame. This type of drum is used
for drum dances (pisiq).