It was not easy to find a story from Nunavut. I soon gave up in trying to find a short story proper and decided to try to find some legend or myth instead. Even then, it was difficult. The tales and myths are often associated with the people rather than the territory itself. At first, I found a collection called Tales from Nunavut, Stories from Nunavunga by Jacques L. Condor. It seemed perfect; however, when I looked closer, I realised that Condor wrote these stories after spending time with the people of the west coast of Alaska, which is a bit far away from Nunavut itself. You can also find Inuit tales from Greenland and Labrador. I must admit that I got a bit confused as I do not now the culture well enough to make the distinctions. Finally, I managed to find a website offering tales, legends and myths from the Inuits of Nunavut (it might overlap a bit with the Northwest Terrritories, but the two were only officially separated in 1999).
Inuit Art Zone website has a page dedicated to Inuit legends. The page actually presents myths of origin/creation. The first myth on the page is the “Legend of Sedna”, which explains how the white men and the Indians were created, but also the sea mammals. Sedna, the daughter of a hunter rejected the suitor offered by her father. Feeling dishonoured, the father told her to marry the family dog. She was impregnated and, in anger, the father sent her to a remote island where she gave birth to dog-children and human-children. The dog-children became the ancestors of the white men, while the human-children became the ancestors of the Indians.
Eventually, the daughter was rescued by a trickster figure: the fulmar who appeared to her under the form of a handsome sailor, ut later transformed into a bird. One day, the father came to rescue his daughter, but as they were escaping on the sea, the fulmar caught up with them. To save himself, the father threw his daughter overboard, but as she was clinging to the boat, he cut her fingers one by one, each becoming a different sea mammal.
Finally, the daughter sank at the bottom of the sea where she was later joined by her husband, Dog, and she became a goddess. Sedna is thus the one who rules the sea, but also decides to release the sea animals so that the Inuits will not starve.
I read a few of the other stories on the page, and what struck me most is the fact that animals and humans are treated as equals. Also noticeable is the presence of shape-shifters. I particularly liked the “Origin of the Raven”. Two birds decided to paint themselves to become more beautiful, but as one would not hold still, the other poured black paint all over him and this is how the raven came into existence.
One story also caught my attention on a site that gathers Inuit tales from Greenland: “Imarasugssuaq, who ate his wives”. This tale is a variant of the Bluebeard tale. In this story, the husband fattens his wives with salmon before eating them. As with the Bluebeard tale, the husband marries the sister of his previous wife and she also has many brothers. While he is away, she manages to go outside and eat some snow, thus slowing down the fattening process. One day, as she is now able to move, she makes a speaking dummy and hides (as in Grimm’s version, the wife is here represented as clever). When the husband comes back, the speaking dummy claims she cannot move and the husband stabs her. The wife escapes and, furious, the husband chases her. She manages to save herself by transforming into a piece of wood. The tale ends with a dinner party at the brothers’ place where the husband comes looking for his wife and is mocked and finally killed.
The similarities between this tale and the Bluebeard märchen are unmistakable; even the dinner motif is present. Yet, this tale retains obvious Inuit characteristics. I wonder if any research has been made on the topic. It would be interesting to see the relation between the two.
This is te first time I have read Inuit tales and it reminds me of the time I was introduced to Greek myths. However, I found these tales more naive in a way. They are certainly enjoyable and I look forward to reading more.
If you are interested in reading more Inuit tales, you can look at the two websites I have already linked to. There is also a book of Inuit legends available online or you can order books from a Nunavut publishing company, Inhabit Media.
Short Story Monday is held by John at The Book Mine Set.