Chapter 11: Oral Traditions of the Inugguit
Oral Traditions of the Inugguit
With the absence of a written culture, Polar Eskimo has historically been the vehicle for a rich tradition of storytelling. Historically, there were two different categories of stories: oqaluktuat which were the old tales, legends and myths and unikkaat which were factual accounts. Today, the former have all been forgotten, but many of the legends and myths were recorded by Knud Rasmussen, Erik Holtved and others in the first half of the twentieth century. All the stories that I recorded fell into the category of unikkaat.
Among the Inugguit, Amaunalik Qavigaq is often considered the best storyteller of the twentieth century. She was Erik Holtved’s lead informant. Erik, a Danish anthropologist, worked in the region in 1937. Amaunalik had learnt her stories from her grandmother, Itugssarssuak. Itugssarssuak was one of those that came in the last wave of migration from Baffin Island in the 1860s. By tracing the families of the last storytellers, it is clear that there must have been a very strong tradition of storytelling in that part of the Canadian Arctic and that this last wave of immigration from Baffin Island enriched the Polar Eskimo culture considerably. From the 1970s onwards, it seems that the tradition of grandmothers telling their grandchildren the old tales and myths broke down quite suddenly and then the old stories, lullabies and creation myths more or less disappeared in a generation: a sinister foreboding for small oral cultures where...
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