Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Original Social Network

Wikipedia says “The social network is a theoretical construct useful in the social sciences to study relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, or even entire societies.” It recently occurred to me that the wide distribution of the Blind Man and the Loon story across Greenland and North America represents a late prehistoric and early historic social network,  probably one of the first ever documented.  All of the Native communities where the story is now found are nodes on that network, and interactions between individual storytellers are its strands.  This ancient folk tale and others like it stand as remarkable precursors to Facebook and Twitter, sharing values and beliefs across time and space.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Connecting the Dots

Through more persistent Googling, I came across four more art works, all miniature sculptures, by Canadian Inuits, that should be added to Chapter 5 in the book.
For starters, you can find a miniature brown streaked light grey-stone sculpture by Bob Barnabus of Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay), created in 1993-1994, and entitled “Lumak (Scene from the Legend of the Blind Boy and the Loon)” at the following link:

The second and third works are Mattiusi Iyaituk’s “Legend of Lumaaq” (from the late 1980s) and also his “Lumaaq and Her Adopted Whale Baby” (n.d.).  Both are abstract pieces made from stone with wood and/or ivory inserts.  Iyaituk, born in 1950, is a Nunavik Eskimo artist from the community of Ivujivik.  The two pieces may be viewed by clicking on the following links:

The fourth work I just discovered was created by the late Thomassie Kudluk (1910-1989) of Kangirsuk/Payne Bay, on the east coast of Nunavik.  “Lumak” is held by the Art Gallery of Ontario and can be seen at:

Geographics-- I hope sometime soon to update my Map 2 (p. 98) showing where Inuit art inspired by the Blind Man and the Loon story is found, but really, adding these three communities just allows further confirmation of the story’s diasporic expansion into northeastern Canada.  Since oral variants of the Blind Man and the Loon have not yet been collected in these communities, they should be added to the list of other places with “invisible variants” (p. 96).

The Ivujivik and Kangirsuk-Payne Bay sculptures stem from logical connections between other nearby Nunavik peninsula artistic communities and increase its density and popularity there.

Even more interesting is the Barnabus piece.  Barnabus’s village of Ikpiarjuk is located on the northern end of Baffin Island, helps us see a pathway between Iglulik and Anjuittuq-Grise Fiord and thereby plots out the tale’s hypothetical dramatic northward expansion towards Greenland in Map 1 (p. 9).  This all goes back to my perspective in the book that storytelling can be understood as cartography (p. 154).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Three More Variants Located

More exciting news!  While attending the Dene Languages Conference in Calgary this month, I made a short announcement about my research and book and learned about three more storytellers who actively tell the tale of the Blind Man and the Loon.  One lives in Tetlin, Alaska (where it was recently collected in the Upper Tanana language by linguist Olga Lovick), a second is told in Dene Sųłiné (Chipewyan) in Cold Lake, Alberta, and the third is told by a woman in Dakelh (Carrier) or Sekani in Fort St. James, B.C.  Perhaps these texts or audio recordings will emerge soon, so they may be shared.  The recent Dakelh or Sekani variant shows that the tale has been circulating in the Fort St. James area for at least 121 years!  It was first collected there at Stuart Lake by Father A.G. Morice in 1892.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chehtsi' (Water Bugs)

May 9, 2013
Kenneth and Caroline Frank say that the name of the water bugs given to the blind man by his wife, chehtsi’, is a common metaphor used for someone who is always slow.  In the BM&L story the wife goes down to the lake to fetch him a cup of water and is gone for a very long time.  Kenneth and Caroline think that the metaphor for someone who is “slow” may have entered the Gwich’in language through this story.  See in the book, Maggie Gilbert’s text, lines 137-155, p. 75 and p. 81.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Broken Taboo

May 7, 2013
It occurred to me the other night that the tragedy of the story may have been precipitated by the breaking of a strong taboo.  According to Kenneth Frank, for the Gwich’in it is very important that menstruating women avoid touching or walking over a man’s hunting tools.  This includes his knife, his gun, his scapula, and other implements used for hunting.  If this taboo is broken, it is believed that the hunter will lose his luck and the family will starve.  Robert McKennan lists many taboos for menstruating married Gwich’in women, including one which called for avoiding “any contact with hunting or fishing” (1965:58, also 85).  This taboo is also widespread among other northern Dene groups, including the Eyak (see Abel 199:21; Perry 1991:209-228).

In the story, the blind man’s wife helps hold his bow and helps him aim his arrow at the bear, moose, caribou, or buffalo.  In some variants, as in that of Maggie Gilbert’s, told in Gwich’in, the wife even goes over and picks up her husband’s arrows after she abandons him (see lines 116-121 on p. 74 and p. 80).  In doing so she breaks a cardinal rule that Dene listeners immediately recognize in the telling of the story.  At the same time she did it with his full consent. Yet this is something that escapes the non-Native reader entirely. This single detail underscores the importance of knowing the ethnographic context of the tale when trying to understand what exactly went wrong.  Of course the flip side of the dilemma is that the wife had to aim the blind man’s bow and arrow for him or they probably would have starved anyway.

Kerry Abel, Drum Songs: Glimpses of Dene History.  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993.

Robert McKennan, The Chandalar Kutchin.  Montreal: Arctic Institute of North America, 1965.

Richard J. Perry, Western Apache Heritage: People of the Mountain Corridor.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.