Friday, January 3, 2014


The writer and Inuit historian Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk (1931-2007) lived in the Nunavik, Québec community of Kangiqsujuaq and wrote the first novel published in Inuttitut, the Inuktitut dialect spoken in Nunavik.  Her Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel was first written in syllabics in 1935 but not published until 1984.  It appeared in French in 2002, translated by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, and it has just now been translated into English by Peter Frost and published by the University of Manitoba Press, released on January 1, 2014.  The novel concerns an Inuit family trying to negotiate the social, technological, and spiritual changes brought into their lives by the coming of the white people.
Nappaaluk was a member of Nunavik's Inuttitut Language Commission and a longtime consultant with the Kativik School Board.  She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2004.  

 Although she incorporated the Blind Man and the Loon tale into her novel, she undoubtedly came by the tale through oral tradition in her Native community.  In my own book I write a lot about semi-literary variants of the tale, in which non-Natives have taken published texts from oral tradition and redacted them to suit their own ideas of how the story should be told, usually for a children’s audience, but Nappaaluk’s work clearly represents a true literary adaptation aimed at adults.

Chapter 24 is titled The Legend of Lumaajuq and contains a warning about getting ill or dying from eating certain old belugas that carry the Lumaajuq, often seen as a dark object in the water behind the beluga.  The dark object resembles an avataq or drag float but is believed to be the blind man’s wicked mother.  This account adds some interesting new details to the story that may well have come out of oral tradition, so that I wonder if this part of the novel or récit really deserves to be classified as “fiction.”  Folktales themselves are too often regarded as fiction, when indeed they are something else entirely.

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