Friday, March 28, 2008

Northern Reading

While here in the arctic I have been trying to read as much northern literature as possible. Specifically I have been trying to read literature that is either written or transcribed from Inuit elders. Inuit have a strong oral history and the style of writing (and speaking) reflects this. One of the best books I've read is called Saqiyuq. It's a book about the life histories of 3 successive generations of Inuit women and chronicles the radical changes that have happened here in the eastern arctic over the last 60 years from a very personal perspective. It's definitely worth reading and I'd recomend it to anyone interested in the north.
In the following passage from the book Apphia Awa, the eldest of the three women, discusses the birth of her son Simon. Apphia's portion of the book is transcribed from taped interviews with her, and her stories are structured in an oral, rather than written fashion. The story she tells about the birth of her son Simon paints a picture of what t was like to live through difficult times and give birth without much help at hand.

Being fearful of what is going to happen takes away your courage. It keeps you from being strong and doing things that you have to do to survive. As Inuit we went through hard times. I also understand that Qallunaat go through hard times ... but being Inuit, we lived very stressful and hard lives.
There was one time when we were really hungry. We had no light and absolutely nothing to eat. We were living in a sod house. We were up in Upirngivik. Sod houses are usually cozy and warm, but in this sod-house the ceiling was frosted over, and some of the pieces of wood that held it together were missing. We were really hungry and thirsty and cold and we had no fat to light our qulliit with. We had no light and no heat. This lasted all of March. In April when the young seals came, that is when we finally got some food. At that time in March, before the seals, I was pregnant with Simon. We were really hungry and we had nothing to eat. We were getting ready to move from our camp at Upirngivik, to move to where we could find food. The men were out hunting for seals to feed the dogs. We wanted to feed the dogs first so they would be stronger for the trip. This was in 1953. I was just 22.
We were starving, and that is how I gave birth to Simon. It was really, really, really cold, and Simon, he was a big baby! And of course we were living in the sod-house, so there were no doctors. When he cam out I thought, "What do I do? What should I do?" A woman who has been dead for man years now, David Mablick's mother, Aaluluuq, she was the person taking care of me while I gave birth. My husband and my mother-in-law were both out hunting, and Aaluluuq lived next door. It was cold, it was so cold! She took her own baby off her back and put my newborn baby, the one I had just given birth to, she put him inside her amautik. I tried to clean myself, I tried to clean p the placenta. It froze, and there was this umbilical cord hanging out of me still, and I was getting scared. I thought it was going to be like that forever. I became scared, having that thing hanging from me, I thought I was going to be like that all the time.
When my mother-in-law cam home, she told me not to worry. She said, "No, don't worry. When the cord dies it will come out." I was supposed to keep my pelvis warm, to keep the cord from freezing. It was so cold! The next day I began to have cramps. I felt like I was giving birth again, and the placenta came out. That was March 10th, and that is how it happened.

From: Saqiyuq: Stories from the lives of three Inuit women. Written by Nancy Wachowich, Apphia Agalakti Awa, Rhoda Kaukjak Katsak and Sandra Pikujak Katsak. 1999. McGill-Queen's University Press


Elaine said...

An absolutely fascinating account.

These are records that should not be lost.

Also, look at the recent date, and tell those idiots who want to stop seal killing (the pretty little seals), failing to recognise how important they are to the lives of the Inuit.

Way Way Up said...

I recall seeing this book around in the school here. Now, I'm definitely going to go hunt it down.

adventures in disaster said...

To elaine
I will not belabor your ignorance but the pretty seals that are being clubbed are BABY seals . And these baby seals are not for feeding or clothing anyone but very wealthy Europeans. The meat of the babies is left to rot on the ice, only the white newborn coat is taken and sold.
The newborn coats are sold at shockingly low prices to be made into coats and jackets worth thousands.

So those that do the killing are paid slave wages to make large design houses millions.
Not unlike the slave wages of those that pick the coffee or cut the sugar cane for the enjoyment of the West.
Another enlightening one needs to kill wild life anymore...there are grocery stores in the North NOW..ain't that amazing that the natives have modern amenities in 2008?

Isn't it just thrilling that anyone with enough money can wear a dead seal terribly exotic and exciting.
I can bet no native northern group would ever have thought to slaughter their food source at birth before it had a chance to procreate so they could wear a pretty white coat.

why yes I am disgusted how insightful