NULIAJUK – SEDNA
In this story, a young woman becomes a magical creature. What kind of creature? That depends on the Arctic village you visit and who does the telling. In some stories, Sedna transforms into a goddess who may or may not have a fish tail and a woman’s upper body…. or into a sorceress with fish trapped in her hair. In all the stories, her dad chops off her fingers, her hands, and sometimes even her forearms. As they fall into the ocean, they turn into fish, seals, and whales.
In one version, Sedna is happy and single, living in Padli with her family. She refuses all suitors until a stone turns into a dog and makes babies with her. Sedna and her children move away from her dad’s home with the dog-husband. Her dad, a great hunter, keeps them fed.
One day, a tall visitor invites Sedna to get into his kayak. She agrees: the stranger looks good and her dog-husband isn’t there. When they arrive at the kayaker’s island, Sedna discovers that her “tall” stranger tricked her. He is a short bird. A short bird that makes her unhappy.
Sedna’s dad goes looking for her. He helps her run away, hiding her under skins in his boat. But the bird-husband catches up to them and begs her to show herself. She stays hidden. Her dad paddles harder and faster, outdistancing bird-husband until he disappears.
Then, something that looks like a man–or is it a bird?– approaches and circles them. It disappears.
Suddenly, ripples appear in the water. Then waves. They get bigger and bigger. A storm begins to rage.
The shore is very far. The old dad worries. Bird-husband seems bent on revenge. Water starts filling the boat, threatening to sink it. So he throws Sedna into the ocean. She holds onto the boat. So her chops off the first joints of her fingers. When they fall into the water, they turn into whales.
She doesn’t let go. He chops off the second joints of her fingers. They turn into ground-seals.
She hangs on. So he chops off the last joints of her fingers. They turn into seals.
Then, Sedna sinks into the ocean.
But Sedna lives. She now rules over the sea animals. When Inuit can find nothing to hunt, they send a shaman – sorcerer – to go under the water by magic. There, he combs Sedna’s hair, releasing the fish caught in her tangles. This restores the peace so the hunt can start again.
If you want to learn about more Inuit legends, you can visit this site: www.inuitmyths.com
In the video below, you can watch a scene from Tia and Piujuq, where Ananatia (played by Madeline Ivalu) tells her version of the story of Nuliajuk.
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Copyright Sivumu Northern Productions, Arnait Video Productions 2019