The Lives of Animals

There was once a great shaman who wanted to see what it was like to live the life of all animals. So he let himself be reborn in all kinds of animals. For a time he was a bear. That was a tiring life, they were always walking, the bears, even in the dark they roamed about, always on the wander.
            Then he became a fjord seal, and he relates that the seals were always in the humor for playing. They are ever full of merry jests, and they leap about among the waves, frolicsome and agile, until the sea begins to move; their high spirits set the sea in motion.
            There was not much difference between humans and seals, for the seals could suddenly turn themselves into human shape. In that form they were skillful with the bow and amused themselves by setting up targets of snow, just as men make them.
            Once the shaman was a wolf, but then he almost starved to death until one of the wolves took compassion on him and said, “Get a good hold of the ground with your claws and try to keep up with us when we run.” This is how he learned to run and catch caribou.
            Then he turned into a musk ox, and it was warm in the middle of the big herd. Afterward, he became a caribou. They were strangely restless animals, always timid. In the middle of their sleep they would spring up and gallop away. They became scared over the slightest thing, so there was no fun being a caribou.
            In this way the shaman lived the life of all the animals.

Story told to Knud Rasmussen by Qaqortingneq of the Netsilik, reprinted in Northern Tales: Stories From the Native Peoples of the Arctic and Subarctic Regions, Selected, Edited and retold by Howard Norman. Pantheon Books, 1990.

Image: Shaman's Costume, 1984

by Lipa Pitsiulak (1943–2010)

Stonecut on paper, 41/50

49 x 51.3 cm Image: 37 x 42.5 cm
Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Indian & Northern Affairs, Canada

Annual collections of prints have been published in Pangnirtung since 1973. Lipa Pitsiulak provided early leadership to the Pangnirtung Print Shop and later to the Pangnirtung Eskimo Co-operative, established in 1975. He continues to create drawings, many of which have been rendered into prints. He is also known for his imaginative sculpture. In 1977 his print, Disguised Archer, was reproduced on a Canadian postage stamp. All of his work reveals an interest in portraying traditional shamanic beliefs and legends, as exemplified by the print Shaman’s Costume. He lived in the community of Pangnirtung from 1967 to 1977, but then made the decision to move to a permanent outpost camp. In 1988 his life and art was the subject of a National Film Board film, Lypa.


Keavy said...

Thanks for posting this, Tom. Lypa Pitsiulak passed away last year, and is much missed in Pangnirtung. My godson, who was born in November, carries his name.

To see these transformations in action, check out this 7-min film by the makers of Atanaarjuat The Fast Runner:

Thomas Wharton said...

What a stunning film. Thanks for the link, Keavy.