Uinigumasuittuq: The Pan-Arctic Sea Woman Tradition as a Source of Law and Literary Theory

  • Author / Creator
    Brandvold, Sarah
  • Although the pan-Inuit unikkaaqtuaq (story) of the origin of the Sea Woman is quite well-known among anthropologists, folklorists, and Religious Studies scholars, to date very little attention has been given to either the broader Sedna tradition, or its individual performances, as serious, canonical literature. This thesis thus endeavours to offer a literary reading of Alexina Kublu’s “Uinigumasuittuq: She who never wants to get married” as both an exemplary work of Inuit verbal art and as a living source of law and literary theory. The structure of my thesis is as follows: the Introduction and Methodology chapters clarify in detail the philosophical and methodological underpinnings of my approach, while the bulk of the remainder of my thesis is a close reading of Kublu’s own ‘performance’ of the story, followed by a Conclusion. The close reading itself is divided into three chapters, each roughly corresponding to the three narrative divisions within the story —herein referred to as The Dog Husband, The Storm Bird, and The Creation of the Sea Mammals— all of which are preceded by the respective sections of Kublu’s text, each of which is itself quoted in full. The chapter entitled “Unikkaaqtuat Poetics” describes the manner in which Kublu’s own highly contextualized performance of the text functions as a source of meta-literary critical theory, speaking as it does to issues of translation and presentation, oral-literary conventions and themes, and characterization and paradox. The chapter entitled “Kinship and Community Governance,” while continuing to pay close attention to the aesthetics of Kublu’s text, goes on to describe the manner in which twentieth-century colonialist incursions into Inuit physical and intellectual life sought to undermine the longstanding kinship structures that provided the foundation of traditional law and governance in traditional Inuit society, and suggests that, given this context, Kublu’s own performance of the tale functions as a life-giving act of ‘decolonial love.’ The chapter entitled “Uinigumasuittuq and Violence Against Women” describes the manner in which Kublu’s text speaks powerfully to the pressing issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Although the brutal act of gender-based violence at the heart of the Sedna story is frequently ‘softened’ or rewritten in other contemporary versions of the tale, most likely to stave off concerns that the tale somehow endorses violence against women, I argue that, on the contrary, this deeply disturbing, climactic act of violence —as well as the devastating consequences attending to this act of violence— actually warn against violence and mistreatment. Finally, in the Conclusion, I suggest some possible ways in which Canadian readers and auditors might respond to the Sea Woman story.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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