Storytelling up North – The Inuit Legend of Sedna
Storytelling is one of the things that I appreciate the most about Greenland.
Stories about hunting, about good old days or simply re-telling the old Greenlandic legends and myths. Up here there is always time for a good story – over breakfast, on your way up (or down) a mountain or in front of Brugseni and I think that gives everyday living a wonderful twist.
A specific legend keeps getting stuck in my mind – the legend of Sedna– and I will now try my best to pass this story on to you:
”An old Greenlandic myth tells the story of the young woman Sedna. She was so incredibly beautiful with her big, black hair, and so clever and skilful. She was the perfect Inuit woman, but no man was good enough for her.
Every time a handsome hunter asked for her hand, she send him away. Sedna herself was a very good hunter, and she needed no man to take care of her.
But her attitude made her father very angry – he wanted her to behave just like the other women in the village and for her to get married as soon as possible.
His patience ran out, and one day he demanded that she sailed to an abandoned island. She would live there until she was wise enough to accept one of the many proposals of marriage.
Sedna waited and waited on the island. And as time went by, she suddenly got a visitor. A very handsome man who told her that he was a successful hunter. And he promised her a life with him where she would never miss anything.
After some consideration she finally accepted his proposal and together they left the island.
One day Sednas’ father got the horrible message that his daughter had been tricked. The man she had married was an imposter. He didn’t catch any food, he treated her horribly and she suffered and starved every single day. In pure rage the father and the entire family sailed off to save the poor Sedna and to get her home safely.
The family arrived at Sednas’ home and she quickly got in the boat, beaten, anxious and afraid of what her husband would do when he found out she was gone…and with good reason. For as soon as the husband discovered she had escaped, he revealed his true self as a shapeshifter and shifted into the form of a huge eagle. Like that he flew out to the ocean and when he saw the boat of the family, he started to flap his wings so hard that it created a massive storm and send the boat out of control.
He waved and waved his wings until the boat started to sink.
Sedna fell overboard in the storm and in her attempt to survive she grabbed onto the railing with both her hands.
But the big eagle was furious and determined to see her dead. So, he kept on creating a bigger and even more deadly storm. Sedna screamed and begged of her father to help her up from the freezing water. But as the father saw the rising rage from the eagle he decided to save the rest of the family. So, he took his ulu-knife and in one desperate slay he cut off all of his daughters’ fingers.
And as the screaming Sedna sank into the darkness of the deep, the eagle finally stopped his raging and let the family go.
Sedna kept sinking, her fingers were pulsating with pain and her heavy clothes quickly dragged her towards the bottom of the ocean.
But all of a sudden, the pain stopped and the blood running from her fingers was now transformed into little silver coloured creatures – they were the first fish. Sedna now realised that she could breathe again and she suddenly remembered the words of the village shaman who once told her about the spirits of nature: “They live in the northern lights. From here they control the changes of the seasons and all life. If somebody is being wronged the spirits will help – but ONLY if they are still truly pure in the heart”.
Sedna now lived in the ocean, but as time went by her big black hair got all messed up and dirty. And because she had no fingers, it was impossible for her to comp it. And it made her angry and sad…a ruin that the Inuit would soon come to fear!
On earth the Inuit was starving and Sednas’ family was dead. There were no animals to catch and the supplies was long gone. In crises like this, the village would summon the shaman, Angakkoq. Angakkoq would then get into a state of trance and be able to communicate with the spirits of nature, helping him to bring back balance in the nature.
And so the shaman and the spirits travelled to the bottom of the ocean. Here they found a huge house with a big sledge dog on the roof. The dog growled at them but let them pass. Inside the house they found a giant, furious woman.
The spirits whispered to the shaman that he had to tangle himself into the hair of the woman and hold on tight, as she would try to kill him. After a while of wrestling with the woman, the shaman successfully convinced her that he was there to help and not to harm her. She believed him, and he found a comb and started to fix her messy hair. He removed all sorts of trash that the people had tossed in the water and as the hours passed by her hair was almost clean again.
As he comped the last straws of the hair, 10 giant animals started to swim out of her hair – 1 animal for each of her chopped off fingers: bearded seal, walrus, hooded seal, narwhal, reindeer, polar bear, ringed seal, musk oxen, harp seal and all kinds of birds.
Sedna, now The Mother of the Sea talked to Angakkoq and told him, that the Inuit wasn’t trying hard enough to live their lives properly, that they were greedy and that their indifference made her hair all tangled so that all the animals got stuck and were held back from the hunters. If the shaman could remind his people about their place in this world and that they had to learn how to live in complete balance with nature, then she would once again release the animals.
Angakkoq returned to his people and since that day, the Inuit have tried to keep their promise to The Mother of the Sea. And when they fail she still punishes them and lets the animals stay in her hair at the bottom of the ocean, leaving the Inuit to starve.”
Whatever moral you find in this story is up to you – the beauty of storytelling, I find, is that there can be more than one message to be found in between the lines. However, in Greenland we still use the story of Sedna as a reminder to hunt responsibly and sustainable and to live in balance with nature.