ESKIMO SONGS AND STORIES by Edward -- Sel. & Trans. Field


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Visually, this handsomely produced book, with full-page reproductions of stonecuts -- birds, animals, hunters and spirits -- by two significant members of the immensely creative West Baffin cooperative at Cape Dorset, cannot be faulted. The prims are of course only incidentally related to the selections, which actually fall somewhere in between ""songs"" and ""stories."" Mostly short bits of lore and legend arranged in blank verse lines, they have neither the story interest of developed folk tales such as those in Maher's Blind Boy and the Loon (KR, 1969) or Melzak's The Day Tuck Became a Hunter (KR, 1968) nor the spontaneity of the celebrations, incantations and reflections collected in Lewis' I Breathe a New Song (KR, 1970). Perhaps this is due to the ""improvements"" made by Edward Field (who wrote the highly touted film To Be Alive); his polished arrangements and vulgar Americanisms are a poor substitute for the rhythm and force found in the oral outbursts Rasmussen recorded. When ""The Raven and the Gull Have a Spat,"" the language -- ""dirty slob,"" ""oh yeah,"" and ""better not start anything, big boy"" -- seem a violation of the primitive integrity of Pudlo's raven on the facing page, and the Owl who calls the Plover ""You dirty bird"" is just as far from Kiakshuk's sensibility. The ""Magic Words for Hunting Caribou"" have all the magic squeezed out by Field's unsuitable ""Come on, move them bones"" and by his too slick and formal ending, ""I'm here,/ I'm waiting/ just for YOU/ you, you, caribou./ Appear!/ COME HERE!"" There is also a jarring reference to a ""community center"" (a snow house where the ""community"" scalds an evil spirit to death and boils his bearded seal!) and a long explanation -- more like an apology to outsiders than a fragment of indigenous tradition -- of the custom of sacrificing old people in times of famine. Despite such false notes and distortions the selections are full of fascinating evidence of Eskimo beliefs and customs, and the prints speak eloquently for themselves in any case -- but Kiakshuk and Pudlo deserve a more sensitive accompaniment.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1973
Page count: 102pp
Publisher: Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence