Legend of the Hunter who encountered a Mermaid
A poor man was gathering driftwood along the shoreline when he caught sight of an arm lying on the beach. He thought it was probably a human in need of help but, all the same, as he approached the arm, he felt some regret at not having a weapon. As he drew near, he saw that the arm belonged to a creature who was half human and half fish. The torso was that of a woman with long braided hair. And she was huge — almost three times the size of the Inuk. But she spoke the Inuttitut language, saying: “Please help me. I have to reach the water but am unable to go any farther.”
The hunter replied: “But you are so big. I could not lift you if I wanted to.”
The mermaid answered: “I see you are carrying a bundle of sticks. Take one and use it to roll me towards the water — but I warn you, do not touch me with your hands. If you do, they will stick to me forever.”
The hunter did as she suggested, being careful not to touch her. Just before she reached the water, the mermaid asked him what reward he would like for helping her. The hunter did not reply however, as he could not think of anything he wanted from under the water. The mermaid persisted, saying: “Please name those things you have wanted all your life.” Still the man did not answer. There was nothing he wanted from the mermaid. But she, to show her gratitude, said: “Come to this very spot tomorrow and I will leave a record player, a rifle, and a sewing machine for you to pick up.”
Filled with disbelief — but curious — the hunter returned the next morning. He was astonished to see the three wonders — and eventually, enough people saw them that they were able to copy them and to make more. That’s how these things came to exist and that is the end of the story.
(Edited from a 1975 translation by Mary Palisar from a tape recording of Davidialuk made in 1970 or 1971.)
*Common to every culture, stories similar to this are known as “importation myths” — in essence how to culturally rationalize the arrival of new things that are beyond the experience and scope of an essentially static culture.
Davidialuk was a prolific and talented artist. Much of his work contains a narrative element, relaying the stories and legends of traditional Inuit culture. He was also well known around the community as a great storyteller. His brother, Syollie Awp once made some tapes of Davidialuk’s stories and would play them in the local print shop to inspire other artists. Davidialuk’s cousin, Joe Talirunili was also a famous artist. The two had a close relationship and they both produced many sculptures in the 1950s and graphics in the 1960s. Both men enjoyed long and fruitful careers, and passed away within months of eachother in 1976. Davidialuk is the father to Puvirnituq artists Johnny Amituk and Aisa Amittu. His wife, Maina Aqurtu Assappa was a carver. Davidialuk’s brother is Syollie Awp, and his nephew is Davidee Anutigirk, who are also artists in Puvirnituq.
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