June 27, 2016

How Things Came To Be: Inuit Stories of Creation

by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Illustrated by Emily Fiegenschuh and Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall
Inhabit Media
80 pp.
Ages 5-11

It may be the end of Aborginal Heritage Month (June) and the end of the school year, but How Things Came To Be: Inuit Stories of Creation will need to be on any booklist that focuses on the Inuit culture or myths and legends.  The unstoppable team of Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, whose collaborations include Lesson for the Wolf (Inhabit Media, 2015) and Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic (Inhabit Media, 2015) and who won the 2015 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature, share nine classic creation stories based on the Inuit’s love and respect of the Land, the Sea and the Sky.

In their comprehensive introduction, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley familiarize young readers with the Inuit concepts of Nuna (the Land) and Sila (Grand Sky or Big Everything), as well as ideas of life and breath, riddles and dreams, and beginnings and endings. It’s a perfect opening for the stories When Things Came to Be; The Land’s Babies; The Battle of Day and Night; How the Caribou Came to Be; How the Sun and Moon Arose; Feathers and Ice; The Deep Mother; The Storm Orphans; and The One Who is Tied.
In the beginning, will was all that drove creation. What is will, but the dream of someone who is awake? (pg. 13)
When Things Came to Be is an all-inclusive beginning of the origins of the earth, flowers, humans and dogs, light and dark, and more, until forgetfulness about people's origins led to the diminishment of their Strength.  But the stories that follow are a record of “a few deeds of those times.  The tantrums.  The strangeness. The foolishness.  And the wonder.” (pg. 18)

The Land’s Babies tells of the time when babies were born of the Land and women had only to search for them, nearby for girls and farther out for baby boys. As such, the Land was everyone’s ancestor.  Light and darkness born out of conflict between the Fox and the Raven is the focus of The Battle of Day and Night.  While the emphases of the origin stories How Caribou Came to Be and How the Sun and Moon Arose are obvious, Feather and Ice is less so, though still deeply rooted in explaining how an infuriated shaman wields her ulu (a crescent-shaped knife) to create icebergs and waterfowl from the Sea in which her husband flees from her.
From How Things Came To Be: Inuit Stories of Creation 
by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, 
illus. by Emily Fiegenschuh and Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall

Cruelty and weakness are the themes of the final stories in this collection.  Frightening elements of a spirit enslaving a young woman and of her father sacrificing her to the Sea permeate The Deep Mother, an origin story of the first seals and walruses and other ocean mammals, as well as the  torrential wrath the Sea can display.  The Storm Orphans spotlights two children whose suffering at the hands of the people of the Weak Sky transform them into Thunder and Lightning. Finally, in The One Who is Tied, the murder of a selfish giant and his wife, and the cruelty towards their orphaned baby creates the spirit Silaup Inua, the furious storm winds.

Completing the collection, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley append the stories with a discussion About Endings, and provide a Glossary of Inuktitut Terms, both useful in framing and for clarification.  But the ultimate finishing touch to How Things Came To Be is the artwork by illustrators Emily Fiegenschuh and Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall who meld the serene Arctic worlds of land and sea with both realistic and supernatural elements and model the Big Everything so vividly. How Things Came To Be is a complete package of story-telling and art for giving voice to classic Inuit creation stories and meaningful discussions of beginnings and endings.

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