May 08, 2021

The Shaman's Apprentice

Written by Zacharias Kunuk
Illustrated by Megan Kyak-Monteith
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2021

In this picture book based on his animated short film Angakuksajaujuq: The Shaman's Apprentice, Inuk director Zacharias Kunuk delivers a powerful story about a young girl facing her fears as she learns from her grandmother, a shaman, in finding healing help from the underworld.
From The Shaman's Apprentice by Zacharias Kunuk, illus. by Megan Kyak-Monteith
Qunguliq and her granddaughter Supijaq are summoned by a young man to provide healing for an ill man at his camp. Packing up their qamutiik (sled), they head to the nearby camp, unaware that the qurvik (bed pan) has fallen off in their travels.

Though Qunguliq questions the ill man about why he is sick and what he may have done wrong, he refuses to answer her. Qunguliq requests Supijaq retrieve the qurvik which the girl cannot locate but, sent out again to the qamutiik, the pot has reappeared. Using the pot for its intended purpose, Qunguliq smears the urine on the ill man's face but without any of the expected healing.

Qunguliq decides they must travel underground and, with a magic song, opens a deep hole leading there. Cautioning her granddaughter that she must not be fearful if their journey underground is to be successful, Qunguliq leads them down a slope deep into the earth. But as they travel down, Supijaq realizes that their bodies have changed, becoming limp and soft as if their bones had left their bodies.
From The Shaman's Apprentice by Zacharias Kunuk, illus. by Megan Kyak-Monteith
At the bottom, they face a giant husky protecting a doorway. Again, Supijaq is warned not to show fear, and the two proceed into a darkened room of tormented human spirits and Kannaaluk, also known as The One Below.

Kannaaluk reveals something to them which triggers a vision for the shamans of what the man had done, exposing a selfishness as the cause of his own illness. Returning to the sick man's qarmaq (sod house), Qunguliq confronts the man about breaking a taboo before he is healed.
From The Shaman's Apprentice by Zacharias Kunuk, illus. by Megan Kyak-Monteith
This traditional Inuit story is rich with culture, language and an inter-generational relationship blended with subtle lessons about facing fears and karma. From the qarmaq with its qulliq (seal oil lamp) to healing practices and the presence of Kannaaluk (the legendary spirit, also known as Takannaaluk and Nuliajuk, who controls the sea mammals), Zacharias Kunuk embeds us in a traditional setting of the Inuit and honours this story with its messages of customs and beliefs. Born in a qarmaq on Baffin Island, Zacharias Kunuk tells this story with authenticity and insight and with the eye of a filmmaker. Qunguliq, whose voice is the only one given words, brings the wisdom and affection while her granddaughter listens and learns through her silence and actions. But with the artwork of Megan Kyak-Monteith, also born in Nunavut, The Shaman's Apprentice is radiant, whether in the qarmaq lit by the qulliq, or across the tundra of glowing blue snow, or even in the depths of the underworld. Though her palette is limited, Megan Kyak-Monteith evokes warmth and cold, comfort and tension with the profoundness of her technique. 

As with all traditional storytelling that is destined to teach and carry forward culture, The Shaman's Apprentice does so admirably in words and art, informing those outside of the culture and preserving it for those within.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like an amazing book that should be in everyone's library. So wonderful for kids to learn more about the Inuit culture.