“You will cease to be powerless.”

Women Shamans of Greenland

Judas Ullulaq, Female shaman drummer with two
helping spirits, 1979 – 1985
Stone, antler, whalebone, hair, 16 x 13 x 8 in.
Alaska on Madison – A gallery of indigenous Northern Art

Introduction

The stories presented in this book come from many sources. The reader will find the sources listed in Appendix B along with the names and wherever possible photographs of the storytellers. Many of these stories appear in English for the first time. In some cases they were translated from the Danish and then compared with the original Greenlandic. In every case possible the original Greenlandic meanings took precedent and untranslatable Greenlandic terms were left in Greenlandic. There are stories which were translated directly from the Greenlandic as they are found in archival sources. Dr. Kirsten Thisted worked diligently with these sources. In the past decade she has done extensive translation work and written in depth on issues concerning Greenlandic storytelling practices and issues in translation.1

There are many stories of women’s encounters and lives in the hidden world. Not all of these stories could be presented in this book. The wealth of material discovered and the limits of translating time made it necessary to develop some criteria for inclusion. Intentionality of the women was a criteria for inclusion. Chapter Three, Female Shamans, holds stories about women who were intentionally developing or dealing with the angakkut wisdom they encountered. There is rich evidence of a variety of shamanic activities linked with healing practice among Eskimo women. I use the term “religio-healing” practices
interchangeably with “shamanic activity.” The religiohealing practices of these women are intimately linked with angakkoq wisdom. This wisdom operates on a continuum. It is not limited to training to perform as an angakkoq, but also involves using their knowledge of the hidden world to create an existence for themselves, and their children when everything else fails. These are enterprising women empowering themselves. These are the “Enterprising Women” of Chapter Four. They diagnose, heal, sustain themselves and their children. The world of angakkoq wisdom was not a secret territory open to only a few. Everyone had an obligation to the awareness it demanded even though one might desire to just proceed with the tasks of daily living. Responsibility to the hidden world and helping spirits could not be easily ignored. This is a world filled with the wonders of constant surprise. There are many stories of these encounters, many of them are about women. My only regret is that they could not all be included in this volume.

There has been a 25 year lapse between the initial conception and early drafts of this book (1988-89) and the present (2015). During this time there has been in depth and creative work done in the area of translation of stories, performance, film, and historical analysis/critique of oral and written story telling practices in Greenland as well as other Northern cultures.2 I am indebted to these scholars and artists for enriching the ecologies of Northern peoples that inform my practice as an artist.


1
Langgard, Karen & Thised, Kirsten (Eds.) From Oral Tradition to Rap- Literatures of the Polar North. (2011). Nuuk, Greenland. Forlaget Atuagkat.
 
2 See the bibliography for: Arke, Pia; Brantly, S. & DuBois, T. (eds.); Bravo,M. & Sorlin, S. (eds.); Langgard, K. & Thisted, K. (eds.); Pentikainem, J. (ed.) Tischler, M.; Vebaek, M.


To read the full monograph please contact Irene F. Sullivan.