STORYTELLING

ORAL TRADITION

Interview with Agnes Nanogak Goose

Interview with Agnes Nanogak Goose

Storytelling in the Arctic is a means not only to entertain, but also to educate and inform. Since prehistoric times, lessons, morals, history, and practical knowledge have been passed from generation to generation through this common oral tradition. The act of storytelling is in itself indicative of the communal lifestyle of the long Arctic winter. By its very existence, storytelling implies a listening audience, willing to hear the narrator’s words. Written history allows a reader to experience stories of the past alone and in isolation, while an oral tradition requires cooperation and inclusion. Stories explain the creation of physical and spiritual universes, describe hunting and travelling, and tell personal biographies. Through a rich and descriptive oral tradition, societies without a written historical record maintain the knowledge that would otherwise be lost. Keeping this knowledge alive is part of survival, allowing the experiences of the older generations to be passed to the younger ones.

The visual aspect of storytelling is almost as important as the story. String games were used to illustrate stories, making familiar figures of humans and animals to reinforce certain themes and images in the story. The body language of the storyteller, including gesturing and facial expression, was also vital to the story. Storytellers would even change the intonation of their voices to portray different characters. These audio and visual elements to storytelling allowed for a more logical transition to the graphic arts in many Arctic communities. Only in the 20th century have images been made depicting the traditional stories of these communities. The graphic style of Holman artists lends itself well to visual storytelling as it relies so heavily upon artists’ memories of the past and of stories told to them by elders. Agnes Nanogak Goose for example, felt a strong tie between her art and telling stories. When the art shop closed for a period of time she was distressed as she felt her art could "help other people remember the stories."

 

The prints below by Holman artists illustrate stories.

The Death Game

The Right Dream (Hinnaktoktok)

Bear and Huntress

Greedy Giant

It's Not Hard

The Great Whirlpool (Kalaniyaaktok)

 

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