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Qavak Songs

January 5, 2011 22 comments

translated by Nancy Campbell

During the 1950s the oral historian Maliaraq Vebæk collected stories from elderly speakers of the Qavak dialect in the settlements of Cape Farewell, South Greenland. These settlements have subsequently been abandoned and the Qavak dialect has become extinct. Song is a central element of Greenlandic culture, and many of the storytellers enhanced their narratives with lyric interludes. The following songs record the voices of three legendary female characters. The original versions were performed by Juliane Mouritzen, Martin Mouritzen and Therkel Petersen.

 

Song of a female shaman known as ‘The Robber of Men’s Intestines’

Nailikkaataak sapangall, sapangallin
qivaaqinngivani sapangall
sapangallin

My cunt is hung,
hung with sea urchins,

My cunt bursts,
bursts with bladderwrack,

My cunt drips,
wet as a walrus snout.

My cunt is hungry.

 

Song of a wicked woman whose knowledge knew no limit

Uvijera kiillugu mikkissavan!
Kiillugu mikikkikki,
taana imaats qarsernun naqqulijukkumaarpan,
suuvalijukkumaarpan.

Kiillugu mikissavan, aaverling toqussuunga.
Tassa taamaaligima, toquguma
ummasunu pinaveerlinga mateernijarimaarparma.

Atamijaa ooqattaarimaarpan arn qisivanik.
Tass taamaatimik qarsilijern’jassuuti
taana naqqulijullugu, aataa taamaal
taasuminnga sakkeqalerivin toqukkumaarpan.

There’s only one way to kill your enemy:

You must bite my clit off, pull it inside out,
and use it as an arrowhead.

Yes! Bite off my clit and pull it inside out,
but I warn you, I will bleed to death.

Hurry up! Blunt but hard,
it is the best blade for killing.

When I have bled to death,
cover me, for beasts will want to eat me.

Hold the head in soft driftwood
and fletch the shaft with folds of skin.

Yes, that’s the arrow you need!
Only my weapon can kill your enemy.

 

Song of Ukuamaat of Kakilisat, the mother who left fox prints in the snow

Ernera, ernilijarsivara
tuugaaning assaqqoruteqanngitserng
Ernera ernilijarsivara
tuugaani nijaqorutaasaqanngitserng
nulijaaning assaarmigakku
taamalli ajunnguvarminaan.

My son, the man I made myself,
has no tattoos on his bony arms.
My son, the man I made myself,
will never wear an ivory crown.
I’ve stolen his only wife —
that’s no mean feat for an old crone!


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Nancy Campbell (website) has published a number of artist’s books, the most recent being Dinner and a Rose, a multimedia response to Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley quartet of novels, commissioned by Poetry Beyond Text, which was produced in collaboration with the artist Sarah Bodman. The Night Hunter, forthcoming from Z’roah Press, was composed last winter while writer-in-residence at Upernavik Museum, Greenland: the most northern museum in the world.

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