Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Qavak Songs

A selection of my translations of songs from the South Greenlandic Qavak dialect have just been published in the online journal qarrtsiluni (follow the link to read or listen).

All three songs, sung by female shamans, are from tales of great daring that have become legendary in Greenlandic culture. I discovered the original transcriptions of these versions in an obscure journal in Upernavik Museum; I believe this is the first time they have been made more widely available. The Song of a Wicked Woman whose Knowledge Knew No Limit is especially notable. Like Beowulf's sword or Achilles' shield, the arrow used by Qasapi to kill his enemy Unngortoq in the legend has a prominent role in all versions of the narrative, but no other account has identified the origin of the weapon, perhaps for reasons of delicacy, as the shaman's 'uvijera' (an obscure term which derives from the word for mussel, 'ulioq').

I've had some great feedback on them already, notably 'Aunt B' of Tennessee in the ravishing blog Tiny Cat Pants. Thanks also to Brooklyn's David Cooper and Jane Rice.


davidfcooper said...

Interesting that the Qavak word for clitoris is derived from the word for mussel. The Hebrew word for clitoris, dagdegan, literally means wheat-fish (dag=fish, degan=wheat).


Thanks David. The public discussion about the translation of 'uvijera' since this post makes me think that there just aren't enough synonyms for clitoris in English. It would be interesting to hear about the etymology of the term in other languages as a point of comparison. Any advance on Qavak and Hebrew, anyone?