Breaking Tradition (to Be in a Native American language)

The title of this post refers to a sculpture by Inuvialuit artist Abraham Anghik Ruben that I took the time to visit at the National Museum of the American Indian.


The Umlaq splits, moving in 2 different directions with a Qimmik in danger of drowning in the middle over the Aukaneck that is the head of Arnaaluk.  On one side are the people, on the other side are the Kuk’uq.

The new exhibit is a beautifully contemplated and executed set of work that integrates Inuit and Norse mythological themes.

I thought about how hard it is to break convention, and how some conventions can be sustained by enormous political force as I browsed the Library of Congress,

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finding both Johannes Campanius’s “Martin Luther’s Catechism”

Luther's Small Catechism translated into 2 Indian languages

Luther’s Small Catechism translated into 2 Indian languages

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with its 2 Native American lexicons (Susquehannock

Vocabula Mahakuassic

Vocabula Mahakuassic

and Unalichtigo (spoken by the Southern Lenape))

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and a map of the Delaware River

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, and another book entitled “Unearthing Ancient America – the Lost Sagas of Conquerors, Castaways, and Scoundrels” containing much ignored archeological evidence of pre-Columbian interaction between America and other continents.  The latter book additionally contained not only a picture of a Menorah petroglyph

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(that may or may not be a Menorah – traditionally it is a tree with 3 distinct opposite branches on each side), but also evidence of Roman shipwrecks (2nd century AD) off of the Brazilian and Maine coasts.  I made a quick visit to the map room to see Macrobius’s 5th century depictions of a round world (one of which supposedly contains an outline of the Gulf of Mexico as a part of the Far East).

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5th century map of the world

5th century map of the world
One can look at this map long enough and kind of convince oneself that what is labeled India on the right is in fact North and South America, but looking at the Tower of Babel on the map, I am more inclined to imagine that the right shore of what would be the Pacific Ocean in that interpretation is in fact the Caspian Sea, with modern day Turkmenistan flowing into India and the “Gulf of Mexico” in the above interpretation being in fact the Bay of Bengal.  It’s admittedly tricky.

Still, there is the question of India in the Columbian interpretation of his exploration.  Regardless of this map’s interpretation, there is a lot of ignored evidence in the current mainstream historical presentation – Swedish ruinic scripts in Minnesota, and other tablets found in Michigan, some in Delaware, others in Massachusetts.

In the end, as I watched the fascinating movie about the life of Ruben

Ruben working

Ruben working

– his sculpturing technique that always has a more abstract background plan B in the event that an appendage breaks during his creative process – his struggle for identity in a political and educational culture that would not recognize him, and sought to extinguish his native identity, I reflected also on the conjugation of the Cherokee verb “to be”

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presented during a talk at the Library of Congress on the “Native by Native” theme, a decidedly “insider” entitlement, experienced by someone who will probably always self-identify more as an “outsider” in every culture.

I admit to adding a little bit of raw carrot and pickles.  They might use seaweed.

I admit to adding a little bit of raw carrot and pickles. The Inuit might use seaweed.

An Inuit bowl

Actually, the 15 different species of tuna that have been identified in the world generally occur below the 45 degree lateral (around the border between the US and Canada or 1/2 way between the equator and the North Pole, although Prince Edward Island (just above Maine) is considered the Tuna capital of the world).  So, the Inuit are more likely to eat fish like cod.  Cod has been declining, and has some protection.  As of last week, the Bluefin tuna has been listed as endangered in Canada.

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