Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Folklore: The Epic of Qayaq by Lela Kiana Oman

Subtitle: The Longest Story Ever Told By My People
Publisher: Carleton Univ. Press
Date: 1995
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: to further my knowledge of the world's epics
Pages: 120
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: The hero is Qayaq, and the cycle traces his wanderings by kayak and on foot along four rivers - the Selawik, the Kobuk, the Noatak and the Yukon - up along the Arctic Ocean to Barrow, over to Herschel Island in Canada, and south to a Tlingit Indian village. Along the way he battles with jealous fathers-in-law and other powerful adversaries; discovers cultural implements (the copper-headed spear and the birchbark canoe); transforms himself into animals, birds and fish, and meets animals who appear to be human.

My review: The Epic of Qayaq is a cycle of stories told by the Inupiat American Indians of northern Alaska. Oman's version is extremely well-told, especially given that the last couple of epics I read were either mind-numbingly long and boring (Homer's) or not great translations (two West African ones, not reviewed on the blog). This epic, by contrast, was very readable. Qayaq's adventures - and the culture underlying the tales - were quite interesting. Though the details were unique, it was also fascinating to draw parallels between this epic and other hero stories from around the world. The tale never dragged, nor did it feel undetailed as do many folktales; the story was fleshed-out and flowed well. This edition did a fantastic job of bringing another culture's epic to unfamiliar readers, not falling into the flaw of certain similar works by failing to convey the unique concepts and history of the group as reflected in the tale.

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