Taliillajuuq: Goddess with Many Names

Art Type
Pangnirtung 2003
Linucot and relief on Kozuke Kozo White paper
Certified Limited Edition Print # 19 of 35 printed by Leetia Alivaktuk
Size (in)
Paper (H x W): 25 x 18 ½ in
Size (cm)
Paper (H x W): 64 x 47 cm
Not Framed, please enquire
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Condition:          No condition noted.

Description by Artist:     No description by artist found.

Notes from DaVic Gallery:  “Taliillajuuq: Goddess with Many Names” –  Last copy available

The sea-woman was known by many names such as Sedna (South Baffin land), Nuliajuk (Nattilik area), or Takanakapsaluk (Iglulik area). Today she is known as Sedna, name that was used in the South Baffin area. The meaning of the name Sedna differs from “she down there in the sea”, “to work, to make”, “the one of the depth of the sea”, or “down there”.

Different beings of human appearance lived in the sea apart from the sea woman: there were tuutaliit, qallupilluit, lumajuut, and Taliillajuuq.  Taliillajuuq are sometimes referred to as mermaids. There is no clear definition to distinguish these and often referred to as sea-woman especially sedna, lumajuut and Taliillajuuq.

A South Baffin elder tells, “I do not really know them, only that it is the person of the sea, a woman. In our dialect we call her Lumaaju; when she is going under, she makes the sound lumaaq”. Maaki Kakkik from Pangnirtung related the traditions concerning the Taliillajuuq she had received from her grandmother, Miali Tuttu: “Myself, I really haven’t seen a Taliillajuuq. I have heard that Alasi’s late husband, Joanasie, when he was a child, was at the low tide and saw a small Taliillajuuq. When he saw one that was stuck at low tide, he played with it with a hook and the Taliillajuuq had its mouth wide open. He had the Taliillajuuq hooked. While he did that, it died. He had made fun of the Taliillajuuq all that time. He then gave it to the dogs, but the dogs did not want it. We had heard that we should never make fun of them because Taliillajuuq can help people in need. According to Miali Tuuttu, her hus-band was saved by them when he went through thin ice. Then he was lifted up by a Taliillajuuq. When he tried to see what it was, it was something bluish that was going down deeper, and he also saw its hair. They are not supposed to be made fun of at all, if we see one at any time. When you make fun of them, Taliillajuuq will not help you when you need them, and you will drown. Miali related that this exact experience hap-pened to Alasi’s husband:Alasi’s husband died in the water down south even though it did not seem dangerous. They have lifeguards down south and he died in the water; he had gone south for medical reasons and never came back. He was swimming in the water but did not come back to the surface. He was the one that made fun of the Taliillajuuq and killed it. That is why they should not be made fun of. They are the helpers and they can help.

The Taliillajuuq are fish even though they have arms. They had long hair and a delicate skin just like fish skin. If they are treated cruelly, they can fight back. However, their number seems to have diminished: I think there were a lot more long ago but I do not know where they went. Maybe they ran away. Carvings of a Taliillajuuq often represent a woman with long hair, naked breasts, and a fish tail. Often the lower part of the body is covered by fish scales. She may be accompanied by a small Taliillajuuq evoking the relation between the sea woman and the infant Unga. Davidialuk from Povingnituk relates a story of a meeting with the sea woman: “She was huge, three times the size of an ordinary inuk. She told him: ‘Please help me. I have to reach the water but am unable to go any further.’ She warned him not to touch her with his hands. ‘If you do, they will stick to me forever.’ When he had assisted her she left him a record player, a rifle, and a sewing machine”

— From Religion and the Arts – Representing the “Sea Woman” by Jarich Oosten and Frédéric Laugrand.