The Origin of Day and Night
The Origin of Day and Night
Tiri, the Arctic fox, was lucky enough to have a pair of eyes that could see in the dark. He could hunt animals while they were sleeping and steal from the secret places where humans hid their food….
The Origin of Day and Night is an ideologically powerful, endearing and irresistible gift from Inuit mythology now accessible to all Canadians. Stories have power, and this one could not have arrived at a better moment—a time bearing witness to the affirmation, centering and resurgence of storytelling—especially re-centering Indigenous ways of knowing and being—epistemology—through story.
The book enters the scene when school and other communities across the country are engaged in dialogue about Truth and Reconciliation (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, TRC, 2012). As we engage in necessary and important dialogue about acknowledging ongoing legacies of colonialism, “Aboriginal resilience: a determination not just to endure, but to flourish,” and imagine alternate futures based on mutual respect and a shared joint future that consider, and work for the well-being of all, we would do well to read and continuously heed the messages embedded in The Origin of Day and Night. These are messages about respectful negotiation, interdependence, mutuality, and working out a shared joint understanding about living together well.
The story informs that the “very beginning of time” was characterized by two compelling attributes, one of which was a “darkness that surrounded everything” in which “nocturnal animals, those who could see in the dark, could easily hunt for food”, such as Tiri, the Arctic fox. Additionally, “this was also a time of magic words, when things that were spoken could become real.” Since Tori survived and thrived well in the darkness, he loved it, and all he had to do to preserve the status quo for his benefit was to say, “Taaq, taaq, taaq! Darkness, darkness, darkness!” And, it came into being!
However, the place Tiri called home was not his alone; it was also the abode of Ukaliq, the Arctic hare. He did not have Tiri’s “special eyes”and could not see in the dark. As a result of the imbalance, Ukaliq struggled to find food. Chancing fate, she uttered the word of her desire: “Ubluq, ubluq, ubluq! Day, day, day!” And through this magic of words, the world “slowly” filled with light and became “bright.” Ukaliq realized that she, too, had power—a power useful for finding food—useful for her survival! A power that materialized an enduring colossal change in the Arctic.
Thus it was that both Tiri and Ukaliq discovered, at that time, that language—possessing its own magic—had words that possessed magic—special words like darkness and day! The double page illustrated spread, depicting the emergence, the in-coming, up-rising, of day, of light—half of a whitish to golden arc of light, is one of the most spectacular in a book whose colour palette dances with shades of charcoal, grey, lines of gold, white, red, and amber. Delightful and effective!
However, when Ukaliq yelled day (Ubluq, ubluq, ubluq, day, day, day), Tiri’s eyes did not work so well. Blinded by narcissism and light, he could not see and so could not hunt efficiently and demanded answers. When interrogated, Ukaliq retorted saying, “I would like to find my own food in the brightness. I cannot see in the dark.” Tiri then offered what he believed to be reasonable rejoinder, maintaining that he was “not done eating yet...” and “still hungry” and proceeded to call back the darkness saying the magic words “Taaq, taaq, taaq”—not once but twice thus pre-empting Ukaliq from bringing forth day.
Perceiving Tiri’s predatory intentions, the hare crept away and used her magic words, “Ubluq, ubluq, ubluq” to bring back the day. Now able to see, she watched the “humans waking up to find some of their hidden caribou meat gone. She watched them bury the rest even deeper.”
Ukaliq’s observation of the human’s behaviour is important to the plot and the big ideas of the narrative. We learn she is in solidarity with the humans. Knowing scarcity and feeling empathy for them, as similarly victimized and oppressed by Tiri’s power through his ability to usher in darkness, Ukaliq acts on their behalf and summons the day (Ubluq, ubluq, ubluq) “trying to give them more time. “The humans didn’t know she was helping them. They didn’t even know her words were powerful enough to help them.” Herein is the concept of ally—Ukaliq acts in the interests of humans—she acts defensively to promote their well-being. What we have here is wisdom—a deep-seated ethical knowledge to use one’s own understanding of vulnerability and need to perceive the interests and needs of others (e.g. the humans) and to act (as Ukaliq did) on their behalf—in their interest as well as her own.
Soon after Ukaliq’s act of solidarity with the humans, someone called “Taaq, taaq, taaq!” and darkness came. Seeing the setting sun and that the humans had gone back to their iglu for the night, Ukaliq heard the fox and “knew he was sniffling around the hidden meat” trying to find it to satisfy his hunger, and Ukaliq intervened with her powerful words—Ubluq, ubluq, ubluq. Brightness appeared, and Tiri, now feeling disadvantaged, showed up and said to Ukaliq, “We need to figure out a way for both of us to find food.” His analysis of the situation—an unwinnable contest since both sides are equally powerful—leads to an invitation to problem-solve for their mutual benefit. And so it was that a compromise was reached. They agreed that Tiri would go first.
This solution was unsatisfactory because Tiri had difficulty locating his meal now that the humans had buried their food deeper and other prey was hard to find. Tiri needed more time. Thus, the first attempt at finding a mutually satisfying solution was unsuccessful. Apprehending the intractable situation where power was equal, “Ukaliq wondered if there was a way to make things fair…” A more nuanced resolution was required, and she proposed this to Tiri: “How about…we give each other enough time to find a meal or two before the other changes the light in the sky…” She added, “I’ll give you more time if you will do the same for me.”
Agreement was reached by the equally matched participants in a contest of survival—material well-being. “And from then on Tiri had enough time to find a decent meal, and Ukaliq had enough time to find the plants she most liked to eat.” Sharing a particular ecosystem, each side yielded. Therefore, Tiri and Ukaliq “used the power of their words to bring the sun up into the sky and then to make it set. Taaq brought darkness and ubluq brought day. Day came and replaced night, and when night had gone, day came again. This is why we now have day and night.”
With striking black, white, arctic and slate blue digitally-enhanced pen and ink illustrations, along with minimal but complementary as well as effective use of greys browns, rust, and gradations of yellow, The Origin of Day and Night triumphs for its creators. A picture book for all, it broadcasts big ideas about the restructuring of power through “magic words” in a context of dominance and inequity. Moreover, the big ideas speak of shifting relations of power when Ukaliq’s words prove to be as powerful as Tiri’s. Rumbolt’s and Lishchenko’s deft retelling of this Inuit myth illuminates how the crude use of compromise can give way to more nuanced, sensitive, and dialectical power sharing that centres fairness in resource sharing based on history, as well as the present, and future material needs of all.
The foregoing are reasons why The Origin of Day and Night is such a noteworthy book during this time of truth-telling geared toward reconciliation. The emerging dialectical relationship between Arctic Fox and Arctic hare is premised on their interconnectedness, interrelationality and interpenetratedness based on place and their social locations. This book is a must for every classroom, home, library, business school, legislature, and think-tank on conflict. I hope the United Nations purchase multiple copies! We all need this story of sensitive and nuanced ethical compromises that assure the survival and well-being of those who occupy the land—a shared joint place, a shared ecology and destiny.
Dr. Barbara McNeil is an Instructor in the Faculty of Education, University of Regina