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Assuituq National Park, near Broughton Island.

On the shore of Ungava Bay south of Killiniq.

Uqumangirniq or Aqtuqsinniq: Inuit Sleep Paralysis

A Biopsychocultural Interpretation through Inuit Interviews, and Review of
International Perspectives

In this chapter, Samuel Law studies uqumangirniq through, on one hand, the interviews with the elders and the younger members of the community presented in Chapters 14 and 15, respectively, and, on the other hand, the medical literature and international anthropological and cultural research. Law considers uqumangirniq like the perfect lens through which one can observe Inuit culture, because of uqumangirniq’s panhuman resonance and its varying interpretations from culture to culture.

Law first offers a description of the state of uqumangirniq, based on the documents presented in Chapters 14 and 15. Then, he reviews the medical literature and draws a link between uqumangirniq and sleep paralysis, a state of paralysis occasionally accompanied by hallucinations and resulting from an unusual sleep architecture. The phenomenon seems relatively common in Nunavut, in contradiction with the Western medical opinion.

Sleep paralysis has been studied in other cultures: in Alaska, Newfoundland, Japan, Hong Kong, and among Afro-Americans from Chicago. Each culture has developed its own interpretation of the phenomenon, resorting to the paranormal or spiritual to various degrees, mixed in with more contemporary concepts. However, when it comes to the techniques and methods to protect one’s self against it or to break its hold, there are strong similarities between the techniques used abroad and the ones described by both old and young Inuit interviewees.

The spiritual aspect of the Inuit’s interpretation of uqumangirniq is in accordance with the Inuit cosmology of the visible and the invisible, where the tarniq or soul is more vulnerable to attacks from the invisible world while a person is asleep. This interpretation still relies more strongly on spiritual elements than the interpretations found in other cultures that have opted for more modern explicative models. This study highlights how Inuit culture is currently in a transition stage, where its traditional beliefs have been dismantled by Christianity and Western thought, and have yet to be replaced by something else.