Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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[A story from South Greenland.]
NEAR Kangerdlugsuatsiak there lived a man called Niumak, with his wife Kujapigak. Both were very anxious to get a suitable wife for their only son. p. 397 Niumak, from his early youth, had neither fancied nor taken any part in singing or dancing entertainments. At the dancing parties he would turn away from the performers, seeming to take no notice of them; but if a wrestling match or a trial of strength was going to come off, he was always on the alert. At last Niumak fixed upon a girl named Savanguak for the wife of his son, and he became very fond of his daughter-in-law. In summer-time he had one day gone out kayaking by himself; and on landing from a hill perceived a ship approaching. He lost no time in getting out his kayak, and rowed away to meet it. Having got alongside the vessel, he saw a rope-ladder hanging down the side, but not a single man was seen on deck; and no one answering his repeated calls, he went on board and entered the cabin. All was desolate there as elsewhere, and he concluded that the crew had recently left the ship, omitting to furl the sails. The ship having run in among the islands and grounded, he left it to fetch a boat. Returning with this, he established himself and his people on board, and they soon ascertained that the cargo was in no way injured. In the cabin they found beads like those they had been accustomed to get from the whalers, and having possessed themselves of them, they thought themselves very rich. They also overhauled the cargo, but being totally unacquainted with it, they poured into the sea such articles as peas, sugar, and molasses. Having taken from the ship all they could lay hands on, they tore down the sails in order to make use of them as an outside cover of their tents. All the finest beads were given to Savanguak.
Afterwards, when Savanguak had already got several children, some Southlanders arrived, whom Niumak invited to come and stay at his house. In the beginning of winter the younger baby of Savanguak died, and they were all very sorry. One day, when her husband was absent, a vile old crone belonging to the Southlanders p. 398 went on mocking the bereaved mother, holding up her own grandchild before her in a provoking manner unobserved by the others. This roused Savanguak's suspicion against her. On the same day her husband was expected back, her mother-in-law brought all the reindeer-skins in, to have them looked over. While every one's attention was taken up with this, Savanguak ran outside to take the air. On finding she did not return, Kujapigak turned to some of the larger children and said, "Go and look after your sister-in-law." They soon came back saying, "She is standing outside the house." As she still remained out, they all ran off to fetch her back. Following her tracks, they had to cross a hill, and at length found her at the bottom of a little lake close by. Nobody was able to draw her out; but at the same time they perceived Niumak in his kayak making for the shore. No one, however, dared to call him and tell him what had happened, but getting suspicious from their silence, he put in at once, and hurried to them. On looking round for information, one of the bystanders screamed out, "Thy daughter-in-law is lying dead at the bottom of the lake." Without uttering a single word, he proceeded to draw her out, and tried every means for reviving her; but these proving all in vain, he let the others bring her to the house. On carrying her in, they brought all their things out according to custom. The husband of the deceased, who was named Taterak, also arrived, calling out that he had got a white whale. The servant-maid of the house silently went down to receive and help him. Feeling assured that something was amiss, he asked her to draw his kayak on shore. Obeying her master she pulled up the boat, but did it hurriedly without the usual care, at which he looked inquiringly at her, but got no answer. On stepping ashore his father met him and gave him the sad intelligence that his wife had drowned herself. Without undressing he quickly entered the house, and p. 399 the father as well as the son went up and down the room deliberating upon how to find out the cause of her death. Meanwhile some of the others were whispering, "Now we will soon have done with the old hag," but the two men never heard them; and unable to discover any reason, they broke out into loud lamentations, joined by all the rest, the old hag only excepted, who was busy eating matak. Some time after, a baby of the place was called Savanguak in memory of the deceased; and it happened that one of Niumak's house-fellows told him that the old woman had been heard to mock and ridicule the baby's namesake. When the little one was learning to walk, the old hag one day took to scolding it; on hearing which, Niumak and his son rose up together, saying, "Now we see who is the real culprit;" and so saying, he poured out a pailful of icy water upon the naked woman, afterwards throwing the pail out of the window. Her companions quietly kept their seats in a row on the ledge; but they were soon upset by Niumak, who tore away the ledge-boards beneath them, which were likewise thrown outside, and he removed all his belongings out of the house. They departed from thence to Kassigissat, leaving their wicked house-fellows behind. During their stay at Kassigissat several other people came to encamp there, waiting for the migratory seal. About that time Habakuk,1 a youth whose parents had likewise pitched their tents there, one day kayaked northwards to meet the seals; and was suddenly surprised on seeing a boat coming down upon him, rowed by a single man. Habakuk, on his part, made up to them, and rowed on alongside of them, being too modest to address them first. At last their old woman Ajugaussak began: "We are almost starving; give us a little of thy new-caught seal. We came away from Sakak, where all our house-fellows p. 400 died of famine, and we have travelled all this way south without once taking our boat ashore for drying; our only provisions have been half-dried boat-skins." When she had ended, Habakuk went closer to them, saying, "Well, take the skin of my seal with blubber and all, and the liver besides." They forthwith tried to get the animal out of the boat, but were too weak and exhausted to do it without his help. Their old woman proceeded to cut it up, and gave each a little piece of the blubber; and having their hunger appeased for the present, they followed him home, where a meal was instantly set before them. However, they were at first only able to take a very little food, and then went off to sleep, having first asked their old woman to light a lamp. She trimmed it with blubber, accordingly; but missing the stick to stir it up with, she had to make a shift with her forefinger, at the same time exclaiming, "What a length of time I have longed for the sight of this!" However, the strange travellers began to recover by the nourishing food they were getting, but still they often fell asleep in the midst of their meal. On awaking, however, they fell to again, and at last grew so fat that they could hardly get on their boots. Soon afterwards they prepared to leave, intending to go still further to the south.
1 A native, who in the year 1790 made himself a prophet and head of a Christian sect, independent of the European missionary.