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p. 93



[The following tale has been constructed from nine different copies, received partly from various places in Greenland, and partly from Labrador, all, however, agreeing upon every principal point. It does not appear to rest upon any historical basis, but merely to have a moral tendency, bringing before us the idea of a superior power protecting the helpless, and avenging mercilessness and cruelty.]

THERE was once a poor orphan boy who lived among a lot of uncharitable men. His name was Kagsagsuk, and his foster-mother was a miserable old woman. These poor people had a wretched little shed adjoining the house-passage,1 and they were not allowed to enter the main room. Kagsagsuk did not even venture to enter the shed, but lay in the passage, seeking to warm himself among the dogs. In the morning, when the men were rousing their sledge-dogs with their whips, they often hit the poor boy as well as the dogs. He then would cry out, "Na-ah! Na-ah!" p. 94 mocking himself in imitating the dogs. When the men were feasting upon various frozen dishes, such as the hide of the walrus and frozen meat, the little Kagsagsuk used to peep over the threshold, and sometimes the men lifted him up above it, but only by putting their fingers into his nostrils; these accordingly enlarged, but otherwise he did not grow at all. They would give the poor wretch frozen meat, without allowing him a knife to cut it with, saying his teeth might do instead; and sometimes they pulled out a couple of teeth, complaining of his eating too much. His poor foster-mother procured him boots and a small bird-spear, in order to enable him to go outside the house and play with the other children; but they would turn him over and roll him in the snow, filling his clothes with it, and treating him most cruelly in various ways: the girls sometimes covered him all over with filth. Thus the little boy was always tormented and mocked, and did not grow except about the nostrils. At length he ventured out among the mountains by himself, choosing solitary places, and meditating how to get strength. His foster-mother had taught him how to manage this. Once, standing between two high mountains, he called out: "Lord of strength, come forth! Lord of strength, come to me!" A large animal now appeared in the shape of an amarok (now a fabulous animal, originally a wolf), and Kagsagsuk got very terrified, and was on the point of taking to his heels; but the beast soon overtook him, and, twisting its tail round his body, threw him down. Totally unable to rise, he heard the while a rustling sound, and saw a number of seal-bones, like small toys, falling from his own body. The amarok now said: "It is because of these bones that thy growth has been stopped." Again it wound its tail round the boy, and again they fell down, but the little bones were fewer this time; and when the beast threw him down the third time, the last bones fell off. The fourth time he p. 95 did not quite fall, and at the fifth he did not fall at all, but jumped along the ground. The amarok now said: "If it be thy wish to become strong and vigorous, thou mayst come every day to me." On his way home, Kagsagsuk felt very much lighter, and could even run home, meanwhile kicking and striking the stones on his way. Approaching the house, the girls who nursed the babies met him, and shouted, "Kagsagsuk is coming—let us pelt him with mud;" and the boys beat him and tormented him as before: but he made no opposition, and following his old habits, he went to sleep among the dogs. Afterwards, he met the amarok every day, and always underwent the same process. The boy felt stronger every day, and on his way home he kicked the very rocks, and rolling himself on the ground, made the stones fly about him. At last the beast was not able to overthrow him, and then it spoke: "Now, that will do; human beings will not be able to conquer thee any more. Still, thou hast better stick to thy old habits. When winter sets in, and the sea is frozen, then is thy time to show thyself; three great bears will then appear, and they shall be killed by thy hand." That day Kagsagsuk ran all the way back, kicking the stones right and left, as was his wont. But at home he went on as usual, and the people tormented him more than ever. One day, in the autumn, the kayakers1 returned home with a large piece of driftwood, which they only made fast to some large stones on the beach, finding it too heavy to be carried up to the house at once. At nightfall, Kagsagsuk said to his mother, "Let me have thy boots, mother, that I too may go down and have a look at the large piece of timber." When all had gone to rest, he slipped out of the house, and having reached the beach, and loosened the moorings, he flung the piece of timber on his shoulders and carried it up behind the house, where p. 96 he buried it deep in the ground. In the morning, when the first of the men came out, he cried, "The driftwood is gone!" and when he was joined by the rest, and they saw the strings cut, they wondered how it could possibly have drifted away, there being neither wind nor tide. But an old woman, who happened to go behind the house, cried, "Just look! here is the spar!" whereat they all rushed to the spot, making a fearful noise, shouting, "Who can have done this? there surely must be a man of extraordinary strength among us!" and the young men all gave themselves great airs, that each might be believed to be the great unknown strong man—the impostors!

In the beginning of the winter, the housemates of Kagsaguk ill-treated him even worse than before; but he stuck to his old habits, and did not let them suspect anything. At last the sea was quite frozen over, and seal-hunting out of the question. But when the days began to lengthen, the men one day came running in to report that three bears were seen climbing an iceberg. Nobody, however, ventured to go out and attack them. Now was Kagsagsuk's time to be up and doing. "Mother," he said, "let me have thy boots, that I too may go out and have a look at the bears!" She did not like it much, but, however, she threw her boots to him, at the same time mocking him, saying, "Then fetch me a skin for my couch, and another for my coverlet, in return." He took the boots, fastened his ragged clothes around him, and then was off for the bears. Those who were standing outside cried, "Well, if that is not Kagsagsuk! What can he be about? Kick him away!" and the girls went on, "He must surely be out of his wits!" But Kagsagsuk came running right through the crowd, as if they had been a shoal of small fish; his heels seemed almost to be touching his neck, while the snow, foaming about, sparkled in rainbow colours. He ascended the iceberg p. 97 by taking hold with his hands, and instantly the largest bear lifted his paw, but Kagsagsuk turned round to make himself hard (viz., invulnerable by charm), and seizing hold of the animal by the fore-paws, flung it against the iceberg, so that the haunches were severed from the body, and then threw it down on the ice to the bystanders, crying, "This was my first catch; now, flense away1 and divide!" The others now thought, "The next bear will be sure to kill him." The former process, however, was repeated, and the beast thrown down on the ice; but the third bear he merely caught hold of by the fore-paws, and, swinging it above his head, he hurled it at the bystanders, crying, "This fellow behaved shamefully towards me!" and then, smiting another, "That one treated me still worse!" until they all fled before him, making for the house in great consternation. On entering it himself he went straight to his foster-mother with the two bear-skins, crying, "There is one for thy couch, and another for thy coverlet!" after which he ordered the flesh of the bears to be dressed and cooked. Kagsagsuk was now requested to enter the main room; in answer to which request he, as was his wont, only peeped above the threshold, saying, "I really can't get across, unless some one will lift me up by the nostrils;" but nobody else venturing to do so now, his old foster-mother came and lifted him up as he desired. All the men had now become very civil to him. One would say, "Step forward;" another, "Come and sit down, friend." "No, not there where the ledge2 has no cover," cried another; "here is a nice seat for Kagsagsuk." But rejecting their offers, be sat down, as usual, on the side-ledge. Some of them went p. 98 on, "We have got boots for Kagsagsuk;" and others, "Here are breeches for him!" and the girls rivalled each other in offering to make clothes for him. After supper, one of the inmates of the house told a girl to go and fetch some water for "dear Kagsagsuk." When she had returned and he had taken a drink, he drew her tenderly towards him, praising her for being so smart for fetching water; but, all of a sudden, he squeezed her so hard that the blood rushed out of her mouth. But he only remarked, "Why, I think she is burst!" The parents, however, quite meekly rejoined, "Never mind, she was good for nothing but fetching water." Later on, when the boys came in, he called out to them, "What great seal-hunters ye will make!" at the same time seizing hold of them and crushing them to death; others he killed by tearing their limbs asunder. But the parents only said, "It does not signify—he was a good-for-nothing; he only played a little at shooting." Thus Kagsagsuk went on attacking and putting to death all the inmates of the house, never stopping until the whole of them had perished by his hand. Only the poor people who had been kind to him he spared, and lived with them upon the provisions that had been set by as stores for the winter. Taking also the best of the kayaks left, he trained himself to the use of it, at first keeping close to the shore; but after some time he ventured farther out to sea, and soon went south and northwards in his kayak. In the pride of his heart he roamed all over the country to show off his strength; therefore, even nowadays he is known all along the coast, and on many places there are marks of his great deeds still shown, and this is why the history of Kagsagsuk is supposed to be true.

 NOTE.—In the Labrador tale, the name of the champion is called Kaujakjuk, and in different copies from Greenland, Kausaksuk, Kassaksuk, Kausasuk, and Kauksaksuk. Several parts of Greenland claim the honour of pointing out the ruins of his house. A remarkable ruin on cape Noogsuak, of a very doubtful origin, is supposed to have been his bear-trap. In one of the writings, the relater, hinting at the European fancy for curiosities, p. 99 observes: "I wonder why the masters, or even the king himself, who all seem so very fond of collecting rare things, if they really believe in the tale, have not taken one of the stones from this trap to be brought away with some ship, if possible."



p. 93

1 Or doorway, a long and very narrow, sometimes half-subterranean, tunnel, leading by an upward step to the main, or rather the only, room of the winter hut, and adapted to keeping out the cold air. Its ends we have called the outer and the inner entrance.

p. 95

1 Men in their kayaks, or skin canoes, made for the purpose of seal-hunting, with room only for a single person.

p. 97

1 Take off the skin and blubber.

2 The main ledge or bench; a low and broad bench for sitting and sleeping places, occupying the whole length of the wall opposite to the windows, the narrower side-ledge and window-ledge bordering the other walls. It is generally known in Greenland as the "brix."