Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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p. 109


[This story, also well known in all parts of Greenland, has been derived from five copies, written in different parts of that country. Unlike the preceding tales, it exhibits a more historical appearance, apparently referring to certain occurrences which must have taken place during the stay of the primeval Eskimo on the shores of the American continent, and have been repeated until our day. It indicates the first appearances of culture in attempts to provide tools or weapons from seashells, stones, and metal, as well as conflicts and meetings of the Eskimo with the Indians, which in recent times have still taken place on the banks of the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers.]

THREE cousins named Kumagdlat, Asalok, and Merak were very fond of one another. Kumagdlat occupied a house by himself, and had his own boat.1 The other two kept a house and a boat in partnership; but they all assisted each other early and late, and amused themselves in exercising and exhibiting their mutual strength. When they went out kayaking, they always accompanied each other in a friendly and amicable manner, and were on the whole much attached to one another. Kumagdlat had an old crone living with him, and she used to be very cross-tempered; and one day he accosted her as follows: "I won't have cross old women living in my house, and I shall certainly put thee to death some day or other." The old hag now behaved peacefully and quietly, until one day she exclaimed: "I can tell thee, it is not without reason that I am so quiet and low-spirited; from the first day thou began to maintain and support me I have been very sorry for thee, and this has made me silent and downhearted." "How so?" asked Kumagdlat; and she answered: "Is it not that thy cousins love thee so very p. 110 dearly? Nevertheless they now intend to put an end to thy life." However, she had invented this lie, being so ill-natured and resentful that she could not even sleep at night. But from that time Kumagdlat began to fear his cousins; and though he never used to be parted from them all day long, he now began to shun them. One day in the spring they entered his house, saying, "Art thou not going out in thy kayak to-day?" But he answered, "No, I can't go; I must leave my kayak time to dry,"—and accordingly they set out without him. In their absence he dug up his tent-poles from the snow, and had just finished when they returned. Next morning they again entered with the same question, but he answered as before: "No, I must have my kayak perfectly dry before I can use it." They would have liked him to go with them; but as he would not be persuaded, they again went out by themselves. As soon as they were out of sight he prepared everything for leaving his old quarters: he had his boat put in the water, and as soon as it was loaded he pushed off; but at parting he said to the people on shore: "Tell them to follow as soon as possible; we intend to go out to sea to our usual reserves" (depots for provisions): and so saying, he started. Asalok and Merak at last returned, and when they discovered that Kumagdlat was gone, they made inquiries, and received the answer, "They have newly departed, and left word that they intended to go out seaward to their usual reserves, and that they wanted you to follow them as soon as possible." They at once determined to do so; and early the next morning the boat was put right, loaded, and away they went, taking the usual direction: but they did not find him, nor any marks or traces of him along the shore. It is said that Kumagdlat had the skull of a seal for an amulet, and that now every time when he had to pass inhabited places he fixed his amulet on the prow of his boat, that the people of the places might think it to be nothing but a spotted seal diving p. 111 up and down. But in one of the settlements he thus passed there happened to be a fool, who (fools or naturals being considered as clairvoyants) always had a presentiment of whatever was to take place, and being aware of the boat passing by, he cried out, "A boat! a boat!" But when the others went out to look for it, they could only see a spotted seal diving up and down, and after awhile totally disappearing. When Asalok with his company came to this place and heard these news, they knew that Kumagdlat must have passed by, because they knew of his having such an amulet. Meantime Kumagdlat travelled on night and day without going ashore; when the rowing-girls got too tired, they only made fast the boat a short time to take rest, and then continuing their voyage, until they at last stopped at a well-peopled place, where they resolved to take up their quarters. In this place they met with a very old man busily employed in making a boat. His hair was as white as the side of an iceberg, and beside him stood a bearded young man. Some time after the arrival of Kumagdlat, the old man said to him, "Before this young man here was born I commenced building that boat, and by this time I have only just finished the hull." But right and left heaps of shells were seen piled together, these being the only tools he had had to work with. "Here we have not got so much as a single knife," rejoined the old man; "but yonder, in the interior of the country, live people who have knives in abundance." And when Kumagdlat went on asking, he continued, "Farther inland numerous erkileks1 have their abodes, and they are immensely rich. However, when any of the coast people go there they never return, being mostly p. 112 killed, I suppose." Kumagdlat now said, "I have a great mind to go out in search of them myself;" but the old man replied, "I am afeared thou wilt not be able to do aught by thyself as even several of our people going together have always been put to death. The erkileks are rare people, and neither to be matched in swiftness nor agility." But Kumagdlat returned to his tent and set about making a small bow and arrows—the quiver he formed out of seal-skin; and having finished these, he started on his journey to the erkileks, all by himself.

When, meanwhile, the brothers Asalok and Merak likewise had wandered about the country for a long time, they at length discovered an extensive plain below them, where the erkileks lived in many tents, and only had a lake for their sea. They now hid themselves, awaiting the fall of night, and watching the return of the erkileks from their day's hunting. Beneath the rays of the setting sun they espied a very tall man carrying a burden on his back. They were just in the act of discharging their arrows at him, when both exclaimed, "Why, is not that man like Kumagdlat?" and when he answered, "Yes, so it is," they said to each other, "Well, since we have so happily met, one of the hateful erkileks shall fall." Having thus again met and recognised each other, Kumagdlat told his cousins how the old hag had calumniated them to him. When it had grown quite dark, and all was silent in the camp of the erkileks, the cousins rose up and first set out in search of some place of security for themselves. At the further side of the lake the erkileks had pitched their tents, and right opposite was a small island, which they fixed upon as a place of refuge. On arriving at the spot they observed that the distance of the island might be about a stone's-throw. Kumagdlat, with the burden on his back, was the first to venture the leap, and succeeded in gaining the island; Asalok, too, reached the opposite shore; but Merak exclaimed, "I really cannot p. 113 do it." When, however, the others prevailed upon him to try the leap, he, too, reached the island, though not without touching the water in crossing. In this place they now deposited their arrows, each providing himself with only two, after which they returned to the mainland, Merak, as before, almost touching the water. They now advanced towards the tents, where the inmates had all retired to rest. Having reached the largest, Kumagdlat said to his companions, "I'll jump up on the cross-beam above the entrance, while ye pass through the fore-room." Having passed the entrance, and peeping through the skin curtain of the main room, they beheld an old married couple inside, who were still awake. The woman, who was in the family way, was sitting upright, whilst the man was leaning forward, resting his head on his hands. All of a sudden the man gave a howl like a dog, at which the woman arose to her feet. He then commenced licking her belly, and she handed him some reindeer-tallow. Kumagdlat now said, "Next time he begins to lick her, I'll take aim and shoot her." When the old man had finished eating he gave a howl as before, and the woman again got up; but just as he was in the act of licking her, Kumagdlat shot her right through the body. A fearful yell was now heard, and Kumagdlat jumping quickly down, they all hurried across to their hiding-place, while the erkileks in great crowds issued out of their tents. The cousins, meantime, reached the island in the same manner as before. Having safely arrived there, they at once lay down in a row on the ground, each behind the other, Kumagdlat in front, then Asalok, and Merak hindmost. The erkileks began to arm and discharge their arrows at them, which they carried in quivers at their backs; but the women pulling out the arrows from above, were enabled to discharge them much quicker than the men, who pulled them out sideways. While the cousins were watching the archers on shore, always diving down before p. 114 their arrows, they noted one whistling through the air, and having slightly touched the two, they heard it strike behind them; and looking round, they saw that Merak had been dangerously hit in the throat through venturing to raise his head. Then Asalok said to Kumagdlat, "Dost not thou know any spell for restoring life?" He answered, "Yes, I believe I do;" whereupon he began to murmur some words. When he had finished, they looked round and observed that the arrow had already gone half-way out of Merak's throat, and when Kumagdlat spoke the third time, Merak was alive and unhurt. The erkileks continued shooting; but when they had used up all their arrows, Kumagdlat had only the skin of his temple grazed a little, and the cousins now arose to pay them back with their bows. When a great number of the erkileks had been shot, they pursued the rest along a river, until they reached a waterfall, where they had a hiding-place; but there Kumagdlat killed them all by throwing stones at them, as they issued forth one by one. Afterwards the friends returned to the tents, where the children had remained immovable, and stunned with terror, feigning to be dead; but the cousins caught hold of them nevertheless, and having pierced them through the ears, they quickly killed them—only one boy and a girl being left alive. They examined the furniture of the erkileks, and found pots of copper, with copper handles to them, and no requisites of any kind wanting. On opening the boxes, the covers unlocked of themselves, because of the great quantity of clothes they contained. These boxes they again closed, but opened others containing knives with beautiful handles, of which they took as many away with them as they could possibly carry, and then again made their way towards the coast. In the meantime the people with whom Kumagdlat had left his family often used to mock them, saying, "Look ye, those who go to the erkileks won't fail to bring back many fine p. 115 things, such as beautiful knives, with pretty hafts to them." On hearing this, Kumagdlat's wife would run outside, believing her husband to be coming; but they only said so because they believed him to have been killed. An old bachelor had taken her into his house and provided for her, considering her to be a widow. At the time when Kumagdlat was actually returning to the coast, the people were again ridiculing his family, crying out as before. But at the same moment the old boat-builder turned round and beheld Kumagdlat descending the hill, and carrying great loads on his back; and on his approach he discovered his burden to consist of knives with beautiful hafts. On entering the tent Kumagdlat found his mother and wife mourning his absence, and he said, "I expected to have found you with the lamps extinguished" (viz., at the point of starvation). They made answer, "The old bachelor has provided for us, that we might not perish from hunger." Kumagdlat rejoined, "Many thanks to him, then, and let him come and choose himself a knife." But the old bachelor would not enter, but wanted the knife to be brought to him; whereupon Kumagdlat said, "Having such great cause to be thankful towards him, I must have him come in." But the old man, fearing some mischief (viz., suspecting jealousy), insisted on having the knife brought out to him. Kumagdlat, however, continued calling from within; and now at last the old man just crossed the threshold, saying, "Well, then, let me have the knife:" but Kumagdlat still entreated him to come further into the room; and having at length made him sit down, said, "Thou hast provided well for these poor creatures; I thank thee very much, and hope thou wilt accept of these knives," and he offered him two with beautiful handles. It is said that the cousins afterwards returned to their old home, and that they grew very renowned for their vigour and dexterity, and killed bears as well as kilivfaks (fabulous beasts).



p. 109

1 umiaĸ, the larger skin-boat, fit for one to three families travelling with their tents, and all the other necessaries, for the summer season.

p. 111

1 A sort of fabulous beings—half men, half beasts. All sorts of inlanders in the Greenlandish tales represent fabulous or supernatural beings. The most common kind, and probably the inlanders in general, are called tornit (plural of tunek), which is what in the following pages we have translated by inlanders.