Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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p. 177


AT a well-peopled place the trick of pinching was a favourite amusement with the inhabitants. One night a girl, who was an only sister with a number of brothers, came running in, crying, "I wonder who it can possibly be who is always running after me and paying court to me?" They told her that when he again made his appearance, she had better bring him into the house. When at length she brought him in, it was a man totally unknown to all of them. Avarunguak—such was his name—had grown up in solitary places, and when he came among people he married this girl, and after a while learned to manage a kayak, and grew an excellent hunter. Once they had some visitors from the south, and an old woman of the party accosted Avarunguak thus, saying, "If Avarunguak were to hear of the nice hunt, and the many auks1 we have down in the south, I am sure he would be wanting to go there!" So saying, she went away; but having heard her, Avarunguak could not sleep, so great was his desire to go at once. Already the next morning he ordered his housemates to make ready for the voyage; he wanted to be off for the south, he said. They loaded the boat and got under way. On the way out they asked the people they encountered whether the place was still far off, and all made answer that it was not very nigh yet. At length they put on shore, to rest from the toil of rowing, at a place where the people said that to-morrow they might possibly gain their destination. "When ye leave here, and have doubled the cape, ye will come in sight of a very large tent—this ye must shun; but soon afterwards ye will perceive a little p. 178 white point, and having also passed this, ye will fall in with a great many people. To those ye shall go up." On leaving, they soon observed the little white promontory right enough. Avarunguak steered his boat towards the large tent, unheeding the advice of his companions. On landing, a huge man came out from the tent towards them, and receiving them very civilly, went on saying, "It is really a matter of difficulty to get any one to keep company with here; pray stay and live with me;" and accordingly they prepared for wintering there.

Every morning Avarunguak awoke at an early hour, but somehow his housemate was always out and off before him. One day in autumn he happened to meet him on their look-out hill; and when the huge man observed him, he said, "It will soon be the time when the auks will come screaming across the country; then thou must be sure to get up in good time." But rise as early as he might, Avarunguak was never able to be beforehand with his companion, but always found he had gone out first. One day, when he again overtook him on the hill, he said, "There, the auks are coming across the sea. Make haste to thy tent; but mind, shut the curtain closely, so that only one bird can get in at a time; and do not begin to catch any of them until the tent is quite full." When Avarunguak had entered and drawn the curtain close, he heard a tapping and rustling, and the birds began to flutter in. He could not, however, take time, but began catching them too soon, upon which the birds instantly left; and at the same time he heard the man scolding, and saying, "Didst thou not mind my telling thee that thou wert not to catch them till the tent was quite full, lest I should be in want of food?" Still, Avarunguak had got a great many birds, quite sufficient to live upon for a good length of time. Some time after, his house-fellow said, "Now it is near the time for the walrus, but I do p. 179 not pursue them; the red walrus is a very ferocious beast, and at that time I do not venture out at all." When these animals appeared, Avarunguak grew very excited about going, taking a great interest in all kinds of hunting that were new to him. When he landed his first walrus, his big companion came down to the beach, took hold of the walrus, and dragging it along with only one hand, passed by Avarunguak's tent, and carried it off to his own. Avarunguak wondered, and said to himself, "I doubt if I shall have a taste of my first walrus;" and entering, he saw the big man busy eating it all by himself, his wife and daughter only looking on; but he did not dare to make any objections. Next time he got a walrus the big man's wife came, and at once carried off his prize, and, after her, their three daughters did the same by turns. Not until they had all got their walrus did they desist; and then, at last, he could think of providing for the ensuing winter. In the beginning his huge friend proposed that they should come and live all together in his house; and when Avarunguak consented, the big man added, "We are five individuals ourselves, and consequently have five windows. Now I suppose that thou wilt add as many as ye count persons." To this Avarunguak answered, "Why, we have never built any more than two or three windows for a company of travellers, with only one boat, whatever their number may be."1 "Then just do as thou mayst like, and put in two or three windows, but only do come and live with us." In the beginning of winter Avarunguak always caught plenty; but the big man having no kayak of his own, never went out. As time wore on, the sea froze up, and all hunting ceased. The master of the house then spoke, "Here we are all badly off; but I know that behind our country there is good hunting enough, and thither we intend to go tomorrow." p. 180 Avarunguak had a great mind to accompany them; but the other asked him, "How swift mayst thou be?" "Why, I think I can run a race with any of the quadrupeds." But still the man was very unwilling to take him with him, and only consented at last after much beseeching. The next day they departed, all of them carrying cords of sealskin round their necks. They crossed the neighbouring mountains, and in the distance beheld a bare land, and then the big man spoke: "Dost thou see yonder lofty mountains far away? Behind, there is a sea where the white whale in abundance are found; but when we get so far, thou must only aim at the small ones, because thou wilt not be expert enough to carry home one of the larger ones." As they wandered along, the daughters had to take hold of Avarunguak by his arms to help him along, because he was not quite able to keep up with them. When they reached the appointed place, each of them watched at a cleft in the ice. No sooner did Avarunguak see a huge white whale rise to the surface than he at once aimed at and killed it. Then the other party came on, each of them bringing up two fish; but when the master saw that Avarunguak had disobeyed his orders, he gave him a scolding; and when they prepared to return, they wanted to tie his fish to their own, and make him sit down on the top of it, and thus be dragged home. But he answered, "Since I commenced hunting I have never let my game be carried home by any one but myself, nor shall I do so now. I have caught the fish myself, and will take care to bring it home." They let him have his own way, but in a moment they disappeared from his sight, as if they had been blown away. It was evening, and again beginning to dawn, before he could even see his home, and he met the others coming back to fish anew. It was not till the fourth day he got home; and on the way he had been obliged to eat all the matak (skin) of his dolphin. Meanwhile his p. 181 relatives had been very anxious about him, thinking that perhaps his companion had killed him. About this time, Avarunguak's people had a dog that happened to whelp. When the first whelp appeared, the huge man whispered something to his wife, on which she brought it him, and he took hold of it and examined all its joints. The wife then put it back in its place, and subsequently brought each new-born whelp to him to be examined in the same way; but when they had handled the seventh, which was also the last, they were heard saying, "This one is perfect; there is not a limb wanting." From that time they seemed despondent; and Avarunguak, who began to fear their intentions, one day said to them, "If you would like to have a dog, you are welcome to take the one you like best." This seemed to please them highly, and they chose the last born, and became so fond of it that they let it stop on the ledge and sleep at night beside them. From this time Avarunguak himself became a great favourite with his other house-fellows. While the winter lasted, the big man once spoke as follows, "We intend soon to go and visit our enemies." Avarunguak was very desirous to join the party, but his house-master answered him, "No, friend; thou wouldst too soon be worn out: for, in the first place, thou canst not eat blubber and flesh enough; and secondly, because of thy clumsiness and want of speed." He answered, "As to the blubber and flesh, methinks I do well enough as regards both of them." Whereat the big one rejoined, "Well, then, try to lick out the oil of all the lamps here, beginning with the outermost." Avarunguak succeeded; and only a few days after, the leader told him "that now he might accompany them to their enemies," adding, "when we have entered, and begin licking the oil, thou must be sure to help us. Next they will present each of us with one large white fish, and thou must thrust thy knife right into it, turn it round, and put the piece thou has cut out into thy p. 182 mouth, and suddenly exclaim, 'I must go outside, but I will be back in a moment, and go on eating; I enjoy it very much.' But when outside take to thy heels, and run for home as fast as possible, and before thou hast been off long, we shall empty the lamps, and soon overtake thee." Some time after, they carried out their intention of visiting their enemies in their place of abode. They at once set about licking the oil of the lamps, beginning with the first, Avarunguak joining them to the best of his ability. When the hosts saw a stranger among their visitors, they regarded him keenly, so that the huge man interposed: "That is a new housemate of ours; he is living with us at present, and assists us every way,"—and they went on praising and flattering him very much, and making a great deal of his dexterity and strength, adding that he was more than a match for them every way. This was anything but the truth; but they dared not do otherwise, for fear of their enemies. The host now said, "Bring in the meal for the visitors," and the women instantly went out, and returned, bringing in large white fish. The guests soon fell to; but Avarunguak forgot he had been advised to leave off in good time, and never remembered till he was quite satisfied. He then observed his companions making signs to him, and quickly pronouncing the words he had been told, took himself off, and commenced running as fast as possible. On coming near their own house he turned round, and looking back, he saw that the creatures he had been visiting were transformed into bears, pursuing him closely; but his own housemates soon overtook him, and the daughters again took him by the arms to speed him on. When they had almost reached the house, the enemies seemed at their very heels, and Avarunguak was deserted by his protectors, who gave him a blow, so that he fell, and the bears instantly gathered round him. But he chanced to have a salmon for his amulet, and this did him good p. 183 service in making him too slippery to be caught hold of, and thus he escaped. When spring came round, Avarunguak took a fancy to remove to another place; and on departing, his huge companion said to him, "I hope thou wilt soon return and stay with us; but wherever thou goest, mind to tell the people never to kill a bear when one appears." Thus they departed; but on turning round, they now saw that their housemates too had been transformed into bears: they had been wintering among bears in human shape. Later on they heard that some people in the south had killed a bear, and still later Avarunguak and his wife died.



p. 177

1 Alca arra—Greenlandish, agpa.

p. 179

1 A house with three windows is considered a very large one; those with five must have been very rare.