Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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p. 248


[In regard to this story, which is very widely known in Greenland, we refer to the introductory sections, where it is pointed out as one of those most probably resting upon a historical basis, representing the invention of dog-sledging, or the teaming and training of some wild animal, from which the present Eskimo dog has descended. Akilinek is now by the Greenlanders considered a fabulous country beyond the sea; but it may be supposed to have been a real country opposite to the original homesteads of their ancestors.]

AN old man had a son and two daughters. His son being a first-rate hunter and provider, the father at length gave up kayaking himself. His son could overtake and outrun every animal on shore; and at sea he was an excellent hand at harpooning. His eldest sister used to follow him along the shore, where she amused herself by catching partridges in little traps, and generally got a good many. At a time when the sea was frozen over, they one day went away to the outermost islets. There the brother saw a fox and set off to pursue it. After a short absence among the islets, he returned with the fox; but meanwhile the sister was gone. He looked for her everywhere, and called out, but she did not come. At length he detected the trace of a sledge, but as it was growing dark, he had to go home without his sister. On his return, he grew silent and reserved, but after a while said to his father, "Oh how much I should like to have a sledge!" The father rather favoured this idea, and at once set about making him one. The next morning the son set out on foot, but returned at nightfall without having killed anything, and went to sleep without saying a word. In the morning he asked his father to provide him with p. 249 some cords, saying that he wanted to fetch home an animal to pull his sledge for him; and then he went off and stayed away. Towards evening a strange noise was heard, and the little sister went outside to see what it was, but instantly returned in great alarm, exclaiming, "Oh, what dreadful monster is this my dear brother has brought home with him?" When he entered, the father asked him, "What beast is it thou hast got?" "Why, it is only a little bear I have caught to drag my sledge; I hope thou wilt make a harness for it; I want him to be trained shortly." The father complied, and the son left off hunting for a while in order to train the bear; but when he had finished this, he took him along with him on his excursions. Another time he again returned late in the evening quite exhausted, and turned in without speaking a word. The following morning he asked his father for more cords; but this time they must be still stronger. Having received what he wanted, he went away. In the evening a strange noise was again heard, on which the little sister went outside, but returned quite horrified, saying that it was still more frightful than the last time. When he had entered, and the father questioned him, he answered, "Oh, it's nothing but a little amarok (wolf or fabulous animal) I have caught to match the bear." These two, however, could not agree; and he had often to use his whip to part them when they were going to fight. After training, however, they pulled very well together; but now he wanted a third one, and having set out for it in the morning, he did not return till late at night, when his parents had long been quite miserable on account of his long absence; and he went to sleep as before without speaking to any one. The next morning he applied to his father for strings and lashings, but this time none but the very strongest would serve him; having got them, he went off as usual. In the evening there was a terrible noise outside, for now he had got the bear, p. 250 the amarok, and an agshik (a fabulous monster) fighting each other. At length he had them all tamed and trained; and he once more turned to his father, saying, "All I wish for is a sledge." His father was quite willing, and made him one of very hard wood, with many knots in it. When the sea was frozen over, he went out to try his team, following the coast southwards, and returned towards evening on the same day. When his father questioned him as to how far he had been, he answered: "'If thou wert to leave with a boat early in spring, thou wouldst not have reached the place I got at to-day before autumn. In going home we made great speed, but the bear got tired, and I was obliged to take him into the sledge beside me; but the agshik is incapable of tiring, and will be of great use to me." The next day he travelled on in the same manner to the north, returning home at night; and having made some similar remarks, he added, "The agshik, I find, is soon provoked, and goes off in a fury; he will be rather dangerous for strangers to encounter." The ice now covering the sea all over, and not having broken up, although it had been very stormy, he supposed he might trust himself out on it; and the weather again became settled and beautiful. He then spoke to his parents thus: "Don't ye remember the day I wandered out on the ice with my sister and lost her there? Since that day I have sought her far and near all over our country: where can she have gone to? Not even the bones of her corpse did I find; but on the day I lost her, in looking for her, I noticed the marks of a sledge on the ice, leading right to sea. Any other trace of her I have never seen; and therefore I should now like to go across to Akilinek, as I shall certainly not be at rest until I have found her." The parents tried to persuade him to stay, saying, "It does not matter for thy sister, who has been lost to us for such a great length of time; don't go away in search of her as far away as that, but p. 251 bear in mind thou art now our only provider. Out yonder is a cleft in the ice so wide that thou mayst never cross it." The son then rejoined, "To be sure my animals cannot swim; the bear only in some degree is capable of that: but if I don't succeed, I shall, of course, return." The parents repeated their warnings, but he got all the more bent upon going, come what might, so that he should only find his sister. When he arrived at the exact spot where he had formerly seen the trace of a sledge, he turned right seawards, and after a while lost sight of the land. The bear now got tired as before, and being only a hindrance, he took it on the sledge. Driving continually straight on, he again came in sight of land, and observed the tracks of many sledges; and on approaching the shore, he saw them in all directions. He now looked all around him to find out which way he had better turn. In the meantime he had made fast his animals to an iceberg near the strand, and went to shore himself to see if any people were to be found there. He had not walked long before he saw a number of houses, which made him stop and consider; but after a while he advanced, and having found an entrance, he walked up to a large house and went inside. Having entered and given the inmates a look, he at once recognised his sister sitting down with a baby on her lap. When he had seated himself on the side bench, she also recognised him, and they began to speak to each other, and she said, "On the same day thou left me to pursue thy fox, a man in a sledge happened to pass by; and in no time I was taken up and carried away to this place, and that is the reason why thou seest me here. I am married, but at present my husband is out as usual. However, I expect him home very soon, and when he comes thou must look at him well." The brother now rejoined, "Since that day I have done nothing but try to find thee out; all over the country I have travelled in search of thee; how lucky it is that I p. 252 find thee at last!" Whilst they sat waiting, some one called out, "There he is coming!" and looking out at the window the brother-in-law saw his sister's husband driving on towards the house with a number of young reindeer pulling his sledge. Though he sped on at a good rate, the other thought his own animals still swifter, and considering himself to be quite a match for the new-comer, he again seated himself without any further remark. When the husband entered, he kept his eyes constantly fixed on the visitor sitting beside his wife; and without a word to any one, leaned back on the ledge after having taken his place upon it, so that nothing but his heels resting on the edge of it were visible. The relatives being thus interrupted, left off speaking for a time; however, she told her brother that it was for fear of her husband, who used to speak very little, she added, being of a shy disposition. On hearing this he came a little closer to them, and they began to converse together. The guest spoke of his happiness in seeing his sister so well off, and said, that seeing she had such a good provider, he would not trouble himself any more about her in future; and further, he proposed that they should come and visit him and his parents on the opposite shore. But his brother-in-law did not fancy this much: he gave as a pretext that the cold would be too severe for the children. Both now wanted to persuade him to stay, but he said he must needs go and look after his animals, without mention of what kind they were. His relatives gave him some of the children's clothes for a gift to the parents: he put them on his shoulders, went to his sledge, and departed. When he had got so far that he had lost sight of the land, the bear again got tired, and was taken in beside him. On his return, his parents rejoiced greatly at seeing the clothes of their daughter's little children, and on hearing that their long-missed daughter was coming to visit them. One day during fine weather, when they were p. 253 {see picture on page 253} p. 254 anxiously expecting them, sledges were seen coming across the ice, which made them all very happy, and the little sister, who was of a merry temper, was hardly able to contain her joy. When her sister's sledge had come still closer, she gave a jump and bounded over the boat, which was put up on the boat-pillars. But all of a sudden the sledgers were seen to put about—probably they took fright at seeing her brother's animals and at the girl indulging in such wild pranks. They now called out loudly for them, and the parents were very much distressed and wept together. This sight made the son take pity on the old people, and to punish the fugitives he let loose the agshik, being the most furious of the lot, to pursue them. In a moment the sledgers as well as the agshik disappeared; but on his return the agshik was all bloody around the muzzle. In all likelihood he devoured them all. The brother did not go in search of them, as he did not expect any of them to be alive.

NOTE.—The tale here given is nearly literally translated from one manuscript; besides which three copies have been received, and one verbal narration has been written down by the author himself. The latter, comprising the most frequent variations of the tale, substitutes a cousin in the place of the brother. When he had turned mute and sorrowful on account of his having lost a dear companion, his father spoke to him saying, "At the neighbouring hamlet to the north of us, there are several old people, and old people generally are rich in stories; go to them for the purpose of cheering thy mind." One morning the son at length took a fancy to go and visit these old folks; and on his arrival there, one old man told him how in the days of his youth, when he had been roaming about in quest of sport and excitement, he had once on the brink of a rock happened to discover a kukissook (fabulous animal with great fangs) with its young ones. While he was gazing at these awful beasts, a little sparrow happened to pass by, flying over their heads. At the same moment the old animal, which had till then been couchant, bounded into the air, snatching the body of the sparrow so that the wings fell to the ground separately, at the sight of which the man had been struck with terror, and fled the spot for ever. The visitor on hearing this asked exact information about the locality of the place, and having returned to his father, made ready for an excursion, uponwhich he captured a kukissook. The remaining part of the story agrees with the version given. But when the cousin with her husband and child comes to visit their relatives, instead of being frightened p. 255 and turning back, they decided to stay with them; but the brother-in-law from Akilinek did not dare to step outside the house for fear of the sledge animals, and being too tall for the ledge, he was obliged to lie on the floor. At length he grew tired and ventured outside, whereupon the cousin of his wife set the kukissook upon him, causing him to be torn to pieces. He then also went on to kill the child, saying it was of no real human descent, and might grow like its father. The two cousins then adopted their former mode of life, roaming about their home together, where their bones are now resting. The illustration accompanying the text refers to one of the written variations of the story.