Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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p. 281


IN a house which was occupied by a great number of people lived a married couple with only one son; the parents, however, both died while he was quite a baby. Another family adopted him; but on finding that he gave them more trouble than they had expected, they soon grew tired of him, and he became nothing but a bore to them. Others took him up, but in a little time neglected him; and thus it befell that all the families in a house came to take charge of him by turns. His last foster-parents had him for rather a long time; but on a certain day when the man happened to return home without any catch, and was cross and moody, he addressed his wife, saying, "This boy is a mere good-for-nothing; cast him out on the dunghill at once." Meantime a widow, whose son had just commenced to try his hand at seal-hunting, took him in. She brought him up, and he did well, and was well provided for from that time. One autumn the weather turned bad with heavy gales; and snowdrifts coming on earlier than usual, there had hardly been a chance of any catch for the inhabitants. Before the days had begun to lengthen the sea was quite frozen over, and the bad weather still continuing, the many hunters and providers about the place entirely ceased to go out. All their provisions had been spent, and the lamps were not lighted in the evening. The only lamp still burning was that of the widow, and the only person that made any attempt at hunting was her adopted son Iliarsorkik. One of his housemates, a man who did not possess any kayak, used to take him by the hand every morning, and give him a run uphill; and by continuing this exercise he soon got p. 282 to be very swift and agile. Meanwhile the inmates of the crowded house all remained in bed for hunger and cold; but every evening the widow went to her little store and took out a handful of angmagsat (dried fish, capelins, the chief winter provision), and bestowed a small share upon each of them; her own son got four, her adopted son three, and the others half a one: all had a little morsel of blubber besides. One morning at low tide Iliarsorkik saw some small spots off the rocky-shore free of ice, and coming nearer he saw a great number of little sandpipers there. He at length caught one, which he brought to the house. His foster-mother was just getting anxious about him when she heard him slide down the outer passage; and soon after entering the room, holding up his bird, he exclaimed, "Look here, what I have got!" The men who lay on the ledge cried out, "Oh, he has actually got a sandpiper!" and they reproached each other for having driven him out, saying that he might now have been able to provide for them. The mother cut the little bird through at all its joints, and gave every one their share, but still some one went on crying for more. The next day Iliarsorkik brought two, and every succeeding day one more; and the widow always divided them, and gave their house-fellows something, each in turn. One day he again met the man who used to give him a turn up the hills, who pointed out to him a spot where the partridges were sitting in the snow with their black beaks peeping forth, and he went on directing him how to get at them. He returned bringing one home the first day; but every following day the number increased, and the widow went on distributing what he had caught; but the men were constantly repeating, "What a pity we ever cast him off from us!" One day when he was away among the mountains in search of partridges with his friend, he observed a mist hanging above the waters, at one time growing thicker, and shortly after dissolving; and this p. 283 his companions hailed as a good sign, informing him that it was a sure token of holes in the ice, kept open by the sea animals that gathered there to breathe. They now climbed a still higher mountain to take a more correct survey, and make sure of the place. In the evening Iliarsorkik said to his brother, "To-morrow I don't intend to hunt on shore; I shall just take a walk on the ice, and give a look round to find out the breathing-holes." His foster-brother answered him: "Yonder beneath the boat thou wilt find my hunting-tools: I shall soon put thee right, and make them smaller for thee; but mind they are put deep down in the snow." Iliarsorkik dug away for them, and having found them brought them to his brother, who fitted them for him. Early in the morning he was off; after a while he fell in with the frost-haze. He followed the direction of it, and soon arrived at the brim of the aperture, where he saw the seals diving up and down, and playing about in large crowds in the open water. Finding it difficult to get a sure footing on the slippery edge, he lost no time, but at once took aim and fixed his harpoon into one of the smaller seals. Having hauled it up upon the ice, he fastened it to his towing-line, and made the best of his way home. When the starving creatures heard him dragging a seal along through the house-passage a great clamour and strife ensued. The widow first cut very thin slices of blubber and skin together, and handed it to them. Some of them, however, were not able to bide their time, but came creeping along on the floor, stretching out their lean hands; but the widow merely said, "Each of you will get a piece in his or her turn." She likewise took a piece of flesh of the size of a hand and boiled it, after having lit some lamps; but even this meal did not satisfy them; several of them cried out for more food, while others protested they had got no food at all. In the night some of them even came creeping across the floor to steal the raw flesh, p. 284 but they were so faint that they were not able to get back and climb the ledge for their couches. Iliarsorkik brought a larger seal on the following day, and the widow was now able to light all the lamps, to warm up the house; but she was still very careful in sharing out the meals, and continued to give them very small rations. From this day forth Iliarsorkik every day brought home seals. One time when he had got two very big ones, and had already got half-way home with them, he was suddenly caught in an easterly gale, with a snowstorm blowing right in his face, so that he was not able to see anything at all. He continued to walk straight against the wind, but as it happened to haul round to the south he, of course, took a wrong direction, and lost his way. Towards evening, however, he concluded that he must have gained the coast-side, by the loose blocks of ice scattered about on all sides. Leaving his seals on the beach, he stepped up on shore, and came across a house. On entering it he saw that only the foremost lamps were burning, and behind this a widow and a young man were sitting, the latter with his chin buried deep in the fur collar of his jacket; but behind, in the more remote corner of the house, the lamps were all extinguished. Iliarsorkik said, "I have not absolutely come here on a visit, but I was not aware that the wind had changed, and thus lost my way in the snow-drift." The widow replied, "Then thou hadst better stay here till to-morrow; and when the weather alters for the better thou mayst return to thy home." Iliarsorkik said, "If ye have any fancy at all, ye are very welcome to one of my seals." No sooner had he uttered these words than a faint sound of wailing was heard from the dark corners of the room. These people were likewise starving, and he had just come in time to save them. The weather being fine on the following day he reached his home, and when he had told his mother how he had solaced the hungry and starving, she answered him, p. 285 "Always act in that way, and the number of thy captured animals will always increase." Another time when he was just making ready what he had caught to carry it home, he suddenly heard a tremendous roar, and at the same time the ice seemed to quake beneath his feet. He looked round, and seeing nothing but icebergs right and left, he thought it might have been one of them calving (bursting and moving). When the roaring sound was again heard, and had come much nearer, he again turned round, and saw that what he had taken for an iceberg was a great bear, all covered with ice, and standing erect before him. When he saw the beast preparing to attack him he ran on towards an iceberg at some distance, and kept on running about, always pursued by the bear. Each time he rounded it he managed to hit a blow in the same spot on the iceberg, and in this manner he had soon made a cave, into which he hastened to creep, while the animal still hurried, and followed the scent of his footmarks. Whenever the bear passed him he thrust at it with his tok (tool for making holes in the ice); each time he thus hit it some of the ice-cover dropped down from its back, and at length some bleeding was visible; snorting and roaring, it circled round the iceberg, but at length stopped short and fell down motionless. Iliarsorkik descended, and found it to be dead. He cut out a piece of the flesh, and made the best of his way home; having arrived safely, he gave notice at the dwelling-places in the neighbourhood, that whoever chose might go and fetch away some of the bear's flesh; he himself went along to the spot with his house-fellows, who had in the meantime fully recovered, to flense and cut it up, on the following day. Having gone on for some time he saw a black spot on the ice, which soon appeared to be the body of a dead man: further on they came across another one; and so on all the way. These were the corpses of people who had been on the point of starvation, p. 286 and had expired in making their attempt to reach the bear; a few of them had succeeded in reaching it and getting a bite of the flesh, but afterwards dropped on their way home, worn out with hunger and fatigue.