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Avatarsuak

An Eskimo Legend

It is said that his grandfather, being likewise called Avatarsuak, was a wise man. It was he who took charge of his younger namesake, whose own father had been early called away from home. The grandfather admonished him not to harm the meanest dog, and never to be uncivil towards old people, not even on being reproved by them. When he came to possess a kayak of his own he remarked that his grandfather, when pushing him off the beach, was always heard to pronounce some strange words, at the same time uncovering his head by pulling the hood back behind the ears. But though the youth listened carefully, he could not make out the meaning of the words.

About the time when he first commenced seal-catching his grandfather died, and being left alone he took up his winter quarters at a place where the South-landers had to pass by when on their trading excursions to the European settlement at Pamiut (Fredrikshaab).

At length two "kayakers" on their voyage to this place passed by his residence, whom he expected for ever so long to see return, but in vain. At length he learned from the south that both were missing, and at the same time that he was suspected of having killed them. Some time after, being in want of a skin for a hunting-bladder, he went off in search of a firth-seal.

It was fine weather, and so calm that the breathing of the larger seals was plainly audible. As for the small firth-seals, however, he saw none, and was getting farther and farther into the bay. Suddenly something emerged from the water, coming up close behind him, and beating the top of his kayak, and lo! it was nothing less than a tupilak (monster made by sorcery).

It accosted him, saying, "How lucky I met thee thus alone, as I am longing for some entrails!" Stupefied with awe, he felt the creature creeping up on the top of the kayak behind him, constantly repeating, "I shall soon make a feast on thy entrails;" at the same time pressing down the stern of the kayak so deep as to make the prow rise in the air. Never before had he, who was wont to carry spotted seals, had such a weight on board.

Feeling his strength giving way, and knowing nothing better, he tried to capsize his kayak to the left, but was greatly perplexed to find his oar striking against a hard substance below, though out in deep water. At this he got up; but in attempting to turn his kayak to the right, he again hit something hard, on which he slowly righted himself, and rowed away, at the same time perceiving that he was regaining his strength. But though he pulled homewards with all his strength, he found it impossible to make his kayak go straight. It kept turning round, carrying him towards uninhabited places.

The tupilak now cried, "Thou hateful creature, I see I have made a mistake, and climbed up to one of uncommon kind" (viz., a man endowed with a certain degree of angakok power); and he noticed it struggling hard to get down, but without being able to detach itself. Thus he went on pulling away to the sunny side of the firth.

When they were quite close to the beach, the tupilak said, "I see I shall not get through with thee, and I think I shall be made thy prize." Just then the man on looking round discovered a boat occupied by women, who had been farther up the firth getting angmagsat. He called out to them, "I have got something on my kayak that is not a seal; put ashore yonder and come round this way quickly." When they had done as he told them, he went on saying, "Don't attack it in front, as it might be dangerous to you." The foremost among them on seeing the beast fled in terror.

The "kayaker" again began to lose strength, but at length his repeated calls caused the women to come back, bringing with them oars, intending to use them as levers, the beast sticking fast, as if glued to the kayak. At length it gave way, and a cracking noise was heard, whereupon he was able to get out and look at the monster, which proved to be the size of a large firth-seal.

Turning to the oldest of the women he said, "I do not care to touch it; ye cut it up; I shall repay you hereafter." In expectation of the reward she at once fell to and cut open the tupilak, which she found stuffed with all kinds of bones, such as of birds, walruses, and seals. They had it entirely destroyed by sinking part of it in the sea, and hiding the rest of it in some old tombs. This done, he prepared to row home, but first said to the women, "Thanks to you and your roaming thus about, without which I wonder how I had fared. I will take care to repay you; I am not likely to forget you." At home he told his adventure, and all now felt sure that it must have been the tupilak which had formerly killed the two traders. After this all travelers were unmolested, and the women were well paid by Avatarsuak.

Some time now elapsed without anything remarkable happening. Towards spring, however, he found himself in want of several necessaries, such as lead, powder, and tobacco, and set out for the European settlement at Pamiut. Having finished his business there, and rested during the night, he turned homewards, rather uneasy about a quantity of drift-ice which had accumulated at the mouth of a firth he had to cross. Before he reached the spot, the land wind set in, and came storming down upon him, and the sky looked black and threatening.

Still he tried to cross the firth, winding his way through the small passages between the broken ice. At length, however, he found himself almost entirely stopped, and at the same time saw a large iceberg drifting down upon him. He tried to escape, but presently heard the roar of its calving (breaking) right alongside him, and pressing him deep under the waters. However, he rose on the other side of the broken piece, and again sped along, but on the shady side of the firth he was once more overturned by a much larger iceberg, and this time he quite lost his senses. How long he was in this state of stupor is not known; but on reviving he noticed the strings of his kayak-jacket rattling about, and smiting his back with the quick motion, while he was pushed on towards the land beneath the waves. He had no kayak, but found himself sitting down, the loose bottom skin of his kayak fastened round him, and having his kayak-stick for an oar, and with one leg somewhat bent. In front he saw some one in a large hood rushing on and cleaving the waters for him, and behind he heard some one talking, but without being able to make out the words.

These companions proved to be his grandparents protecting their grandson. When they came nearer to the islets he felt exceedingly thirsty; and presently discovering an iceberg with a fine spring flowing from it he wanted to go and quench his thirst; but at that moment he heard a warning voice behind him saying: "Dear grandson, do not drink of the fountain designed for those perishing at sea; if thou drinkest thou wilt never return." At length he was carried far towards the head of the firth, and saw light from the windows of a very large house. Presently a woman in a white jacket came out of the doorway, then another, and at last a man in a reindeer cloak, followed by others, all being dogs in shape of men, and running down on the beach to him.

When he entered the house there were people sitting together at its southern end, keeping watch over a dying brother. Having got inside he fell down beside the first lamp, but still could hear one of the men say, "An anghiniartok has come among us;" at that instant, on being handled by them, and touched upon his bare skin, he lost all consciousness, but soon after revived, hearing a sweet tune of a song from his childhood. At the very moment he revived the sick man breathed his last. The people of the house put a new skin underneath him, and let him remain perfectly quiet in his own clothes for five succeeding days, after which he began to stir about a little, and long to get home, but he had no kayak.

One day, however, a woman went down along the beach to gather the red sea- weed, and returned saying, "Only fancy! I have found a complete kayak drifted ashore to us." When they had gathered on the beach, and duly inspected it, they made it out to be the kayak of their anghiniartok, in perfect order, and lying just above high-water mark, and well closed by the half-jacket. On opening this they also found his goods, not a single implement missing. The next day he returned; and from that time upwards he became still more of a wise man, and no witchcraft could ever work upon him.

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