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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic December 13, 2013 - 12:01 pm

Taissumani, Dec. 13

Coming Up Jesusy — Part 5

Nuqallaq, photographed in 1923. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Nuqallaq, photographed in 1923. (HARPER COLLECTION)

The Danish explorer, Peter Freuchen, met Umik and Nuqallaq near Igloolik in May of 1922.

He remarked that the two had come down to Igloolik from Pond’s Inlet the previous spring and “commenced to practise some supposed Cristian (sic) religion, and converted everybody at Igloolick (sic), which made them both rather big men amongst the natives of the settlement.”

They had both stopped hunting, but all the game killed by the natives was brought to them, to be divided as they wished. In a book he wrote some years later, Freuchen described Nuqallaq as being his father’s “assistant and truant officer.”

Freuchen said that Nuqallaq “worked a racket of constituting himself a ‘customs department,’ and anyone who came to Igdloolik (sic) to trade had to hand over half his goods to Nuqallaq.” 

Freuchen wrote that Umik and Nuqallaq forbade the practice of wife exchange except for themselves; they, “being superior beings, would be able to borrow anyone’s wife they wanted — and their wants were insatiable.” 

Freuchen also thought that Nuqallaq was cruel. He wrote:

“Nuqallaq was the only Eskimo I ever laid hands on. He had a very pleasant little wife whom he foully mistreated. I knew that if an Eskimo beats his wife no one should interfere — it is equally insulting to the husband and to the woman. But I saw Nuqallaq swing his wife round by the hair and kick her in the belly — she was pregnant — and I took him between my fingers and roughed him up a bit. He bellowed with rage and yelled that he had killed one white man and could easily kill another. So I had to rough him a bit more and throw him through the wall of the house.”

Finley McInnes, an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, visited Igloolik in the spring of 1923 and noted, “They are very enthusiastic over religion, which they follow in their own crude style, singing hymns and reading from their Testament several times a day. The most attractive pastime, however, is trying to count the number of the pages and the hymns.” 

He observed that those who had been Christianized demonstrated this by carrying a white flag attached to the sled while travelling.

When a visitor was seen to approach a settlement, the entire adult population would line up side-by-side in a prominent place in front of the snowhouses and begin to sing a hymn when the visitor was within hearing distance.

The new arrival was expected to stop his team and stand beside his sled until the hymn was finished, at which time each singer would greet him with three shakes of the hand. These same formalities were followed when a village resident returned after only a few hours absence. 

Therkel Mathiassen, the Danish archaeologist of the Fifth Thule Expedition, suggested that “if no reinforcements in the form of missionaries arrive for this new ‘religion’, if this collection of half digested or undigested maxims can be called a religion, it will presumably disappear just as quickly as it came when it no longer has the interest of novelty.” 

Back in Pond Inlet in 1923, Nuqallaq was convicted for the killing of the trader, Robert Janes. Sentenced to 10 years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, he was released because of ill health after two years. He died near Pond Inlet in December of 1925.

His young wife, who Peter Freuchen had referred to, was Anna Attagutsiaq. She remarried, to Kipumii. The rest of her life was uneventful, and she died at a ripe old age in Pond Inlet in 1987.

Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries arrived in Pond Inlet in 1929 and each built permanent missions there.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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