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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic December 20, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Taissumani, Dec. 20

Christmas in the Wilderness

KENN HARPER

Bernhard Hantzsch was a German ornithologist who spent Christmas of 1910 on the shores of Foxe Basin, travelling with Inuit from Cumberland Sound. Many of his supplies had sunk in a shipwreck off Blacklead Island and his Christmas on Foxe Basin was marked by hardship and deprivation.

This would be his last Christmas. He died that spring without ever returning to the Blacklead mission.

“Saturday, 24 December – Holy Christmas Eve! I am finishing a letter begun yesterday to my people at home, and then continue with my writing. The weather is so bad (wind and drift) that my people stay indoors where it is warm and comfortable. Ittusakdjuak has made a little humming-top with which he, Sirkinirk and Aggulukdjuk amuse themselves for hours on end.

“Sunday, 25 December – Christmas in the wilderness! I have a talk with Ittuksakdjuak early in the morning before he goes out and tell him that I do not enjoy being governed by a woman. Sirkinirk’s overbearing manner annoys me. So we quickly come to an understanding and I produce my little gifts: Ittusakdjuak — two pocket knives, one shirt, one piece of tobacco; Sirkinirk – one shirt, red cloth and thread, one dishcloth, one third piece of tobacco; Aggakdjuk — one pair under trousers, one pocket knife, one piece of tobacco; Arnga — material, thread, washcloth, one third piece of tobacco; Aggulukdjuk — one pocket knife, one third piece of tobacco.

“Then I produce the Christmas cookery: fine meal biscuit, three quarter meal, one soup tablet (potato), some salt, one tin of milk in warm water, one-half pound of fresh-cut apple-fritters, thirty-two little biscuits cooked with fat in a tin over the blubber lamp, five raisins in each.

“Then cocoa is brewed. Aggakdjuk, Ittusakdjuak and I myself, each one of the last tins of milk. And then for the biscuits. A splendidly successful and fitting end to the day. Ittusakdjuak gives me a thick caribou skin, the only one of those left behind which the fox spared, out of which Sirkinirk will make me stockings and other things for the spring journey. Sirkinirk has sewn me a pretty little table cloth out of the skin of caribou legs.

“Aggakdjuk does not come, and it is so dark, that I will not visit him in his own house, but will keep the little gifts for the next day. It is nearly ten o’clock when, well fed and contented, we go to bed.

“Monday, 26 December — Bitter cold, with a light wind from the north/northeast, but my people go out to their work at daybreak (nine-thirty). It is truly a cold task to remain standing over a breathing hole, but our meat is all spent, though so far Aggakdjuk has kept us sufficiently supplied, but after their period of hunger his family will not have much left of their seal, but some food remains for the dogs, and, if the worst comes to the worst, we will be back to soup tablets in a few days, in order to preserve a little food for the dogs. Yesterday Aggulukdjuk saw a seal in the water and each of my people knows of a breathing hole that is still being used, so that, sooner or later, a seal will be killed.

“I will not get much work done on this holiday, for petty odd jobs are so troublesome that they rob me of much time. Actually I do hardly any writing, for I must again put my boxes in order. I bring my little gifts over to Arnga, who seems much pleased, and invites me to stay for a while. She is always courteous and modest, at least in my presence, and is the only one of my women with whom I have not yet had a set-to. As the daughter of a European she feels that she has some affinity to my ways. I tell her something of my troubles with Sirkinirk and amuse myself with the infant which now has eight teeth, but still lives almost exclusively at his mother’s breast.

“Aggakdjuk has been watching the open water with Aggulukdjuk and after the latter departed he comes home with nothing but a well-shot-up seabird. Aggulukdjuk vainly pursues a hare; Ittusakdjuak watches a breathing hole until dusk with equal ill-success. Aggakdjuk brings over to me a weasel carved out of a walrus tusk; he had no other material to work on. In the evening a regular Christmas meal, somewhat upset by a visit by two children and Aggulukdjuk, and so slightly less pleasant that that of the day before.”

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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