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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic March 18, 2013 - 11:28 am

Taissumani, March 15

The Reappearance of Abbott

KENN HARPER

In the last few weeks I wrote about two early Inuit visitors to Groton, Conn., one of whose names appears on a grave marker there, and about other Inuit buried in the Starr Burying Ground in that New England town.

Jeannie died on board Capt. Budington’s ship in 1867 before she reached Baffin Island. Her husband, whom the whalers called Abbott, and whose Inuktitut name was written at the time as Kud-lup-pa-mune, returned to Cumberland Sound, his birthplace.

The historical record is maddeningly sparse where Inuit are concerned, and nowhere more so than in whaling records. Inuit are introduced, often with indecipherable names, and then often never mentioned again.

This was the case with Abbott. I can find no further reference to him in the meagre writings that exist on whaling in the eastern Arctic.

But a tantalizing shred of information exists that may point to what became of him. During the First International Polar Year, a German scientific party arrived in Cumberland Sound in 1882 to spend a winter near the head of the sound.

They established their station at Sirmilik Bay (the Germans spelled it “Shilmilik.”) The location was in a valley about two kilometers wide, bounded by steep rocky hills; the anchorage was good and the site was considered ideal. A number of Inuit men worked in unloading the ship and assisting with the building construction. They were paid in the currency of the day – bread, coffee, syrup and plugs of tobacco.

But when the Germania left on September 7, most of the Inuit left with her, to be dropped off at the Scottish whaling station at Kekerten.
Only one Inuit man, whose name is given as Okkeituk, remained, with his young wife and 18-month-old daughter. [It is uncertain whether this man’s name would correctly be spelled as Uqittuq or Uqaittuq, so I will retain the German spelling of Okkeituk.] They pitched a caribou skin tent near the station.

Later in the winter they moved into a snow house. Okkeituk hauled snow or blocks of river ice for water, and did whatever else was necessary to keep the German scientists comfortable. His weekly wage was five pounds of ship’s biscuits, a quantity of tea, a cup of syrup and some tobacco.

Okkeituk had just enough knowledge of English that he could act as interpreter for the scientists when other Inuit came to visit. After freeze-up, the first of those visitors arrived on December 5. The meager historical record left by the scientists notes, “Okkeituk’s father-in-law and two other men… were travelling with one sledge and a team of 12 dogs.”

From another German source we know that Okkeituk’s father-in-law’s name was recorded as Kakotscha, but that the whalers called him Charlie. The scientists’ record continues, “The oldest of the men, Abbok, had worked for the whalers and had visited New York.”

Abbok looks like an Inuit name, but it could have been a German mis-hearing of the name Abbott. The Germans may have thought this was his real name.

The information that he had visited New York means that this could well have been the man who travelled south with Budington in 1866, about whom we know so little. Budington is known to take taken other Inuit visitors from Groton to New York and it is likely that he made the same trip with Abbott.

We will never know for sure if Abbok, whose name appears but once in the historical record, is Abbott, the husband of Jeannie. But it is from scraps such as these that a biography, however deficient, is built.

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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