Taissumani, Oct. 18
A Funeral in Chicago
I have written before about the Labrador Inuit who were taken to Chicago in 1892, to be shown to the paying public as a human exhibit at an “Esquimaux Village” at the world’s fair there the following year.
This was a difficult time for Inuit in and from Labrador. They experienced difficult economic circumstances on their own coast, but those who went to Chicago to seek a “better” life, albeit temporarily, experienced hardship there too.
In mid-August of 1893 a tragedy occurred in the village in Chicago. And the Inuit, both Christian and non-Christian, rallied to support one another.
Kangegaajjuk and his wife Tuglavina were not enjoying life in Chicago even before the tragedy. Their fifteen-year-old son, Degoulick, had accompanied them to the fair. He was an orphan boy whom they had adopted, and on that fateful summer day he drowned while bathing in the pond in front of the village.
Naturally a funeral was held. Unfortunately, the village management lost no opportunity to turn this solemn event into a money-raiser, a part of the attraction. The funeral service took place in a wooden building constructed on the fairgrounds to represent a traditional Moravian chapel in Labrador. Several hundred non-Inuit paid admission to witness the event.
Although not allowed admission to the chapel itself, they “pressed up close to the chapel windows which were raised, and listened to the funeral services.” Although promotional material for the fair had dubbed Degoulick and the others who had come from the farthest northern reaches of Labrador as heathens, circumstances dictated a Christian burial.
At 2 o’clock on Aug. 21, the day after the drowning, the unpainted pine coffin containing the body of the boy was carried into the chapel and placed upon a bier in the centre of the room. The entire village population followed in procession, took their seats on the low benches, and bowed their heads.
The men pushed back the hoods of their white ceremonial jackets. The women were dressed in blouses and traditional atigis cut on a traditional pattern. A band stationed outside the chapel played “Nearer My God, to Thee.”
Then Zacharias, an Inuit church leader from Hebron, stood and read a chapter from the Bible in the Labrador Inuktut language. He began an Inuktut hymn and the entire congregation joined in the singing.
A white minister was also in attendance. Rev. W. F. Atchison of Hyde Park Methodist Church had been seated near the casket. When the hymn was over, he rose, read a portion of the scriptures and “offered a simple but earnest prayer.”
Then Abile spoke. Standing at the head of the coffin, he told his fellow countrymen that they must not grieve for Degoulick. Despite his tender years, they should look on his passing as the death of one whose time had come.
He then asked the congregation to come forward and have a final look at the deceased, whose coffin was still open. Tuglavina, the bereaved foster mother, wept inconsolably over the body of her son. Then the coffin was closed. After a final hymn, the coffin was carried to a horse-drawn hearse and transported to Oakwoods Cemetery for burial.
Only a few friends and relatives accompanied the body to Oakwoods. For the rest, the show had to go on. There was no time to grieve. There were paying customers present, and they had to resume their demonstrations for the curious.