Eskimo Folk-Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in August 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.


A STRONG man had land at Ikerssuaq. The only other one there was an old man, one who lived on nothing but devil-fish; when the strong man had caught more than he needed, the old man had always plenty of meat, which was given him in exchange for his fish.

                The strong one, men say, he who never failed to catch seal when he went out hunting, became silent as time went on, and then very silent. And this no doubt was because he could get no children.

                The old one was a wizard, and one day the strong one came to him and said:

                "To-morrow, when my wife comes down to the shore close by where you are fishing, go to her. For this I will give you something of my catch each day."

                And this no doubt was because he wanted his wife to have a child, for he wished greatly to have a child, and could not bring it about.

                The old man did not forget those words which were said to him.

                And to his wife also, the strong one said:

                "To-morrow, when the old one is out fishing, go you down finely dressed, to the shore close by."

                And she did it as he had said. When they had slept and again awakened, she watched to see when the old one went out. And when he rowed away, she put on her finest clothes and followed after him along the shore. When she came in sight of him, he lay out there fishing. Then eagerly she stood up on the shore, and looked out towards him. And now he looked at her, and then again out over the sea, and this went on for a long time. She stood there a long time in vain, looking out towards him, but he would not come in to where she was, and therefore she went home. As soon as she had come home, her husband rowed up to the old one, and asked:

                "Did you not go to my wife to-day?"

                The old one said:


                And again the strong one said a second time:

                "Then do not fail to go to her to-morrow."

                But when the old one came home, he could not forget the strong man's words. In the evening, the strong one said that same thing again to his wife, and a second time told her to go to the old one.

                They slept, and awakened, and the strong man went out hunting as was his wont. Then his wife waited only until the old one had gone out, and as soon as he was gone, she put on her finest clothes and followed after. When she came in sight of the water, the old one was sitting there in his boat as on the other days, and fishing. Now the old one turned his head and saw her, and he could see that she was even more finely dressed than on the day before. And now a great desire of her came over him, and he made up his mind to row in to where she was. He came in to the land, and stepped out of his kayak and went up to her. And now he went to her this time.

                Then he rowed out again, but he caught scarcely any fish that day.

                When only a little time had gone, the strong man came rowing out to him and said:

                "Now perhaps you have again failed to go to my wife?"

                When these words were spoken, the old one turned his head away, and said:

                "To-day I have not failed to be with her."

                When the strong one heard this, he took one of the seals he had caught, and gave it to the old man, and said:

                "Take this; it is yours."

                And in this way he acted towards him from that time. The old one came home that day dragging a seal behind him. And this he could often do thereafter.

                When the strong one came home, he said to his wife:

                "When I go out to-morrow in my kayak, it is not to hunt seal; therefore watch carefully for my return when the sun is in the west."

                Next day he went out in his kayak, and when the sun was in the west, his wife went often and often to look out. And once when she went thus, she saw that he had come, and from that moment she was no longer sleepy.

                As the strong one came nearer and nearer to land, he paddled more and more strongly.

                Now his wife went down to that place where he was about to land, and turned and sat down with her back to the sea. The man unfastened his hunting fur from the ring of his kayak, and put his hand into the back of the kayak, and took out a sea serpent, and struck his wife on the back. At this she felt very cold, and her skin smarted. Then she stood up and went home. But her husband said no word to her. Then they slept, and awakened, and then the old one came to them and said:

                "Now you must search for the carrion of a cormorant, with only the skeleton remaining, for your wife is with child."

                And the strong one went out eagerly to search for this.

                One day, paddling southward in his kayak, as was his custom, he started to search all the little bird cliffs. And coming to the foot of one of them, he saw that which he so greatly wished to see; the carrion of a big cormorant, which had now become a skeleton. It lay there quite easy to see. But there was no way of coming to the place where it was, not from above nor from below, nor from the side. Yet he would try. He tied his hunting line fast to the cross thongs on his kayak, and thrust his hand into a small crack a little way up the cliff. And now he tried to climb up there with his hands alone. And at last he got that skeleton, and came down in the same way back to his kayak, and got into it, and rowed away northward to his home. And almost before he had reached land, the old one came to him, and the cormorant skeleton was taken out of the kayak. Now the old one trembled all over with surprise. And he took the skeleton, and put it away, and said:

                "Now you must search for a soft stone, which has never felt the sun, a stone good to make a lamp of."

                And the strong man began to search for such a stone.

                Once when he was on this search, he came to a cliff, which stood in such a place that it never felt the sun, and here he found a fine lamp stone. And he brought it home, and the old one took it and put it away.

                A few days passed, and then the strong one's wife began to feel the birth-pangs, and the old one went in there at once with his own wife. Then she bore a son, and when he was born, the strong man said to the old one:

                "This is your child; name him after some dead one." [1]

                "Let him be named after him who died of hunger in the north, at Amerdloq."

                This the old one said. And then he said:

                "His name shall be Qujâvârssuk!"

                And in this way the old one gave him that name.

                Now Qujâvârssuk grew up, and when he was grown big enough, the strong man said to the old one:

                "Make a kayak for him."

                Now the old one made him a kayak, and the kayak was finished. And when it was finished, he took it by the nose and thrust him out into the water to try it, but without loosing his hold. And when he did this, there came one little seal up out of the water, and others also. This was a sign that he should be a strong man, a chief, when the seals came to him so. When he drew him out of the water, they all went down again, and not a seal remained.

                Now the old one began to make hunting things. When they were finished, and there was nothing more to be done in making them, and he thought the boy was of a good age to begin going out to hunt seal, he said to the strong one:

                "Now row out with him, for he must go seal hunting."

                Then he rowed out with him, and when they had come so far out that they could not see the bottom, he said:

                "Take the harpoon point with its line, and fix it on the shaft."

                They had just made things ready for their hunting and rowed on farther, when they came to a flock of black seal.

                The strong one said to him:

                "Now row straight at them."

                And then he rowed straight at them, and he lifted his harpoon and he threw it and he struck. And this he did every day in the same manner, and made a catch each time he went out in his kayak.

                Then some people who had made a wintering place in the south heard, in a time of hunger, of Qujâvârssuk, the strong man who never suffered want. And when they heard this, they began to come and visit the place where he had land. In this way there came once a man who was called Tugto, and his wife. And while they were there--they were both great wizards--the man and his wife began to quarrel, and so the wife ran away to live alone in the hills. And now the man could not bring back his wife, for he was not so great a wizard as she. And when the people who had come to visit the place went away, he could do nothing but stay there.

                One day when he was out hunting seal at Ikerssuaq, he saw a big black seal which came up from the bottom with a red fish in its mouth.

                Now he took bearings by the cliffs of the place where the seal went down, and after that time, when he was out in his kayak, he took up all the bird wings that he saw, and fastened all the pinion feathers together.

                Tugto was a big man, yet he had taken up so much of this that it was a hard matter for him to carry it when he took it on his back, and then he thought it must be enough for that depth of water.

                At last the ice lay firm, and when the ice lay firm, he began to make things ready to go out and fish. One morning he woke, and went away over land. He came to a lake, and walked over it, and came again on to the land. And thus he came to the place where lay that water he was going to fish, and he went out on the ice while it was still morning. Then he cut a great hole in the ice, and just as he cast out the weight on his line, the sun came up. It came quite out, and went across the sky, all in the time he was letting out his line. And not until the sun had gone half through the day did the weight reach the bottom. Then he hauled up the line a little way, and almost before it was still, he felt a pull. And he hauled it up, and it was a mighty sea perch. This he killed, but did not let down his line a second time, for in that way it would become evening. He cut a hole in the lower jaw of the fish, and put in a cord to carry it with. And when he took it on his head, it was so long that the tail struck against his heel.

                Then in this manner he walked away, and came to land. When he came to the big lake he had walked over in the morning, he went out on it. But when he had come half the way over, the ice began to make a noise, and when he looked round, it seemed to him that the noise in the ice was following him from behind.

                Now he went away running, but as he ran he fainted suddenly away, and lay a long time so. When he woke again, he was lying down. He thought a little, and then he remembered. "Au: I am running away!" And then he got up and turned round, but could not find a break in the ice anywhere. But he could feel in himself that he had now become a much greater wizard than before.

                He went on farther, and chose his way up over a little hilly slope, and when he could see clearly ahead, he perceived a mighty beast.

                It was one of those monsters which men saw in the old far-off times, quite covered with bird-skins. And it was so big that not a twitch of life could be seen in it. He was afraid now, and turned round, until he could no longer see it. Then he left that way, and came out into another place, where he saw another looking just the same. He now went back again in such a manner that it could not find him, but then he remembered that a wizard can win power to vanish away, even to vanish into the ground, if he can pull to pieces the skin of such a monster.

                When his thoughts had begun to work upon this, he threw away his burden and went towards it and began to wrestle with it. And it was not a long time before he began to tear its covering in pieces; the flesh on it was not bigger than a thumb. Then he went away from it, and took up his burden again on his head, and went wandering on. When he was again going along homewards, he felt in himself that he had become a great wizard, and he could see the door openings of all the villages in that countryside quite close together.

                And when he came home, he caused these words to be said:

                "Let the people come and hear."

                And now many people came hurrying into the house. And he began calling up spirits. And in this calling he raised himself up and flew away towards his wife.

                And when he came near her in his spirit flight, and hovered above her, she was sitting sewing. He went straight down through the roof, and when she tried to escape through the floor he did likewise, and reached her in the earth. After this, she was very willing when he tried to take her home with him, and he took her home with him, and now he had his wife again, and those two people lived together until they were very old.

                One winter, the frost came, and was very hard and the sea was frozen, and only a little opening was left, far out over the ice. And hither Qujâvârssuk was forced to carry his kayak each day, out to the open water, but each day he caught two seals, as was his custom.

                And then, as often happens in time of dearth, there came many poor people wandering over the ice, from the south, wishing to get some good thing of all that Qujâvârssuk caught. Once there came also two old men, and they were his mother's kinsmen. They came on a visit. And when they came, his mother said to them:

                "Now you have come before I have got anything cooked. It is true that I have something from the cooking of yesterday; eat that if you will, while I cook something now." Then she set before them the kidney part of a black seal, with its own blubber as dripping. Now one of the two old men began eating, and went on eagerly, dipping the meat in the dripping. But the other stopped eating very soon.

                Then Qujâvârssuk came home, as was his custom, with two seals, and said to his mother:

                "Take the breast part and boil it quickly."

                For this was the best part of the seal. And she boiled it, and it was done in a moment. And then she set it on a dish and brought it to those two.

                "Here, eat."

                And now at last the one of them began really to eat, but the other took a piece of the shoulder. When Qujâvârssuk saw this, he said:

                "You should not begin to eat from the wrong side."

                And when he had said that, he said again:

                "If you eat from that side, then my catching of the seals will cease." But the old man became very angry in his mind at this order.

                Next morning, when they were about to set off again southward, Qujâvârssuk's mother gave them as much meat as they could carry. They went home southward, over the ice, but when they had gone a little way, they were forced to stop, because their burden was so heavy. And when they had rested a little, they went on again. When they had come near to their village, one said to the other:

                "Has there not wakened a thought in your mind? I am very angry with Qujâvârssuk. Yesterday, when we came there, they gave us only a kidney piece in welcome, and that is meat I do not like at all."

                "Hum," said the other. "I thought it was all very good. It was fine tender meat for my teeth."

                At these words, the other began again to speak:

                "Now that my anger has awakened, I will make a Tupilak for that miserable Qujâvârssuk."

                But the other said to him:

                "Why will you do such a thing? Look; their gifts are so many that we must carry the load upon our heads."

                But that comrade would not change his purpose, not for all the trying of the other to turn him from it. And at last the other ceased to speak of it.

                Now as the cold grew stronger, that opening in the ice became smaller and smaller, at the place where Qujâvârssuk was used to go with his kayak. One day, when he came down to it, there was but just room for his kayak to go in, and if now a seal should rise, it could not fail to strike the kayak. Yet he got into the kayak, and at the time when he was fixing the head on his harpoon, he saw a black seal coming up from below. But seeing that it must touch both the ice and the kayak, it went down again without coming right to the surface. Then Qujâvârssuk went up again and went home, and that was the first time he went home without having made a catch, in all the time he had been a hunter.

                When he had come home, he sat himself down behind his mother's lamp, sitting on the bedplace, so that only his feet hung down over the floor. He was so troubled that he would not eat. And later in the evening, he said to his mother:

                "Take meat to Tugto and his wife, and ask one of them to magic away the ice."

                His mother went out and cut the meat of a black seal across at the middle. Then she brought the tail half, and half the blubber of a seal, up to Tugto and his wife. She came to the entrance, but it was covered with snow, so that it looked like a fox hole. At first, she dropped that which she was carrying in through the passage way. And it was this which Tugto and his wife first saw; the half of a black seal's meat and half of its blubber cut across. And when she came in, she said:

                "It is my errand now to ask if one of you can magic away the ice."

                When these words were heard, Tugto said to his wife:

                "In this time of hunger we cannot send away meat that is given. You must magic away the ice."

                And she set about to do his bidding. To Qujâvârssuk's mother she said:

                "Tell all the people who can come here to come here and listen!"

                And then she began eagerly going in to the dwellings, to say that all who could come should come in and listen to the magic. When all had come in, she put out the lamp, and began to call on her helping spirits. Then suddenly she said:

                "Two flames have appeared in the west!"

                And now she was standing up in the passage way, and let them come to her, and when they came forward, they were a bear and a walrus. The bear blew her in under the bedplace, but when it drew in its breath again, she came out from under the bedplace and stopped at the passage way. In this manner it went on for a long time. But now she made ready to go out, and said then to the listeners:

                "All through this night none may yawn or wink an eye." And then she went out.

                At the same moment when she went out, the bear took her in its teeth and flung her out over the ice. Hardly had she fallen on the ice again, when the walrus thrust its tusks into her and flung her out across the ice, but the bear ran along after her, keeping beneath her as she flew through the air. Each time she fell on the ice, the walrus thrust its tusks into her again. It seemed as if the outermost islands suddenly went to the bottom of the sea, so quickly did she move outwards. They were now almost out of sight, and not until they could no longer see the land did the walrus and the bear leave her. Then she could begin again to go towards the land.

                When at last she could see the cliffs, it seemed as if there were clouds above them, because of the driving snow. At last the wind came down, and the ice began at once to break up. Now she looked round on all sides, and caught sight of an iceberg which was frozen fast. And towards this she let herself drift. Hardly had she come up on to the iceberg, when the ice all went to pieces, and now there was no way for her to save herself. But at the same moment she heard someone beside her say:

                "Let me take you in my kayak." And when she looked round, she saw a man in a very narrow kayak. And he said a second time:

                "Come and let me take you in my kayak. If you will not do this, then you will never taste the good things Qujâvârssuk has paid you."

                Now the sea was very rough, and yet she made ready to go. When a wave lifted the kayak, she sprang down into it. But as she dropped down, the kayak was nearly upset. Then, as she tried to move over to the other side of it, she again moved too far, and then he said:

                "Place yourself properly in the middle of the kayak."

                And when she had done so, he tried to row, for it was his purpose to take her with him in his kayak, although the sea was very rough. Then he rowed out with her. And when he had come a little way out, he sighted land, but when they came near, there was no place at all where they could come up on shore, and at the moment when the wave took them, he said:

                "Now try to jump ashore."

                And when he said this, she sprang ashore. When she now stood on land, she turned round and saw that the kayak was lost to sight in a great wave. And it was never seen again. She turned and went away. But as she went on, she felt a mighty thirst. She came to a place where water was oozing through the snow. She went there, and when she reached it, and was about to lay herself down to drink, a voice came suddenly and said:

                "Do not drink it; for if you do, you will never taste the good things Qujâvârssuk has paid you."

                When she heard this she went forward again. On her way she came to a house. On the top of the house lay a great dog, and it was terrible to see. When she began to go past it, it looked as if it would bite her. But at last she came past it.

                In the passage way of the house there was a great river flowing, and the only place where she could tread was narrow as the back of a knife. And the passage way itself was so wide that she could not hold fast by the walls.

                So she walked along, poising carefully, using her little fingers as wings. But when she came to the inner door, the step was so high, that she could not come over it quickly. Inside the house, she saw an old woman lying face downwards on the bedplace. And as soon as she had come in, the old woman began to abuse her. And she was about to answer those bad words, when the old woman sprang out on to the floor to fight with her. And now they two fought furiously together. They fought for a long time, and little by little the old woman grew tired. And when she was so tired that she could not get up, the other saw that her hair hung loose and was full of dirt. And now Tugto's wife began cleaning her as well as she could. When this was done, she put up her hair in its knot. The old woman had not spoken, but now she said:

                "You are a dear little thing, you that have come in here. It is long since I was so nicely cleaned. Not since little Atakana from Sârdloq cleaned me have I ever been cleaned at all. I have nothing to give you in return. Move my lamp away."

                And when she did so, there was a noise like the moving of wings. When she turned to look, she saw a host of birds flying in through the passage way. For a long time birds flew in, without stopping. But then the woman said:

                "Now it is enough." And she put the lamp straight. And when that was done, the other said again:

                "Will you not put it a little to the other side?"

                And she moved it so. And then she saw some men with long hair flying towards the passage way. When she looked closer, she saw that it was a host of black seal. And when very many of them had come in this manner, she said:

                "Now it is enough." And she put the lamp in its place. Then the old woman looked over towards her, and said:

                "When you come home, tell them that they must never more face towards the sea when they empty their dirty vessels, for when they do so, it all goes over me."

                When at last the woman came out again, the big dog wagged his tail kindly at her.

                It was still night when Tugto's wife came home, and when she came in, none of them had yet yawned or winked an eye. When she lit the lamp, her face was fearfully scratched, and she told them this:

                "You must not think that the ice will break up at once; it will not break up until these sores are healed."

                After a long time they began to heal slowly, and sometimes it might happen that one or another cried in mockingly through the window:

                "Now surely it is time the ice broke up and went out to sea, for that which was to be done is surely done."

                But at last her sores were healed. And one day a black cloud came up in the south. Later in the evening, there was a mighty noise of the wind, and the storm did not abate until it was growing light in the morning. When it was quite light, and the people came out, the sea was open and blue. A great number of birds were flying above the water, and there were hosts of black seal everywhere. The kayaks were made ready at once, and when they began to make them ready, Tugto's wife said:

                "No one must hunt them yet; until five days are gone no one may hunt them."

                But before those days were gone, one of the young men went out nevertheless to hunt. He tried with great efforts, but caught nothing after all. Not until those days were gone did the witch-wife say:

                "Now you may hunt them."

                And now the men went out to sea to hunt the birds. And not until they could bear no more on their kayaks did they row home again. But then all those men had to give up their whole catch to Tugto's house. Not until the second hunting were they permitted to keep any for themselves.

                Next day they went out to hunt for seal. They harpooned many, but these also were given to Tugto and his wife. Of these also they kept nothing for themselves until the second hunting.

                Now when the ice was gone, then that old man we have told about before, he put life into the Tupilak, and said to it then:

                "Go out now, and eat up Qujâvârssuk."

                The Tupilak paddled out after him, but Qujâvârssuk had already reached the shore, and was about to carry up his kayak on to the land, with a catch of two seals. Now the Tupilak had no fear but that next day, when he went out, it would be easy to catch and eat him. And therefore, when it was no later than dawn, it was waiting outside his house. When Qujâvârssuk awoke, he got up and went down to his kayak, and began to make ready for hunting. He put on his long fur coat, and went down and put the kayak in the water. He lifted one leg and stepped into the kayak, and this the Tupilak saw, but when he lifted the other leg to step in with that, he disappeared entirely from its sight. And all through the day it looked for him in vain. At last it swam in towards land, but by that time he had already reached home, and drawn the kayak on shore to carry it up. He had a catch of two seal, and there lay the Tupilak staring after him.

                When it was evening, Qujâvârssuk went to rest. He slept, and awoke, and got up and made things ready to go out. And at this time the Tupilak was waiting with a great desire for the moment when he should put off from land. But when he put on his hunting coat ready to row out, the Tupilak thought:

                "Now we shall see if he disappears again."

                And just as he was getting into his kayak, he disappeared from sight. And at the end of that day also, Qujâvârssuk came home again, as was his custom, with a catch of two seal.

                Now by this time the Tupilak was fearfully hungry. But a Tupilak can only eat men, and therefore it now thought thus:

                "Next time, I will go up on land and eat him there."

                Then it swam over towards land, and as the shore was level, it moved swiftly, so as to come well up. But it struck its head on the ground, so that the pain pierced to its backbone, and when it tried to see what was there, the shore had changed to a steep cliff, and on the top of the cliff stood Qujâvârssuk, all easy to see. Again it tried to swim up on to the land, but only hurt itself the more. And now it was surprised, and looked in vain for Qujâvârssuk's house, for it could not see the house at all. And it was still lying there and staring up, when it saw that a great stone was about to fall on it, and hardly had it dived under water when the stone struck it, and broke a rib. Then it swam out and looked again towards land, and saw Qujâvârssuk again quite clearly, and also his house.

                Now the Tupilak thought:

                "I must try another way. Perhaps it will be better to go through the earth."

                And when it tried to go through the earth, so much was easy; it only remained then to come up through the floor of the house. But the floor of the house was hard, and not to be got through. Therefore it tried behind the house, and there it was quite soft. It came up there, and went to the passage way, and there was a big black bird, sitting there eating something. The Tupilak thought:

                "That is a fortunate being, which can sit and eat."

                Then it tried to get up over the walls at the back part of the house, by taking hold of the grass in the turf blocks. But when it got there, the bird's food was the only thing it saw. Again it tried to get a little farther, seeing that the bird appeared not to heed it at all, but then suddenly the bird turned and bit a hole just above its flipper. And this was very painful, so that the Tupilak floundered about with pain, and floundered about till it came right out into the water.

                And because of all these happenings, it had now become so angered that it swam back at once to the man who had made it, in order to eat him up. And when it came there, he was sitting in his kayak with his face turned towards the sun, and telling no other thing than of the Tupilak which he had made. For a long time the Tupilak lay there beneath him, and looked at him, until there came this thought:

                "Why did he make me a Tupilak, when afterwards all the trouble was to come upon me?"

                Then it swam up and attacked the kayak, and the water was coloured red with blood as it ate him. And having thus found food, the Tupilak felt well and strong and very cheerful, until at last it began to think thus:

                "All the other Tupilaks will certainly call this a shameful thing, that I should have killed the one who made me."

                And it was now so troubled with shame at this that it swam far out into the open sea and was never seen again. And men say that it was because of shame it did so.

                One day the old one said to Qujâvârssuk:

                "You are named after a man who died of hunger at Amerdloq."

                It is told of the people of Amerdloq that they catch nothing but turbot.

                And Qujâvârssuk went to Amerdloq and lived there with an old man, and while he lived there, he made always the same catch as was his custom. At last the people of Amerdloq began to say to one another:

                "This must be the first time there have been so many black seal here in our country; every time he goes hunting he catches two seal."

                At last one of the big hunters went out hunting with him. They fixed the heads to their harpoons, and when they had come a little way out from land, Qujâvârssuk stopped. Then when the other had gone a little distance from him, he turned, and saw that Qujâvârssuk had already struck one seal. Then he rowed towards him, but when he came up, it was already killed. So he left him again for a little while, and when he turned, Qujâvârssuk had again struck. Then Qujâvârssuk rowed home. And the other stayed out the whole day, but did not see a single seal.

                When Qujâvârssuk had thus continued as a great hunter, his mother said to him at last that he should marry. He gave her no answer, and therefore she began to look about herself for a girl for him to marry, but it was her wish that the girl might be a great glutton, so that there might not be too much lost of all that meat. And she began to ask all the unmarried women to come and visit her. And because of this there came one day a young woman who was not very beautiful. And this one she liked very much, for that she was a clever eater, and having regard to this, she chose her out as the one her son should marry. One day she said to her son:

                "That woman is the one you must have."

                And her son obeyed her, as was his custom.

                Every day after their marriage, the strongest man in Amerdloq called in at the window:

                "Qujâvârssuk! Let us see which of us can first get a bladder float for hunting the whale."

                Qujâvârssuk made no answer, as was his custom, but the old man said to him:

                "We use only speckled skin for whales. And they are now at this time in the mouth of the river."

                After this, they went to rest.

                Qujâvârssuk slept, and awoke, and got up, and went away to the north. And when he had gone a little way to the north, he came to the mouth of a small fjord. He looked round and saw a speckled seal that had come up to breathe. When it went down again, he rowed up on the landward side of it, and fixed the head and line to his harpoon. When it came up again to breathe, he rowed to where it was, and harpooned it, and after this, he at once rowed home with it.

                The old man made the skin ready, and hung it up behind the house. But while it was hanging there, there came very often a noise as from the bladder float, and this although there was no one there. This thing the old man did not like at all.

                When the winter was coming near, the old man said one day to Qujâvârssuk:

                "Now that time will soon be here when the whales come in to the coast."

                One night Qujâvârssuk had gone out of the house, when he heard a sound of deep breathing from the west, and this came nearer. And because this was the first time he had heard so mighty a breathing, he went in and told the matter in a little voice to his wife. And he had hardly told her this, when the old man, whom he had thought asleep, said:

                "What is that you are saying?"

                "Mighty breathings which I have heard, and did not know them, and they do not move from that side where the sun is." This said Qujâvârssuk.

                The old one put on his boots, and went out, and came in again, and said:

                "It is the breathing of a whale."

                In the morning, before it was yet light, there came a sound of running, and then one came and called through the window:

                "Qujâvârssuk! I was the first who heard the whales breathing."

                It was the strong man, who wished to surpass him in this. Qujâvârssuk said nothing, as was his custom, but the old man said:

                "Qujâvârssuk heard that while it was yet night." And they heard him laugh and go away.

                The strong man had already got out the umiak [2] into the water to row out to the whale. And then Qujâvârssuk came out, and they had already rowed away when Qujâvârssuk got his boat into the water. He got it full of water, and drew it up again on to the shore, and turned the stem in towards land and poured the water out, and for the second time he drew it down into the water. And not until now did he begin to look about for rowers. They went out, and when they could see ahead, the strong man of Amerdloq was already far away. Before he had come up to where he was, Qujâvârssuk told his rowers to stop and be still. But they wished to go yet farther, believing that the whale would never come up to breathe in that place. Therefore he said to them:

                "You shall see it when it comes up."

                Hardly had the umiak stopped still, when Qujâvârssuk began to tremble all over. When he turned round, there was already a whale quite near, and now his rowers begged him eagerly to steer to where it was. But Qujâvârssuk now saw such a beast for the first time in his life. And he said:

                "Let us look at it."

                And his rowers had to stay still. When the strong man of Amerdloq heard the breathing of the whale, he looked round after it, and there lay the beast like a great rock close beside Qujâvârssuk. And he called out to him from the place where he was:

                "Harpoon it!"

                Qujâvârssuk made no answer, but his rowers were now even more eager than before. When the whale had breathed long enough, it went down again. Now his rowers wished very much to go farther out, because it was not likely that it would come up again in that way the next time. But Qujâvârssuk would not move at all.

                The whale stayed a long time under the water, and when it came up again it was still nearer. Now Qujâvârssuk looked at it again for a long time, and now his rowers became very angry with him at last. Not until it seemed that the whale must soon go down again did Qujâvârssuk say:

                "Now row towards it."

                And they rowed towards it, and he harpooned it. And when it now floundered about in pain and went down, he threw out his bladder float, and it was not strange that this went under water at once.

                And those farther out called to him now and said:

                "When a whale is struck it will always swim out to sea. Row now to the place where it would seem that it must come up."

                But Qujâvârssuk did not answer, and did not move from the place where he was. Not until they called to him for the third time did he answer:

                "The beasts I have struck move always farther in, towards my house."

                And now they had just begun laughing at him out there, when they heard a washing of water closer in to shore, and there it lay, quite like a tiny fish, turning about in its death struggle. They rowed up to it at once and made a tow line fast. The strong man rowed up to them, and when he came to where they were, no one of them was eating. Then he said:

                "Not one of you eating, and here a newly-killed whale?"

                When he said this, Qujâvârssuk answered:

                "None may eat of it until my mother has first eaten."

                But the strong man tried then to take a mouthful, although this had been said. And when he did so, froth came out of his mouth at once. And he spat out that mouthful, because it was destroying his mouth.

                And they brought that catch home, and Qujâvârssuk's mother ate of it, and then at last all ate of it likewise, and then none had any badness in the mouth from eating of it. But the strong man sat for a long time the only one of them all who did not eat, and that because he must wait till his mouth was well again.

                And the strong man of Amerdloq did not catch a whale at all until after Qujâvârssuk had caught another one.

                For a whole year Qujâvârssuk stayed at Amerdloq, and when it was spring, he went back southward to his home. He came to his own land, and there at a later time he died.

                And that is all.


The particular source of this tale is Godthaab, West Greenland.


[1] According to custom. It is believed that the qualities of the dead are thus transferred to the living namesake.

[2] Umiak: a large boat, as distinct from the small kayak.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Qujâvârssuk
Tale Author/Editor: Rasmussen, Knud
Book Title: Eskimo Folk-Tales
Book Author/Editor: Rasmussen, Knud
Publisher: Gyldendal
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1921
Country of Origin: Greenland
Classification: unclassified

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