Nunatsiaq News
TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic December 15, 2012 - 5:49 pm

Taissumani, Dec. 14

Understanding Quiquern


Last week I outlined Rudyard Kipling’s only Arctic story, Quiquern, which began with the poem reproduced below.

“The People of the Eastern Ice, they are melting like the snow—
They beg for coffee and sugar; they go where the white men go.
The People of the Western Ice, they learn to steal and fight;
They sell their furs to the trading-post: they sell their souls to the white.
The People of the Southern Ice, they trade with the whaler’s crew;
Their women have many ribbons, but their tents are torn and few.
But the People of the Elder Ice, beyond the white man’s ken—
Their spears are made of the narwhal-horn, and they are the last of the Men!”

Kipling spent his early childhood in India and returned to Asia in young adulthood. He often wrote about the region, and he managed to include two references to it in Quiquern. He ended the story on a global note:

“Now Kotuko, who drew very well in the Inuit fashion, scratched pictures of all these adventures on a long, flat piece of ivory with a hole at one end. When he and the girl went north to Ellesmere Island in the year of the Wonderful Open Winter, he left the picture story with Kadlu, who lost it in the shingle when his dog-sleigh broke down one summer on the beach at Lake Netilling at Nikosiring, and there a Lake Inuit found it next spring and sold it to a man at Imigen who was interpreter on a Cumberland Sound whaler, and he sold it to Hans Olsen, who was afterward a quartermaster on board a big steamer that took tourists to the North Cape in Norway. When the tourist season was over, the steamer ran between London and Australia, stopping at Ceylon, and there Olsen sold the ivory to a Cingalese jeweller for two imitation sapphires. I found it under some rubbish in a house at Colombo, and have translated it from one end to the other.”

Earlier in the text, he had made an oblique reference to a market in Calcutta when he wrote, “Kadlu traded the rich, creamy, twisted narwhal horn and musk-ox teeth (these are just as valuable as pearls) to the Southern Inuit, and they, in turn, traded with the whalers and the missionary-posts of Exeter and Cumberland Sounds; and so the chain went on, till a kettle picked up by a ship’s cook in the Bhendy Bazaar might end its days over a blubber-lamp somewhere on the cool side of the Arctic Circle.”

From where did Kipling take his inspiration to write an Arctic story? W. W. Robson, who edited an edition of “The Second Jungle Book,” says that the story is set in the Seal Islands of Alaska and that Kipling’s information on them came from a book on those islands written by H. W. Elliott and published in 1881. He bases this on the fact that Elliott is known to have visited Kipling in Vermont.

That visit may have inspired Kipling to write something about the north. But Robson’s conclusion is decidedly wrong.

The story is set in northern Baffin Island. The names are plausibly Baffin names and none of the Inuit words or names in the text look at all Yupik.

Indeed their orthography is decidedly eastern Canadian Arctic. Many come directly from Franz Boas’s classic ethnological work, The Central Eskimo, published a decade earlier. Kipling would have had easy access to a copy.

The reference to the woman’s song “Amna aya, aya amna” appears to come from William Edward Parry’s and George Lyon’s published accounts of their time near Iglulik seven decades earlier.

Kipling himself never set foot in the Arctic. His story has some errors, to be sure. He falls victim to our English-language rule that a “q” must be followed by a “u” when he refers to the communal “Singing-House,” lifted directly from anthropological literature, as the “quaggi” instead of “qaggi.”

He betrays his ignorance of seal-hunting when he says that Kadlu would follow the seal to the edge of the land-ice and spear it at its blow-hole. And it would be a strange sight indeed to see the flame from a qulliq “blaze three feet in the air” even if had been filled “recklessly with blubber.”

But these are minor quibbles. It is an engaging story, made more so by the two poems that accompany it. The tale concludes with the poem, Angutivaun Taina – The Song of the Returning Hunter:

“Our gloves are stiff with the frozen blood,
Our furs with the drifted snow,
As we come in with the seal—the seal!
In from the edge of the floe.

Au jana! Aua! Oha! Haq!
And the yelping dog-teams go;
And the long whips crack, and the men come back,
Back from the edge of the floe!

We tracked our seal to his secret place,
We heard him scratch below,
We made our mark, and we watched beside,
Out on the edge of the floe.

We raised our lance when he rose to breathe,
We drove it downward—so!
And we played him thus, and we killed him thus,
Out on the edge of the floe.

Our gloves are glued with the frozen blood,
Our eyes with the drifting snow;
But we come back to our wives again,
Back from the edge of the floe!

Au jana! Aua! Oha! Haq!
And the loaded dog-teams go;
And the wives can hear their men come back,
Back from the edge of the floe!

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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