Nunatsiaq News
TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic January 04, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Taissumani, Jan. 4

Aukjuuk, the Gut-Snatcher

Inugpasugjuk, the man who told Knud Rasmussen about an evil female spirit called Aukjuuk. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Inugpasugjuk, the man who told Knud Rasmussen about an evil female spirit called Aukjuuk. (HARPER COLLECTION)

I wrote recently about the large number of taboos that Inuit traditionally had to follow in relation to the seal-hunt.

One taboo forbade men to sleep out at the ice-edge when hunting. The hunter must return to land every night, or at least to old firm ice which lies at a distance back from the open sea. The reason for this is that the sea spirit does not like the creatures of the sea to smell human beings unless they are hunting. Inuit believed that if this taboo were broken, misfortune would befall them.

In 1922, Inugpasugjuk, a man living near Repulse Bay, told Knud Rasmussen a story about the punishment exacted upon hunters who had violated the taboo, by an evil female spirit, called Ululiarnaaq by the Aivilingmiut. Inugpasugjuk, being an immigrant Netsilingmiuq, called her Aukjuuk.

Here is his story:

“There were once three men who went out to the ice-edge to hunt, and they decided to sleep there, although it was forbidden to do so. The oldest of the three men was a shaman.

“The hunters had built a snow house out on the ice, and while they lay there asleep, an old woman came in suddenly through the closed entrance. She got in without any sign to show that the snow block which closed the entrance had been moved. She placed herself in front of the sleeper who lay outermost, and without waking him, robbed him of his entrails. She stood there with her dish in her hand, and her knife, laid down the entrails and went on to the next, whose entrails she likewise took and laid in her dish, but when she came to the shaman, he awoke, and waking his companions, said to them: ‘I just dreamed that your entrails had been stolen away.’

“At these words they put their hands to their bellies and discovered that all was empty within: they had no entrails. They got up at once to return to their homes… and the shaman was often obliged to stop and wait for the two, as they walked so slowly. The shaman at once went into his house and prepared to call up his helping spirits. The two who had lost their entrails laid their tunics on top of the covered passage to the house and went in. The men came in, and one of those who had lost his entrails said to his wife:

“‘Go outside and fetch my tunic, which I laid on top of the passage way. Do not be afraid of it, but take it, even though there may be teeth growing out round the neck.’

“The woman went out to fetch it, but although it was only quite an ordinary garment she was nevertheless afraid of it when she saw that there were ugly teeth growing out round the neck, and she dared not take it, but went in without having accomplished her errand. She said to her husband: ‘Your tunic looked so dangerous and terrifying that I dared not take it.’

“The husband answered, ‘If you do not take it, then I must pass to the realm of death. Do not be afraid of it, but just go and take it.’

“The woman went out again and tried to take the garment… and a second time she went in without having accomplished her errand. Then the man knew he was lost, and no-one could hold him back. He went out towards the ice-edge on his way to the Land of the Dead.

“The other man now spoke and said to his wife, ‘I shall suffer the same fate as my companion if you do not go out and fetch my tunic. Now go out and fetch it. It will not hurt you. Do not be afraid of it, but bring it in.’

“The woman went out, but when she saw the teeth that had grown out round the neck, she dared not take it after all, and went in again, like the other, without having accomplished her errand, and said, ‘I dared not take it. It looked so dreadful.’

“Her husband answered: ‘Then there is no help for me. I too must now pass to the Land of the Dead.’

“And then he went out, took up his tunic, and went down towards the ice-edge.

“Meanwhile, the shaman had called up his helping spirits, and if only the women had brought in the garments, he could have got the men’s entrails back.

“After that no one ever dared to sleep on the edge of the ice, for Aukjuuk, who lives in the Moon Spirit’s house, always steals away the entrails of those who sleep on the edge of the ice.”

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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