Akkatook, An Inuit Boy in Scotland
Akkatook, an Inuit boy of 13, was one of a number of Inuit to visit Scotland during the mid-nineteenth century. (Akkatook's name is also given in various references as Aukutook, Aquatook and Ankie Took.)
We know nothing of Akkatook's home except that it was on the western shore of Davis Strait, that is to say, somewhere along the east coast of Baffin Island. Like Eenoolooapik before him, Akkatook was curious about the land from whence the whalers came each summer, and wanted to accompany them for a visit to their far-off homeland. His parents agreed, and gave their son over to the care of Captain Kinnear of the ship Caledonia, in the fall of 1846.
When the Caledonia reached its home port of Kirkcaldy, Akkatook lived with Captain Kinnear and his family. He knew not a word of English. A teacher who was hired to tutor him described his appearance thus:
"[He was] of low stature, with a broad round chest, short neck, and long, lank, glossy hair, black as the raven's wing; skin soft as velvet…; the eye dark and lively; and his general expression highly agreeable." When he arrived his clothing consisted of "trousers, coat, hood and boots, all of seal-skin, neatly sewed, and tastefully figured with threads and braid of sinew, the smooth glossy hair giving it a variegated and very beautiful appearance."
In Kirkcaldy, where he was given the nickname "Kookie Ekie," he was popular among the other boys his age. He was expert at tracking animals, and loved nothing more than pursuing birds for hours on end with his bow and arrow.
Of course, he had bouts of homesickness. One night, he sat by the fireside in a contemplative mood and Mrs. Kinnear asked him what was the matter. "Apukia," he said, with tears in his eyes. Repeating the word again, he told his hostess that it was the name of his mother, one of his father's two wives.
Akkatook attracted the attention of the wealthy, who were curious about his presence in Scotland, and wanted to meet him. He invariably returned from visits to their homes with gifts, which he saved to take back to Baffin Island with him the following spring.
In early spring there was a regatta in Kirkcaldy. Akkatook took part in the event in what was described as "his frail bark canoe." Perhaps this was a mistaken description of a sealskin-covered kayak, for we are told that Akkatook propelled it with a double-bladed paddle. "Troops of the curious lined the shore for upwards of a mile," a report read, and the crowd was amazed at the young man's speed.
As spring approached, more gifts arrived for the popular young man who was described in the local press as polite and "very kind and docile in his disposition." He left Kirkcaldy with Captain Kinnear in the same ship in which he had arrived, the Caledonia. The officers remarked on the tremendous progress he had made in English during his winter in Scotland.
But the voyage was marred by bad luck. The Caledonia got caught in the ice and was crushed between two floes. She was a total wreck. All aboard her had only a few minutes to escape with a few spare articles of clothing. Akootook had been on the verge of returning to Baffin Island a wealthy young man. Instead, most of his possessions went to the bottom of Davis Strait and he was lucky to save only a few of his many presents.
He and other members of the crew were rescued from the pack by another Scottish whaler, the Chieftain. That vessel delivered him safely home, with a few guns saved from the wreck and an ample supply of ammunition from the ship's supplies.
His home-coming was marred by more sad news. His father, Makkarook, had died during the winter. Thus ends Akkatook's short appearance on the stage of northern history. Nothing more is known of his life.
His teacher in Scotland had only one regret – that the boy's stay there had been so short. "Had he remained for a few years," he mused, "he might have been rendered available as a missionary of arts and religion to his tribe."
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 [email protected]