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Orulo's Story Life and Death”

Taissumani: 2009-05-29

By Kenn Harper

Continued from last week

Knud Rasmussen described Orulo as being always busy, never idle for a moment.

He was astonished at the amount of work she managed to get through each day. She was an expert seamstress and cheerfully performed all the other household duties one might expect of the wife of an expert hunter like Aua.

She sang while she worked. Rasmussen asked her often to tell him about her life. She always maintained that there was nothing worth telling until one day, seated beside the lamp, sewing a pair of boots, she spontaneously began to tell her story. That story was begun in last week's column. It continues here.

"After my father's death we went to live with an old man who took mother to be one of his wives. A little after that my brother Sequvsu fell ill; his liver swelled up and he died. I was told it was because he had seen ijerqat just before my father's death, the same ones I had seen. But he had kept the vision secret and if you do that you die.

"In the autumn, when the first snow had fallen, Qupanuaq decided to go up country with his wife Qikertaunak and their son Toorngaq ("the helping spirit"); my brother Qajakutjuk ("the little kayak.") was to go with them. I remember my mother was very distressed about it, for she did not think the old man, armed as he was only with bow and arrows, would ever get any game. But she was not able herself to keep us, and had to agree to my brother's going with them.

"Then a little while after, a strange thing happened. Mother had cooked some ribs of walrus, and was sitting eating, when the bone she held suddenly began to make a noise. She was so frightened, she stopped eating at once, and threw down the bone. I remember her face went quite white, and she burst out: "Something has happened to my son!" And so indeed it was. Soon after, Qupanuaq returned late one night, and before entering the house, he went around outside to the window and called out "Dear Little Thing. It is my fault that you no longer have a son!" "Little Thing" was a pet name Qupanuaq used for mother. And then he came in and told us how it had come about.

"They had killed nothing, and had for several days been obliged to live on caribou dung. They were sadly worn out when at last they came to a place where he had stored away the carcass of a caribou he had killed some time before; but now they could not find the cache. They divided into two parties, his wife going one way, and Qupanuaq with the two boys another. They searched and searched all about, but could not find the spot. The first snow had fallen, it was autumn, with the cold wind and driving snow, and they were poorly clad; so they laid down behind the shelter of stones to rest. All were much exhausted. The day was short, and the night very long, and they had to wait for daylight before they could begin searching again.

"Meantime, Qikertaunaq had found the cache, but she did not know where to look for the rest of the party, and being anxious about them, she ate but little herself, and gave the child she was carrying a small piece of meat to suck. She had made a stone shelter like the others, and lay half dozing when suddenly she awoke, having dreamed of my brother. She dreamed that he stood there quite plainly before her, pale and shivering with cold, and spoke to her and said: "You will never see me again. It is because the earth-lice are angry at our having eaten their sinews and their dung before a year had passed since my father's death".

"I remember this quite distinctly because it was the first time I realized that there were certain things one must not do after anyone had died. The caribou are called "earth-lice" in shaman language.

"So lifelike was the dream that Qikertaunaq could not sleep any more that night. My brother Qajakutjuk was her favorite, and she used to say charms over him to make him strong.

"Next morning, when it was light, and Qupanuaq was ready to start, my brother was so weak that he could not stand, and the others were too exhausted to carry him. So they covered him with a thin worn skin and left him. Later on they found the meat, but they did not go back to Qajakutjuk. He was frozen to death."

(To be continued)

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

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