Uugaq, Inuk Traveller
When Charles Francis Hall reached the mouth of Frobisher Bay in 1860 aboard the whaler, George Henry, on his first Arctic expedition, he quickly met a varied assortment of the Inuit who habituated that area, in the hope of making contact with whalers.
Hall was travelling with Sidney O. Budington, a veteran whaler from the port of Groton, Connecticut, who knew the Inuit of the area well, through his long years of fishing their waters.
Budington had even spent a winter among the Inuit, when he wintered the McLellan, in Cumberland Sound at Qimmiqsuut, the first wintering of a whaling ship in Baffin Island. Budington liked the Inuit and occasionally rewarded a man who had done particularly well for him with a trip to the United States to spend the winter in the comfortable home that the captain shared there with his wife, Sarah, and his children.
Such a man was Uugaq, a hunter in his late forties. (There are various spellings for the man's name. Charles Francis Hall spelled his name Ugarng; other sources spelled it Ugar or Uget.) He was a son of the famous Ookijoxy Ninoo (Hall's spelling), the oldest woman in the district, from whom Hall first heard the story of Martin Frobisher's expedition of almost three centuries earlier. He was also an uncle of Ipiirvik (Ebierbing) who, with his wife, Hannah, would become Hall's main guide and companion on his three Arctic expeditions.
From Hall we learn that Uugaq "displayed great qualities as a daring and successful hunter," and that he was "a remarkably intelligent man and a very good mechanic." Hall thought that he had "several excellent traits of character, besides some not at all commendable."
Among those that the avowed Christian, Hall, found not so commendable was Uugaq's proclivity for marriage. He had had 13 wives, and at the time Hall met him he was living with three of them.
In January of 1861 Hall, travelling away from the ship, sent a letter back to Budington in which he wrote that "Uugaq is industrious & persevering – in fact, his efforts exceed that of any Inuit with whom I am acquainted."
But Sidney Budington knew all that. In 1854, at the end of a single-season whaling voyage in command of the Georgiana, he had taken Uugaq to Groton to spend a winter with his family. Sidney and Sarah had been married for four years, and lived on Toll Road, about a mile or so from the ferry connecting Groton with New London. Their house was a plain, unpretentious dwelling, painted white, situated on a hill adjoining a pasture. To Uugaq, it was a palace.
Sarah Budington had been a school teacher and, despite being busy with two small children – Victoria, born in 1852, and Florence, born a year later – did her best to teach the Inuit that her husband brought home. From her Uugaq probably added to the English that he had already learned from sailors in the north.
What he had learned from sailors was rougher than the Christian Budingtons accepted in their home. Years later, when Hall met Uugaq in Frobisher Bay, he asked him about his trip to the United States. Uugaq had enjoyed his time in the quiet town of Groton, but the captain had also taken him on a trip to New York City.
This was a different world than the relaxed seaside atmosphere of Groton. "The ceaseless noise and bustle disturbed him," wrote a contemporary newspaper, "and he begged Captain Budington to take him away from such a horrible place."
Uugaq's remarks to Hall on the subject of New York were brief:
"G— d—! Too much horse – too much house – too much white people. Women? Ah! Women great many – good!"
Back in Groton, Ugaq waited patiently for spring to come, when he would return north with Budington. "He carefully saves anything that may be given him," a paper reported, "in order to take it home and astonish his friends."
Next Week: Uugaq Visits a Phrenologist
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]