Inugpasugjuk, the Inuk who told Rasmussen about how mosquitoes first came to the world. (Harper collection)

Taissumani, Aug. 30

Mosquitoes

By Nunatsiaq News

It’s mosquito season in Nunavut, and here are a few random observations by Inuit on this annual pest.

Ivaluardjuk was an Iglulik storyteller whom Knud Rasmussen met in Foxe Basin in 1921. The explorer recorded many of the old man’s stories and songs, among which was this:

“Cold and mosquitoes,
These two pests
Come never together.
I lay me down on the ice,
Lay me down on the snow and ice,
Till my teeth fall chattering.
It is I,
Aja – aja – ja.

“Memories are they,
From those days,
From those days,
Mosquitoes swarming
From those days,
The cold is bitter,
The mind grows dizzy
As I stretch my limbs
Out on the ice.
It is I,
Aja – aja – ja.”

Another Inuk, Inugpasugjuk, a Nattilingmiut who had moved to the Hudson Bay coast, told Rasmussen a legend of how the mosquitoes first came:

“There was once a village where the people were dying of starvation. At last there were only two women left alive, and they managed to exist by eating each other’s lice. When all the rest were dead, they left their village and tried to save their lives. They reached the dwellings of men, and told how they had kept themselves alive simply by eating lice. But no one in that village would believe what they said, thinking rather that they must have lived on the dead bodies of their neighbours. And thinking this to be the case, they killed the two women. They killed them and cut them open to see what was inside them; and lo, not a single scrap of human flesh was there in the stomachs; they were full of lice. But now all the lice suddenly came to life, and this time they had wings, and flew out of the bellies of the dead women and darkened the sky. Thus mosquitoes first came.”

The late Abe Okpik once wrote an article called “What it Means to Be an Eskimo.”

This was in the 1970s when the use of the word “Eskimo” was still common. In speaking of the importance of the Inuktitut language, he remarked:

“It is up to the Eskimos of today to use their Eskimo strength of word and thought. It is up to the young people. If they don’t learn and use the language and the stories and songs, they will have nothing special to give to their children. It’s no good looking like an Eskimo if you can’t speak like one.

“There are only very few Eskimos, but millions of whites, just like mosquitoes. It is something very special and wonderful to be an Eskimo – they are like snow geese. If an Eskimo forgets his language and Eskimo ways, he will be nothing but just another mosquito.”

Taissumani is an occasional column that recalls events of historical interest. Kenn Harper is a historian and writer who lived in the Arctic for over 50 years. He is the author of “Minik, the New York Eskimo” and “Thou Shalt Do No Murder,” among other books. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Steve L on

    My recollections of Abe was he had a dislike for the word Eskimo. He explained that Inuk means the people
    “Any people or Eskimo people.?”
    – Any people.
    “Therefore I am Inuk”
    – No you are kabloona !
    And so it went. I miss Abe, he would have made a great MP, but he probably had a bigger impact elsewhere.

  2. Posted by Merco on

    I remember Abe Okpik, he liked to make comments, but did
    not like it when certain people stood up to him.
    I remember him calling people Mosquitos, and they called him
    a free loading louse who fed of a Whiteman’S dog.
    He did not like it, nobody does.

  3. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Brings to mind the song Qiktoriat by Dominic Angutimmarik.

  4. Posted by Inukpasugjuk on

    Would Inukpasugjuk, the man in the photo, would have been named after Innookpoozhejook that relayed stories of the Franklin expedition to Francis Hall?

    There is a difference of about 60 years between the late Innookpoozhejook, who was also probably of Netsilik region, and the man in the photo, who is also of the Nattilik region.

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