Taissumani, June 18

Atungait, World Traveller



In December 1921 at Repulse Bay, the ethnographer Knud Rasmussen met one of the oldest men of the district, Ivaluardjuk.

During his long life he had travelled extensively throughout the area from Pond Inlet to Chesterfield Inlet. Rasmussen described him as the geographer of the tribe.

On one occasion, to Rasmussen’s surprise, Ivaluardjuk drew with paper and pencil a map of the entire coastline from Repulse Bay to Pond Inlet.

Ivaluardjuk was also a wonderful story-teller. In a quiet and steady tone, the old man narrated the traditional tales of his people. One of those tales was about Atungait, a man who had set out to travel round the world:

“It is said that Atungait determined to travel round the world, and therefore set about carefully breeding dogs. They would have to be strong and of great endurance. When he thought the dogs were as they should be, he decided to go up a steep mountain that was close by their village, and he said:

“’If I can manage to climb this steep cliff face near our village, I will set out. If not, I will stay at home.’

“He set off on his way, and climbed the cliff without the slightest difficulty. Then he called from the top to his dogs which stood down below at the foot. The dogs came up at once, and with those which had been chosen for the journey there came also one that had received no special training. This dog, which was not specially hardened to strength and endurance, came halfway up the hill, but then it slipped and fell down and was killed.

“Atungait assembled his team on top of the cliff and drove off. He travelled night and day at one spell without resting, and when many days and many nights had passed, he came to a people that were lame from the hips, and they had a curious throwing game, a red and white ajagaq. These lame folk all had sledges.

“Atungait soon grew tired of staying with them, and wishing to possess this curious throwing game, he cut through the lashings of the cross bars on all the sledges, and then going into the house, took the red game and drove away. The lame folk tried to set out in pursuit, but all their sledges fell to pieces, all save one that Atungait had forgotten when cutting the lashes of the rest, and this one drove after him.

“It was a long time before it overtook him, but at last it did and Atungait then, turning round, shot the leader of the lame driver’s team with his arrow. The dog with the arrow in its body then ran off away from the sledge tracks, and took the rest of the team with it, and the lame driver as well, for he could not get down from the sledge. It went on and on until it came right out to the edge of the ice. Here it flung itself into the water with all the other dogs, and they were all drowned, the lame man and all his dogs.

“Atungait then travelled on, night and day in one, until at last he came to a steep cliff, a precipice, where there was no way round. The ice had gathered round the steep rock and it was impossible to go further. Atungait then drove his team out into the open water, and they swam along with him and the sledge. Once or twice, when they came to places which he thought they would never manage to pass, he closed his eyes but opened them again immediately. So Atungait drove round the steep cliff and continued his journey.

“One day he came to a big village but the people who lived there were dangerous. They wanted to kill him and therefore Atungait travelled on again without stopping to sleep. He travelled on again, night and day in one, and came to a glacier. There was no other way to go so he drove up into the ice. It was steep and smooth, and at all the places where there was a sheer descent it was only his dogs that saved him from being dashed down, for they had long, sharp claws and did not slip on the smooth ice.

“Thus Atungait managed to cross the ice and traveled on, night and day in one. And it is said that he travelled right round the world. But how he came home again to his own village, nobody knows. And therefore I end the story here.”

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 kennharper@hotmail.com.

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