Taissumani, June 26
The first missionary to spent a winter in Baffin Island was Brother Mathias Warmow of the Moravian Church in Greenland.
He spent the winter of 1857-58 with the whaling captain, William Penny, aboard his ship, Lady Franklin, near Kekerten in Cumberland Sound.
Unlike most of the white missionaries who would come to Baffin Island decades later, Warmow arrived with a distinct advantage. He could already speak an Inuit dialect, West Greenlandic.
Writing about the first Inuit that he met, he noted, “As they understood me, and I them, very well, we were able to converse with but little difficulty.”
Many of the Inuit in Cumberland Sound understood a little English, having learned it from their interaction with Scottish and American whalers. From the whalers they had learned that a “minister” was coming to instruct them.
And so, instead of giving him a descriptive Inuktitut name, as they did with many newcomers, the Inuit simply called him “minister.” This displeased Warmow, who noted that he would have preferred they call him by his Christian name, or its Greenlandic equivalent, Matiuse.
It would be three and a half decades before another missionary would come to Baffin Island. In 1894, Reverend Edmund James Peck arrived at Blacklead Island to build his mission there.
Peck arrived with the same advantage that Warmow had had – he already spoke Inuktitut, having learned the language during eight years on the Hudson Bay coast of Quebec.
The Inuit gave him a name – Uqammak. It means ”the one who speaks well,” and is derived from the verbal root “uqaq-” which signifies speaking. Stories of Uqammak have been passed down through the generations and the name is still remembered today.
In 1894 Peck brought with him a 22-year-old layman, Joseph Caldecott Parker. As preparation for his missionary work, Parker had taken a few months medical training. To travel to Blacklead Island, he signed on as doctor of the whaling ship Alert.
At the mission station, he threw himself into the task of learning Inuktitut, and made rapid progress. He ministered to the sick, and the Inuit gave him a name, Luktaakuluk – “the little doctor” or “the dear doctor.”
Inuit words don’t start with “d” and “luktaaq” was the closest they could come to pronouncing “doctor.” The suffix “kuluk” is one signifying endearment or smallness. Unfortunately the little doctor drowned in a boating accident two years later.
That same year, another missionary arrived at Blacklead. He was Charles Sampson and he remained with the mission until 1900 when he returned to England and resigned. He subsequently returned as a trader.
I know of no Inuktitut name for him. They may have simply called him “ajuiqsuiji,” perhaps with a descriptive suffix added. “Ajuiqsuiji” is the general term for a Protestant minister and can roughly be translated as “the teacher” or “the instructor.”
In 1898, Julian William Bilby arrived from England to join Peck and Sampson. He endeared himself to the Inuit through his devotion to language study and his interest in the local way of life and customs.
He was rewarded with the Inuktitut name “ilataaq.” “Ila” is a noun meaning “relative” or “friend;” “taaq” is a suffix showing acquisition. Perhaps his name should best be translated as “our new friend.”
E. W. T. Greenshield arrived to join Peck in 1901, the summer that Bilby left for furlough in England. He too immersed himself in language study and was popular among the Inuit. They graced him with a name that simply added an additional suffix to Bilby’s name, calling him “ilataaqauk” – “another new friend.”
That completes the roster of white missionaries to Cumberland Sound prior to the movement of the mission station from Blacklead Island to Pangnirtung in the 1920s and the arrival of the disgraceful Reverend Jenkins.
The earliest missionary, Mathias Warmow, was simply called “minister,” but all but one of the Blacklead missionaries are known to have been given Inuktitut names. The one exception – Sampson – may well have had a local name as well, but if so it has been lost to time.
(If any readers know an Inuktitut name for Charles Sampson. I would be pleased if they would let me know.)
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@example.com.