Eskimo Folk-Tales: Kánagssuaq

This story is part of the Eskimo Folk Tales unit. Story source: Eskimo Folk-Tales by Knud Rasmussen with illustrations by native Eskimo artists (1921).



Kánagssuaq

KÁNAGSSUAQ, men say, went out from his own place to live on a little island, and there took to wife the only sister of many brothers. And while he lived there with her, it happened once that the cold became so great that the sea between the islands was icebound, and they could no longer go out hunting. At last they had used up their store of food, and when that store of food was used up, and none of them could go out hunting, they all remained lying down from hunger and weakness.

Once, when there was open water to the south, where they often caught seal, Kánagssuaq took his kayak on his head and went out hunting. He rowed out in a northerly wind, with snow falling, and a heavy sea. And soon he came upon a number of black seal. He rowed towards them, to get within striking distance, but struck only a little fjord seal, which came up between him and the others. This one was easier to cut up, he said.

Now when he had got this seal, he took his kayak on his head again and went home across the ice. And his house-fellows shouted for joy when they saw the little creature he sent sliding in. Next day he went out again, and caught two black seal, and after that, he never went out without bringing home something.

The north wind continued, and the snow and the cold continued. When he lay out waiting for seal, as was now his custom, he often wished that he might meet with Kilitêraq, the great hunter from another place, who was the only one that would venture out in such weather. But this did not come about.

But now there was great dearth of food also in the place where Kilitêraq lived. And therefore Kilitêraq took his kayak on his head and went out across the ice to hunt seal. And coming some way, he sighted Kánagssuaq, who had already made his catch, and was just getting his tow-line out. As soon as he came up, Kánagssuaq cut away the whole of the belly skin and gave to him. And Kilitêraq felt now a great desire for blubber, and took some good big pieces to chew.

And while he lay there, some black seal came up, and Kánagssuaq said: "Row in to where they are."

And he rowed in to them and harpooned one, and killed it on the spot with that one stroke. He took his bladder float to make a tow-line fast and wound up the harpoon line, but before he had come to the middle, a breaking wave came rolling down on him. And it broke over him, and it seemed indeed as if there were no kayak there at all, so utterly was it hidden by that breaking wave. Then at last the bladder showed up behind the kayak, and a little after, the kayak itself came up, with the paddles held in a balancing position. Now for the second time he took his bladder and line, and just as he came to the place where the tow-line is made fast, there came another wave and washed over him so that he disappeared. And then he came up a second time, and as he came up, he said: "I am now so far out that I cannot make my tow-line fast. Will you do this for me?"

And then Kánagssuaq made his tow-line fast, and as soon as he had taken the seal in tow, he rowed away in the thickly falling snow, and was soon lost to sight. When he came home, his many comrades in the village were filled with great thankfulness towards him. And thereafter it was as before; that he never came home without some catch.

A few days later, they awoke and saw that the snow was not falling near them now, but only far away on the horizon. And after that the weather became fine again. And when the spring came, they began hunting guillemots; driving them together in flocks and killing them so. This they did at that time.

And now one day they had sent their bird arrows showering down among the birds, and were busy placing the killed ones together in the kayaks. And then suddenly a kayak came in sight on the sunny side. And when that stranger came nearer, they looked eagerly to see who it might be. And when Kilitêraq came nearer—for it was Kilitêraq who came—he looked round among the kayaks, and when he saw that Kánagssuaq was among them, he thrust his way through and came close up to him, and stuck his paddle in between the thongs on Kánagssuaq's kayak, and then loosened the skin over the opening of his own kayak, and put his hand in behind, and drew out a splendid tow-line made of walrus hide and beautifully worked with many beads of walrus tooth. And a second time he put in his hand, and took out now a piece of bearskin fashioned to the seat of a kayak.

And these things he gave to Kánagssuaq, and said: "Once in the spring, when I could not make my tow-line fast to a seal, you helped me, and made it fast. Here is that which shall thank you for that service."

And then he rowed away.


(900 words)

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