Inuit: Qasiagssaq The Great Liar

The Inuit live throughout most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic in the territory of Nunavut; “Nunavik” in the northern third of Quebec; “Nunatsiavut” and “NunatuKavut” in Labrador; and in various parts of the Northwest Territories, particularly around the Arctic Ocean. These areas are known in Inuktitut as the “Inuit Nunangat”.

In the United States, the Iñupiat live primarily on the North Slope in Alaska and on Little Diomede Island. The Greenlandic Inuit are descendants of indigenous migrations from Canada.

The story that follows of Qasiagssaq, The Great Liar, failed hunter and all around good for nothing, is an anti-hero morality tale as told in Eskimo Folk-Tales Collected by Knud Rasmussen
Edited and rendered into English by W. Worster.
— Orly

Qasiagssaq, men say, was a great liar. His wife was called Qigdlugsuk. He could never sleep well at night, and being sleepless, he always woke his fellow-villagers when they were to go out hunting in the morning. But he never brought home anything himself.

One day when he had been out as usual in his kayak, without even sight of a seal, he said:

“It is no use my trying to be a hunter, for I never catch anything. I may as well make up some lie or other.”

And at the same moment he noticed that one of his fellow-villagers was towing a big black seal over to an island, to land it there before going out for more. When that seal had been brought to land, Qasiagssaq rowed round behind the man, and stole it, and towed it back home.

His wife was looking out for him, going outside every now and then to look if he were in sight. And thus it was that coming out, she caught sight of a kayak coming in with something in tow. She shaded her eyes with both hands, one above the other, and looked through between them, gazing eagerly to try if she could make out who it was. The kayak with its seal in tow came rowing in, and she kept going out to look, and at last, when she came out as usual, she could see that it was really and truly Qasiagssaq, coming home with his catch in tow.

“Here is Qasiagssaq has made a catch,” cried his fellow-villagers. And when he came in, they saw that he had a great black seal in tow, with deep black markings all over the body. And the tow-line was thick with trappings of the finest narwhal tusk.

“Where did you get that tow-line?” they asked.

“I have had it a long time,” he answered, “but have never used it before to-day.”

After they had hauled the seal to land, his wife cut out the belly [124]part, and when that was done, she shared out so much blubber and meat to the others that there was hardly anything left for themselves. And then she set about cooking a meal, with a shoulder-blade for a lamp, and another for a pot. And every time a kayak came in, they told the newcomer that Qasiagssaq had got a big black seal.

At last there was but one kayak still out, and when that one came in, they told him the same thing: “Qasiagssaq has actually got a big seal.”

But this last man said when they told him:

“I got a big black seal to-day, and hauled it up on an island. But when I went back to fetch it, it was gone.”

The others said again:

“The tow-line which Qasiagssaq was using to-day was furnished with toggles of pure narwhal tusk.”

Later in the evening, Qasiagssaq heard a voice calling in at the window:

“You, Qasiagssaq, I have come to ask if you will give back that tow-line.”

Qasiagssaq sprang up and said:

“Here it is; you may take it back now.”

But his wife, who was beside him, said:

“When Qasiagssaq does such things, one cannot but feel shame for him.”

“Hrrrr!” said Qasiagssaq to his wife, as if to frighten her. And after that he went about as if nothing had happened.

One day when he was out in his kayak as usual, he said:

“What is the use of my being out here, I who never catch anything?”

And he rowed in towards land. When he reached the shore, he took off his breeches, and sat down on the ground, laying one knee across a stone. Then he took another stone to serve as a hammer, and with that he hammered both his knee-caps until they were altogether smashed.

And there he lay. He lay there for a long time, but at last he got up and went down to his kayak, and now he could only walk with little and painful steps. And when he came down to his kayak, he hammered and battered at that, until all the woodwork was broken to pieces. And then, getting into it, he piled up a lot of fragments of iceberg upon it, and even placed some inside his clothes, which were of ravens’ skin. And so he rowed home.

But all this while two women had been standing watching him.

His wife was looking out for him as usual, shading her eyes with her hands, and when at last she caught sight of his kayak, and it came nearer, she could see that it was Qasiagssaq, rowing very slowly. And when then he reached the land, she said:

“What has happened to you now?”

“An iceberg calved.”

And seeing her husband come home in such a case, his wife said to the others:

“An iceberg has calved right on top of Qasiagssaq, so that he barely escaped alive.”

But when the women who had watched him came home, they said:

“We saw him to-day; he rowed in to land, and took off his breeches and hammered at his knee-caps with a stone; then he went down to his kayak and battered it to bits, and when that was done, he filled his kayak with ice, and even put ice inside his clothing.”

But when his wife heard this, she said to him:

“When Qasiagssaq does such things, one cannot but feel shame for him.”

“Hrrrr!” said Qasiagssaq, as if to frighten her.

After that he lay still for a long while, waiting for his knees to heal, and when at last his knees were well again, he began once more to go out in his kayak, always without catching anything, as usual. And when he had thus been out one day as usual, without catching anything, he said to himself again:

“What is the use of my staying out here?”

And he rowed in to land. There he found a long stone, laid it on his kayak, and rowed out again. And when he came in sight of other kayaks that lay waiting for seal, he stopped still, took out his two small bladder floats made from the belly of a seal, tied the harpoon line to the stone in his kayak, and when that was done, he rowed away as fast as he could, while the kayaks that were waiting looked on. Then he disappeared from sight behind an iceberg, and when he came round on the other side, his bladder float was gone, and he himself was rowing as fast as he could towards land. His wife, who was looking out for him as usual, shading her eyes with her hands, said then:

“But what has happened to Qasiagssaq?”

As soon as a voice could reach the land, Qasiagssaq cried:

“Now you need not be afraid of breaking the handles of your knives; I have struck a great walrus, and it has gone down under water with my two small bladder floats. One or another of those who are out after seal will be sure to find it.”

He himself remained altogether idle, and having come into his house, did not go out again. And as the kayaks began to come in, others went down to the shore and told them the news:

“Qasiagssaq has struck a walrus.”

And this they said to all the kayaks as they came home, but as usual, there was one of them that remained out a long time, and when at last he came back, late in the evening, they told him the same thing: “Qasiagssaq, it is said, has struck a walrus.”

“That I do not believe, for here are his bladder floats; they had been tied to a stone, and the knot had worked loose.”

Then they brought those bladder floats to Qasiagssaq and said:

“Here are your bladder floats; they were fastened to a stone, but the knot worked loose.”

“When Qasiagssaq does such things, one cannot but feel shame for him,” said his wife as usual.

“Hrrrr!” said Qasiagssaq, to frighten her.

And after that Qasiagssaq went about as if nothing had happened.

One day he was out in his kayak as usual at a place where there was much ice; here he caught sight of a speckled seal, which had crawled up on to a piece of the ice. He rowed up to it, taking it unawares, and lifted his harpoon ready to throw, but just as he was about to throw, he looked at the point, and then he laid the harpoon down again, saying to himself: “Would it not be a pity, now, for that skin, which is to be used to make breeches for my wife, to be pierced with holes by the point of a harpoon?”

So he lay alongside the piece of ice, and began whistling to that seal.1 And he was just about to grasp hold of it when the seal went down. But he watched it carefully, and when it came up again, he rowed over to it once more. Now he lifted his harpoon and was just about to throw, when again he caught sight of the point, and said to himself: “Would it not be a pity if that skin, which is to make breeches for my wife, should be pierced with holes by the point of a harpoon?” And again he cried out to try and frighten the seal, and down it went again, and did not come up any more.

Once he heard that there lived an old couple in another village, who had lost their child. So Qasiagssaq went off there on a visit. He came to their place, and went into the house, and there sat the old couple mourning. Then he asked the others of the house in a low voice:

“What is the trouble here?”

“They are mourning,” he was told.

“What for?” he asked.

“They have lost a child; their little daughter died the other day.”

“What was her name?”

“Nipisartángivaq,” they said.

Then Qasiagssaq cleared his throat and said in a loud voice:

“To-day my little daughter Nipisartángivaq is doubtless crying at her mother’s side as usual.”

Hardly had he said this when the mourners looked up eagerly, and cried:

“Ah, how grateful we are to you! Now your little daughter can have all her things.”

And they gave him beads, and the little girl’s mother said:

“I have nothing to give you by way of thanks, but you shall have my cooking pot.”

And when he was setting out again for home, they gave him great quantities of food to take home to his little girl. But when he came back to his own place, his fellow-villagers asked:

“Wherever did you get all this?”

“An umiak started out on a journey, and the people in it were hurried and forgetful. Here are some things which they left behind them.”[128]

Towards evening a number of kayaks came in sight; it was people coming on a visit, and they had all brought meat with them. When they came in, they said:

“Tell Qasiagssaq and his wife to come down and fetch up this meat for their little girl.”

“Qasiagssaq and his wife have no children; we know Qasiagssaq well, and his wife is childless.”

When the strangers heard this, they would not even land at the place, but simply said:

“Then tell them to give us back the beads and the cooking pot.”

And those things were brought, and given back to them.

Then Qasiagssaq’s wife said as usual:

“Now you have lied again. When you do such things, one cannot but feel shame for you.”

“Hrrrr!” said Qasiagssaq, to frighten her, and went on as if nothing had happened.

Now it is said that Qasiagssaq’s wife Qigdlugsuk had a mother who lived in another village, and had a son whose name was Ernilik. One day Qasiagssaq set out to visit them. He came to their place, and when he entered into the house, it was quite dark, because they had no blubber for their lamp, and the little child was crying, because it had nothing to eat. Qasiagssaq cleared his throat loudly and said:

“What is the matter with him?”

“He is hungry, as usual,” said the mother.

Then said Qasiagssaq:

“How foolish I was not to take so much as a little blubber with me. Over in our village, seals are daily thrown away. You must come back with me to our place.”

Next morning they set off together. When they reached the place, Qasiagssaq hurried up with the harpoon line in his hand, before his wife’s mother had landed. And all she saw was that there was much carrion of ravens on Qasiagssaq’s rubbish heap. Suddenly Qasiagssaq cried out:

“Ah! One of them has got away again!”

He had caught a raven in his snare. His wife cooked it, and their lamp was a shoulder-blade, and another shoulder-blade was their cooking pot, and when that meat was cooked, Qigdlugsuk’s mother was given raven’s meat to eat. Afterwards she was well fed by the other villagers there, and next morning when she was setting out to go home, they all gave her meat to take with her; all save Qasiagssaq, who gave her nothing.

And time went on, and once he was out as usual in his kayak, and when he came home in the evening, he said:

“I have found a dead whale; to-morrow we must all go out in the umiak and cut it up.”

Next day many umiaks and kayaks set out to the eastward, and when they had rowed a long way in, they asked:

“Where is it?”

“Over there, beyond that little ness,” he said.

And they rowed over there, and when they reached the place, there was nothing to be seen. So they asked again:

“Where is it?”

“Over there, beyond that little ness.”

And they rowed over there, but when they reached the place, there was nothing to be seen. And again they asked:

“Where is it? Where is it?”

“Up there, beyond the little ness.”

And again they reached the place and rowed round it, and there was nothing to be seen.

Then the others said:

“Qasiagssaq is lying as usual. Let us kill him.”

But he answered:

“Wait a little; let us first make sure that it is a lie, and if you do not see it, you may kill me.”

And again they asked:

“Where is it?”

“Yes ... where was it now ... over there beyond that little ness.”

And now they had almost reached the base of that great fjord, and again they rounded a little ness farther in, and there was nothing to be seen. Therefore they said:

“He is only a trouble to us all: let us kill him.”

And at last they did as they had said, and killed him.

 

 

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