Myths & Legends



Inuit: Emigration of the Sagdlirmiut

A legend that exists in the cultural matrix of a society that is primarily oral can be a source of historical memory. In the case of the legend of the emigration of the Sagdlirmiut we have a fable that is passed from generation to generation as a unwritten record of how it came to be that the Saglirmiut came to the lands of the Inuit in northern Canada.
— Orly

In the beginning all the Inuit lived near Ussualung, in Tiniqdjuarbing (Cumberland Sound). The Igdlumiut, the Nugumiut, and the Talirpingmiut in the south, the Aggomiut in the far north, and the Inuit, who tattoo rings round their eyes, in the far west, all once lived together. There is a tradition concerning the emigration of the Sagdlirmiut who live east of Iglulik. The Akudnirmiut say that the following events did not happen in Tiniqdjuarbing, but in Aggo, a country where nobody lives nowadays. Ikeraping, an Akudnirmio, heard the story related by a Tununirmio, who had seen the place himself, but all the Oqomiut assert that Ussualung is the place where the events in the story happened.

An old woman, the sister of Mitiq, the angakoq, told the story as follows:

Near Ussualung there are two places, Qerniqdjuaq and Eχaluqdjuaq. In each of these was a large house, in which many families lived together. They used to keep company during the summer when they went deer hunting, but returned to their separate houses in the fall.

Once upon a time it happened that the men of Qerniqdjuaq had been very successful, while those of Eχaluqdjuaq had caught scarcely any deer. Therefore the latter got very angry and resolved to kill the other party, but they preferred to wait until the winter. Later in the season many deer were caught and put up in depots. They were to be carried down to the winter settlements by means of sledges.

One day both parties agreed upon a journey to these depots and the men of Eχaluqdjuaq resolved to kill their enemies on this occasion. They set out with their dogs and sledges, and when they were fairly inland they suddenly attacked their unsuspecting companions and killed them. For fear that the wives and children of the murdered men might be suspicious if the dogs returned without their masters, they killed them too. After a short time they returned and said they had lost the other party and did not know what had happened to them.

A young man of Eχaluqdjuaq was the suitor of a girl of Qerniqdjuaq and used to visit her every night. He did not stop his visits now. He was kindly received by the woman and lay down to sleep with his young wife.

Under the snow bench there was a little boy who had seen the young man of Eχaluqdjuaq coming. When everybody was sleeping he heard somebody calling and soon recognized the spirits of the murdered men, who told him what had happened and asked him to kill the young man in revenge. The boy crept from his place under the bed, took a knife, and put it into the young man’s breast. As he was a small boy and very weak, the knife glided from the ribs and entered deep into the heart, thus killing the young man.

Then he roused the other inhabitants of the hut and told them that the spirits of the dead men had come to him, that they had told him of their murder, and had ordered him to kill the young man. The women and children got very much frightened and did not know what to do. At last they resolved to follow the advice of an old woman and to flee from their cruel neighbors. As their dogs were killed, the sledges were of no use, but by chance a bitch with pups was in the hut and the old woman, who was a great angakoq, ordered them to go and whip the young dogs, which would thus grow up quickly. They did so and in a short time the pups were large and strong. They harnessed them and set off as quickly as possible. In order to deceive their neighbors they left everything behind and did not even extinguish their lamps, that they might not excite suspicion.

The next morning the men of Eχaluqdjuaq wondered why their companion had not returned and went to the hut in Qernirtung. They peeped through the spy hole in the window and saw the lamps burning, but nobody inside. At last they discovered the body of the young man, and, finding the tracks of the sledges, they hurriedly put their sledges in order and pursued the fugitives.

Though the latter had journeyed rapidly their pursuers followed still more rapidly and seemed likely to overtake them in a short time. They therefore became very much frightened, fearing the revenge of their pursuers.

When the sledge of the men drew near and the women saw that they were unable to escape, a young woman asked the old angakoq: “Don’t you know how to cut the ice?” The matron answered in the affirmative and slowly drew a line over the ice with her first finger across the path of their pursuers. The ice gave a loud crack. Once more she drew the line, when a crack opened and quickly widened as she passed on. The floe began moving and when the men arrived they could not cross over the wide space of water. Thus the party were saved by the art of their angakoq.

For many days they drifted to and fro, but finally they landed on the island of Sagdlirn, where they took up their abode and became the mothers of the Sagdlirmiut.



Source:  JB [1]

Culture:  Inuit

Language Group:  Eskimo–Aleut


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