Sunday, September 24, 2006

Eskimo Heritage Reader part 16

Nuuk Fish Camp

In the years before the white men came, before any Christianity, many people lived at Safety Lagoon. They had no metal tools. Their hunting spears and arrowheads were made of jade and flintstone. Their pots were made from wood stumps. Their main purpose was survival. To govern all these people, there were leaders and shamans and tribal laws. The laws were often harsh, and there was no appeal.

Now in those times it was forbidden to cook a fowl or mammal from the sea along with a fowl or mammal from the land. This meant a woman could not cook a seal with a rabbit. She could not cook walrus with bear, or murre with ptarmigan, or land bear with polar bear.

In those days, women cooked their meat in wooden pots. They put hot stones into the pot along with meat and water. They took a hot stone from the fire and dropped it into the pot. The water would boil. The meat would cook as the stone cooled. Then they took that stone out and dropped in another hot one. They continued until the meat was cooked. It was a lot of work cooking for many people!

Once two women cooked a ptarmigan along with an eider duck. Perhaps neither one knew what kind of bird the other brought. A ptarmigan is from the land and an eider is from the sea. It was forbidden to cook them together. They put both birds into a cooking pot. When the stones were very hot, they took one and dropped it into the pot. What happened next was a terrible disaster.

Between Cape Nome and Safety Lagoon was a flat area occupied by the tribes. That whole flat tipped over. The people and everything that had been on top were buried. The bedrock became the land mass. The west wind blew and made a new beach. Even now when a strong west wind blows, the breakers east of Cape Nome carry a fine white powder from that bedrock. It blows like foam over the beach and dries on the road in white streaks.

That's not the only place where this happened. There is another spot near Shishmaref and another near Point Hope. Here, too, the law of the Eskimo was broken. Here the land tipped over on the people. When the first white men came to Point Hope, they were told of an upside down place there. They did not believe it until some anthropologists came. Those "diggers of old things" were amazed. They found pots and pans, people and everything, all upside down. Just like someone turned over a sheet of paper.

The fish camp at Nuuk was established after that earlier tribe was turned upside down. There was a large qazig. The door was made from the shoulder bone of a whale. Every fall, the surrounding tribes would gather there for a celebration.

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