Hai-yah, hai-yah, uwangah…
Down to the west,
Down to the west, Heya,
Heya, Here I am ...
(an Eskimo Song)
The two airmen trudged with their backward-rubbing seats against the coast of the western Boothia Peninsula. They beckoned a close survey for a more sheltered camp site and where to wait for Gutmann’s return. Still embarrassed greatly by the tragedy of their most recent experience, it was still relatively easy to master their physical and psychological fatigue.
They were too numb to look at the time. It seemed to them too much trouble to even brush off a glove and then push back a sleeve to take a single look at the dial. Nevertheless it could’ve only been a short time that separated them from the disaster site. As they rested for a few minutes for which they found the emotional time, they saw a series of dark points half-sideways from the coast which quickly advanced upon them. The men pulled the machine guns from their shoulders and remained ready at arms.
The points moved slowly. Smaller and bigger. Dogs and sleds approached the men on which crouched men masked in fur. Small, pointy-faced dogs with shaggy hair and bushy tails, smooth and mottled, then people whose faces peeped out of white ovals of fur, as if they were embellished jewels.
Between the barking of the dogs they could heard the shrill cries of “heya” from the people. There were half a dozen sleds, with as many as there were Eskimo men, who halted before the two pilots starting up in a semi-circle. They jumped down from their long, flat-boarded carriers, grinning and chatting. Their Mongolian-looking faces almost all had chin beards or goatees and from their fur hoods peeked shaggy hair. Some of the men had bows with them for weapons, reminding one of a Tartarian or Mongolian types. Nevertheless they looked peaceful and bared their yellow teeth, “Sunakiaq una?”
“Don’t understand,” Reimer tried, communicating in English.
An Eskimo stepped forward and smattered English, “Who are you – wer?”
“How could we explain that to him?” the Linzer asked his companions.
Recke took a step forward and, after hanging up his weapon to the side, he spread his arms like wings and marked a bird’s flight, to which he added an uttered hum.
“Cupanuarpaupsuaq…!” gabbled the Eskimos and stared then in awe. The English-speaking man, who seemed somewhat of a chief, incanted in German, “Giant eagle!”
The pilots nodded in confirmation. Recke whispered in between, “The guys palaver a beautiful lingo. I could never learn it…”
“Ilibse qablunait – you – white men! Uwagat netsilingmiut – we Netsilik-Eskimos!” a grin slipped over the face of the chief at this finding, “Uwangah Aglumalogâq! Isfit – I am Aglumalogâq – And you?” He pointed to Reimer. As a precaution he repeated his words in English, since he might of not understood.
“I am Reimer, and this here – Recke!”
“Rai-mer and Rek-ke. Good. Picaivoq!”
The other Eskimos repeated the names. They then zoomed to in sequence and told theirs. Tiäksaq, Netsersuitsuarssuk, Itqilik, Inalusaurshugohk…
The two flyers would’ve liked to close their ears. They’d never be able to learn to repeat these words fluently. But they found no time to express their astonimshent at this strange encounter. The leader of the Netsilik people asked wherefrom and whereto they were going.
He was very lively. With words and gestures he explained that the men from the nearby settlement on th coast had seen the dark mushroom cloud and that the shaman had spoken of it as a lucky sign. Despite the dark color of the smoke.
In between them the other men were noisy. They all pointed to the direction from which the two airmen had come. In the background of the white landscape the burning site stuck out like a black giant flower.
“We want to look there,” said the chief, at first without waiting for the answers to his surge of questions. His people demanded, “Qablunait – white men, you come with us!”
Admonishing his men to calm, he offered Reimer a place on his sled and pointed Recke to Itqilik, who stood nearby. The two seats were stowed with the bound-up luggage to another flat side at his command. “Avaya – go!”
“Avaya – pavungahjah…!” repeated the gooded men. Whips cracked through the frosty air, attracting panting and barking from the small, thick-furred dogs. And so the whole crowd began to move. During the short ride Recke and Reimer felt, as a result of the sleeplessness, the cold coming up more and more in their bodies. Both men trembled together, chilled, and accepted gratefully the caribou skins offered by the sled men, which they put over their heads.
In a few minutes they reached the scene of tragedy again which they had only previously left trudging laboriously. The Eskimos made a cry like a swarm of wild geese. “Avayaja!” they yelled and reached for the scattered pieces of metal, which to them seemed like valuable booty. During their burrowing around they cried out words to their chief and looked at the two pilots.
“My people can make good use of the things here!” he observed, translating the shouts. It sounded just so that it could be taken as a statement and at the same time a request.
“Take, take!” Reimer encouraged them, speaking to the old one.
The Netsilik eagerly gathered and loaded their sleds. Pieces of metal were in high demand for them. Reimer asked the chief to leave the propeller blade as it was, the Balkan cross on it still almost entirely visible. It was a bit to the side and later at their resting stop he interpreted it to them as being a signal mark.
Meanwhile the bright, twilit night sky grew somewhat darker. The Eskimos sniffed their air and they were quick to finish with their preciously darkening rest. Some of them shouted, “Qanik!”
“Snow falls!” replied the old man, “We must hurry to get to our village…”
Again the Eskimos cried and chattered, the huskies yawled and the teams moves like a wild hunt across the white surface. Uttering shrill cries the men drove their nimble animals on, evading scents from small obstacles and vilifying them, showing the white men their skills.
They hadn’t been wrong. During the great race, singularly large white flakes began fluttering from the sky. More and more they condensed in fall into a regular flurry, which made the view difficult and uncomfortable. Thanks to their usual familiarity with the weather, the men found their way without difficulty and the instincts of the dogs also facilitated their speedy return.
Reimer and Recke didn’t see much of the village following the snow, into which they were being brought. At the entrance all the dogs barked at the bet, women, masked the same as the men, and children came out from the white snow-huts and stared in amazement at the whites.
The old man directed his vehicle before one of the snow-builds, on whose semicircular dome stuck a caribou skull with moose-like antlers, and called Itqilik to bring Recke there also.
“Qablunait, here is my house – you are my guests!” Before their eyes he dropped the packs into his lair and then showed them in, crawling up the tunnel opening into an interior.
Warmth received the two friends. In the middle of the rounded room burned two oil lamps, which donated light and heat at the same time, and the floor was covered in caribou skins. A young girl crouched on a stock of pelts was amazed from her lightly slanted eyes at the strangers.
“Hungry?” asked the host who came behind them. The pilots both shook their heads. Reimer added to it, “No food… just sleep!”
Shortly thereafter the old man, with the help of the girl, had prepared two warm deposits of skins and furs which seemed as ready to lay down as the tired men. Their flight-suits and boots loose, they covered themselves with a feeling of relief. There was no more room in their thoughts for urging them to be cautious. They were content with being safe for the moment and even the strange smells inside the igloo hardly found their attention.
“I feel really light-headed,” Reimer still struggled to speak, “From one night in Vernäs to the next with Canadian Eskimos – that’s some spell. I think I’ll probably be dreaming…”
“Me too,” mumbled Recke, “I’m already too sleepy to pinch my nose… Heaven, a…” his words died away.
Reimer blinked, then followed with a sigh his companion’s example and rolled deeper into the fur blankets.
Both of them slept…
Over the Boothia Peninsula roared the northern land-storm. Black, gigantic, ragged clouds raced low under the darkened bell of sky thereto and swirling, blowing snow made everything in sight disappear under veils of flakes. An uncanny ringing filled the frigid air. The sea on the coast roared against the beach with thunder and bright bands of foam rode on the crests of the waves. Ice floes crashed together and drowned out with excess noise the powerful and high whirring and wheezing whose air-mass had been drawn from hundreds of kilometers.
It was one of those storms that raged towards spring time in the north. The Eskimos had holed themselves with their dogs in the small but resistant igloos and slept through the time belonging to the spirits. Only the Angätkoq, the shaman, sat in his snow-house and sang his statements of invocation.
Time passed. The fury seemed to have no end and it took a long time before the storm had somewhat abated. Only when the whimpering dogs demanded outside and the Eskimos were busy gossiping lively again did the two flyers come awake.
First Reimer ripped his eyes open and looked around in amazement. He found himself not able to handle it immediately and fancied himself still in dream. Only when the smell of burning animal oil hit him and he saw the two blackening flames in the two adjoining lamps made of soapstone that he returned to the strange reality. His eyes wandered. Through an ice-window, which recessed over the tunnel-entrance in the wall of the snow-hut, came the dim luminosity of the outside world. Looking back inside he saw and old Eskimo woman who’d just brought a pot over the flames. Behind her stood up the girl on a lounger who’d helped him and Recke prepare the bedding with the old man. Her upper body, brighter than her weather-marked face, was naked and her full breasts betrayed both youth and maturity. She was only beginning to get dressed. As if she’d felt the eyes of the guest resting on her, she turned her face to him and smiled broadly.
At that moment the old man looked up to him and said a few words in the Netsilik tongue, which he didn’t understand. But she pointed to the pot and made the gesture of eating. Reimer was somewhat suspicious and hesitated to show his acknowledgement.
“Of course we want something to eat!” came from Recke’s bedding. The Kasseler was now fully awake and sniffed, “It seems we’ve landed ourselves in a wild land…”
The Netsilik woman had not the words, but she understood fully the sense of the ones Recke had spoken. She immediately picked up a small tin cup, which might have been left behind by a whaler or seaman once in exchange for their furs, and moved to fill it with sluggish, smelling food.
The Linzer warned, “Watch out – here comes the liver soup!”
“Uhhh… ahhh!” made the Kasseler, horrified, and quickly turned to face the wall, again falling into the sleep position. As a precaution Reimer followed his example, in order to not hurt the people with rejection.
Again, time passed. The two pilots began to doze off against their will once again. Only a renewed, increasing noise kept them up. They were still drowsy. This time, apart from the two Eskimo women, crouched huddled the chief and two other men as well around the oil lamps. They talked and gesticulated eagerly, often turning around to the strangers. As they saw the two were awake, the chief stood up at once and came to Reimer.
“It’s good that you’re awake! The Angätkoq is here and wants to see you.”
Reimer and Recke saw with curiosity a tall Eskimo, wearing a strange belt which hung from a strip of caribou skin. He also came closer, driven by curiosity. Now they could see that he had a headband made from the peritoneum of the same animal from which dangled small strands of beads down to his nose. It seemed a bit odd and gave the man a certain effeminate air. Had he not been wearing a walrus-mustache and a shaggy tuft of locks at his chin, no doubt he would’ve been taken by unknowing guests for a woman. The clothing above all showed no special differences between the sexes. Behind him huddled two hot-headed dogs forwards.
“Qingmima kavnah! Back, dogs!” the shaman shooed the host’s dogs back harshly. He then grinned at the guests and asked, “You have a good magic! But why was the giant eagle burnt?”
The chief translated.
Reimer looked at Recke, “What should we tell him…?”
“Leave it to me!” With a straight face he continued in English in Reimer’s place, “The old giant eagle was burned and with it a new eagle has flown off. He’s coming back soon and will take us up!”
“Avayaja…!” cried the Eskimos. The shaman nodded solemnly and added, “This is surely a great magic.”
The airmen jumped up and pulled the warm furs back. While they answered another series of questions, they slipped into their flight-suits which gave them only partial heat. The shiny zippers aroused the amazement of the people.
The guns the officers had strapped unobtrusively under the combination suits. On the other hand the machine guns were very much in the open.
“The Angätkoq asks if those are weapons,” the chief repeated.
“Ja,” said the Kasseler. Precautiously he pulled the gun up close to him and gave Reimer a sign to do the same, “It’d be good if we gave them a little something to distract their attention. These guys might look docile, but what do I know about Eskimos? We didn’t learn anything about these Schneeneger in school.”
“Me neither,” confessed the Linzer, “We could safely leave them the two chairs and some of our tools. That should have a special value for them!”
Recke found this offer excellent. Immediately he told the old man that he and the shaman would receive one chair as a gift each. Tools they would also look towards later and even leave them behind.
“Picaivoq, picaivoq!” they laughed happily.
They fingered the seats thoroughly to make themselves familiar with their new property. Without their joy seeming to diminish, Aglumaloqâq said, “These sleds are very beautiful, but very small.” He’d seen the strangers carrying their stuff on the seats and had taken them for transportation equipment.
Recke took up a seat, brushed the fur lining and covering away with his foot to the ground, and heaved the chair with all his strength, the pivot pin downward, into the soil. For a moment he stood straight, then he fell. The ground was frozen too hard. But still his performance of strength made an impression and the Netsilik had understood. Busily the old man scratched a pit with a Bonn tool until the chair could stand. Prideful he sat down and then leaned back, as if accustomed to this piece already. He had a quick mind.
The shaman was more leisurely. He sat down against the back-rest to test it out and rested his upped body on the seat surface. The backward, off-standing pivot looked as if it were the fastening piece of an bottled man.
Amidst all this curious primitiveness the seat-parts worked so strangely to the Netsilik men that the two flyers simultaneously broke into laughter. The crass change in their whole situation, and the fact of having been completely ripped away from of a service in the habitual monotony of a closely-guarded everyday, caused the feeling that let them look at everything as a comical farce.
The Netsilik took the hilarity as a sign of a particularly good mood and were happy about it. With a call from the old man came renewed his wife with the battered tin cup and offered it as food. Perplexed and secretly appalled the two officers looked.
Reimer was the first to reach for it.
“What is it?” he asked their host.
“Blood-soup with seal meat!”
“Ah,” replied the Linzer and heaved his eyes extatically. He handed the bowl to his companion and rushed away, without waiting for the objection, to the packs they’d brought. He dug out a stick of caffeinated chocolate that had come with them, ripped open their wrappers and broke them into several pieces.
“Here… here!!” He gave some to the old one, the shaman and the two women. The rest he kept for himself. The Netsiliks attacked it greedily. First they smelled it, then wolfed them down. Reimer also ate a piece while Recke slipped out of the igloo with remarkable haste. He’d had to eat the soup during Reimer’s excursion and felt miserable from his reluctant and refined stomach. A few steps behind the snow-hut he vomited.
Then he felt lighter. The cold, pure air freed him from his stupor. Had he brought his fur cap, he could’ve remained for a while in the open. It was only the frost that drove him back in. He then noticed a group of Eskimos standing before the hut, who were waiting with understandable curiosity at the return and report of the shaman who took his time inside. With begging gestures they stretched out their hands, “Tabacco – tabak…”
They all knew the English word for this stimulant. One of them stepped forward and spoke brokenly, “You – give tobacco – I lend woman…”
With a surge of Eskimo words the other men invaded, women also pressing forward.
Recke declined and showed them his empty hands apologetically. Nevertheless, it seemed the people didn’t want to believe him. He thus fled back into the igloo.
Reimer welcomed him immediately, “I took advantage of the good mood of the kayakers and assured us their help. We have to start designing a clear flight-marker for Gutmann, immediately. And so we’ll put the wing piece with the… Balkan cross to good service. We need to finish this already!”
“That’s all good,” said Recke, “But watch out, Herbert – the guys outside want to trade their women for tobacco…”
“How do you know about tobacco?” the Linzer asked the old man.
“Oh, tobacco!” the Eskimo rolled his eyes, “Tobacco from the white men in the giant, smoking kayaks! They give us tobacco and take our women off in their ships. Are you also here for business? Give me a roll of tobacco – you can take my daughter Ubloriasukshuk for yourself. There – Ubloriasukshuk – Evening Star!”
The buxom girl with the mischievous narrow eyes had understood the words tabak and her name being said. She promptly came to Reimer and stood beside him, “Eh, eh?”
“Later,” Reimer told the chief. He wanted to gain time and said therefore, “First the work. Making the sign for the giant eagle!”
“Uh… yes, yes!”
The officers zipped up their suits, put on their lined hoods and took up their weapons as precaution, “All done!”
They crawled after each other into the open, where the chief ruled the surrounding Eskimos into quiet and bade them to come along. The wing piece with the white-outlined cross was loaded into a sled and accompanied by two others, the men walking up the slope of the coast to reach the plateau.
The biting cold has eased. The violent storm had in its aftermath had a small alleviation so that the pilots felt a winter temperature familiar, usual, like back home. A view out to the see taught them that the pressures of the wind-swept waters had accelerated a drift in the wake so that the wider waterways and flows had been torn. The darker colors left a friendlier turquoise. A small lightening of the heavens also came about.
The men soon came to a halt. Still they were close to the village but not too far away from the crash sight. “Here we’ll mark an arrow!” voiced Reimer. He took a can half-full from the accompanying slides and spilled the contents across the snow floor in the shape of an arrow. Igniting a wad of paper, he threw it into the fuel.
The fire jumped with a sudden flush. The Eskimos sprang fearfully backwards. Like a warm foehn it followed the suddenly heated air. The melted snow beneath the fuel-arrow hissed and vaporized. What was left was the charred scar in the ground in the shape of an arrow in the direction of the nearby settlement. At the opposite end of the point the men put the wing piece. The piece of alloy metal with the cross stood out well against the white surface and as a whole showed a highly visible and perfect flying mark. In the short time of Gutmann’s arrival, in all likelihood it would hardly come to be covered up by a new layer of snow. The Eskimos assured that, though their might be storms, little snow would be expected at the time.
“Giant eagle will soon pick you up,” the Aglumaloqâq comforted his guests, “Earlier not, but now they come so often…”
“Canadian Weather Squadrons, of course!” Recke agreed to Reimer, “If only they won’t get here before Gutmann does. Then come new complications…”
“I hope Gutmann gets here earlier. He wouldn’t leave us in such a pinch.”
“Under circumstances he could be here in a matter of hours,” the Kasseler looked at his watch, “It stopped…”
“Mine too!” annoyed the Linzer shook his head, “At these latitudes you can barely distinguish the night from the day. As it is, we have to be extremely careful that we can give Gutmann the right signal at the right time when he comes buzzing over.”
“Heavens!” Recke hit his head, “I didn’t think of the flare gun when we were cleaning the plane!”
“Therefore I,” Reimer said dryly, “Pistols with signal flares. We’d need only to shoot a rocket into the fuel-decked aircraft instead of patiently burning a soaked line. We’d have prompt fireworks, but it would cost us a rocket, and we only have a few. In a situation like ours you can never know…”
“Good, at least one of us is in their right mind. Otherwise – two brains can think better than one.”
Then they went back to the small village. The huskies moved the men squatting in the carts down into the lowlands. Their throats steamed during the brisk pull.
Again in the the village, Reimer spoke to Aglumaloqâq, “You need to keep a man outside at all times to keep on the lookout. We’ll give you a beautiful gift when we leave!”
“Eh, eh!” He gave the nearest kinsmen the appropriate instructions. In the middle of the conversation one of the men cried out suddenly, “Ahrluk, ahrluk…!” With an outstretched arm he pointed to the sea. All eyes followed in direction. Far out, between vast, sporadic floes, a number of dark bodies darted through the turquoise waves. Cetaceous animals, with long-pointing dorsal fins, which like swords cut through the air.
The airmen looked at Aglumaloqâq, “Ahrluk – killer whales!” he explained, “Very bad. They attack everything!...”
“Interesting,” said the Kasseler to Reimer, “In Vernäs we only saw herrings…”
The Netsilik watched the creatures. The chief said, “A shame, the white men aren’t whaling here. With a big harpoon gun…” He shrugged his shoulders regrettably.
At the old one’s hut, the pilots looked to the home of the Netsilik people with increased attention. Their igloos were scattered under the protection of the coastal slope and all had the same strange entrance of a low, ascending tunnel. Every one of them had a sunken window of ice which proved to be well translucent. Only Aglumaloqâq’s igloo had the previously seen caribou skull attached as decoration. Before some of the hut stood poles from which sporadically hung hides and skins. As they inspected a strange fencing closer, they were amazed to see great, frozen fish stretched upside down in a row in the snow. They were salmons half a man high. Everything was simply, mostly primitive but nevertheless useful. Next to the row of salmon there lay some tilted kayaks. They were long and narrow, cleanly made from caribou skin. Two of them had cantilevered beams on both sides, so that as transport kayaks they couldn’t flip over. These were the boats with which the Eskimos undertook many long trips.
Everywhere whining or growling dogs were roaming around. Every now and then one slipped into the upward tunnels to warm themselves in an igloo. As Reimer and Recke crept behind Aglumaloqâq into his hut and the shaman had toddled off, the chief’s dogs also followed.
This time other guests were here. Besides the woman and the daughter of the old man were a young couple who grinned friendly and moved aside to make space.
“Erneq Katsarsuk – my son Katsarsuk!” said Aglumaloqâq proudly, “I have five sons. This is the fourth son with his wife!”
The loneliness in these latitudes brought with it the fact that the Eskimos showed more sense of community as the space-poor culture of nations, which coveted every inch of ground and every possession. They hunted collectively and shared the spoils, helped each other out, so that an entire tribe lived like a family.
Still, it was a barbaric life they led. They killed some of the newborn girls by strangulation not to have any useless eaters during periodic, upcoming times of need. They gave the old of the folk as much as they gave the healthy and they were able to do without the diplomatic. They did all of this in a way that was to them natural and understandable, differing only through the simplicity of their methods from civilized people; among which brilliantly decorated hands moved the wheel of the newest super car while people starved in rags at the nearest street corner. There the social strata called for far more victims as than demanded the hard nature of a hard, fighting people. The two pilots learned all of this as they were left curtly by Aglumaloqâq a depiction of the life of his family and his people. And the comparisons made by a socially enlightened thinking led to the conclusion that these people acted ignorant and barbaric because of their low level of development while civilization worshiped mass-murder from gluttony and lust.
Even when Recke and Reimer didn’t try to adjust to Eskimo thinking, they grasped yet the pride of the old one about the capable son. Katsarsuk himself told with zeal how he’d already speared thirty seals this winter under their breathing holes in the ice. It was certainly, as could be seen by the description, a good number in hunting. That gave much meat and oil for the heating lamps.
This time the captains couldn’t avoid with rejection the food that was once again offered. Only the fact that the trip undertaken to the fight marker had awakened their appetites and that the cold brought with it a natural need of fats facilitated their acceptance. They were fortunate that the blood soup with the strong smell had already been eaten up. Thus they had to be content to be satisfied with seal meat. With death-defiance they snaked down a few scraps.
“We can expect Gutmann by the hour now!” Recke gave his companion with casual understanding, “I’m somewhat restless from the strange circumstances of our existence.”
It seemed as if Recke possessed a sixth sense. This reliable instinct was something only children of nature like him usually possessed wherever there was imminent danger. A similar thing happened to Reimer, even if he didn’t want to admit it. The Kasseler was about to rise to go outside to watch for the incoming plane when all the animals in the settlement began to throw themselves violently. Even Aglumaloqâq’s dogs crawled, nagging, outside. Before the ice window shadows scurried past and the plodding of of seal-skin boots showed haste.
Ready to crawl out of the exit, they hear before the entry way a man calling in, “Pingasut qablunait…!”
“Three white men!” the old one translated, and he got up nimbly, “Maybe there’s a ship in the area…”
The officers looked to each other. Almost simultaneously they reached for their weapons, Reimer took the flare gun with its ammunition out of the pack and they followed the crawling chief. The whole tribe was ready on their feet. Like shy mutton the children pressed themselves around the adults and with round, tilted eyes looked northwards where three sled teams with two men each ran up to.
“It couldn’t be Gutmann. Neither the first or second…” Reimer concluded unspoken.
The men who approached were foreign. One of them had a gun on him, the others appeared unarmed. On each slide they could pick out and Eskimo and a white man. Panting, gasping, the teams descended into the village. The German officers immediately attracted the attention of the strangers. In their clean, leather jump-suits they stood out conspicuously from the crowd of Netsilik people standing around in their bulky fur clothing.
“Heavens!” said the first man, who jumped from the halted sled, “Police flyers here?”
“No,” said Reimer cautiously. He decided to speak little so as not to give attention to his lacking pronunciation or accent.
“How did you get here?” the man asked further. He and his two companions were visibly surprised to come across whites here.
“Sky,” said Reimer curtly.
“So it seems,” quipped the man, “You seem to be lazy in the mouth.”
The Eskimos formed a curious circle around the group. Excitedly they spied the development of a meeting of white men who were foreign to each other.
“Where are you from?” asked the Linzer in turn, to forestall with reverse questioning.
“There’s not much to be said,” explained the man more readily than his counterpart, “We’re from the whaler Seahorse. We’ve been stuck in some pack ice for while and haven’t been able to get free. The ice trapped our hull quite miserably. Meanwhile it’s just a ball of sheet metal to the fish below.”
He made a gesture of resignation, “The Cap’n is over with twelve men at the Bellow Street. I’m the harpooner and I’m on my way to Port Epwurth at Coronation Gulf with two men per sled. As a whole group we’ll hardly get there. They’re all men of Christian seafaring aren’t accustomed to the harsh country. In this stormy season we’ve gone hungry to the heels. With a threesome accompaniment we have more of a chance to reach the place. I think an airplane can bring our crew food and could get directions from our radio,” with noticeable relief, he added, “The whole thing’s much easier for us now. Since you’re here with a plane...“
“Wait,” warned Reimer, “No hope. Our plane crashed.”
“That’s not a problem either,” the man smiled, two rows of yellow teeth becoming visible from his thickly bearded face, “If either of you are late flight, a whole pack will come looking for you. If that’s the case, it’ll be a beautiful double-rescue!”
The other men stood behind their leader. Between questions Recke gave only an untintelligible hum in response. The pilot had launched out all his restraint towards the newcomers.
“Damned!” their leader suddenly thundered out, “I’m no harpooner and my name’s not Billy Howard if it’s going to go right for you guys. Only ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and nothing else, I’ll swallow a whole whale if you’re trying to pass as Yanks or Canadians!”
“We aren’t those either,” answered Recke calmly, without more particularly to ensure correct pronunciation, “We’re Russian couriers.”
Reimer quickly turned his head sideways to his a surprised laugh. Billy Howard however had already seemed to have been around the world.
“Russians? By Jove, you’ve changed my mind! Until now I’ve never seen one with blonde stubble. Only short, stocky men, almost always dark-haired. Well well…”
Recke turned indifferently to Aglumaloqâq, “These white men here are very hungry. Give them food and shelter so they can rest. You’ll get great gifts!”
“We’ll help them build a snow-house. It goes very quickly,” he called his people to order. They ran away and cam back immediately with long snow-knives in their hands. Together with the three Arvertormiut Eskimos that had come they cut out large bricks from a nearby slope and piled them into a round building which quickly grew into a dome. Two men brought from the beach a small floe which, heated several times, had become thin and transparent so it could be used as an emergency window. Consisting of frozen saltwater, it was much more turbid than the otherwise-employed fresh water ice. Hides and skins the visitors had already brought for the most part. Aglumaloqâq let them take only a caribou skin for laying on. He also introduced to the new guests oil lamps they could use.
The Netsilik people brought the foreigners meat and salmon. Although summer and winter were their main hunting season, this time they’d still had enough supplies that they could give from their reserves, hopeful for receiving useful supplies.
“Recover first!” Recke said patronizingly as the men moved into their new building, “Later we’ll come to talk more!”
“Alright,” the harpooner thanked him curtly. He pushed his musket into the tunnel of the entrance and followed his men.
“I’m in good hands,” chuckled Reimer, “When it really counts, you two, you and Gutmann, are really blessed to have enough noodles in your head. That we’re with the Russians… hahaha!”
He cheerfully clapped his hands at his thighs to that the leather itself clapped, “For the moment we have the guys going. The magnetic pole really does seem to have magnetic powers in every respect. It’s truly the most attractive point in this vast deserted area. Here a newspaper could be starting up soon.”
“I agree with your analysis. Hopefully Gutmann comes before flying season begins!”
But the day passed and Gutmann didn’t come. The unrest in the pilots increased. If something had happened to their companion, then they were in a very nasty situation. Aglumaloqâq had told them of the storm which would be roaring over the land with tremendous force while they slept.
They could do nothing else but practice patience. While the female housemates were working outside, Reimer and Recke lay on their fur-stores and tried to understand Aglumaloqâq’s explanation. Though his vocabulary was very small, one understood his mishmash of language tolerably because he gestured with it eagerly. His English skills has been appropriated during the temporary passing of the whalers. One of heir ships had years ago – in the time of the sun, he said – come and stayed the winter north of here. It was a good time for his people. The women had brought a lot of tobacco back from the ship… He was sorry even that all of his guests were devoid of tobacco rolls. A cigarette offered to him he’d chewed along with the paper and subsequently swallowed.
After a while he told them his guests would be different than the white men that had been here until now. One always had to let them have their way. They would be like little children. Naughty children! – That was Aglumaloqâq’s conviction. It was to him insofar understandable, since the white people were bastards. The Eskimos had once chased out some disobedient and arrogantly-behaving women. They’d then formed a small community far to the south and fathered bastards with dogs. Thus came the qablunait to them from the south and it had only become intelligible to them that these people, as a whole, were arrogant and unteachable. When they were provoked, they murdered…
Aglumaloqâq had no intention of insulting his guests. He gave his knowledge harmlessly and gave his views the best he could, and was happy when the men of the giant eagle showed a cheerful face. As the men told him that they’d never been among Eskimos and knew nothing else about them, he explained to them the hard nature of the lives they led. The good hunting grounds decreased, the herds becoming smaller and less frequent. The whites drove the Indians north, Crees and Chippewyans and Yellowknives sometimes coming to the hunting grounds of the Eskimos and then it came to war. Often times the Indians had guns and the Eskimos were powerless against them.
Earlier, endless suns before, their current living and hunting grounds had been a paradise. Then no one needed to fill up lamps with whale blubber. During these times forests grew at the bottom of the sea and storms ripped the trees loose and threw the trunks everywhere at the coast. There was wood in abundance. The people had mastered magical formulae and knew how to conjure their huts in distance places. Thus they never needed to go hungry. Aglumaloqâq sighed as he painted these pictures. Later the earth had come into contact with a star and a large part of the land was destroyed. An immense flood eradicated all life. Of mankind there remained only two shamans, and of the animals none. The two shamans lived together and one of them had a child. He was a great magician and made himself a woman who, later, also bore a child. Thus woman had stemmed from a shaman. And slowly they repopulated the earth again.
The stories of the old man sounded simple, almost primitive. The greater, therefore, was the astonishment of the two officers as they came across ancient traditions that would’ve been forgotten without books in the civilized world.
“Remember Gutmann’s statements about the Golden Age and the fertile Greenland?” asked Recke suddenly, looking his companion full in the face, “When we were flying over the geographic pole…”
“Certainly! Gutmann explained briefly an Atlantis Theory,” with thoughtful expression Reimer continued, “The short and simple traditions of the Eskimo folk are consistent with the hypothesis. All the knowledge preserved from prehistory had a kernel of truth.”
Recke nodded, “Right. And its strange that traditions among primitive peoples confirm what the current science not always dares to recognize on the basis of their exakt-konstruktiv attitude. Of course it’s not only the conscience but also the dutiful responsibility of scholars; two concepts that often call opposing views for meaning-seeking people in their plans. Naturally in the age of materialism constructionism is always placed before spirituality. That’s probably because too few surviving principles are at hand. And principles are prerequisites for evidence. The difference however is that the fragments, as undeniably existing things – so far as their physical substance – a priori evidence around which the scaffolding of constructionist thinking can be built; however, even older traditions are mostly subject to the personal perspective of the researcher, to be taken as such or as only myths of fairy tales. It’s then understandable that the sparsely surviving traditions are doubted and not always checked carefully. A consequence of constructive criticism is that the wiser will always want the most probable to happen. It’s well known that you can build in different directions. It’s just a matter of opinion. Among primitive peoples one thing is but noticeable: Notwithstanding different layers of culture are preserved traditions whose core is based on real events. Whatever decorations or embellishments were added later on, the core was not destroyed. In a few cases, perhaps distortion. And this ancient wealth of knowledge remains eternally popular, because it is holy. By books on the other hand, entrusted in the materialistic sense with the custody of a thought or knowledge limited to the times, they decay or even become condemned as nonsense in earlier times. And for the simple reason that the books of a materialistic epoch crush the core of the concepts with constructive commentary. Comments of an arrogant, poor time which is an intolerant era as any before.”
“I’m amazed,” interjected the Linzer, “I thought you didn’t waste thoughts on these things, as we thought first during the flight. Your views fully coincide with what I was thinking.”
“I’ve rarely concerned myself with many problems,” Recke candidly confessed, “Although we’re currently under the pressure of extraordinary events, I haven’t come out of my habit of profound reflection. The narrative of the Netsilik man has piqued my interest. Once the war is over…”
“That’ll be a while still, my dear! Even when no one’s firing any longer, the war will still go on in a different form. You don’t need to be a prophet to know this. If Germany falls, only the true chaos will begin. And where chaos reigns, there’s no peace!”
“I know that as well as you do. Nevertheless there should be, ‘if but once’, a small lamp that should light our way through the darkness ahead. That light is also called hope!”
As Aglumaloqâq had told the short story of the early days of his people, he no longer bothered himself with his guests and began to doze off. The ensuing disputes of the white men he didn’t understand. He knew very well that they didn’t speak the language of the qablunait from the south, but it was the same to him what tribe his guests may have belonged to. While they lapsed into silence and indulged in their own thoughts, he got up slowly and prepared to leave the igloo. At that moment Ubloriasukshuk appeared from the tunnel entrance.
They spoke a few words in their Netsilik tongue, strange to the ear, and Aglumaloqâq translated, “The white men in the new igloo are awake. They ask if there are still usable things at the giant eagle that crashed. They want to visit the place!”
“That’s completely unnecessary. You saw for yourselves that the giant eagle was burnt. You’ve already taken away any metal that seemed useful to you,” Recke told the Eskimos.
“Eh, eh,” nodded the old one, “Nevertheless they hope to find something…”
“I’ll go speak to the myself,” said Reimer deciding shortly. He didn’t wait for an answer but immediately crawled into the open. For better or worse Recke had to follow.
Together they turned their steps to the new snow-house before which the last arrivals appeared eager to negotiate with some Netsilik men. Of the three Avertormiuts there was only one standing with them.
Reimer began to speak, “If you still hope to find something at the remains of the aircraft, you’re wro–” He stopped suddenly as the men looked at him surprised. Their brows frowned and Howard, who was holding his gun in his hand, began to slowly raise the weapon. Understanding the cause of this mood swing before Reimer, his companion had taken his pistol free lighting fast.
“Hands up! And down with the rifle. Down!” As Reimer also instinctively pulled his gun up quickly, the three pairs of hands slowly drove into the air. Howard angrily bared his teeth and slid the flint gently to the ground along a slightly-bent leg, “Damned Germans!”
While the Eskimos still stared blankly and couldn’t understand the procedure, Recke took up the foregone weapon quickly. Without letting the men out of sight he explained, “We blockheads haven’t shown them our flight-suits. Now the guys have seen them with the officer tabs on the collars. That these aren’t pajamas or Russian uniforms, they know full well, of course. It’s no big deal then that their eyes grew so big!” After a brief survey of the prisoners, he asked, “Are you soldiers?”
Again Howard was the leader of the speakers. Surly he replied, “We’ve already said that we’re sailors!”
“I know. I would merely have that confirmed again. We don’t want to wage war on civilians.”
“It’s very simple, misters! You could pull away from here if you were sufficiently equipped. And you could go hunting with your guns!” Surprised Howard and his people looked at the two officers.
“Don’t look so dumb!” the Kasseler said comfortably, “We’re not ghosts or monsters. Where people are threatened by nature, it’s our duty to help! The war doesn’t change that. Understand?”
“Yes,” the response was hesitant and suspicious. Recke wanted to add a few words when he suddenly felt one of the stray dogs nudging him several times for the muzzle. He saw how the other dogs were dabbing Reimer, the Canadians and many of the Eskimos and then craned their heads skywards as if to attract their attention to something.
“Takuvah, takuvali – seqine! Look, look – a sun!!!” shouted the Eskimos, excitement showing think the air. The whites looked high up too while the dogs could be heard whining joyfully and jumping around excitedly. High above them, under the grey expanse of the twilight Arctic sky, rotated an orange-flickering disk. As quickly as an arrow it had appeared on the horizon and remained just above the small settlement. The appearance did look like a small sun and radiated an intense light to the earth which broke out like a dancing fire-spook onto the ice floes of the coast.
More and more Eskimos were brought to the group of beholders, lured by the diligently reporting dogs. Suddenly the shaman stood in the middle of the gathering. His eyes were mixed with a strange expression of rapture and transfiguration at the quietly persisting disk. Around him the tribesmen formed a ring to prevent the snarling and growling dogs. Reimer and Recke observed closely the peculiar behavior of the animals and of the shaman. It seemed as if the dogs were subject to a higher transfer, which they instinctively obeyed, to force the people into a circle. The calmness in the shaman lasted only a few moments. Then he suddenly began to dance. Around him sat, as well as in the inner circle, a ring of dogs which looked with crooked heads to his grotesque movements. A middle circle was made with the five whites and again a number of dogs formed a third ring.
“Strange,” murmured Reimer and looked at Recke, who nodded.
“By God, this is no circus…”
Ever wilder waxed the dance of the shaman. His face showed ecstasy and his legs stomped on the ground as if beating a drum. The eyes of the onlookers wandered incessantly to the bright glowing disk, then back to the dancing man in the middle.
The hands of the shaman twitched as if longing for the disk, which rotated constantly without changing its place. Long ago had the hood slipped from his head and his forehead-beads were strewn in the snow. Sweat ran from his oily face and his chin hair trembled. So great was the excitement that no sound was audible.
The hanging strips of caribou skin that adorned his belt flew like the cables of a carousel. Ever faster, ever more grotesque was the dance. Then – the tension almost unbearable, he tore from himself the fur clothing from his body with a sudden movement, which induced then an almost supernatural force. Piece by piece, until he was in a state of ecstasy, stark naked his figure continued to dance, ever more and more passing into a belly dance; already largely exhausted, he gradually limited himself to movements that betrayed a decidedly erotic nature. They didn’t seem obscene however. Still stood the disk in the sky and still twitched the body of the man in a trance. The pounding steps were slower. Then – the bystanders feeling an increasing cold coming down – the shaman suddenly threw up his arms on one last effort.
“Nulliajuk – Mistress!” he cried with a bestial shriek. Then be broke altogether as if hit by something.
Horrified the whites and the Eskimos saw that the shaman was dead. Their gazes moving to the disk, they saw now that it had lowered deeper and showed a blood-red coloration. While perplexity and astonishment still reflected in all their faces, a golden glow from the strange materialization drove over them down to the dead man, and as it were establishing a connection between the body and the disk.
“Takuvah…” murmured the Eskimos shyly, “Look, look…”
Immediately thereafter the disk rose steeply upwards, where it changed in color to an intense yellow and disappeared north again flying behind the jagged white ridges of the land. While the dogs stared after the vanishing phenomenon in a crouching position, the Eskimos in the rows fell to their knees and raised their hands up following a visible instinctual ritual as they spoke a prayer of reverence. The two officers and the Canadians as well felt a strange feeling like they weren’t masters here.
As the spell of this strange event began to slowly move away and the Netsilik people whispered shyly, the chief of the clan walked into the center ring and bent over the dead. The murmurs died down and all around the bystanders waited for what the old one would do. Aglumaloqâq took up the naked body at which he spoke soft words which none of them could understand. The flesh of the dead showed no pressure sores and seemed to be, contrary to the slow onset of rigor, already frozen solid.
Recke brought his mouth to Reimer’s ear and whispered, “This whole thing is plenty strange. You could even thing we’d been hypnotized. This stiffness…” He made a motion as if wanting to get to the middle of the ring, but Reimer stopped him.
“Tusarpah – listen!” called the old man, righting himself, “The Angätkoq died of a magical death and his body is enchanted.” Turning to the white guests, he said his words in broken English, “The soul of the Angätkoq is raised and followed the Great Mother – Nuliajukanahnaq!”
With an imperious gesture Aglumaloqâq shooed the dogs away which had gathered around the corpse. Reluctantly and baring they moved about a foot away. Then he gave the men of the tribe, in a key easy to recognize, a short command. What happened next shocked the white guests so much that they turned away with a shudder. The Netsilik people crept into the surrounding igloos and came back with knives and axes to dismember the rigid body according to the instructions of the chief. Then they picked up the pieces and the limbs to carry them in several directions from the spot. Growling and whining followed the packs of dogs.
“What’s the matter,” asked Reimer softly to Howard who lingered next to him, “What does this all mean?”
The Canadian looked behind him upset to the already divergent group and answered readily, “About that thing I can’t say anything. At first I thought it was another one of your damn inventions. But not only is that it, but also the extremely strange behavior of the people here. This isn’t my first time with a whaler and I know half-way the customs of the Eskimo folk. And I know that if one of them dies they adhere to strict funeral ceremonies, which are quite different than what was just seen. They keep their dead by burying them like other peoples. Before a funeral they hold various rites. They may not clean or comb, ride sleds or even feed their dogs. They grieve like other people. But this here – horrible…!”
One of the Canadians confirmed Howard’s details, “My name’s not Boissart if this doesn’t seem like dog feeding more than a burial. And moreover that the dead man’s a shaman. I’m also not a novice here, but this reversal of their customs I’ve never seen, nor heard tell.”
“We should withdraw provisionally into the igloos and leave the Netsiliks alone,” Reimer suggested.
“I have concerns,” warned Recke, “If these people are acting contrary to their usual nature, it’s unwise to leave the three Canadians defenseless without weapons alone.” He spoke in English so the others could understand him.
Howard waved casually, “We’re not in any danger ourselves. Their prestige of the white man is too great…” He calmly turned and walked toward the igloo designed for them. His companions nodded, threw a glance at the Eskimos standing around and crawled behind Howard into the dwelling.
The officers pocketed their handguns. They had clammy hands from holding the weapons throughout the strange occurrence. Recke took his comrade’s arm lightly, “I can’t let go of the idea that just a week ago the casino in Trondheim was our only diversion from supply service and now a capricious fate’s swirling around us. It must be like Gutmann said, that there’d be additional dangers and tasks. What can we expect to come now?”
“Sentimental?” the question was without ridicule.
“Not at all! If Aglumaloqâq hadn’t just come to us, I would’ve still believed it was all a dream!”
The old man walked in the company of his family to the guests. With a straight face he said, “The Great Mother has called our Angätkoq to her. He’s left no apprentice as successor and his son was torn by a bear. The tribe was honored by the appearance of Nuliajukanahnaq, but it’s bad to be without a shaman. I must consult with the elders of my people. It would be best if you go alone in the igloo for a while. If the giant eagle comes, I’ll call you right away!”
Reimer and Recke merely nodded. As they followed the prompt request they found themselves accompanied by the woman and daughter of the chief while he alone went off to visit a group of older men standing off to the side.
The thinking of the Eskimo women wasn’t as complicated as that of their men. They’d been well impressed by the appearance of the bright disk, but in the manner of all primitive people they never forgot the most obvious things. So it was understandable when Ubloriasukshuk ventured to ask inside te igloo with a coquettish smile, “Tobacco? Achiugaunga…”
“Neither tobacco nor… gaunga,” said Recke. He’d guessed on a feeling that the Eskimo word was a friendly call. “We want peace!” Uncomprehendingly the girl looked at the white men. Sullen and worried about Gutmann’s absence, they threw themselves onto the fur stacks.