Saturday, 16 December

 

Part 2/4:- Return visit to Qaanaaq in 1978

By Pentti Kronqvist, originally in Swedish.

I visited Thule and the Qaanaaq village again two years later, in 1978. I had remembered Ilanguaqs invitation and contacted him in advance. When the helicopter I was traveling in from the Thule base landed, the whole Duneq family showed up to meet me.

They had arranged a small room for me to stay in. The welcome was as friendly and heartfelt as the previous time. The boys in the family had grown. Ilanguaq was in a great mood. The late winter hunting trips had been successful. He had become known in the village as the great Ilanguaq, which in Greenlandic is Ilanguarrhuaq. In a great hunting season, he could catch about 50 seals, 20 walruses and two or three polar bears. Polar bear hunting has been prohibited in the whole polar region since 1973. But in Greenland the hunters are allowed to kill 100 to 150 Polar bears each year, since it is a part of their livelihood.

Ilanguaq decided to visit his old home village Qekertaq. It is located 50 kilometers away in the inner parts of the Inglefield fjord. His boat was a small cutter made of wood. It was a solid boat, about 25 feet long. The engine was a Norwegian Sab diesel with a traveling speed of 5-6 knots.

His youngest son Kale came along. The weather was sunny and beautiful with calm winds. We really enjoyed the trip.

After a four-hour travel, we arrived at the village and continued by foot to Ilanguaqs childhood home. Ilanguaqs father had lived in the house until his death. He was buried in the village cemetery on a small hill outside the village. The house has been abandoned for many years since the death of Ilanguaqs father. It was showing signs of decay.

The small 4-5 family village was quiet in the late evening. Some of the villagers did come out to hear the latest news from Qaanaaq.

On Sunday after the tea breakfast Ilanguaq suggested that we visit the small chapel for a 10:00am worship service. We all made it there in time to listen to the word of God. There were a few people seated in the chapel, amongst them a young woman breastfeeding her baby. The village catechist, an assistant preacher, read a part from a prayer book. The atmosphere was solemn. Lastly a hymn was sung without an instrument. The service ended with a simple ring from the church bell, just as it rang an hour earlier when calling to worship service.

It was a quiet sunny morning and the water in the fiord was calm and flat as a mirror. After leaving the chapel we followed Ilanguaq to his father’s grave site. There on the hill was a small weathered gray wooden cross with no name on it. Ilanguaq sat down on a flat stone in front of the grave, folded his hands and began praying. He spoke quietly to his father, maybe telling him about his family. Or maybe he was telling about the late winter hunting trips. In the old eskimo mythology they believe that the dead are able to hear.

We stayed several days in the village spending the days hunting. This very location and the waters around the Qekertak island are the best for catching narwhals in August when there is no ice cover. Only a few icebergs are seen drifting toward the Arctic Ocean.

Every day we met other hunters from the district who also had great success in their hunts. During these days Ilanguaq shot many seals and a couple narwhals. A narwhal weighs around 2000 kilograms. The whales are brought ashore at high tide, when the water recedes at ebb tide the whales are cut up. Most of the meat is then buried under rocks on the shore, preventing foxes, dogs and polar bears from reaching the meat. The meat is stored there until it is retrieved with dogsleds over the long winter. The permafrost is 500 meters here and never thaws. We brought some of the seal meat home for food for the family and for the sled dogs.

Karen and the middle son Putlaq met us on our return. We worked together bringing the meat on shore. We cut up and hung the seals on a meat rack. The pelts were placed on drying racks. Lastly, the chained-up dogs were fed.

The following day I travelled north to Siorapaluk with another hunter whose name was Avataq. We were going to stay there for a week. We stayed with the old hunter and councilor (bygderåd) Inurtesuaq and his wife Naduk. I received a friendly welcome. I knew them from before when I stayed with them in 1976 on our way to Canada. The pair were in their seventies. Inurtesuaq was known for being a musher (dog sled driver) on Rasmussen’s expeditions in Northern Greenland in the 30’s. For that he had received the title of councilor by the queen of Denmark.

The week went by fast and it was time to return with Avataq to Qaanaaq. The weather had worsened, with strong winds and fog. Avataq decided to travel closer to the shore where the sea was calmer. We made it safely back to Qaanaaq. Now I had two days left of my visit in the village. I spent those days photographing and saying farewell to my friends. Lastly I said goodbye to the Duneq family and promised, as always, to come back.