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Photo Waiting for the C.D. Howe Pang 1951

A Special Way of Communicating

Abraham Okpik
The supernatural has been with us for a long, long time. Somebody picked it up somewhere. In my mother’s and father’s time, they saw actions performed when people got together to find out where the animals were, and so on. …

Sometimes my grandfather, this is my namesake’s younger brother and his wife, played the drum. All of a sudden the drum would get caught by someone! Then voices started to come out of the handle of the drum…

My grandmother would understand the language that was coming out of the handle. My grandfather was in a séance or trance, and they said it happened all the time! The voices wanted to know who they were, and what house they were in, and whether they were sick, and so on. …Yes, intuition. That’s what they call it, eh? But we do know about the power of suggestion. When you get angry and don’t say anything; our words are more powerful than we think! [It’s] something that kept us alive, that kind of communication, all the way from Siberia to Greenland!
In this chapter, Abe relates a number of anecdotes that illustrate the place of the supernatural in Inuit traditional knowledge. He knows that other cultures have similar experiences.

He tells the story about the death of Dennis Anuktuk, in 1952, when he heard the strange howl of the coyotes—in a region where no coyotes existed. This man said that he “belonged to the coyotes.” Even today, hunters will chant to communicate with the whales, to bring them closer.

Before technology, before telephones, some women had strong premonitions about events and visitors. Abe had a strong experience when he saw a mural of an Inuk in flight, while he was studying in Greenland: he identified strongly with the experience of ilimmaqtuqtuq even though he had never done it personally. This is one of the reasons why it was so easy for the Inuit to understand and embrace the stories in the Bible, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, for example.