Historical Events

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An Eskimo tells Stefansson that it was well known that the Eskimo could raise people from the dead, citing an anecdote, and thus asks "why should we doubt that Christ could do it, too?"

April 1, 1912

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 27

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Biblical Fundamentalism
Christianization
Religion
Eskimo

Another of our Eskimo, Tannaumirk, was considered by his countrymen, the Mackenzie River people, as exceptionally well versed in the truths of the new religion. He was, on the whole, a very sensible boy and a bit philosophical, although not very resourceful or self-reliant in every-day affairs. He liked to have long talks on the whys and wherefores of things. It was during the convalescence of Dr. Anderson from pneumonia at Cape Parry that Tannaumirk and I one day were discussing the religion of his people and mine. "Is it true, ” he asked me, “that Christ was the only white man who could raise people from the dead?” 


“Yes,” I told him, “He was the only one; and some of my countrymen doubt that even He could.” 


Said Tannaumirk: “I can understand how that might easily be so with your countrymen. If Christ was the only white man who could do it, and if you never knew of any one else who could, I can see why you should doubt His being able to do it. You naturally would not understand how it was done. But we Eskimo do not doubt it, because we understand it. We ourselves can raise people from the dead. You know that some years before you first came to the Mackenzie district Taiakpanna died. He died in the morning, and Alualuk, the great shaman, arrived in the afternoon. The body of Taiakpanna was still lying there in the house; Alualuk immediately summoned his familiar spirits, performed the appropriate ceremonies, and woke Taiakpanna from the dead, and, as you know, he is still living. If Alualuk could do it, why should we doubt that Christ could do it, too?” 


This Alualuk referred to by Tannaumirk is a Point Barrow Eskimo living among the Mackenzie people. I have known him for many years, and I also knew Taiakpanna during the winter of 1906–07. He was then an old man, possibly sixty years of age. The spring of 1912, on my way from Langton Bay to Point Barrow, I visited Alualuk's house and stayed there overnight. Among other things, he told me, about as Tannaumirk had related it, the story of how he had waked Taiakpanna from the dead a few years ago, tinued, with evident regret, to the effect that now Taiakpanna had died again last year, and that he had this time been unable to wake him from the dead because he ( Alualuk) had now renounced his familiar spirits and had become a Christian. I asked him whether he could not possibly have summoned back his familiar spirits and awakened Taiakpanna. He said that possibly he might have; he did not know. The spirits had been rather badly offended by his having renounced them in favor of Christianity, and while they might have been willing to return to him again had he summoned them, it was more likely they would not have responded. But any way, he was a Christian now, and he knew it was wicked to employ familiar spirits. For that reason he would not have been willing to undertake to revive Taiakpanna even had he been able. After all, he pointed out to me, Taiakpanna was an old man, and it was time for him to die. He had been converted and had died in the true faith, and no doubt his soul had been saved and was now dwelling in everlasting bliss; and why should he interfere to confer a doubtful benefit on Taiakpanna, especially when it was at the risk of his own salvation ? 


This statement of Alualuk's puts fairly clearly the attitude of his people toward things of the old religion. When the Norsemen accepted Jehovah they did not cease to believe in Thor and Odin, but they renounced them in favor of the higher new God and the preferred new religion. Thor and Odin continued to exist, becoming in the minds of the people the enemies of the new faith and of all who professed it. Just so the Eskimo still believe in all the spirits of the old faith and in all its other facts, and they believe all the Christian teachings on top of that. They have not ceased to have faith in the heathen things, but they have ceased to practice them because they are wicked and lessen one's chances of salvation. The familiar spirits have been renounced, but they still exist, and are in general inimical to the new faith and angry with their former patrons who have renounced them.