Ikraluk! The name has a cherished sound to the Eskimos, for this fish is their favorite. Fish, of course, is one of the basic foods of the Inuit. They eat it any old way--raw, frozen, dried, or even cooked. It is fed to the dogs, in certain camps, almost as their only food, meat being reserved for humans.
January 1, 1951
Inuk - Our Daily Bread - Arctic Style
"Our Daily Bread" -- Arctic Style
It was after the Offertory. The celebrant (your humble servant) was gravely extending his hands toward the lavabo when his altar boy, a wrinkled old Eskimo, late for Mass and quite out of breath, rushed in just in time to catch the cruet. But his mind was obviously not on the ceremony, and while he poured out the water he said, "Falla, tikitoan--ataoserartoame!?..."Father, they have arrived. I got one!"
I was excited myself. For what he meant was that the fish had arrived, the fish of fish, the fish par excellence--Ikraluk, a spotted sea trout with pink flesh, properly called Arctic trout, but here always called salmon. Ikraluk! The name has a cherished sound to the Eskimos, for this fish is their favorite. Fish, of course, is one of the basic foods of the Inuit. They eat it any old way--raw, frozen, dried, or even cooked. It is fed to the dogs, in certain camps, almost as their only food, meat being reserved for humans.
Naturally, here, as elsewhere, the fishing used to be better. What angler doesn't tell you of the days when the fish in his favorite lake or stream were so plentiful they almost walked out of the water into you arms?
The Copper Eskimos still talk with dreamy melancholy of the good old days, when the whole camp trekked to the river in the spring, each man, woman, and child carrying his quote of rocks with which to build an artifical shallow in the stream, a little lake easily closed behind the fish, which were swimming upstream. When the trap was filled with salmon, everyone lept into the shallow water, splashing, yelling, striking out with spears and harpoons. It was a real old-fashioned bloody massacre, the kind of thing that would appeal to the Eskimo's temperament.
Sometimes, instead of building the stone trap, they simply rigged a weir across the river, leaving a few narrow openings through which the fish would be forced to swim. At each opening a man would be waiting, a sharp, three-pronged spear in his hands, and as the salmon, driven by age-old instinct to seek the spawning ground up river, passed through the holes they were slaughtered by the hundreds. And beside the falls--especially at Coppermine, at Bloody Falls--the Eskimos watched the glittering salmon gallantly attempting his final leap. With a catapulting blow of his powerful tail he soared from the spume in a sparkling arc, gaining the swift water above, swimming ecstatically upstream. But not for long. A spear was waiting for him just beyond the falls.
Here on Victoria Island the Inuit still like to try their skill with the three-pronged harpoon, but when they do it is usually for sport, or in desperation. Habitually, nowadays, the Eskimos use the fish nets of the white man, for nets are more practical and catch more fish faster.
Right beside the Eskimos, in the streams, along the rapids, and in the sea itself, the missionary spreads his own nets, emulating St. Peter. When the fish are running in true Arctic fashion, each venture to the fishing grounds yields a silver harvest that nearly fills our canoes. On the beach, sharpening their oloos--V-shaped knives much like the old-fashioned curved nut choppers--the women wait. As soon as the catch is ashore they begin, filleting the fish quickly and expertly. Each fish is placed on a wooden board, and a quick slash of the oloo cuts into the flesh at the gills, and in a second, with two flashing movements of the knife, the job is done. All that is left on the broad is the head and entrails of the fish, still attached to the main vertebrae. Blood flows, heads, guts and bones pile up, and long lines of fresh plump fish hang out in the sun to dry. The women bend ot their work, arms and hands streaming with blood, bowels, and offal, pausing only momentarily to lick their fingers or toss into their mouths some choice meat or a handful of fish eggs. During this bloody work the women laugh, loudly and continuously, reminding one of the sanguinary shrews who sat at the food of the guillotine during the French Revolution.