Historical Events

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An Eskimo man tells a story of how he broke the law by not sharing a large bearded seal to his community after he single-handedly killed and butchered it and warns Stefansson to avoid selfish ways.

May 5, 1911

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 17

Religion
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

When he got near he told me that he knew already who I was, and that very likely I knew who he was, for he was a man so much more unfortunate than other men that the story of his misfortune had traveled to distant places. No doubt I had heard the story, he said, but nevertheless he would tell it to me himself so that I might know it from his own lips and take warning from it and tell my friends to do the same. 


Many years ago his house had been standing by itself some distance from the village, but from where he stood beside the seal-hole watching for the seal to come up he could see several other hunters out sealing. The seal, when it came, proved to be a bearded one, but being a strong man he had been able to hold it and to kill it. Without any assistance he had with his ice pick enlarged the breathing-hole enough to pull the animal out. ( It was no mean feat, seeing that a bearded seal will weigh from six hundred to eight hundred pounds. ) Up to this time he had not thought of the other hunters, but now he looked around and saw that they were all far away, and while distinctly visible he felt sure that none of them had any idea what kind of a seal he had caught. ( The hunters' law does not require that the hunters within sight be summoned to share at the cutting up of a common small seal. ) When a bearded seal is killed all the hunters within view must be called in to share the prize. It had occurred to him that by keeping the thing secret (by pretending this was a common seal), he might keep the animal to himself, and especially the skin, for he knew that he could sell pieces of it to a neighboring tribe who seldom catch bearded seals, for numerous articles of value. Accordingly he secretly cut the animal up, gave out the story that he had killed only a small seal, and pledged his wife to secrecy; but the story leaked out as such stories will. People came to him and took away from him both the skin and the meat and reproached him bitterly. He now repented his act and felt crushed by the disapproval of his people, but his punishment was to be made even heavier, for within a year he began to lose his eyesight and in another year he was stone blind. Since then he, poor miserable man, had been blind and a charge upon the community. Thus it was sure to go with those who did wicked things; and while he felt sure that I was a good man, nevertheless to know his story would do me no harm, and he wished I would pass it on to others, warning them to avoid selfish ways. 


I had never heard this tale before, but Natkusiak told me later he had heard it from the Eskimo we had been with the previous summer. After this occurrence, whenever we told that we had visited this particular village, we were always asked whether we had seen the blind man, and then the story would be repeated to us, exactly as the blind man had told it, to illustrate how punishment comes to those who break the law