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Historical Event

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January 1, 1951

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Father Buliard encounters a sorcerer named Komayak who was trying to make the weather improve by dealing with a dead hunter's spirit.






Roger Buliard


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Another sorcerer, one Komayak, could not only shot himself with impunity, but do other, more fearsome tricks. He would cause a geyser of boiling water to shoot up through the floor of the snowhouse; then, with certain cabalistic gestures, cut off his leg at the knee and toss it negligently into the jet of scalding water. It remained there for a time, suspended by the water; then Komayak muttered another incantation and retrieved it, putting it back onto his body as neatly as you would button your coat. "Eh, now!" he would say, "How's that?" and permit others to feel for themselves.

By the time I reached the Arctic, Komayak was growing old and his powers were waning. He no longer shot himself, and had given up doing the leg trick with the boiling water, but he was still regarded with healthy respect and quite feared. One dark November night, when a furious wind tore madly at the skin tents and the waves berated the rocky shore, two Eskimo girls sought shelter at the mission, and finally told me with trembling lips that Komayak was having a session. "He is making sorcery, Falla," they said, "and right beside the mission, too."

This was something I wanted to see. I went out into the evil night and approached Komayak's tent with some stealth, intending to eavesdrop on his little seance. I had hardly taken up my station in the cold outside the tent when a voice from within boomed: "Krabloonak manitok!"..."An eyebrow is here!"

In the sickly yellow pall of the stone lamp I saw a ring of Eskimos--Catholics, Protestants, pagans--all staring fixedly at the fur bed where there squatted like a Buddha a man I scarcely recognized as Komayak. His eyes glared, his hands ground fragments of bone, his lips moved, and he uttered sounds that made no sense, seemingly addressed to someone absent. Later I learnt that he was "working" a man who had died a few days earlier. 

I watched him for several minutes, as the trance progressed, and his glazed eyes became more fearsome. Then I called sharply, "Komayak!"

He was silent, then the spell passed off and his face became normal, his eyes lost their glazed look.

"Falla!" he gasped.

His eyes shifted to his rifle, resting on the skins beside him. I moved toward him slowly, attempting to show unconcern, and sat down. "Are you at it again, Komayak?" I asked, a chiding tone in my voice.

"Well no, Falla," he explained. "I've quit the trade, don't you know. But they," indicating the others, "wanted me to try something. You see, with the bad weather we can't go hunting, and it occurred to us that the dead man might just be hanging around somewhere."

They thought that the dead hunter had produced the storm to annoy them, and that if his spirit could be placated, the weather might improve. 

I smiled. "Tell me, Komayak, if you're so smart, why don't you cure your own bandy legs?"

The others laughed at this, and Komayak got mad. Soon the tent was empty and the witchcraft was over for the night. 

The next Sunday, Komayak came to Mass, quite composed. Naturally, my sermon was on sorcery, and I pulled no punches. Komayak listened, his head bowed, and after church he said to me, "Yes, Falla. I cannot do a thing any more. Not a thing."

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The Inuit lived for as long as 10,000 years in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland and likely come from Mongolian Bering-Strait travelers. They ate an all-meat diet of seal, whale, caribou, musk ox, fish, birds, and eggs. Their nutritional transition to civilized plant foods spelled their health demise.
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