|The Eskimo Twins|
|by Lucy Fitch Perkins|
|Share the adventures of Menie and Monnie, 5 year-old twins in an Eskimo village, where the villagers have to provide for all their own needs. Their father, Kesshoo, is a brave fisherman and strong hunter and their mother Koolee is clever in making clothing and shoes out of the skins of the animals which he brings home. We watch the twins as they spot a polar bear while coasting on their sleds, then join with the villagers in the sharing of the meat and the feasting afterwards. Among the other activities they enjoy are ice fishing, building a snow house, hunting for seals, and traveling by boat to their summering ground where they catch salmon to dry for the winter. Children are captivated by the humor and playfulness in this community where the winter night lasts for four long months! Ages 6-8 |
HE moment the sun had gone out of sight all the people in the
village came pouring out of their tunnels on their way to the
feast at Kesshoo's house.
Kesshoo's house was so small that it seemed as if all the people
could not possibly get into it.
But the Eskimos are used to crowding into very small spaces,
indeed. Sometimes a man and his wife and all his children will
live in a space about the size of a big double bed.
First the Angakok came out of his igloo, looking fatter than
ever. The Angakok always found plenty to eat somehow. Both his
wives were thin. Their faces looked like baked apples all brown
 When they reached Kesshoo's house, the Angakok went into the
Now I can't tell you whether he had grown fatter during the five
days, or whether the entrance had grown smaller, but this much I
know: the Angakok got stuck! He couldn't get himself into the
room no matter how much he tried! He squirmed and wriggled and
twisted, until his face was very red and he looked as if he would
burst, but there he stayed.
Other people had crawled into the tunnel after him. His two wives
were just behind. Everybody got stuck, of course, because no one
could move until the Angakok did. He was just like a cork in the
neck of a bottle.
Kesshoo and Koolee and the twins and Nip and Tup were all in the
igloo. When they saw the Angakok's face come through the hole
they thought, of course, the rest of him would come too. But it
didn't, and the Angakok was mad about it.
"Why don't they build igloos the way they used to?" he growled.
 the tunnels get smaller and smaller! Am I to remain
here forever?" he went on. "Why doesn't somebody help me?"
Kesshoo and Koolee seized him under his arms. They pulled and
pulled. The two wives pushed him from behind.
"I-yi! I-yi!" screamed the Angakok. "You will scrape my skin
He kicked out behind with his feet. His wives backed hastily, to
get out of the way. That made them bump into Koko's mother who
was just behind them. Her baby was in her hood, and when she
backed, the baby's head was bumped on the roof of the tunnel.
The baby began to roar. In the tunnel it sounded like a clap of
thunder. The wives of the Angakok and Koko's mother all began to
talk at once, and with that and the baby's crying I suppose there
never was a tunnel that held so much noise. It all came into the
igloo, and it sounded quite frightful. The twins crept into the
farthest corner of the sleeping bench and watched their father
and mother and the
 Angakok, with their eyes almost popping out of
Nip and Tup thought they would help a little, so they jumped off
the bench; and barked at the Angakok. You see, they didn't know
he was a great medicine man. They thought maybe he ought not to
be there at all.
Nip even snapped at the Angakok's ear!
That made the Angakok more angry than ever. He reached into the
 Nip with one hand and flung him up on to the
sleeping bench. Nip lit on top of Menie. Nip was very much
surprised, and so was Menie.
Now, whether the jerk he gave in throwing Nip did it or not, I
cannot say, but at that instant Kesshoo and Koolee both gave a
great pull in front. At the same moment the two wives gave a
great push behind, and the next moment after that, there was the
Angakok, still red, and still angry, sitting on the edge of the
sleeping bench in the best place near the fire!
Then his two wives came crawling through. The Angakok looked at
them as if he thought they had made him stick in the tunnel, and
had done it on purpose, too. The wives scuttled up on to the
sleeping bench, and got into the farthest corner of it as fast as
The women and children always sat back on the bench at a feast.
When Koko's mother came in, the baby was still crying. She
climbed up on to the bed with him, and Menie and Monnie showed
 him the pups and that made the baby laugh again.
As fast as they came in, the women and children packed themselves
away on the sleeping bench. The men sat along the edge of it with
their feet on the floor.
The smell of food soon made everybody cheerful. When at last they
were all crowded into the room, Koolee placed the
 bear's head and
other pans of meat on the floor.
Then she crawled back on to the bench with the other women.
The Angakok was the first one to help himself. He reached down
and took a large chunk of meat. He held it up to his mouth and
took hold of the end with his teeth. Then he sawed off a huge
mouthful with his knife.
It looked as if he would surely cut off the end of his nose too,
but he didn't.
When the men had all helped themselves, pieces of meat were
handed out to the women and children.
Soon they were all eating as if their lives depended on it. And
now I think of it, their lives did depend on it, to be sure! I
will not speak about their table manners. In fact, they hadn't
any to speak of! They had nothing to eat with the meat—not even
salt—but it was a great feast to them for all that, and they ate
and ate until every scrap was gone.
The Angakok grew better-natured every
 minute. By the time he had
eaten all he could hold he was really quite happy and benevolent!
He clasped his hands over his stomach and smiled on everybody.
The women chattered in their corner of the sleeping-bench, and
Koolee showed Koko's mother the new fur suit trimmed with white
rabbit's skin that she was making for Menie. And Koko's mother
said she really must make one for Koko just like it.
The twins and Koko talked about a trap to catch hares which they
meant to made as soon as the long days began again, and the baby
went to sleep on a pile of furs in the corner. Menie fed the pups
with some of his own meat, and gave them each a bone. Nip and Tup
buried their bones under the baby and then went to sleep too.
After a while the Angakok turned his face to the wall, as he
always did when he meant to tell a story or sing a song. Then
said, "Listen, my children!" He called everybody—even the grown
up people—his children! Everybody listened. They always listened
when the Angakok spoke.
The Angakok knew the secrets of the sun, moon, and stars. He had
told them so many times! The people believed it, and it may be
that the Angakok really believed it himself, though I have some
doubt about that.
"Listen, my children," said the Angakok, "and I will tell you
"There is a world beneath the sea! You catch glimpses of that
world yourselves in calm summer weather, when the water is still,
and you know that I speak the truth!
"Then you can see the shadows of rocks and islands and glaciers
in the smooth water. Far below you see blue sky and white clouds.
That is the calm world in which the Spirits of the Dead live. I
have visited that underworld, many times—I have talked there
with the spirits of your ancestors."
The Angakok paused and looked around
 to see if every one was
paying attention. Then he went on with his story.
"Do you remember how two springs ago there were so few walruses
and seals along the coast that you nearly died for lack of food
and oil?" he said. "My children, it was I who brought the seals
and walruses back to you! Without my efforts you might all have
"I will tell you of the perils of a fearful journey which I
undertook for your sakes. Then you will see what you owe to the
skill and faithfulness of your Angakok!"
All the people looked very solemn, and nodded their heads. The
Angakok went on.
"You must know that in the depths of the underworld, far beyond
the beautiful abode of the Spirits of the Dead, lives the Old
Woman of the Sea!
"There she sits forever and forever beside a monstrous lamp.
Underneath the lamp is a great saucer to catch the oil which
drips from it.
"In that saucer there are whole flocks of sea-birds swimming
about! All the
 animals that live in the sea—the whales and
walruses, the codfish and the seals—swarm in the saucer of the
Old Woman of the Sea. That is where they all come from. Sometimes
the Old Woman of the Sea keeps all the creatures in the saucer.
Then there are no seal or fish or walrus along our coasts, and
there is hunger among the innuit (human beings).
"At the time of my journey she had kept all the creatures for so
long a time in her saucer that you and many others were nearly
dead for lack of food."
"It was then that I prepared myself for the perils of this
journey to the underworld. I called my Tornak, or guiding spirit,
to lead my steps. Without his Tornak an Angakok can do nothing.
The Tornak came at once in answer to my call. He took me by the
hand, and we plunged down into the water. First we passed through
the beautiful World of Spirits, where it is always summer. This
part of the way was quite pleasant, but on the farther side of
that world we came to a fearful abyss. It could
 be crossed only
on a large slippery wheel, as slippery as ice."
"I mounted this wheel and was whirled across the chasm. No sooner
had I reached the other side than new terrors came upon me. I had
to pass by great cauldrons of boiling oil, in which seals were
"A misstep would have sent me plunging into the boiling oil, and
you would have lost your Angakok forever!"
The thought of this was so dreadful that the Angakok paused and
wiped his eyes. Then he went on again with his story.
"However, with great courage I kept upon my way until at last I
saw the Old Woman's house! A deep gulf lay between us and her
dwelling, and outside it stood a great dog with bloody jaws. This
dog guards the entrance, and he sleeps only for a single moment,
once in a very great while."
"For six days I and my Tornak waited there for the dog to sleep.
At last on the seventh day he closed his eyes! Instantly
Tornak seized my hand and drew me across the bridge which spanned
the chasm. This bridge was as narrow as a single thread."
"When we were safely across the bridge we passed the sleeping dog
and boldly entered the Old Woman's house. The Old Woman is
terrible to look upon! Her hand is the size of a large walrus,
and her teeth like the rocks along the coast!" The Angakok
dropped his voice to a whisper.
"However, when she looked upon me she trembled!" he said. "She
saw at once that I possessed great power, and was a great
Angakok. I spoke to her flattering words. Then I told her of the
hunger of my children!"
"I begged that she would send the seal and walrus and sea-birds
to our coast at once. But she had no mind to yield to my
requests. Then I stormed and threatened." The Angakok's voice
grew louder. "The walls shook with the thunder of my voice! At
last I seized her by the hair! I tipped over the saucer with my
foot! My great
 power prevailed against the mighty sorceress!"
"The seal and walrus swam away. The birds flew into the air and
were gone. I had conquered the Old Woman of the Sea! My children
were saved!" The Angakok was silent for a moment. Then he spoke
again in a natural voice.
"When I opened my eyes in my own igloo again," he said, "the
famine was already over. Flocks of sea-birds were flying
overhead. The sea swarmed with fish, and with walrus and seal.
Every one along the whole coast was happy. Ask yourselves—is it
The Angakok seemed very much pleased with himself, and he looked
about, as if he expected every one else to be pleased with him
too. All the people were filled with wonder at his great power.
They began to talk among themselves.
"Yes, I remember the famine well," said Koko's father. "I was
away up the coast that season. Several died in our village for
lack of food."
 Other men remembered things about other times when food had been
"It is lucky," they said to each other, "that here we have a
great Angakok who understands all the secrets of the World and
who can save us from such dreadful things."
At last Kesshoo said, "Will you tell us, great Angakok, how you
make these wonderful journeys?"
"Do you really wish to know?" asked the Angakok. "If you do, I
will summon my guiding spirits to tell you, but they will speak
only in the darkness."
Kesshoo took the lamp at once and put it out in the tunnel. Then
he placed a thick musk-ox hide over the entrance, so that not a
single ray of light came into the room. The darkness could almost
be felt. Everybody sat very still and listened.
Soon a heavy body was heard to strike the floor with a dull thud,
and a strange voice said, "Who calls me?"
Another voice said, "You are called, mighty spirits, to tell
these children of the labors of their Angakok."
Then began all sorts of strange noises, as of different persons
speaking. All the voices sounded much like the Angakok's, and
they all said what a great medicine man the Angakok was, and how
 in the village must be sure to do what he told them to!
At last the Angakok himself spoke, in his own voice. "I will tell
you how I make these strange journeys," he said.
"My body is now lying on the floor at your feet. Now I begin to
rise. You cannot see me. You cannot touch me. Now I am floating
about your heads, now I am touching the roof! I can go wherever I
please! Nothing can stop me! I know the secret places of the sun,
moon, and stars. I can fly through the roof and go at once to the
moon, if I wish to."
Then the voice was still. Nobody moved or spoke.
Monnie had gone to sleep in the corner of the bed, but Koko and
Menie were still awake. They had listened to every word about the
Old Woman of the Sea, and how the Angakok traveled to the moon.
You know I told you before that Koko was six. He wanted to know
all about things. So he spoke right out in the dark, when every
one else was still.
 He said, "Mother, if the Angakok can go anywhere he wants to, why
couldn't he get out of the tunnel?"
Koko's mother tried to hush him up. "Sh, sh," she said, and put
her hand over his mouth. At least she thought she did, but she
made a mistake in the dark and put her hand over Menie's mouth
Menie tried to say, "I never said a word," but he could only make
 because Koko's mother's hand was tight on his
Of course Koko didn't know his mother was trying to keep him
still, so he said again, "Why is it, mother?"
Koko's mother heard Koko's voice speaking just as plainly as ever
though she was sure she had her hand over his mouth! She was
"Magic! magic!" she screamed. "Bring the light! Koko is
bewitched! I have my hand over his mouth, yet you hear that he
talks as plainly as ever!"
Koko tried to say, "Your hand isn't over my mouth," and Menie
tried to say, "It's over mine!" but he could only say, "M-m-m,"
because she held on so tight!
Koko's mother was making so much noise herself that she wouldn't
have heard what either one said anyway. The baby woke up and
whimpered. Nip and Tup woke up and barked like everything.
Kesshoo got the light from the tunnel as quickly as he could, and
set it on the bench. Then every one saw what was the
 matter! They
all laughed—all but Menie and the Angakok. The Angakok said to
Koko's father, "You'd better look after that boy. He is
disrespectful to me. That is a bad beginning!"
Koko's father was ashamed of him. He said, "Koko is so small!"
But the Angakok said, "Koko is six. He is old enough to know
Everybody was so glad to see the light again that they all began
to talk at once.
Some one said to Kesshoo, "Tell us about
 the long journey to the
south you took once long ago."
Then everybody else listened, while Kesshoo told about how once
he had taken his dog sledge with a load of musk ox and seal skins
on it far down the coast and how at last he had come to a little
settlement where the houses were all made of wood, if they
would believe it!
He told them that in the bay before the village there was a boat
as big as the Big Rock itself. It had queer white wings, and the
wind blew on these wings and made the boat go!
Kesshoo had been out in a kyak to see it. He had even paddled all
round it. The men on the great boat had fair hair, and one of
them, the chief man of all, had bought some of Kesshoo's skins
and one of his dogs. The man was a great chief. His name was
This great chief had told Kesshoo that he was going to take a
sledge and go straight into the inland country where the Giants
live! He said he was going to cross the
 great ice! No man had
ever done that since the world began.
Kesshoo thought probably the great chief had been eaten by the
Giants, but he did not know surely, because he had never been
back there since to find out. And to be sure, if he had been
eaten by Giants, no one ever would know about it anyway.
Then Kesshoo showed them all a great knife that the white chief
had given him, in exchange for a sealskin, and two steel needles
that he had sent to Koolee. Koolee kept the needles in a little
ivory case all by themselves.
She always carried the case in her kamik, so it would not be
lost. She could do wonderful sewing with the needles. Koolee was
very proud of her sewing. No one else in the whole village could
sew so well, because they had not such good needles to do it
with. Koolee used them only for her very finest work.
At last the Angakok said, "It is time to go home." He called to
his wives. They climbed down off the bench.
 That started the others. One after another they put on their
upper garments, which they had taken off in the warm igloo, said
good bye, and popped down into the tunnel. Last of all came the
Then Kesshoo and Koolee and the Angakok's wives all began to look
very anxious. The Angakok looked a little worried himself. If he
had stuck coming in, what would happen now after he had eaten so
He got down on his hands and knees, and. looked at the hole. He
had taken off his thick fur coat when he came in. Now he took off
his undercoat, and his thick fur trousers! He gave them to his
Then he stretched himself out just as long as he possibly could
and slowly hitched himself down into the tunnel, groaning all the
Kesshoo and Koolee and the wives waited until his feet
disappeared, and they heard him scraping along through the
tunnel. Then they breathed a great sigh of relief,
 and the two
wives popped down after him.
The last Kesshoo and Koolee heard of the Angakok, was a kind of
muffled roar when a piece of ice fell from the top of the tunnel
on to his bare back.
Menie and Monnie and the pups were already sound asleep in their
corner of the bench when their father and mother fixed the lamp
for the night and crawled in among the fur robes beside them.
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