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Anirniq: An Inuit Ghost Story (Part Four)

The dogs were fast, but every time the boy peered behind him, that horrible ghost-light was still there.

They raced for an eternity. Sometimes the ghost fell behind ? at other times it surged forward with frightful speed. The boy couldn't think of anywhere to go, so he headed toward home. Always, the ghost was gaining on him.

The thought of home reminded him of his teacher, how the angakoq had provided him with the things for his trip: sled, dogs, supplies ? and the strange pualuuk lined with old, yellowed talismans. He remembered what the angakoq had told him, how the pualuuk held power.

So it was that when the boy was at last consumed with utter desperation, when the ghost was virtually upon him, he yanked a pualuu from his hand. At the top of his lungs, he yelled the phrase his angakoq had taught him: "Help me, my pup!" And he cast the mitt backward at the onrushing ghost.

There was a terrible flash, accompanied by a roar of frustration. Suddenly, the ghost-light fell behind. The boy watched it recede, and it appeared to ripple, undulate, as though it were fighting something in mid-air.

But after a time the boy again turned his head, and again saw that hideous green light in the distance, closing on him. His lash cracked forward once more, and the dogs were all too eager to increase their pace.

It was futile. The distance between the ghost and the kamotik narrowed quickly. The thing was nearly over the boy's shoulder ? he could hear it muttering madly to itself ? when he cast his other pualuu at it with the almost pleading cry of, "Help me, my pup!"

The flash nearly blinded him, but he could see that the ghost was wracked with effort as it fought off the power of the angakoq's pualuu. But, he knew, there was no third pualuu.

He gave up after that, numb with fear, hunger, cold, and exhaustion. He rode along like a limp bundle of rags as the dogs continued their race to escape the ghost. But the dogs were on their way home. They were racing to back to their owner, the angakoq. And so, when they finally pulled up near the angakoq's dwelling, the boy wept with relief. Desperately, he stumbled toward the angakoq's igluvigaq, alight with a pleasant orange glow from within. He collapsed in the entrance, and soon felt the angakoq shaking him, asking, "Boy, what happened to you?"

It was the ghost itself that answered, with a sudden cry of hate and want. The angakoq's skin prickled at the sound of it and his dogs, who had raised a great, mournful howl at the thing's approach. He stepped outside to see the spirit raging toward him, a ghastly, emerald figure that he recognized immediately, for he had known it in life. It was the ghost of the evil old man whose body no one would properly bury. The angakoq remembered admonishing the people so long ago, accusing them of breaking taboos, bringing this reversed spirit down upon them, forcing them to move to a new camp.

Now the angakoq called upon his bound spirits, which emerged from his mouth and sleeves. There were seven, six of which were savage tunrait, while the last was the spirit of his own great-grandfather. He set them upon the onrushing ghost. And while the battle raged between those entities, the angakoq sang ancient verses that seized the ghost, wringing it in the grip of unseen forces.

The boy, who passed in and out of consciousness for quite some time, finally awoke to the beautiful smell of caribou soup. He recalled the abandoned camp and the vengeful ghost as though it were all a distant nightmare. Looking around, his eyes fell upon the angakoq, who was stirring the soup, smiling at him, and saying,

"That is why people should obey taboos."

The End.

The reason I've told this story is that (aside from the fact that I think it's cool) it is a good example of how "ghosts" are regarded in Inuit folklore. A ghost, known as an "anirniq" (sort of personal breath of life; individual animating principle) is always treated as a resource, or an inverted resource ? a curse.

(Continued in Part Five at http://indiancountry.com//?1030203045 )

(Back to part three at http://indiancountry.com//?1029252699 )