About two weeks after our trip with Itukusuk to the Wolstenholme glacier, we hired two dog sleds and drivers to take us to find Itukusuk's father. We wanted to go find him because he was probably one of the most famous Greenlanders. His name was Qavigarssuaq, which means "Big Eider Duck". We heard that he lived in the village of Morisuaq (Also spelled Morsomt).
Knud Rasmussen was a Danish explorer to the Thule district in northwest Greenland in the early part of this century. Qavigarssuaq was an important guide for him for three years on a nearly 4000 miles (6400 km) trip that took them across Canada and to Alaska. For his efforts, Qavigarssuaq was decorated in Copenhagen by the Danish government and also went to Washington D.C. and met President Coolidge, the 30th U.S. president (1923–1929).
Qavigarssuaq was an important contact and guide for other explorers through the years, also. We wanted to meet this great man and give him the pictures of his son, Itukusuk, which we had taken two weeks earlier.
Morisuaq was north of Thule Air Base on the other side of Wolstenholme Fjord. It was spring, and the sea ice was still frozen so we wanted to make the trip while we could before the ice softened and broke up.
Here is one of the drivers for our trip to Morisuaq. I was very impressed with his ability to handle the dogs by voice and whip. After about an hour of traveling at a fast dog trot speed, we made our first stop to untangle the dogs' seal skin lines. When I looked back over our trail, I was surprised to see that I could still see the base clearly across the sea ice because the air was so clear. It surly was several miles away but everything was crystal clear in that 5% humidity and no-smog cold air. I have never seen anything like that anywhere since.
The trip took several hours to get to Morisuaq. Along the way, we stopped a couple of times to stretch while the drivers un-tangled the dogs' harnesses and lines. I got pretty cold riding on the sled even though I was in my heaviest Arctic clothing with six pairs of socks on in my mukluks. Fortunately, there was no wind blowing, and the sun was shining brightly, and it warmed up later in the day to about 0 F. degrees.
And here is the other driver who took us safely on his sled. I never forgot for a moment that my life depended on these gracious and helpful Greenlanders.
We were disappointed as we approached the village because we could see no activity. It appeared deserted from a distance except for smoke rising from one stove pipe on the biggest building, which was just a shack made out of scrap material from the base dumps.
By the time we reached the edge of the village, a small group of mostly kids had come out to see what was happening. Notice the one kid with the huge white boots on his feet. Up here you use whatever you can get!
I could not have much conversation with the kids in my few words of Danish (and zero Greenlandic), but they did quickly understand and accept the candy we brought.
I wanted to have my picture taken with the kids, and they were certainly willing to cooperate.
There were dogs everywhere and here is a Greenlandic dog house. It was strong and provided excellent shelter in high winds that often roar down off the ice cap.
These pups were restrained in this pit in the snow. Dogs were very important to survival because they were the only way to travel to the hunting grounds. The care, raising, and training of dogs has been a part of every Greenlander's life for the past 4000 years.
Since the villages are small, and everyone knows everyone else, it is not hard to find where a person lives. However, the Greenlanders travel a lot hunting, so actually finding a person at home depends a lot on luck. On this trip, we were very lucky. Qavigarssuaq was home.
We found Qavigarssuaq outside carving in the sun. We greeted him, introduced ourselves, and showed him the pictures of his son, Itukusuk. He immediately invited us inside his home to meet his wife who served us much appreciated, but I feel scarce, refreshments of canned biscuits, jam, and hot coffee.
Shown on the wall at the right side of this snapshot is an award certificate (the edge of it at least) signed by the King of Denmark honoring Qavigarssuaq for his indispensable part in explorations of the far north areas of Greenland and Canada. Here he is telling us about some of his adventures while we munch on much appreciated Danish treats and sip hot coffee. He spoke some Danish, and the three Danes with us did the translating.
Qavigarssuaq's wife, Bebaine, was very gracious and served us more biscuits and hot coffee with a big smile. Her son, Itukusuk, often wore a beautiful parka that she made for him out of brown and white fur. (Below) The parka is made out of fox fur, the pants are polar bear skin, and the boots are seal skin inside out with fur on inside. I am amazed at how she did such beautiful work by hand with limited tools.
As we were leaving, I noticed a frozen head of a walrus on the ground in front of their house. It had the tusks still in it, and I asked Qavigarssuaq if I could have it. He chuckled and indicated it was so small that it was not worth bothering with and only good for dog food. I indicated I still would like to have the tusks. He graciously cut the front of the head off with the tusks in it and gave it to me.
He also gave me a bone about 22 inches (55 cm) long. Later I learned that the bone was from the walrus' penis. They both had a little flesh on them and were frozen, as everything was that laid around outside. I took them back to the base and later cleaned them up, mounted the tusks, and still have them displayed in my California home as a remembrance of that wonderful expedition. Thanks, Qavigarssuaq!
I shall never forget Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine. I always will be thankful for their gracious hospitality and warm welcome into their home in the cold, barren, remote, and yet beautiful Arctic.
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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