Through this marvelous internet I have been in contact with Poul Alex Jensen in a village north of Morisuaq where Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine lived. Much to my delight, in 1998 Poul graciously e-mailed me many recent pictures he took with his digital camera and news from the area. Also, he went out of his way to research the closing chapter on the life of Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine that I will present below.
Poul was the "Manager of Culture & Education" in Qaanaaq Kommunia (Municipal of Qaanaaq). He was the head administrator for schools in the northwest area of Greenland. This area encompasses Morisuaq (where I visited Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine) and several other villages north of Thule Air Base. Qaanaaq is the largest of these villages with approximately 550 inhabitants now living in modern facilities. That is where Poul lives with his wife Nalikkatsiaq, sons Avataq (12 years) and Ituku (8 years), and daughter Atussuk (3 years). Poul also has a daughter Nuno (20 years).
Poul describes his own history briefly like this: "Born in Copenhagen 1952. Bought a one-way ticket for Greenland in 1973. Finished education as a teacher in Nuuk 1978. Was then a teacher in the village of Tasiussaq North of Upernavik for two years. Then in Nussuaq (Kraulshavn) further north for three years. From 1983 to 1989 was just a hunter back in Tasiusaq where I build my own house. Bought my first computer (Commodore 128) in 1986".
Poul, with my help, created a very informative web site with many beautiful pictures of Qaanaaq and the surrounding villages, which is now a historical website for those communities in 1998. (See the site here.)
On with my story about Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine: In the spring of 1998 Poul sent me an e-mail after discovering my Greenland web site. Here is one thing he said:
"I showed some of your pictures of Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine to people around here (family), and they were very pleased because they have never seen the pictures before."
I was euphoric to have my pictures viewed by descendants of Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine! What a miracle this internet is!
After many informative and enjoyable message exchanges with Poul, in the summer of 1998 he went by boat to the village of Morisuaq and searched for the home where Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine welcomed me and my friends over 30 years ago. He found it abandon and took these pictures and e-mailed them to me. They are very meaningful to me, and bring back cherished memories. (Thanks, Poul!)
NOTE: In 2012 I was in email contact with Poul's daughter, Atussuk, (17). She said her father had died previously (2008?) from a stroke.)
This is what Qavigarssuaq's and Bebaine's house looked like in 1968 when I took this picture of Qavigarssuaq.
This is what was left of the house in 1998 when Poul took these two pictures below.
Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine are gone now. They died of natural causes close to the same time in 1978. On the walls of this humble shack once hung a large framed certificate signed by the King of Denmark. In gold and colored lettering on parchment, the king praised Qavigarssuaq for his extraordinary efforts in safely guiding early explorers thousands of miles across the desolate and hazardous Arctic. Surely without his knowledge and skills for survival in that hostile environment, the explorer Knut Rasmussen and others would not have survived or even been mentioned in history books.
The following is quoted from a book by the distinguished polar explorer and author Wally Herbert:
"For 10 hours we drove our two teams of dogs into a blizzard. The wind was too strong to set up our tent, so we were forced to feel our way in pitch darkness along the eastern shore in a desperate effort to reach Morisuaq at the mouth of the fiord; the shelter of the village there was our only hope of survival. The last two miles of the 20-mile journey down the fiord were one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Avataq and I literally crawled those miles on our hands and knees, roped to our dogs and to each other to avoid losing contact in the blinding storm.
When finally we discerned the vague shapes of the village shacks, it was hard to believe they were real until we had actually crawled inside one of them. It turned out that the kind couple who opened their arms and embraced us were celebrated throughout the Thule district. The husband was the great hunter Qavigarssuaq."(pgs. 23-24,"Hunters of the Polar North: The Eskimos". Published by Time-Life Books BV)
Poul also located the graves of Qavigarssuaq and Bebaine in Morisuaq and provided this picture.
In his book, "Hunters of the Polar North: The Eskimos", Wally Herbert says of Qavigarssuaq:
"Yet, he was a modest man and, to his last breath, a man more proud of his heritage than of all the honours that had been conferred upon him."
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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