Ice Friday: Qasiagssaq, The Great Liar

Qasiagssaq, men say, was a great liar. One day, when he had been in his kayak, without even a sight of a seal. He noticed a man from his village towing in a big black seal. Qasiagssaq rowed behind the man and stole the seal.

“Qasiagssaq, you have made a catch,” cried his fellow villagers. “Where did you get that tow line?”

“I have had it a long time,” he answered, “but have never used it before today.”

The other man from the village returned. “I got a big black seal today, but it was taken with my tow line.”IMG_4620The next day he was out again in his kayak and said to himself, “What is the use of my being out here, I who never catch anything?” He went to shore and lay his knees across a stone and used another stone to hammer his knee caps.

When he returned to the village, he told the villagers, “An iceberg calved right on top of me so that I barely escaped alive.”

Some time later, Qasiagssaq heard that a couple in another village had lost their child and went to visit. “Today my little daughter, Nipisartangivaq, is doubtless crying at her mother’s side as usual.”

The mourners looked up eagerly. “Ah, how grateful we are to you! Now your little daughter can have all her things.” And they gave him a cooking pot, beads and a great quantity of food. When he returned home, the other villagers asked where he got so many things.

“An umiak started out on a journey, and the people in it were hurried and forgetful.”

Towards evening, a number of kayaks arrived; the people from the other village had brought meat for Qasiagssaq’s daughter. When they learned that Qasiagssaq did not have a daughter, they asked for their cooking pot to be returned.IMG_4614The next evening he returned home and told the villagers he had found a dead whale. They rowed out for it and asked Qasiagssaq where the whale was.

“Over there, beyond that little ness,” he replied.

They rowed there and found nothing and asked again.

“Over there, beyond that little ness,” Qasiagssaq replied.

This happened again and again until the others finally said, ‘Qasiagssaq is only a trouble to us all. Let us kill him.”

And at last they did as they had said, and killed Qasiagssaq.*

*Greenlandic Folk Tale, as collected by Knud Rasmussen

The Fantasy of Reality

Luis Bunuel wrote in his autobiography My Last Sigh, “Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths.” The Fantasy of RealityGreenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen reflected in his journals from the Fifth Thule Expedition, “Here on this lonely spit of land, weary men had toiled along the last stage of their mortal journey. Their tracks are not effaced, as long as others live to follow and carry them farther; their work lives as long as any region of the globe remains for men to find and conquer.” The Fantasy of Reality Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “A geographer is too important to go wandering about. He never leaves his study. But he receives the explorers there. He questions them, and he writes down what they remember. And if the memories of one of the explorers seems interesting to him, then the geographer conducts an inquiry into that explorer’s moral character.”  The Fantasy of RealityAnd finally Italo Svevo offered these musings from Zeno’s Conscience: “Simply, I believed I had made an important scientific discovery. I thought I had been called upon to complete the whole theory of psychological colors. My predecessors, Goethe and Schopenhauer, had never imagined what could have been achieved by deftly handling complementary colors.” The Fantasy of Reality“I should say that I spent my time sprawled on the sofa opposite my study window, from which I had a view of a stretch of sea and horizon.”

Knud Rasmussen

One of the greatest thrills in writing is the initial research. The setting for my upcoming novel will likely be in the high arctic. And so I have come across the life and words of Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933), who led six major expeditions over his lifetime, circumnavigating his native Greenland and crossing the Arctic. Knud RasmussenAll true wisdom is only to be found far from dwellings of man, in the great solitudes; and it can only be attained by great suffering. Suffering and privation are the only things that can open the mind of man to that which is hidden from his fellows.