Friday, December 30, 2011

Strange Graves

When the New York Times ran a blog post on its Dot Earth blog about the ballad "Lord Franklin," they chose as an illustration a curious engraving. It comes from a June 1881 issue of the Illustrated London News, and was one of many large plates showing scenes from Schwatka's search for Franklin. This one was captioned: "THE AMERICAN FRANKLIN SEARCH EXPEDITION: GRAVES OF THE COMRADES OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN." So it would seem an ideal illustration for blog about the famous ballad lamenting the lost of Sir John and his "gallant crew," except for one detail: the graves shown here are certainly not those of Franklin or his crewmembers. The only graves, in the sense of organized burials with grave markers, are those found on Beechey Island; there were only three, until an unlucky crewman aboard the "North Star" joined them to make a party of four. And yet here we see what appear to be sixteen graves, three of which feature enormous columns that would seem to be made of wood or stone -- two obelisks and one cross.

So where is this graveyard -- with a village of igloos and an ice-bound ship near at hand? I think I have a likely answer, but rather than offer it here, I thought I'd "crowd source" the question: whose graves are these, and how did they end up being depicted in such a lovely but mistitled engraving?

(p.s. the version here is scanned from my own personal copy, not from the Times or the collection credited there).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Repost: Christmas in the Frozen Regions

At this time of year, many of us are seeking a bit of Christmas past by revisiting Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." There are innumerable local productions, dozens of film versions (I'm most fond of the one starring Alistair Sim, or else the Muppet Christmas Carol, which I actually feel is the best recent adaptation), and of course the book itself is always available. But most today are less acquainted with Dickens's other Christmas tales -- at one point he was writing a new one every year -- or with the many special Christmas numbers of his magazines Household Words and All the Year 'Round, which Dickens personally selected and edited with great care. It was, in fact, in 1850 -- the very first year of his first magazine, Household Words -- that Dickens, hoping to revive the fading hopes that Franklin and his men might yet live, selected a piece describing an Antarctic Christmas aboard the "Erebus" and "Terror" -- the very ships that Franklin had taken on his expedition a few years later. Making this connection was important enough that Dickens wrote a fresh introduction to the article, as well as a brief coda, himself, and his words are animated with all his usual spirit:
"THINK of Christmas in the tremendous wastes of ice and snow, that lie in the remotest regions of the earth ! Christmas, in the interminable white desert of the Polar sea ! Yet it has been kept in those awful solitudes, cheerfully, by Englishmen. Where crashing mountains of ice, heaped up together, have made a chaos round their ships, which in a moment might have ground them to dust; where hair has frozen on the face; where blankets have stiffened upon the bodies of men lying asleep, closely housed by huge fires, and plasters have turned to ice upon the wounds of others accidentally hurt; where the ships have been undistinguishable from the environing ice, and have resembled themselves far less than the surrounding masses have resembled monstrous piles of architecture which could not possibly be there, or anywhere; where the winter animals and birds are white, as if they too were born of the desolate snow and frost; there Englishmen have read the prayers of Christmas Day, and have drunk to friends at home, and sung home songs."
The account that follows is by Robert McCormick, who had recently served under James Clark Ross as surgeon and naturalist aboard HMS "Terror," and describes the first Christmas of their Antarctic voyage. McCormick seems to have been an excellent writer, and this account is all the more notable as it's his earliest publication; he found himself unable to write up the expected naturalist's report for the Ross expedition, and his own account of his career, Voyages of Discovery in the Antarctic and Arctic Seas, was not published until 1884. As Dickens hands the narrative off to McCormack, the mystery and anxiety then surrounding Franklin's name is directly evoked:
"In 1819, Captain Parry and his brave companions did so ; and the officers having dined off a piece of fresh beef, nine months old, preserved by the intense climate, joined the men in acting plays, with the thermometer below zero, on the stage. In 1825, Captain Franklin's party kept Christmas Day in their hut with snap-dragon and a dance, among a merry party of Englishmen, Highlanders, Canadians, Esquimaux, Chipewyans, Dog- Ribs, Hare Indians, and Cree women and children.
In 1850, some commemoration of Christmas may perhaps take place in the Frozen Regions. Heaven grant it! It is not beyond hope ! and be held by the later crews of those same ships ; for they are the very same that have so long been missing, and that are painfully connected in the public mind with FRANKLIN’S name."
You can read McCormack's account in full here. Of course, much of the resonance of his story is how it shows the explorers keeping the traditions of home, evoking an elaborate Victorian Christmas even in the most desolate regions of the world. On this occasion, the ship was redecorated as a "hotel," and the drinks were kept cold by being served atop an enormous block of solid ice. McCormack, oddly, says very little about the food, but other explorers were far more voluble; you can follow the links here to read of a feast of "Banks Land Reindeer" in "Christmas-Keeping in the Arctic Regions, 1850-51," relish Elisha Kent Kane's Christmas on the Second Grinnell expedition, at which mere "pork and beans" were disguised as all manner of delicacies by the men's scurvy-fed imaginations, or devour A.W. Greely's luxurious first Christmas with the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition at Fort Conger, which featured mock-turtle soup, salmon, tenderloin of musk-ox, plum pudding with wine sauce, dates, figs, cherries, egg-nog, and an extra ration of rum -- a sad contrast with the meals of the last few survivors three years later, who endeavored to support life by fishing for brine-shrimp through a sieve.

Wherever readers of this blog may find themselves this Christmas, I hope that your evening meal is enriched by all the warmth and spirit of domestic tranquility that these men's meals -- whether in reality, or in their imaginations, or both -- sought to evoke so far away from home.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tima and Chimo

The first use of "Chimo" as a greeting is in Drage 1748, in Hudson Strait: "The Person in the Canoe... shewed a Piece of Whale-bone, repeating Chimo, and moving his Left-hand circularly upon his left Breast..." Andrew Graham in 1768 wrote that the Eskimos "rub their breast with their open hand, calling in a pitiful tone, 'Chimo! Chimo! which is a sign of peace and friendship. Hearne records "Tima" in 1795: "Tima in the Esquimaux language is a friendly word similar to 'what cheer.'" Edward Chappell in 1814 wrote that "Chymo" meant to barter.

These words each derive, in my opinion, from words that have their own discreet meaning, but in this context of being used as a greeting they have merged. George Back (1836-37) suggested as much when he referred to the men he met "vociferating their accustomed 'Tima' or 'Chimo'..." And McTavish in the 1880s wrote, "I bade the majority of the Esquimaux 'Timah,' generally written as 'Chimo'"

Taima (the modern correct spelling of tima - teyma - timah) today means - that's all, that's enough, it's over.

Chimo (which I think traditionally was pronounced Saimo - like Sigh-moe) comes from a root "saimak" which means blessing or peace. Saimaqsaiji means peacemaker. Saimati in northern Quebec and southern Baffin is "flag" - because after conversion Inuit stuck white flags into the snow beside their snowhouses to show that they were Christian and therefore peaceful. The phrase "saimugluk" (used between two people) today is always accompanied by a handshake, but derives from the same root, so it can be thought of as once meaning "Let's be friends," "Let's be in peace."

So the Taima and Chimo of the early white explorers and traders converged. The meaning was one of friendship and peace, with overtones of barter at the time.

None of this helps us understand "Mannik toomee."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mannik toomee

The image is almost a cliché of nineteenth-century Arctic explorers' narratives: the Kabloonas approach the "Esquimaux" carefully, and the natives, weapons in hand, crouch nervously, never perhaps having encountered white men before. And then, with a cry of "Teyma," "Mannik toomee," or "Kammik toomee"-- all words thought at one time or another to mean "Friend," "Peace," or "Welcome" -- the two parties instantly relax; handshakes are exchanged, and trade goods soon follow. Thank goodness the white people knew what to say!

But of course they didn't know what to say. Most British and American explorers did not know a single word of Inuktitut; if they had phrasebooks, these were often in the wrong dialect, and if they had interpreters these were often Greenlanders whose dialect was -- quite literally -- thousands of miles off. The Brits, and the Americans who followed them, also had a habit of taking any word or phrase spoken to them, interpreting it by context and gesture, and using it in return as a greeting.

Which brings us to "Mannik toomee," subject of part of my last posting. This phrase or something close to it is in the journals of many Arctic explorers, each of whom heard it a little differently; McClintock heard it as "Kammik toomee," Schwatka as "Munnuk toomee," and Hall as "Man-nig-too-me." Taken literally, it seems to be made up of either manik ("here") or kamik ("sealskin boot"), which is followed with tumiq ("tracks"?). In an agglutinative language such as Inuktitut, this could be construed as anything from "there are tracks here" to "here we stand" -- but my knowledge of the language is extremely limited, so I'd leave that to those who speak it, or linguists. The one thing I can say with some certainty is that it doesn't mean "Welcome," which is what the explorers thought it did.

It appears that this is one of those phrases, heard by white men at one point in time, and then re-used as a greeting. Since white men wrote down what they heard, later explorers might well re-use the term. "Teyma," assumed to mean "friend," was noted by Sir John Franklin in 1821, who remarked that it was "used by Esquimaux when they accost strangers in a friendly manner." Later explorers used it too, though at some point they seem to have switched to a variation of "Mannik toomee" -- so the question is, who first heard this expression, and made the assumption it was a friendly greeting?

Here things get sticky. I have a clear recollection that I'd read it was spoken by the angekoq or shaman who, in 1833, tried to keep the kabloonas led by George Back -- who, unbeknownst to Back, had earlier killed three Inuit -- from coming too close. But it's not in Back's, or in King's narrative. It does, however, feature in Inuit oral tradition. Dorothy Eber heard this phrase in a story about nervous Inuit approaching white men, and wrote about it in The Beaver and again in her most recent book. Her informant even offered a gloss on its meaning:
The shaman told his people, 'Maniktumiq' - do it smoothly, not aggressively. The Inuit stood together and said the same word - 'Maniktumiq' - do it smoothly. It was sort of a prayer to a great power, the spirit. All together they began walking gently and smoothly, not agressively.
Eber believed the word was a specialized, "magic" or shamanistic word, used for its symbolic rather than literal meaning -- like, say, the English word "abracadabra" -- and that it may well have been the kind of word used only by a particular band, or even one specific shaman.

I believe this phrase may have been specific to the Utjulingmiut. This was the band Back met near the mouth of the river that would later bear his name, the band whose hunting area was nearest the site of the last Franklin ship, and the band which, due to famine and hostile neighbors, was dispersed to the winds, its survivors often finding refuge with other bands. Eber believes the testimony just quoted referred to Ross -- and indeed a similar scene happened at his first meeting with the Inuit. But where then is any reference to the man with one leg, sent ahead as the most expendable member (and later given a welcome wooden replacement by the ship's carpenter of the Victory)? No, I think this account is a worn-down version of the Inuit encounter with Schwatka's searchers in 1878; here is his version:

They formed a line with bows, arrows, and spears or knives, and, as we moved up to within a few feet, they began a general stroking of their breasts, calling "Munnik toomee" (Welcome).

The association of this gesture with the phrase is noted elsewhere -- but what is significant here is that this band, although from another area, had as its head-man one of the last survivors of the Utjulingmiut diaspora.

Incidentally, this also gives us another reason to suppose that "Too-loo-ark" may have been Franklin -- it was Franklin who picked up on "teyma," and according to Kok-lee-arng-nun, it was "Too-loo-ark" who added that phrase to his greeting:
Too-loo-ark would say "Ma-my-too-mig-tey-ma." Ag-loo-ka's hand shaking was short and jerky, and he would only say "Man-nig-too-me." After the first summer and first winter, they saw no more of Too-loo-ark.