Excerpted from Jesus and the Eskimo: How the Man of the Sky Brought the Light to My People. © Fred Savok. Fairbanks, Alaska: HLC Publishing, 2003. Reprinted with permission.
For some years, hunting conditions were not good in the far North, where the weather was harsh and dangerous. Even ptarmigan and animals were scarce on land. For strange reasons, even fish in the lakes and rivers were hard to find. Sea mammals were few out on the ocean. Hunting conditions like these could well mean starvation in any area. The only food supply left was in the family food caches. Food rationing, known so well to the Eskimo, will only reach into nothing. Before the food source was gone, the Village Chief would call a special meeting to discuss the problem. Then, as a last resort, a Shaman would be asked to make a survey of both land and sea for animals that can be hunted for food.
After an agreement was made with the worker of the supernatural, word of the coming event spread throughout the village quickly. Meals were served and eaten a little early. Home chores were done before darkness covered the village. Necessary paraphernalia needed by the village's superman was made ready in the qasgi before nightfall. Then all the women and children begin to gather at the qasgi where the men folk already were. People greeted one another in hushed tones as each found a place to sit on the floor. Everything is ready. Now, let us join my father, Savok, a young lad who related the story to us, as it happened so long ago.
"Now the moment has come! The Shaman stood up and viewed his audience and slowly picked up a dampened seal-gut rainwear parka, and slipped it over his head, and very slowly put it on. Emphasizing each movement to impress the onlookers. Seeing these movements the audience seemed to freeze. No one was moving or talking. All eyes watched the solitary figure in the center of the room. He now faced the large coil of rawhide rope on the floor, lower end of which is tied securely to a post. Finding the top end of a strong rope, he tied it tightly around his waist. Having done this, he motioned to the person close to the oil lamp to snuff it out. With the light out now, people could hear chanting in a soft voice. Was the crescendo quicken and build up, they could hear footsteps of the dancer. Singing as he danced, he found the passageway out of the building. His motionless audience followed his movements in the dark until they could not hear his singing voice any longer in the distance.
"Then someone lit the oil lamp. Instead of a large coil of rope and a dancer on the floor, only rope end tied to the post can be seen. With other people, I follow the rawhide line outside. The line led towards the ocean ice. However, we had no trouble following the line on the snow. Before we found the end of the line, we stopped. Here the line went into the ice. And it looked like the ice had frozen with the line there. No cracks on the ice whatsoever. And yet, this is the same line that was coiled on the floor of the qasgi.
"Without a shadow of doubt, the Shaman had entered the ocean water right through the ice. Incredible! Now he is somewhere out in the ocean water looking for fish and seals. I had never seen anything like it before.
"While the older huddled and talked about the Shaman whizzing here and there through the water, the younger ran hard on the hard snow and slide on glare ice back and forth. Lots of fun! But their fun was cut short because the older start walking back toward the warm house. Nearing the building they could hear loud talking and laughing.
"In the qasgi, the people took this occasion to visit not only as a group of men but with their wives as well. The children attentively listened to stories and jokes and laugh. Especially the joking cousins, who were mercilessly hitting each other hard with words. This is the way pent-up emotions and frustrations were aired out. A good practice to help someone who might be suffering from mental problems. A good medicine to pull someone up from doldrums. As soon as someone noticed, the surveyor is just about to enter the house, the noise in the building stopped and the crowd waited.
"The Shaman, still tied around his waist with the line slowly enters. He does not look cold. His clothes are not wet. He looks exactly like he did at the beginning of the performance. His report was not good. The future looks bleak, to say the least."
Having heard this more than once from my father, I try to relate it to you as closely as I remember it.