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New book reveals the discovery of the remains of seven Labrador Inuit who died in Europe in 1881: In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab

(version française de ce texte)

Hello all! Happy Inuit Day!

Today, November 7th, being Inuit Day, could we have found a better occasion to officially announce the publication of the book In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab which reveals the results of a four-year investigation into the fate of the remains of a group of eight Labrador Inuit who died of smallpox in Europe in 1880-1881?

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Polar Horizons is very proud to inform the Inuit community that the remains (full or partial) of seven of the eight Inuit who left Hebron, Labrador, in August 1880 have been located in Europe.  Namely, the skeletons of Abraham, of his wife Ulrike, of his daughter Maria, of the young man Tobias, and of the shaman Tigianniak have been located in Paris. The skullcap of Tigianniak’s wife, Paingu, which was taken, during her autopsy in Crefeld, by Johan Adrian Jacobsen, the person who recruited them and acted as their impresario during their European tour, has also been located in Paris. Finally, the skull of 3-year-old Sara, the daughter Abraham and Ulrike had to entrust to the hospital in Crefeld as the group departed for Paris, was uncovered in Berlin. As things currently stand, 15-year-old Nugassak is the only one of the group whose remains have not yet been found.

The Nunatsiavut Inuit community was informed of these findings in early September when France Rivet, the researcher and the book’s author, accompanied by a crew from Pix3 Films went up to Nain to meet with the elders’ committee. This visit was also the perfect occasion to start the filming of a documentary to be aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki in the fall 2015.

France Rivet and Johannes Lampe, Nain's chief elder, presenting the findings to the elders' committee.

France Rivet and Johannes Lampe, Nain’s chief elder, presenting the findings to the elders’ committee.

As Johannes Lampe, Nain’s chief elder, summarized it, the elders clearly reached a consensus that day: Abraham and his group should eventually come home! To ensure that all Nunatsiavummiut be informed, France and Guilhem Rondot, the film director, gave a radio interview to the OK society to discuss the findings and the film.

Later in September, Johannes embarked on his own voyage to follow Abraham’s footsteps. His aim was to better understand the events of the 19th century so that he could provide sound advice his community on what steps should now be taken. Johannes was accompanied by France and the film crew. For two weeks, the group visited sites where the Inuit had been, met with historians, archivists, museum curators, Canadian diplomats and even the descendants of both Johan Adrian Jacobsen and Carl Hagenbeck, the menagerie owner and pioneer of ethnographical shows who had hired Jacobsen.

Half-way through his journey, Johannes gave a live radio interview (in Inuktitut and English) to the OK Society to report back to his community about his experience. As he explained, one of the most important moments for him was his meeting with professor Hartmut Lutz. For more than 27 years, Professor Lutz has been spending time and efforts to raise awareness about Abraham’s tragic story. Back in 2005, with his students from Greiswald University, he translated to English and published Abraham’s diary. In 2007, he published a German version. More recently, in 2014, he translated Johan Adrian Jacobsen’s diary which was published by Polar Horizons under the title Voyage with the Labrador Eskimos.

Johannes Lampe and Hartmut Lutz looking at the Johan Adrian Jacobsen's diary. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg.

Johannes Lampe and Hartmut Lutz looking at the Johan Adrian Jacobsen’s diary. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg.

The encounter between Johannes and Hartmut will be remembered by all who had the privilege of witnessing it. Held in the library of the Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg, the level of emotion was high when, out of nowhere, a butterfly came and flied freely around the room. As both Johannes and his wife Rutie explained to me, for the Inuit, seeing a butterfly is so powerful! It meant that the spirits were sending us a sign of soaring free and happiness. Abraham and the others were telling us that they were delighted with this meeting and with finally being acknowledged and recognized. Such a memorable moment!

Another occasion identified by Johannes as being significant was the visit to the Berlin Zoo when he walked around the pond where, in November 1880, Abraham, Tigianniak and Tobias hunted a seal. Johannes reported that he could feel the three men’s excitement.

Johannes Lampe being interviewed in front of the pond where the hunt seal was conducted. Berlin Zoo.

Johannes Lampe being interviewed in front of the pond where the hunt seal was conducted. Berlin Zoo.

But, undoubtedly, the most intense moment of the whole trip was when Johannes met with the curators of the Musée de l’Homme, saw the documentation confirming the identity of the human remains before he was led to see the remains of Abraham, Ulrike, Tigianniak, Tobias and little Maria.

Johannes discussing with Dr. Alain Froment. Musée de l'Homme, Paris.

Johannes discussing with Dr. Alain Froment. Musée de l’Homme, Paris.

One question you are probably asking yourselves is whether or not the remains will be brought back to Labrador? As explained by Dave Lough, Nunatsiavut’s deputy minister of culture, recreation and tourism and director of the Torngâsok Cultural Center, at the 19th Inuit Studies Conference in Quebec City, the Nunatsiavut government must complete a series of steps before the request is initiated. For example, more consultations have to be conducted with the elders, a protocol surrounding any new repatriation request must be written, and a search to identify living descendants must be carried on. If everything goes well, within the next year, a final decision should be made.

A factor that plays in our favor is the fact that, on June 14, 2013, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and French president François Hollande signed the Canada-France Enhanced Cooperation Agenda in which we find the following statement under the Arctic and the North section:

Work with the appropriate authorities to help to repatriate Inuit bones from French museum collections to Canada.

This statement was aimed specifically for Abraham and his group.

France Rivet and Dave Lough presenting the findings at the 19th Inuit Studies Conference. Quebec City.

France Rivet and Dave Lough presenting the findings at the 19th Inuit Studies Conference. Quebec City.

Here at Polar Horizons we are thrilled that after a 133-year wait, a more comprehensive version of the story of Abraham, Ulrike, Tigianniak, Paingu, Tobias, Nugassak, Sara and Maria is finally coming home to Labrador.

Our goal in publishing In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab was to consolidate and make available the many documents, at least those France has found so far, so that today’s Labrador Inuit community can read Abraham’s own moving words, as well as those of his contemporaries. May our efforts be of benefit to them, and to all Inuit throughout the circumpolar world, in their quest to understand the tragic events of 1880-1881 and to finally close the loop.

All of us involved in one way or another feel so priviledged to be part of this human adventure. May this book and the steps that have been taken so far inspire the decision-makers to give a positive and constructive end to Abraham’s story.

France Rivet

 

Where can the books In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab and Voyage with the Labrador Eskimos, 1880-1881 be purchased?

The paper version can be ordered on Amazon: In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab and Voyage with the Labrador Eskimos, 1880-1881

Polar Horizons’ online bookstore (paper, EPUB and PDF)

For bookstores, librairies, institutions : the paper and EPUB versions are currently available through Ingram’s distribution channel.

For more information:

www.abrahamulrikab.com

Polar Horizons’ Media Kit

The Fall 2014 issue of Labrador Life includes a three-page article, Longed to come home : Killed by smallpox in 1881, the remains of five Labrador Inuit are uncovered in Paris, summarizing the finding of the remains and the steps that have been taken so far.


 

Thank you to Air Labrador for making the trip to Nain possible by providing the air transportation between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Nain. Wasn’t the view amazing?

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