Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of E.J. Peck
Among the Eskimos
by the Rev. Arthur Lewis, M.A.

New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1904.

Chapter XIII. Ploughing and Sowing

"Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake."

AT the end of June, 1895, it was decided that Mr. Parker should start with some Eskimos who were going to visit a whaling station near Frobisher Bay, and on July 2, Mr. Peck accompanied him to the boat to say farewell. We are reminded of a sea-shore scene painted in the Acts of the Apostles when we read: "We had prayer together by the beach. I feel lonely here now, with not one soul to speak to in my own tongue. But Jesus is near, and why should I repine while His promises are true and faithful."

Mr. Parker did not return until August 27. One result of this journey was to show that the movements of Eskimos seemed to bring many distant places near to one another, and Mr. Peck was brought almost into touch with his former districts.

For the traveller had met Eskimos who had journeyed from the northern and western shores of Hudson's Straits, and "we may well believe that the Gospel of God's grace and love will soon spread over these Arctic wastes, and that God's name will be glorified amongst the Eskimos."

There is something pathetic in words which record some of the smaller trials of life in Cumberland Sound, and as we read them we have to remember that after all life is made up generally of apparently petty details of daily routine. "The weather is now (in the middle of July) very warm, and the scanty vegetation is beginning to look green. I have planted some mustard and cress, together with other vegetable seeds, in two boxes. I managed with difficulty to get some soil, which I worked up as fine as possible. I hope these efforts may be successful, one does miss a few fresh vegetables."

In due time a small harvest was reaped, for on August 11: "I had the pleasure of eating some mustard and cress; the other seeds I planted are coming on, but slowly."

On August 20, there was great excitement. "While having dinner, some of the people rushed into our little house, and cried out, 'Oomeakjuak! oomeakjuak!' ('A ship! a ship!'). I could hardly credit the news for joy. Went out, and saw a vessel bearing up for our island home. She had evidently been driven to leeward of the island during the stormy weather we have had lately, and was now (as sailors say) beating to windward. But, alas! when she was almost close to us a thick fog settled over everything, and the wind began to blow with great fury. We knew the vessel could not make the land, so we returned to our solitary dwelling and committed the ship and her crew to God's care, and then felt quite at rest."

The next two days the weather continued very foggy and stormy and nothing could be seen of the ship. However, on the 23rd the fog cleared away and "we had the joy of seeing her again, but some considerable distance to leeward of the island.

"The vessel, which on approaching we found to be Mr. Noble's brig, the Alert, succeeded in reaching her anchorage in the evening, I immediately went on board, and, of course, our first inquiries were concerning loved ones far away. My heart overflowed with thankfulness to God when I read their letters. How great His mercy in having kept my dear wife, and our four little children, in health and strength, for it is now over thirteen months since I heard a word about them. Truly our God is a covenant-keeping God, who will fully keep that which we commit to His trust. Other letters, both from the Society and dear friends, are full of comfort, and one feels more than repaid by such tokens of love and sympathy for leaving all to come to this desolate place."

Beyond the joy of receiving letters from home, the missionaries had the pleasure of unpacking their annual supplies. Among them were a large number of towels and a quantity of soap. Alluding to these, Mr. Peck remarks: "Won't our Eskimos be clean by and by." And in a private letter he writes: "I am trying to teach the children to be clean. At first they came to me with hair a literal mat of filth and grease, so that it was difficult to tell which was hair and which was dirty grease. Their skins were thickly coated with cakes of dirt. With the towels and soap now sent us, and which I have served out to the children, we are giving an incentive to cleanliness by offering thirteen prizes, at the next Christmas festival, for the uniformly cleanest children."

Towards the end of September the Alert left again for Scotland and winter once more began to encircle Blacklead Island. A time of spiritual warfare followed, concerning which some interesting details are given. Perhaps it may have struck some readers that, as far as teaching by the missionaries and the reception of their teaching by the Eskimos were concerned, there had, up to this time, been a remarkable absence of conflict. Well, we must expect that this state of things cannot go on for ever. Even in earthly things innovations, however good, inevitably stir up opposition. How much more must the messenger of Christ expect to be opposed when he seeks to carry Christ right into the enemy's stronghold. Indeed, probably no missionary ought to be satisfied with his work until he sees Satan fighting for his own.

And so we are not surprised that the course of the Gospel did not run altogether smoothly among the Eskimos when the conjurors began to find out, like the silversmiths of Ephesus in former days, that their craft was in danger.

In the early days of October, Mr. Parker had been attending a sick man, but he did not improve so rapidly as he had hoped he would. This then was an opportunity for those who had been ousted. The ignorant sick man is seldom satisfied with anything short of a miracle; he cannot bear to wait for the slow development of medical science. So one of the conjurors was allowed to come in and practise his art through one night. These practices have been more or less described elsewhere, so nothing need here be said in detail. Mr. Peck determined to speak to the people about this matter when they should come together for instruction. At the evening meeting, however, but few were present when the instruction commenced. "I was, therefore," he said, "half inclined to leave the matter for what I thought would be a more favourable opportunity. But I was moved by a strong inward impulse to speak from the First Commandment, and just as I commenced, who should enter our meeting but the very conjuror who had practised his demoniac art. After I had gone on some time he interrupted me by saying that we were both conjurors, or, in other words, that there was no difference between my preaching the Gospel and his heathen incantations. I was led, therefore, to speak to him very plainly and to point out, in no unkind spirit, I hope, the real difference between our objects. All the people present listened with the greatest attention, and I felt sure that God by His Holy Spirit was speaking to them."

Again, later in the same month, the weather was very stormy, and hunting was consequently a failure. The heathen Eskimos, then, headed by their conjurors, organized a series of heathen abominations in connection with their worship of Sedna (or Senna, as the name seems to be pronounced in Cumberland Sound). These ceremonies were to propitiate the goddess so that expeditions for game might become possible and successful. As has been mentioned in a former chapter, some of their practices in this worship are of a terribly immoral nature. So the missionaries set their faces against them and opposed them all in their power. This incensed many of the people very greatly, and, as Mr. Peck expresses it, "thinned out our stony-ground hearers." Many stood firm under this trial, "but in others I was sadly deceived. I cannot, however, but rejoice in God. Satan is evidently stirring up his agents, and this is in itself a sign of life. Again we see the real state of people's hearts and shall be able to deal with them, I trust, with more wisdom. Last, but not least, the people are realizing that to follow Christ means more than a mere assent to the truths they hear." And yet once more, a few days later, concerning the same matter we are told: "Some of the heathen appear utterly ashamed of their vile ways, and will not, therefore, come to our meetings. Indeed we have had quite a thinning out of late. I am waiting patiently and asking God for special guidance."

There was yet another instrument which Satan used during this season, one which is always powerful, especially with barbarous peoples, i.e., drink. One of the Europeans was greatly to blame for having supplied it to the Eskimos. He, however, promised Mr. Peck to be more careful in the future.

The winter set in with unusual severity. The journals speak continually of "storms raging," of "a week of stormy weather," of gales, of heavy snow and such like.

From Sunday, November 10, to Sunday the 17th, it was "a fearful week, wind blowing and snow drifting. The people are in want, and spiritually, there have been some discouraging events. On November 19, we had our house banked up with snow. A wall of some five feet thick and ten feet high was built all round. This was the work of some twenty Eskimos who cut out and hauled several large sledge loads of frozen blocks of snow." And this protection was arranged not before it was wanted, for the next day a very heavy gale was blowing, indeed the heaviest "we have experienced since landing here. One of our fires could not be kept alight as we were nearly suffocated with sulphur and smoke. So we spent a miserable day. How we should have fared I hardly know if we had not been led most providentially to encircle our house with what proved to be a real shelter. A snow wall, five feet thick, keeps out not a little wind."

Christmas approached, but it did not come upon the Missionary Station without preparation. Working parties of one sort or another are the correct thing in every well-ordered parish. It is true they are generally set on foot and managed by ladies. But the fact that no ladies were present at Black-lead Island was not going to deter so orthodox and energetic a pastor as Mr. Peck. He had organized his working party some time before. It was really a knitting class. He found some Eskimo women who had been taught to knit years ago by a whaler's wife. These were appointed as instructors. Wool and needles had been sent out by kind friends in England. The class had been regularly attended by thirteen women and thirteen girls. The result was a very respectable out-turn of articles, numbering 42 woollen caps, 113 pairs of mittens, and 35 pairs of gloves, and all these things were to be used as Christmas presents for the Eskimos.

So Christmas Day came, the day of all the year for rejoicing, tempered by some sad and solemn recollections. "The dear ones at home were very much in our thoughts, on our hearts and in our prayers. How near, and yet how far they seem to us at this hallowed season.

"A large number of Eskimo friends gathered together to-day. Several brought presents of things which they had knitted and desired me to take them for my own use, and thus be able to show them to the kind friends who had sent the wool.

"I was very pleased to see such a kind, thoughtful spirit among them, and the presents were an utter surprise, as I had no idea they had been making these special articles for our use.

"After friendly greetings we entertained the donors of the gifts with coffee and cake, and I pointed out to them the true reason why we should rejoice on this day. Poor souls! one does so long to see them take a firm hold of Jesus, as a living, personal Saviour."

"Thursday, 26th.--Decided to give the married people a treat to-day. Each family was supplied with flour and grease, which they cooked in their own dwellings over their lamps in pans, or in other ways.

"In the evening we had a magic lantern lecture for adults in our little church. The place was crammed to suffocation, and the malodours arising from the greasy clothing, and the filthy persons of such a congregation, baffles all description. However, we got along very nicely. Mr. Parker is a splendid manipulator of the lantern, and I gave a few words explanatory of the passing slides, which depicted scenes in our Lord's life on earth; and, as ever when the magic lantern is shown, the people went away full of a deep delight."

"Friday, 27th.--Children's day. Tried to make the little ones happy. Gave them a feast at 3 p.m. This consisted of plum pudding, cake, tea and coffee. Oh! how those little dears did eat! Oh! what capacious stomachs these Eskimos have! But, at last they had to 'cease firing,' and then I advised them to carry off the fragments that remained for their mothers and fathers; a hint, by the way, which they were not slow to take advantage of.

"At 7 p.m. came the great event of the season--distribution of the prizes and a display of a Christmas tree. This latter, made by Mr. Parker, was a great success. With the hoops of a flour barrel, tastefully decorated with coloured paper, etc., and arranged ingeniously on a pole, which was lashed top and bottom, he contrived a very pretty affair. The gifts were in nice little bags (the bags also the work of Mr. Parker's ingenious fingers) and hung on the hoops, around which lighted candles were distributed in the most orthodox Christmas fashion, and with the further aid of various little ornaments, our tree, when lit up, looked quite a grand affair.

"Mr. Hall (Mr. Noble's agent here) took the chair at 7 p.m., the place being crowded, for every one was anxious to see so novel a sight.

"After singing and prayer, the distribution of prizes took place. These were, first, for some of the most regular attendants and best behaved at school, and second, for the most cleanly.

"Fourteen prizes were given to the most regular attendants; one girl named Roopenwak, had not missed a day; another named Ropvidliak, had only missed one day; while a third named Rillukvuk, had only missed two. Fourteen also won prizes for cleanliness, and I had a singular pleasure in handing these to the recipients, as one does appreciate cleanliness among a people of this naturally filthy type.

"After the prizes had been distributed, the tree was stripped and each member of our tiny flock was presented with some nice article.

"After a closing hymn had been sung, and prayer offered, we separated, thanking God for the happy time He had given us; and for the materials supplied, which are also His gifts, and placed at our disposal for His glory."

There is very much for encouragement in this account of the great festal season of the Christian year, and even allowing for some being attracted to the Mission from false motives, there is a solid foundation of Christianity and an indication of progress. It is then very saddening to find a note of the worst kind of discouragement soon after, discouragement such as has been experienced too often, and with which every missionary is probably more or less familiar.

"I felt constrained to speak to a white man who is here as to the immorality of his life. He listened, but got no further. How much one longs to see him, and others here, on the Lord's side. It seems almost a hopeless task to do any real good amongst this people while our fellow whites exhibit such a terrible example, and thus wield so awful an influence on the side of Satan.

"However, we are not here to fight God's battles in our own strength, neither shall we prevail by any so-called wisdom or might of our own. The Lord Himself is fighting for us, and we know that He will be victor in the end. So we go on patiently, and, I trust, cheerfully with our work."

We seem able to read between the lines of Mr. Peck's notes. We picture a man who comes to these inhospitable regions for money making, for his own aggrandisement and ultimate ease. Influenced by no high motive, but purely selfish in his aims, he makes the native Eskimos minister to his every vice. Circling lower and lower in the indulgence of his passions, he becomes a centre from which radiate hellish forces. He lends himself to the devil as a satanic agent.

What a contrast to this is presented in the picture of the Christlike life of patient endurance of the messengers of the Gospel. Like the Master they came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to live not only among but for the people to whom they are sent. Soon after the occurrence above mentioned, both Mr. Peck and Mr. Parker undertook a tour on the ice in the neighbourhood of Kikkerton, to work among the Eskimos of that station and any others they might find. It is impossible for us at home fully to grasp what these missionary trips mean. The cold registered was often from 30° to 40° below zero. When night came no hut of any kind would be found to welcome them. The frozen sea was their flooring. They would pile up blocks of frozen snow and spread their canvas over the open top and thus shut out the elements as best they could. "When the shelter was completed our spirit-lamp was lit, our kettle filled with snow, and patiently we waited till the water boiled. Parker made some cocoa,, and in the midst of a vapour, which froze as soon as it reached our canvas roof, we drank with avidity the warm and refreshing beverage.

"After shutting up the tiny hole, which we had used for a door, with a block of snow, we managed by the light of a candle to wriggle into our sleeping bags and thus to secure a considerable number of shivery little dozes through the night, in spite of the excessive cold."

But when we read details of this kind we should have suggested to us not merely a contrast between the messenger of the Gospel and the godless trader. We should also in relation to our own lives consider the meaning of such sacrifice as this. If we are true in the contemplation of our own lives, we shall discover that the vast majority of those things which we have been accustomed to regard as necessary to us were at first mere luxuries, and by degrees they have insidiously wormed themselves into our lives so as to seem indispensable. Every thing will acquire a new aspect and will begin to cry, "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?"

Our tables loaded with a variety of costly foods, of delicacies to tempt a pampered taste, of choice wines, will cry out against us, "How much owest thou?"

Our curtained walls, our easy chairs, our deep carpeted floors, will take up the cry and echo back the words, "How much owest thou?"

Our soft warm beds and downy pillows, so different from an Arctic couch of frozen snow and ice, will cause our dream palaces to resound with the cry, "How much owest thou?"

To return to that Kikkerton journey. After some time it was decided that Mr. Parker should return to Blacklead Island, while Mr. Peck remained to minister to the Eskimos around him. He then took up his temporary abode in an Eskimo village. His own pen gives a description which is worth recording as giving a vivid picture of his surroundings and his life.

"A sketch of my present surroundings, etc., may be of interest, especially as, by geographical computation, I am now situated almost on the Arctic circle.

"Item one is the Eskimo village. This consists of fourteen snow-houses. These are built amongst huge boulders of ice, and look like large bee-hive shaped piles of snow. This peculiar little 'town,' the inhabitants of which number in all fifty-five souls, is situated on the frozen sea, some four miles from the mainland.

"The coast here is rugged in the extreme, and the mountain peaks rise covered with a deep white mantle of snow, sharply silhouetted against the clear blue sky.

"The whole picture is one of utter desolation, though not devoid of a certain bold and rugged grandeur, which fills the soul with a solemn and wondrous sense of awe, as one remembers that all this is 'the work of His hands.'

"My snow-hotel is inhabited by three persons besides myself. My host, who is, or rather has been, a noted conjuror; his wife, a young person remarkably cleanly in her person for an Eskimo; and the third person is a little foster son, about six years of age, a nice, hearty little fellow.

"They are all very kind to me, and as I do not notice their not over-inviting habits, we get on famously together."

"Thursday, April 2.--Very busy teaching and visiting all day. A striking illustration of God's power to answer prayer was given to-day. The Eskimo in whose house I am living asked me quite spontaneously to pray with him, and to ask God to give him success in his hunting. For some time past he had not caught a seal, and was therefore short of oil for his lamps. God answered the prayer, for the man brought back with him with great joy in the evening two seals--just the number we asked for."

"Friday, 3d.--Prayed again with our friend; and he returned this time with three seals."

Mr. Peck continued his ministrations at this time under great difficulty for he says: "My old throat trouble is very bad. But the Lord stands by me, and strengthens me, giving me to realize that my seasons of weakness are His times of power and blessing."

Some simple extracts from the journal will best close the chapter.

"Saturday, nth.--Started this morning to visit another band of Eskimos living somewhere on the ice floe. After a drive of some hours over very hummocky ice, I found our friends. They received me with much joy, put my kettle over their oil stove, filled it with snow-water, which they had previously made for their own use, and indeed they were altogether most kind and hospitable.

"Having made a kettle of coffee, I invited them to have a cup with me, and a right jolly party we were as we eagerly devoured some hard biscuit and warmed our chilly frames with the coffee.

"Towards evening it came on to blow and drift furiously. One of the men who has been gone since early morning to catch seals has not returned, and with this gale abroad the people are somewhat anxious regarding him.

"During the night the storm increased, and our little dwelling seemed almost to rock with the violence of the wind. Fortunately the snow-house is situated on the lee side of a large boulder of ice some eight or ten feet high, and this acts as a break to the wind- What would become of us should the ice--the frozen sea on which we are encamped--break up, I hardly know. For the season is advancing, and there can hardly be more than three feet of ice between us and the sea beneath, a thought which does not add to one's comfort when trying to sleep in the snow-house, four miles from the land and with a gale of wind raging without."

"Sunday, 12th.--Storm moderated, and the missing man arrived about ten a.m. Both dogs, sledge and driver were literally covered with driven snow. He told us that he had quite lost himself in the storm, and was obliged to remain in the snowdrift during the whole of that bitter night.

"Had a profitable day with the people. Taught them several times, and sought the Lord's presence for my own comfort and support.

"Tuesday, 19th.--Desirous to taste a new phase of Eskimo life, and to be one with the people whom I seek to win, I started with one of the Eskimos who was going young seal catching.

"Our conveyance was a small sledge, drawn by four dogs.

"After reaching the actual hunting ground, the dogs were continually driven in a windward direction. If they scented a seal-hole, they raced away for it at full speed, for they know as well as their owners--sometimes even better--how to find the game.

"When the dogs arrive at a seal-house, which is a cavity made in the snow on top of the ice, the driver leaps off the sledge, and then, as swiftly as possible, breaks through the crust of snow which forms the roof of the young seal's residence. Should the young seal be inside, he is soon hauled out with a hook attached to the end of a stout stick and is quickly despatched.

"But these little creatures are very wary, and are by no means easily caught. Even on the day of their birth they are able, if alarmed--and their hearing is remarkably acute--to slip down into the sea below; this acuteness of hearing makes it exceedingly difficult to get near their dwellings without being heard.

"The mother seal, also, uses every precaution for the safety of her baby; and should she hear any noise on the top of the snow, as she will probably be in the vicinity of the little dwelling, if not actually inside suckling her little one, will take hold of her baby with her teeth, as a cat will carry her kitten, and plunge down through the escape hole into the sea. She then swims to another hole, for she has several others in the neighbourhood, constructed as means of retreat in times of danger.

"Young seals that are captured are generally those which the mother has left for a short time while she is diving in search of food; or again, others may be captured when the crust of snow becomes soft by mild weather or the mid-day rays of the sun, and the hunter is able then to remove the snow roof of the house noiselessly and quickly.

"The Eskimos use the skins of the young seals for their inside coats and trousers, and the flesh is considered a delicacy.

"As regards the trip on which I went, nothing came of it; we were quite unsuccessful. Several seal-houses were broken open, but the cry of my companion was invariably the same--'Akkangmut! akkangmut! i.e. 'He (the seal) has gone down, he has dived.'

"Thursday, 22d.--A fearful day! Heavy storm. Could not have the people together, but managed to crawl into several of their abodes and spoke to the inmates concerning their souls.

"But this visiting in bad weather is no joke. To enter the snow-house one has to struggle through a mass of growling, snarling dogs, who generally congregate in the outer passage or porch which leads into the main building. On getting inside I am generally covered with snow, which the Eskimos kindly but vigorously try to knock off with flat kind of sticks which they keep for this purpose. After a good 'lambasting,' and many efforts on my own part to shake off the mass of sticky snow, I shake hands with them, and have a friendly chat for a minute, before plunging into the matter of the teaching.

"As the knowledge and intelligence of the people varies very much, one has to be careful to use the right matter for their various needs, never, of course, forgetting to put Jesus Christ before them as the Saviour of sinners, the One who can in the fullest sense of the word save them from the guilt and power of sin.

"I generally stay about twenty minutes in each house, and then, after a hearty shake hands all round, I commence my exit, once more crawling on hands and knees, and am heartily glad when I have again safely passed through the growling dogs and have reached the outer world."

On Monday, May 4, Mr. Peck left the Kikkerton neighbourhood. Several of the people brought him a parting gift of young seal skins before he started. "Then as the sledge moved over the frozen waste," he writes. "I heard some of the little band I had left behind singing hymns. What a joyful sound to hear in this frozen land!

"Our dogs, numbering fourteen in all, pulled away with a will, and we speedily lost sight of the station and its inhabitants. Two men accompanied me on this occasion, which is unusual, seeing that I usually help with the sledge on all my journeys thus saving the use of a second man."

There is a touch of drollery about this affair that makes it worth recording. All the able-bodied men were at this time in the boats employed in the whale fishing by Mr. Mutch, Mr. Noble's agent, consequently there had been a difficulty in finding a wholly sound, man to drive and guide the sledge. The man who owned the larger number of the dogs was almost blind, he therefore needed another man with good sight to point out the way. The only other man available at the station was lame in one leg, it was necessary therefore for the two men to accompany the sledge, for the lame man could not drive, and the blind man could not guide, but between them both they managed to do the work of one sound man.

After travelling about thirty-five miles, they met a party of Eskimos living near some islands, and Mr. Peck essayed a visit to the "chief residence."

"But," he writes, "the smell inside was so awful that I was compelled to beat a hasty retreat, and fixing my little canvas tent, was glad to make the best of out-door quarters rather than attempt to pass a night in such an inferno as that which I had begun to enter."

Tuesday the journey was continued, and again on Wednesday, in spite of the fact that it was snowing heavily throughout the greater part of the day.

"Arrived at Blacklead Island about ten p.m.," writes Mr. Peck, "and was most warmly received by the people, and was thankful to meet again my fellow-labourer and loved friend, Mr. Parker, who, I was delighted to find, was well and hearty. Thank God for His upholding and sustaining grace shown so freely to us both."

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