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  • Apostle to the Inuit: The Journals and Ethnographic Notes of Edmund James Peck, the Baffin Years, 1894–1905
  • Nelson Graburn
Frédéric Laugrand, Jarich Oosten and François Trudel. Apostle to the Inuit: The Journals and Ethnographic Notes of Edmund James Peck, the Baffin Years, 1894–1905. University of Toronto Press. xiv, 498. $75.00

This important and readable volume is the latest of more than twenty publications by the authors – Laugrand and Trudel of Laval and Oosten of Leiden – on the shamanic religion and conversion to Christianity of the Inuit of the Eastern Canadian Arctic. It is a historical record of missionary activities and an exploration of Inuit shamanism undertaken by Peck and his colleagues at the behest of anthropologist Franz Boas. The accounts are illustrated by black-and-white photos and drawings of unknown date or authorship.

The Reverend Peck, known as Uqamaaq (the great speaker), was the most important missionary in the history of the Canadian North. [End Page 309] Peck began his mission career among the Cree and Inuit of James Bay and Hudson Bay in 1876, where he remained until 1894. By 1878 he had published Portions of the Holy Scripture for the Use of the Esquimaux, using the syllabic script developed by the Methodist missionary James Evans for the Cree. His driving ambition led him to establish a mission in Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island, with the help of a Scottish whaler in 1895. This book is his account of his years there until he left in 1905.

The first 280 pages are almost entirely reproductions of his chronological Baffin Island journals, housed in the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada, supplemented by other accounts of his work. These journal entries are lengthy, irregular, and extremely repetitive. Though they resemble a diary, they were official reports written for the Church Missionary Society in England.

A number of features characterize and are revealed by these accounts. These missionaries depended almost completely on the assistance and cooperation of whalers and traders, yet they abhorred fraternization between their employees and Inuit women. Missionaries almost always worked in pairs, gradually expanding the geographical range of their proselytization. The accounts consistently mention the weather and the hardships of mission and Inuit life, relieved only by the wave of Inuit conversions and the infrequent arrival of encouraging letters from home, many of which were dated to be opened through the year. Peck's account includes his inner conversations, revealing for his distant backers his frustrations and successes, hopes and fears, with frequent asides about how much more they could do with greater support and more personnel. It rarely reveals anything intimately personal, except his terrible bouts of seasickness, his frequent sore throat, and his mourning the death of his young daughter in England and of many tragic Inuit deaths. Perhaps we learn more in the authors' compact introduction than Peck's 250 pages of accounts. We know that Peck was an indefatigable worker, visiting, teaching, translating, cooking and cleaning and praying and meditating every day, and he was much respected and loved by the Inuit.

Part 2 lays out information he gathered on Inuit shamanistic beliefs at the prompting of Boas, often verbatim from informants known and unknown; it culminates in Peck's list of the names and characteristics of 347 tuurngait (familiar spirits), also the subject of another book Representing Tuurngait (2000) by the same authors. While this presents new data, it is frustrating to understand and use,as they 'often resemble field notes and rough materials.' We learn a lot about shamanic divination and retribution for breaking taboos, about the 'Sedna' (Sadna/Sanna) feast where the masked, transvestite shaman pairs up men and women 'to make them for a time man and wife,' about concepts of the soul (strangely the name-soul atik is unmentioned), and the [End Page 310] numerous tuurngait spirits who are mainly beneficial and help Inuit by disabling the souls of Inuit prey. The best parts are transliterated accounts by named informants, with Inuttitut/English interlining. Here one can judge Peck's translations and his orthography, but one wishes for the original syllabic texts. Peck's orthography and spelling...


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