Citation: Markoosie. Harpoon of the Hunter. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1970.
Argument: Scope/Organization/Main Points:
The introduction is by James H. McNeill, the Literature Development Specialist, in the Cultural Development Division of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. It does some justice to the relationship between Inuit, stories, and land, but it is also hilariously patronizing. Excited to “discov[er] that storytelling is still a real and living art” in the Arctic, he surmises that “Eskimo literature could spring, as English and other literatures have done, from oral tradition. But we had to hurry” (np). In addition to McNeill’s dismissal of orality, we might also get the sense that Inuit are doomed to extinction, either in the actual meaning of the word, or through cultural irrelevance. This story was originally published in Inuttitut (which McNeill translates as “Eskimo Way”), a “long-dormant newsletter,” which INAC revived from Ottawa.
Points of Importance/Interest:
Throughout the book is an anxiety about the fate of the protagonist’s community, which ties the story to McNeill’s introduction, along the lines of a necropolitical teleology. The titular hunter, Kamik, is resilient and able to use his harpoon in many cases to save his own life and the lives of those in his community. His mother, Ooramik, explains the community’s hard life as interminable: “As she chewed on the meat, she said, ‘Why does life have to be so hard? Are we going to struggle forever for survival? Sometimes I think I would be better off dead.’” Her companion answers that things might change some day, which Ooramik dismisses as “just a dream” (36-37).
The book culminates with Kamik’s death. Ultimately, the community members’ decision to move does not save their lives and ends up in the deaths of their leaders. So just how much the fate of the community reflects some of the concerns that McNeill’s introduction alludes to is unclear. Certainly the fact that Kamik and his family die in the process of leaving their homeland is interesting, particularly as Inuit stories often culminate in a return home (Martin).
We might recall, too , that the story’s central adventure – hunting the polar bear – was done in the name of protecting the community, so the exodus might be seen as doing a disservice to the many hunters who gave up their lives to kill the bear. There is a gendered dimension, in that the women drown during the river crossing (a passive incident), leading Kamik to kill himself with his harpoon (active choice) – an act described as Kamik’s last hunt. This suggests to me that the women are associated with place and home, but the man’s role as hunter (and, by extension, the harpoon’s purpose) is tied to the women’s lives.