Page:Eskimo Life.djvu/311

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267
RELIGIOUS IDEAS

allotted period. He now acquires supernatural faculties; he becomes so swift of foot that he can leap from one mountain peak to another, he can catch reindeer without weapons, and whatever he aims at he hits. He grows to a great size, clothes himself in reindeer skins, and, according to some, his face turns black and his hair white. Furthermore, he becomes omniscient or clairvoyant; he can hear the speech of men from any distance, and comes to understand the language of the animals. But he pays for all this in his inability to die, and he is always mournful, shedding tears of longing for humankind to which he can never return. He can, however, when opportunity offers, especially at night, make his way into houses or store-rooms to pick up something to eat, or perhaps a little tobacco. Those who have wronged him are always in danger of his vengeance.

The remarkable feature of this belief is that it probably has a certain foundation in fact. Suicide is almost unknown in Greenland, except in the case of a few old or hopelessly infirm people, who, finding themselves at death's door, sometimes throw themselves over a precipice into the sea (compare p. 170) in order to put an end to their sufferings and assure themselves burial. On the other hand, it now and then happens that someone or other, wounded, per-