It was an exciting day for the people of Kalaallit Nunat.
After months of living in perpetual darkness and freezing temperatures, the Caribou would soon be returning, the ground would soon be visible again, and most importantly, the sun would bless the tortured and weary Kalaallit with her radiance.
The Kalaallit life was defined by fear and unpredictability. A village that flourished for years could be eliminated in a month. The seals offered no warning or explanation for their disappearance, and did not apologize for the starvation their absense would cause. Appeals to the spirits of game were often ignored, but were always offered regardless. It would be bad enough to starve, without having to wonder if it was your fault.
With so little certainty in the Kalaallit world, it was often said that the people did not believe, they only feared.
But after countless generations of living on the frigid tundra of Kalaallit Nunat, the Kalaallit people had come to have great faith in two of their gods. Every year, the appearance of Malina, the sun goddess, and the departure of Anningan, her brother the moon god, has come to be predicted with greater and greater accuracy.
There was a time when all the men of the village would travel to the East coast to sit by the shoreline with outstretched hands, begging Malina to return. With the most unscientific estimations of her arrival, they would often be waiting for days, even weeks before her light would peek out over the horizon.
But those days were long past. The shamans and historians of the village had become adept at keeping accurate calendars without the benefit of daily sunrises and sunsets, and the precision of their prediction of Malina’s return was measured in hours, not days.
But with this greater certainty, came a lack of apprehension, and as could almost be expected, a lack of concern for this once mysterious and ethereal event. Although greatly appreciated by all, Malina’s return was thought of as guaranteed, and few cared to spend the energy to implore her to do what she was bound to do anyway.
So on this day, there were not 1000 Kalaallit hunters, not 100 or 10, but only 3 men who had chosen to take the journey towards the East and show their respects towards Anningan’s sister. They were the sons of the village shaman, Irniq, Nauja and Amaruq.
During the long trip, they discussed amongst themselves the changing ways of the Kalallit people. As devout spiritualists, they were ashamed of their brethren who no longer joined them in this journey. There was no conversation regarding the relevance of this ritual, it felt right to them and that was enough.
They arrived at the coast with a few hours to spare and decided to erect an idol of bones and furs to please the goddess Malina. They kneeled by their idol and waited with outstretched hands for Malina’s return. For the season when Caribou would be plentiful and children could be born more safely and their igloos would be traded for more comfortable tents.
They waited, silenty and as frozen as their icy surroundings for what eventually seemed like suspiciously too long. But they continued to wait and wait for hours without daring to disrespect Malina by moving even a single muscle or displaying the slightest hint of doubt on their faces.
Almost a full day passed before Irniq spoke what was on all of their minds.
“Something is wrong. Father has not been off by more than a single meal in the last 20 seasons. Malina has been the most kind and gracious of all spirits, but she can no longer tolerate the disrespect shown to her by our people.”
There was a long silence before Nauja spoke his mind.
“Who is to say what Malina’s temperament may be. She has never, in all the history of Kalaallit Nunat, failed to return. There is no man here who fully comprehends the methods our father uses to predict her return. He could’ve sent us early as a test of our faith. He is getting old and he could’ve made a mistake. Malina is not a vengeful goddess.”
Amaruq thought for a while, and shared his thoughts with his brothers.
“Be it a test from our father or Malina herself, let us rise to the challenge. Let us not further shame our people by allowing Malina to arrive with our backs turned. We still have a few days provisions, we can wait until she or father is satisfied by our faith.”
And they waited. They waited in the cold, dreary, uninhabited wasteland, wondering what those back at thier village might be thinking. Did they now wish they too had come to show proper respects to Malina? Would this be sufficient warning for seasons to come?
What could be happening?
It was unlike their father to intentionally beguile his sons as was suggested. He was so proud of his sons for taking this journey, why would he make it more difficult than necessary? As one of the most respected and sharp witted shamans, it was equally unlikely for him to have made a mistake. In all their lives, nothing like this had ever happened. It had been generations since Malina’s return was predicted so inaccurately.
Was it possible…
Could it be….
that Malina was truly forsaking the people of Kalaallit Nunat?
For how long?
How deep was her resentment?
The brothers pondered these questions in silence for three days. When the last of their rations was finished, Irniq spoke again.
“There can no longer be any doubt as to Malina’s disposition. We have offended the greatest of all spirits by treating her as the least, and now we will be reminded of her importance. I accept and invite any cruelty Malina wishes to offer. Never will it be said that Irniq was a man of weak will or little faith. I will remain here until Malina returns or I will expire a more satisfied man than he who is condemned to live in eternal darkness.”
Nauja spoke next.
“From the day I was old enough to take this journey to show my respects to Malina, I have taken it. I continue to take it when all others have forsaken her and let there be no question in either of your minds that I would’ve taken this journey for as long as my health allowed. If Malina wishes to punish me along with those that have forsaken her, then it seems that my efforts have been in vain. If I cannot have the light of Malina, I will learn to love Anningan’s darkness all the more. I will forget the taste of Caribou and the warmth of summer and I shall be just as content.”
Amaruq looked across the ocean pensively for a long time, then shared his thoughts.
“Malina is not a wicked goddess, but we have given her reason to question our faith. Let us do our best brothers, Malina will be reasonable.”
The three brothers sat there for another day, hungry, tired and depressed before Irniq stood up and ran towards the idol they had built.
“I curse you Malina! I have loved you above all other spirits when others barely remember your name, and you care to punish them more than to reward me! You are the goddess of whores!”
And with that he toppled over the idol and left it in broken pieces. Nauja stood up as well.
“You are too emotional Irniq. It is obvious Malina cares nothing for you, so why do you offer her the pleasure of seeing you in pain? My brothers, I am returning to the village. You may join me and embrace this new life or you can choose to sit here until you die in the name of a goddess who will not save you.”
Nauja dusted snow off his parka and did just as he said he would. Irniq cried into the snow while Amaruq sat still. Finally, Irniq spoke again.
“It is men like Nauja that have caused this to happen. Does he not realize that Malina can see through his lack of dedication? I have said and done horrible things, but only out of my passion and love for Malina. Surely she will recognize this. I am resolved to die in this spot and I throw myself entirely to her mercy.”
“It cannot be said whether Malina has a greater respect for men of pride, passion or reason. I cannot live past another day without eating, and there may not even be enough game on the way home to guarantee my survival if I wait that long. I will not abandon Malina, but after a day, she will have to understand that I must offer myself a chance to live. I do not want my children to grow up in a world without light, but a world without a father would be just as dark.”
And the two men sat there and waited for Malina’s return while their brother was getting closer and closer to home. Nauja wondered how he would be greeted by his fellow villagers when he arrived. He wondered about his brothers and what they would do.
Amaruq wondered if he could convince Irniq to come with him should Malina allow the time he set to elapse. He wondered if he should convince him, or let him choose his own death.
Irniq was the most free of them all, for he wondered nothing. He merely sat, and waited to be either Malina’s blessed child and the hero of his village, or perhaps just a lucky snack for a wandering wolf.