I stood in a small, remote cemetery in northern New Hampshire, on a mission
to bring some small comfort to a guilty heart, mine, after reading of the life
of a young man who was brought to America along with his father over one hundred
years ago. It was the fashion of those years to study unique cultures by importing
human "specimens" to the anthropologist's museum or zoo close to the comforts
of home. Pygmies and Eskimos were brought to these institutions by well-known
explorers and adventurers (collectors), all in the name of, at best, knowledge.
Most of these stories don't have happy endings: four of the six greenlanders
transported to New York City by Robert Peary died within their first year abroad.
The bodies of the deceased were then rendered down to skeletons for display in the
museum. One of the four who died was Qisuk, the father of the youngest of the six.
His death left his son, Minik (or Mene) an orphan and far from home. The young boy
was eventually adopted by an employee of the museum, who assumed responsibility for
his welfare when the museum's interests apparently turned toward other curiosities.
Minik's story is a long one for a person who lived only thirty-one years. There
is a book about him, but like his journey to and from and back to the United States,
there is confusion about his life, some consider the book at best dramatization, at
worst fabrication. Was he victim or willing participant or even perpetrator of the
journeys that became his life? I have no idea. My simple mission was to bring some of
Greenland to his grave, not be his story's apologist. Was my visit meant as comfort
to me or to him? I'm not sure about that either, but now I know that a new journey
has begun for me, and there are more promises to keep.
I hope that I will find as peaceful a place to deposit my bones when it is time
for me to end my journeys. Like Minik, my body won't rest beside my father's, but
bodies are only bones, and bones are only the burden of this life.
Updated: 10:15 AM GMT on July 15, 2009
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