The Beothuk Saga by Bernard Assiniwi
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.6 MB
This astounding novel fully deserves to be called a saga. It begins a thousand years ago in the time of the Vikings in Newfoundland. It is crammed with incidents of war and peace, with fights to the death and long nights of lovemaking, and with accounts of the rise of local clan chiefs and the silent fall of great distant empires. Out of the mists of the past it sweeps forward eight hundred years, to the lonely death of the last of the Beothuk.
The Beothuk, of course, were the original native people of Newfoundland, and thus the first North American natives encountered by European sailors. Noticing the red ochre they used as protection against mosquitoes, the sailors called them “Red-skins,” a name that was to affect an entire continent. As a people, they were never understood.Until now. By adding his novelist’s imagination to his knowledge as an anthropologist and a historian, Bernard Assiniwi has written a convincing account of the Beothuk people through the ages. To do so he has given us a mirror image of the history rendered by Europeans. For example, we know from the Norse Sagas that four slaves escaped from the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. What happened to them? Bernard Assiniwi supplies a plausible answer, just as he perhaps solves the mystery of the Portuguese ships that sailed west in 1501 to catch more Beothuk, and disappeared from the paper records forever.The story of the Beothuk people is told in three parts. “The Initiate” tells of Anin, who made a voyage by canoe around the entire island a thousand years ago, encountering the strange Vikings with their “cutting sticks” and their hair “the colour of dried grass.” His encounters with whales, bears, raiding Inuit and other dangers, and his survival skills on this epic journey make for fascinating reading, as does his eventual return to his home where, with the help of his strong and active wives, he becomes a legendary chief, the father of his people.
Anin would return to his people. Perhaps by the end of the warm season, if he didn’t waste too much time sleeping in one place.
He woke to the sound of footsteps. The sun was still up, but the sky was dark. Not a breath of wind. The rain had stopped. The only sounds were those of footsteps on wet sand. Even before he looked up he knew who was making them: Gashu-Uwith the Bear had finally caught up with him after all these moons.
Anin leapt to his feet to face the animal, which was coming directly towards him. The bear stopped dead in its tracks. He sniffed the air deeply with his wet muzzle and, despite his poor vision, sensed that he had found the food source from the previous cold season. Anin had no doubt that this was the same bear that had pestered him earlier. Gashu-Uwith was a great hunter. He had picked up Anin’s scent when it was more than four moons cold. Anin had travelled by water while Gashu-Uwith had not left the land. The bear could not see very far, nor could he smell Anin when Anin was at sea, except when the wind was blowing in towards the land.
Gashu-Uwith was either Anin’s enemy or his spirit protector; the problem was discerning the difference without making a mistake. Anin remained standing without showing his fear. Gashu-Uwith sat down on the red sand and, stretching his neck, sniffed the air. He stood up on his hind legs and sniffed again. Then he went down on all fours and walked slowly towards the brook, waded upstream, and disappeared over the lip of the first waterfall.
Anin remained on the beach for a long time, trying to decide whether or not the bear was his spirit protector. How else to explain why the bear had not tried to kill him last winter, even though he had been hungry, and hungry bears were known to stalk and attack solitary initiates? And this time, Gashu-Uwith had moved off as soon as he had sensed Anin’s presence. By climbing to the top of the waterfall, had he been showing Anin a path? Often a spirit protector will lead an initiate along a certain path to avoid dangers that lay ahead.
Deep in thought, Anin stirred the embers of his fire and took a portion of dried meat from his pack. When he had eaten, he lay down on his caribou skin again and slept. When he woke up, his decision had been made. He went to his tapatook, secured his pack to the centre thwart, raised the tapatook to his head, and walked towards the brook. He climbed up on the less rocky side, and in a short time was at the top. He found himself standing on a rocky ridge that, on the left, became a tongue of land that ran down into the sea. Beyond the ridge he saw a magnificent bay, wider than he could see across. To reach this bay by water, around the tongue of land, would have taken him at least two suns. By this short climb he had been afforded a beautiful view, and had also been spared the dangers that always lurk beneath the dark surface of the great sea.