More from the book “The Add-on Eskimo
At the beginning of May the weather had been clear for several days when Nisana said to Okfagit, “Let’s go crabbing! It’s time and everyone will be there.” He agreed and the whole family made preparations, getting the gear ready, including rifles, and packing food. One danger in crabbing was polar bears that could be lurking around, so they had to be ready.
Crabbing was like going on a picnic at ten below zero. Everyone from their village would be out and there would be lots of social times along with the crab fishing.
They walked to the point of land beyond the village and out onto the shore ice, then went towards some piles of ice which would give them a little shelter from the wind. Okfagit had brought two axes which he and his oldest son used to cut a number of holes in the ice.
Nisana and the children prepared lines with bait wrapped in a cloth and tied on the end along with a weight. The cloth was to prevent the krill from eating the bait before a crab found it. They then lowered one line in each hole and sat back to wait.
Nisana and the girls went over to talk with the neighbors, while some boys came to talk with Akfagit and his brothers. Food was brought out and they sat on the ice to enjoy their spontaneous winter picnic. But, even when enjoying the food, the men kept an eye open for polar bears.
“Time to check the lines!” Okfagit called to his boys. This was the hard part of crabbing, for it is difficult to pull up a line with gloves on, so they had to do it bare handed. At ten below zero and with the lines being wet, it could be painful doing this.
They found four crabs as they checked their eight lines. They pulled the king crabs up through the hole, detached them from the line and laid them upside down on the ice. The crabs quickly froze and then were quiet.
One of Ayit’s sisters was sitting near the piled up ice and suddenly shouted, “Look what I found!” She held up a small pink crab, not much bigger than her hand. Nisana came over immediately and asked, “Where did you find it?” After the girl showed her, Nisanna began to dig into the ice and found a dozen more.
“These have been pushed up through this crevice in the shore ice. We’ll take them home and eat them raw. They are sweet and delicious.” She patted her daughter on the head, pleased with the find.
By the end of the day, Nisana counted twenty king crabs. She and her daughters stuffed them into bags and prepared to go home.
Suddenly someone shouted, “The ice is breaking up!” And before they could even move the section of ice they were on broke off from the shore and began to move out to sea!
Okfagit looked around and saw that their large ice floe would strike the point above the village before it went out into the ocean. “Quick, this way to the point!” he shouted.
Everyone immediately grabbed their equipment and crabs and rushed to the edge of ice nearest land. As the ice was carried out by the waves, it struck the point and began to turn. The Eskimos rushed to the point of contact and leaped over on to the point. No one was left behind.
Okfagit immediately offered a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for protecting them all from a disaster, as well as for protecting them from polar bears, and for the crabs caught.
They all trudged home, anticipating boiled crab dipped in hot seal oil, the reward for the pains and dangers of crabbing in the arctic.
Picture: on the ice for fishing and crabbingh