AKIVIAK by Kaare Rodahl


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Rodahl, a Norwegian physician, met Akiviak in 1950 while studying the Eskimos of northern Alaska. Impressed by the man's personal journey ""from Stone Age to Atomic Age,"" Rodahl set out to reconstruct his life--beginning with early memories of shamans' legends and childhood dreams. Akiviak was born into a ""timeless"" world of winter hunger and seasonal migration, trading festivals and whaling ceremonies. Change began slowly and with mixed effects; the first Christian missionary was a welcome replacement for the local shaman with his peculiar manner of ""cleansing"" the women in the community. But soon Akiviak was attending school, acquiring that ""thirst for knowledge"" and talent for leadership that brought him in the end to his concurrent positions as Christian preacher, community decision-maker, trader-trapper (hence ""the apostle of the fox skins""), store- and ship-owner, and crew boss during the demolition of his own village for a military base. Rodahl underlines the ironies of the Eskimos' new economic dependence, though Akiviak refused to the end to recognize that the changes wrought by outsiders were not ultimately for the best. Labeled a novel, the narrative reads more like biography, without the shape and timing of fiction but possessing in their place the conviction of faithful transcription. Though the voice is that of the European observer, the story is assuredly Akiviak's.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1979
Publisher: Norton