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Drying a polar bearskin at Arctic Bay

The Body and the Tarniq

George Agiaq Kappianaq,
If an angakkuq were to put a tarniq into my hand it would look like a bubble. If someone had a tarniq in their hand and burst it then the person whose tarniq it was would die. If it was broken and disappeared it would not return. If I were an angakkuq I would have to have compassion towards people. If I were to put a tarniq into the palm of my hand so it could be seen, I would have to be very careful with it, because if it were to burst this would be really bad. Everybody has a tarniq, even young children. After a body has been put into the earth the body will decay and go back to the earth. The tarniq will continue living and have the appearance of the body that it had. (Page 37)
This chapter deals with the relationship between body and spirit. Agiaq and Pisuk explain the notion of tarniq, the spiritual essence of the individual, the essence that survives the death of the body. Everyone has a tarniq, even infants. When a person is alive, the tarniq has the shape of a bubble and must be handled with extreme care (some angakkuit or shamans are able to take hold of people’s tarniit). If the tarniq leaves the body while a person is asleep, this person will die. When they die, the tarniq assumes the appearance of that person’s body, but it will look boneless. Under this form, the tarniq will be able to appear in people’s dreams, and the dreamer will recognize it as the deceased. This is how dead persons occasionally ask for their name to be given to a newborn child.

The tarniq is able to think by itself. It can suggest good or bad thoughts to a person. Illness chases it away and, in the reverse situation, if the tarniq is affected by something external (like an angakkuq’s hex), the body will suffer from it. When angakkuit fight each other, they try to take hold of and destroy each other’s tarniq. Angakkuit occasionally cooperate to fight against a dangerous or bad angakkuq, especially if that angakkuq has been killing people. Pisuk tells two stories: one about an angakkuq woman who lost her heart that way and another about Paumiarjuk, an angakkuq who was castrated by a bowhead whale and turned into a woman.

The tarniq can partially leave the body when a person is asleep. It is said that the tarniq is upside down. The angakkuq sees the person sleeping at an angle, with their feet in the air and only their head on the bed. The sleeper is said to be kujjaajuq. Looking at someone sleeping in that state is tirliaqsijuq, but this can be dangerous; the looker could have difficulty having children and grandchildren.

Finally, some people can sense that their tarniq is ready to leave them. These people usually warn their loved ones that they will die soon. That is what Ka&&ak’s husband did.