Haile, Sarah, Maniilaq : Eskimo Prophet Bonneville Books. Softbound. 269 pages. Footnotes and bibliography.

There are many conflicting stories about this Inupiat man, but a few facts are known. He was from Qala on the Upper Kobuk River, born around 1830, and was a prophet. Just a few years ago there were people alive who knew him. Some of his prophecies remain unfullfilled; the others have come true.

That’s about the end of the agreed-upon facts. Some writers have decided he was bringing Christianity to the people before the missionaries came. Others have said that’s nonsense. He was only referring to his Grandfather in the Sky, and since shamans were well-known to use the sky, that was in the tradition.

Sarah Haile plays it safe. She has written this book as a novel. However, since she lived and taught school in Northwest Alaska for 11 years, beginning in 1986, she draws upon interviews both oral and printed, and includes many, many details about the way of life before the “pale ones” brought change forever. These show the pleasant round of the seasons, from the spring hunts to the summer berry-picking, fishing, and hunting, and generally storing of food for the long winters. Winter also brought the messenger feasts, when food was shared with others and dancing, games, and general festivities in early December made the long nights pass quickly.

All agree Maniilaq was a very quiet boy who spent a lot of time alone. He was very close to his mother, a noted story-teller, and told her about the little white bird that talked to him, replaced later by his Grandfather in the Sky.

When he grew up, he began prophesying. He told the people that the day would come when pale people would arrive and the old ways would change. Later there would be huge noisy boats with fire sprouting from them that moved under their own power, and later yet boats that flew in the sky. There would come boxes that would bring news of the entire world.

Maniilaq received the usual reward of the prophet. He was widely ridiculed and even feared for his odd ways. He was also known regionally. Married, with children and later grandchildren, he finished his life, if he died, by walking north, perhaps as far as Barrow.

Among the prophecies, the year of two consecutive seasons has not yet happened, nor has the big city founded because of something in the ground, but the people are patient.

Today the health and social services clinic at Kotzebue is named Maniilaq.

An odd and fascinating story. Others have told it, but beware of the overtly Christian accounts. Maniilaq was much more.

D. L.