Abraham Ulrikab

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The Ulrikab family: Ulrike, Tobias, Abraham, Maria (on Ulrike's lap) and Sara (standing).

Abraham Ulrikab (c. 1845 - January 13, 1881) was an Inuk from Hebron, Labrador, in the present day province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, who — along with his family — was to become a zoo exhibit in Europe in 1880 as an attraction at the Hamburg, Germany, public zoo.

Ulrikab, along with his wife and two daughters and four other Inuit, had agreed to become the newest attractions in the Hamburg Zoo. On August 26, 1880, all eight Inuit from Labrador boarded the schooner Eisbär (which means "polar bear" in German) to take part in a supposed display of the native way of the Inuit in northern communities. As instructed by zoo keepers, they simply had to walk, talk, wear their fur parkas and throw the odd harpoon to earn their keep.

The eight Inuit were from two families. Their approximate ages upon arrival in Europe were as follows:

  • Ulrikab's family
    • Abraham, 35,
    • Ulrike, 24, his wife
    • Sara, 4, daughter
    • Maria, infant daughter
    • Tobias, 20, Ulrike's unmarried nephew.
  • The other family, whose surname is unknown
    • Terrianiak, about 40, father
    • Paingo, as old as 50, wife
    • Noggasak, their teenage daughter.

Ulrikab was literate, an accomplished violin player and a devout Christian. He became the natural leader of the eight and had agreed to perform in this fashion to repay a debt of £10 to the Moravian mission in Hebron. Within weeks of arriving in Europe and taking up residence in the zoo, the families realized they had made a mistake in coming.

The Inuit arrived in Hamburg on September 24, 1880, and were immediately put on display at the zoo. On October 2, 1880 they were moved to the Berlin zoo, where they remained until November 14, 1880, and then were sent on a European tour. They were to be vaccinated against smallpox prior to leaving Labrador, but as there were no facilities in Hebron, it fell to the Germans to do this, yet this was never done. The first to fall ill were misdiagnosed by doctors as having a non-fatal malady. Not until three of the Inuit had died did the remaining Inuit get vaccinated, on January 1, 1881. This came too late, however, and by January 16, 1881, five months after their arrival, they were all dead.

Ulrikab kept a diary written in his native Inuktitut; it was among Abraham's possessions which was sent back to the Moravian mission in Hebron after his death. In the diary he described in detail the hardships and humiliation each of the Inuit had endured and the terrible beatings received by Tobias, who was beaten with a dogwhip by their master, Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian trader of ethnographic artifacts.

Abraham died January 13, and his wife, Ulrike, the last to live, died January 16, 1881. The location of their graves is unknown.

Books published on Abraham Ulrikab[edit]

Year Title ISBN
2005 Blohm, Hans, Alootook Ipellie and Hartmut Lutz. The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press 978-0-7766-0602-6
2007 Lutz, Hartmut, Kathrin Grollmuß, Hans Blohm and Alootook Ipellie. Abraham Ulrikab im Zoo: Tagebuch eines Inuk 1880/81. Wesee (Germany): vdL:Verlag. German translation of The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab. 978-3-9263-0810-8
2014 Jacobsen, Johan Adrian. Voyage with the Labrador Eskimos, 1880-1881. Gatineau (Quebec): Polar Horizons. (English translation by Lutz, Hartmut of Johan Adrian Jacobsen's diary) 978-0-9936740-5-1 (softcover) 978-0-9936740-1-3 (pdf)
2014 Jacobsen, Johan Adrian. Voyage avec les Eskimos du Labrador, 1880-1881. Gatineau (Quebec): Horizons Polaires. (French translation by Jacqueline Thun of Johan Adrian Jacobsen's diary). 978-0-9936740-4-4 (softcover) 978-0-9936740-0-6 (pdf)
2014 Rivet, France. In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab. Gatineau (Quebec): Polar Horizons. 978-0-9936740-6-8 (softcover) 978-0-9936740-3-7 (pdf)
2014 Rivet, France. Sur les traces d'Abraham Ulrikab. Gatineau (Quebec): Horizons Polaires. 978-0-9936740-7-5 (softcover) 978-0-9936740-2-0 (pdf)

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