Life with the Inuit – Tamahere woman’s tale

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Tamahere woman Bev Bevan has brought to life an adventure half a century old – her brave and unique experience of living among and teaching Inuit in the remote Eastern Arctic of Canada.

Bev’s recently published book, A Kiwi In Pang, tells of her one-off, girl’s own adventure in 1967 in the tiny, ice-bound settlement – full name Pangnirtung – just 40km south of the Arctic Circle.

Bev Bevan, nee Andrews, among her Inuit students

Fifty-three years ago, news of her intended destination had the same effect on her friends and family as if she had been going to the moon, she writes in the book’s introduction.

“This whole experience was to be a defining time in my life,” she writes. It was also a momentous time for the Inuit and so Bev’s descriptions tell of a people and a place now changed forever.

When she burst into tears when the slim volume was finally in her hands late last year it was perhaps not just the relief of finally getting everything down on paper. At last the plucky young woman she was, her glimpses of the ancient Inuit culture and her time living in what was essentially a freezer were finally captured for all time.

“For years, I have been introduced as, “Here is Bev, she taught Eskimos in Alaska”. Wrong on both counts. A Kiwi in Pang finally puts the record straight.

It tells of the then Bev Andrew’s fairly sudden departure from Fairfield Primary School, in Hamilton, in 1966, aged 26. “I had less than six weeks to pack up my flat, get a passport, arrange clothes and organise my finances.”

The book’s cover, the typeface based on Inuit syllabic script

Her first destination was Vauxhall, Alberta, Canada, where she taught 2nd graders for six months and then she was off to Pangnirtung on Baffin Island – a land of mountains, icefields, fjords and glaciers.

“It is a land of terrible beauty and demands respect at al times. Summer temperatures rarely reach above 10 deg Celsius, while winter weather could send the temperature plummeting to 44 deg below, with the wind chill factor.

“Inuit have lived in harmony with nature here for over 5000 years, utilising the animals and sea creatures that live here.”

The school’s stated goal was to teach the Inuit English so they could foot it with other Canadians.

She found her year two charges “seemed to have quite a smattering of English and I think they understood more then they let on. If I couldn’t make myself understood, there was one little bright spark in the front of the class, Peneena, who would look intently at me, give a grunt, turn around and jabber away in a very lofty manner. I suspect the translation may not have been accurate.”

She reported home, in a letter to family and friends, “the communication barrier took two months to come to a workable two-way system.” And her detailed letters, like missives from out of space, featured in Waikato Times stories from time to time. They were also kept by her mother enabling Bev, 50 years later, to draw on them for the book.

It’s a charming book, evocative of a long lost era in more ways than one.

“I gave everything a go,” Bev told Tamahere Forum. “It was really pushing the boundaries.”

  • Bev has copies of the book available for sale at $20 each. She can be contacted on bevly@xtra.co.nz or phone 856-4845.
The babysitters club Inuit style

2 thoughts on “Life with the Inuit – Tamahere woman’s tale

  • March 1, 2021 at 9:54 pm
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    Sounds like an amazing journey and how incredible to experience life in such an extreme environment.

    Reply
  • February 18, 2021 at 10:05 am
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    Awesome story Pip! Thank you. I’ll be contacting Bev to buy a book.

    Reply

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