In August 1880, Abraham and seven other Inuit, aged from 9 months to 50 years old, were recruited by Norwegian Johan Adrian Jacobsen to become the latest exotic attraction in Carl Hagenbeck's ethnographic shows. The group was exhibited in zoos in Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Krefeld and Paris. Soon, the Inuit realized their coming to Europe was a mistake and they longed to return home to Labrador. Sadly, none of them did, all eight having been killed by smallpox less than four months after setting foot in Europe. Three of them died in Germany. The remaining five, including Abraham Ulrikab, died in Paris.
Abraham was literate and kept a diary. So did Johan Adrian Jacobsen. Even though both diaries survived, to this day, the story remained incomplete. In 2009, France Rivet's reading of the English translation of Abraham's diary left her with many unanswered questions. Where were the Inuit buried? What happened to their remains? Where was the skullcap of one of the Inuit that Jacobsen took after the autopsy and carried, wrapped in his luggage, all the way to Paris? Were the artefacts Jacobsen collected in Labrador graves, and later sold to a Paris museum, still in Paris? Nobody knew. Intrigued, and French being her mother tongue, in 2010, France set out to look for answers. The more she dug, the more riveting the story became, and totally unsuspected facets emerged.
Four years and three research trips to Europe later, the book “In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” reveals her findings. At last, 133 years after the death of Abraham, Maria, Nuggasak, Paingu, Tigianniak, Tobias, Sara and Ulrike, the events that unfolded in Paris are finally elucidated, and even more extraordinarily, this research has brought to light an opportunity to change the course of Abraham's story. Indeed, his expressed wish to come home to Labrador could eventually become a reality!
“I do not long for earthly possessions but this is what I long for: to see my relatives again, who are over there…” (Abraham, January 8, 1881)
It is our dearest hope that this book will provide the Labrador Inuit community with all the information they require to initiate the yet-to-be-written chapter where they will make the decision to repatriate or not the remains of their countrymen. The publication of this book is therefore seen as the catalyst for that decision-making process. May it lead them to eventually closing the loop on this tragic story.