The Eskimo Word for Forgiveness

It has been said that when Moravian missionaries came across an Eskimo Indian tribe years ago, the people seemed to have no single word for “forgiveness“.

(This is what linguists call a “lexical gap”, like how English has no word for “joy in the mishaps of others”, and adopted schadenfreude).

So the Moravian missionaries, rather than imposing their own word, used the Inuit people’s own language to create a word for the concept using several other words:


Roughly translated: “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-any-more.”

Not that the Inuit culture had no concept of putting aside a wrong.  Every culture has this, and people in all cultures practice the purposeful putting aside of grudges.  But the concept is so heavy in the Gospel that it was important for it to be solidly codified in their culture.  As Mark warns us, “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (11:26).  You cannot have the Gospel without forgiveness.

But I also imagine that this was good news to the Inuit people.  Forgiveness was not just a new word they felt compelled to create in order to grasp this new religion, but something that the Great Spirit, the Maker himself, had done for them:

“I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

Learning forgiveness—for the Inuits, it was a word for a thing they were already familiar with.  But for all peoples of all places, it is a new thing to learn in a new way when coming to God.  This command to forgive others is beyond matched by the amazing news that we are forgiven.

Issumagijoujungnainermik.  God has made himself no longer to remember it any more.

A God so powerful he can make himself forget.  He chooses to forgive the very sins that his son took on for us.

2 responses to “The Eskimo Word for Forgiveness

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