Laughing it up
Riddle still unsolved on Belcher Islands

Harry Leggs
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 29/99) - After five years of intense research, the 1961 mysterious outbreak of uncontrolled and relentless laughing in a small hunting camp at the southern end of Hudson Bay is still an unresolved medical mystery which has attracted international attention.

At a Montreal colloquium of the North American Society for Isolated Social Behaviour, Dr. Mani Obscufactis presented a paper which has placed the Belcher Islands back on the map for social researchers. Dr. Mo, as he is called, recounted the history and presented the research that his team managed to accumulate.

In 1961, during an early spring trip from the Belcher Islands to Great Whale River, a distance of 145 kilometres over the sea ice, a party of eight was lost. Search parties sent out from both the Belchers and Great Whale River over the next three months failed to find any traces of the two families and they were presumed drowned.

Two summers later, reports of a demented group of "eskimos" living at Charlton Island, 805 kilometres south of the Belchers, was reported in Great Whale River. Two hunters were hired to investigate this group.

Dr. Mo surprised the convention when he recounted the disappearance of the two hunters, and a further disappearance of six more in the following summer of 1964.

The RCMP were dispatched from Moose Factory to search for the men. They found the missing families and all the searchers in a small camp on Charlton Island. But they were confused by their behaviour. Individuals would break out in uncontrolled laughter at any time of the day. This would cause others to start laughing and suddenly everyone would be rolling on the ground holding their bellies.

In the detailed RCMP records, Sgt. B. Tuff wrote, "After two men returned from hunting and reported they did not catch any seals, the eskimeauxs started to laugh and wormed around the ground like they were infected with a disease. We had to share our rations with this destitute group. Their laughing was sheer madness and we tried to keep our distance from them. On one morning, a man put his pants on backwards and the camp was incapacitated from laughter for an entire morning."

In five years of research, Dr. Mo has traced some of the survivor's children from the now commonly called "Chuckle" Island incident. In a survey conducted by the university, it was found that their children carry the same symptoms. In fact, every single grandchild turned out to be the class clown.