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Title: Eskimo Life
Author: Nansen, Fridtjof
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Eskimo Life" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Transcriber's Notes: Italic text is marked _thus_; bold text is shown
=thus=. *+* represents inverted asterism. Apparent typographical
errors have been corrected and hyphenation standardised except where
the meaning would be affected e.g. 're-cover'. s. and d. (currency)
italicised for consistency. Original accentuation has been retained.
Original spelling has been retained with these exceptions; secresy to
secrecy, song-writting to song-writers, Rosetti to Rossetti, translater
to translator.

In Footnote 125, thjódsogur in the original was thjóds[=o]g[)u]r, where:

  th represents the 'THORN' character
  d represents the 'eth' character
  [=o] represents lower case 'o' with macron
  [)u] represents lower case 'u' with breve.




_With numerous Illustrations and a Map_

Cheap Edition. Crown 8vo. 7_s._ 6_d._











Before placing his 'Eskimoliv' in my hands for translation, Dr.
Nansen very carefully revised the text, and made numerous excisions
and additions. Thus the following pages will be found to differ in
several particulars from the Norwegian original. I also requested and
received Dr. Nansen's permission to suppress one or two especially
nauseous details of Eskimo manners, which seemed to have no particular
ethnological significance. The excisions made on this score, however,
probably do not amount to half a page in all.

Dr. Nansen suggested that I should follow the example of Dr. Rink in
his 'Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo,' and treat the word 'Eskimo'
as indeclinable. I have ventured, however, to overrule his suggestion.
There is precedent for both 'Eskimo' and 'Eskimos' as the plural form;
and where there is any choice at all, it seems only rational to prefer
the regular declension.

In Chapters XIII. and XIV. Dr. Nansen naturally makes numerous
references to that great storehouse of Greenland folk-lore, Dr. Rink's
'Eskimo Sagn og Eventyr,' which has been translated and condensed by the
author himself, under the above-mentioned title. Where it was possible,
I have given the reference to the English edition; but in cases where
the text has been very freely condensed or expurgated, I have referred
to the Danish original as well. Even where I have not done so, students
of folk-lore may be advised to go back to the original text, which is
often fuller and more characteristic than the English version.

W. A.


For one whole winter we were cut off from the world and immured among
the Greenlanders. I dwelt in their huts, took part in their hunting, and
tried, as well as I could, to live their life and learn their language.
But one winter, unfortunately, is far too short a time in which to
attain a thorough knowledge of so peculiar a people, its civilisation,
and its ways of thought--that would require years of patient study.
Nevertheless, I have tried in this book to record the impressions
made upon me by the Eskimo and his polity, and have sought, as far as
possible, to support them by quotations from former authors. There may
even be things which a newcomer sees more clearly than an observer of
many years' standing, who lives in their midst.

On many points, perhaps, the reader may not think as I do. I cannot, it
is true, find that whatever is is very good; I am weak enough to feel
compassion for a declining race, which is perhaps beyond all help, since
it is already stung with the venom of our civilisation. But I comfort
myself with the thought that at least no words of mine can make the lot
of this people worse than it is, and I hope that the reader will accept
my observations in the spirit in which they are written. _Amicus Plato,
amicus Socrates, magis amica veritas_--the truth before everything.
And if in some points I should appear unreasonable, I must plead as my
excuse that it is scarcely possible to live for any time among these
people without conceiving an affection for them--for that, one winter is
more than enough.

During the long, dark evenings, as I sat in the low earth-huts and
gazed at the flame of the train-oil lamps, I had ample time for
reflection. It often seemed to me that I could see these hardy children
of Nature pressing westward, stage by stage, in their dog-sledges and
in their wonderful skin-canoes, along the barren ice-coasts; I saw how
they fought their way onward, and, little by little, perfected their
ingenious implements and attained their masterly skill in the chase.
Hundreds, nay thousands, of years passed, tribe after tribe succumbed,
while other and stronger stocks survived--and I was filled with
admiration for a people which had emerged victorious from the struggle
with such inhospitable natural surroundings.

But in melancholy contrast to this inspiriting picture of the past, the
present and the future rose before my eyes--a sad, a hopeless mist.

In Greenland the Eskimos fell in with Europeans. First it was our
Norwegian forefathers of the olden times; them they gradually overcame.
But we returned to the charge, this time bringing with us Christianity
and the products of civilisation; then they succumbed, and are sinking
ever lower and lower. The world passes on with a pitying shrug of the

  'What more can one say? Who's a penny the worse
  Though a beggar be dead?'

But this people, too, has its feelings, like others; it, too, rejoices
in life and Nature, and bleeds under our iron heel. If anyone doubts
this, let him observe their sympathy with one another, and their love
for their children; or let him read their legends.

Whenever I saw instances of the suffering and misery which we have
brought upon them, that remnant of a sense of justice which is still to
be found in most of us stirred me to indignation, and I was filled with
a burning desire to send the truth reverberating over the whole world.
Were it once brought home to them, I thought, people could not but
awaken from their indifference, and at once make good the wrong they had

Poor dreamer! You have nothing to say which has not been better said
before. The hapless lot of the Greenlanders, as well as of other
'native' races, has been set forth on many hands, and always without

But, none the less, I felt I must unburden my conscience; it seemed
to me a sacred duty to add my protest to the rest. My pen, unhappily,
is all too feeble: what I feel most deeply I have failed to express:
never have I longed more intensely for a poet's gifts. I know very well
that my voice, too, will be as a cry sent forth over a flat expanse
of desert, without even mountains to echo it back. My only hope is to
awaken here and there a feeling of sympathy with the Eskimos and of
sorrow for their destiny.


GODTHAAB, LYSAKER: _November 1891_.


  CHAP.                                                           PAGE

  I.    GREENLAND AND THE ESKIMO                                     1

  II.   APPEARANCE AND DRESS                                        18

  III.  THE 'KAIAK' AND ITS APPURTENANCES                           30

  IV.   THE ESKIMO AT SEA                                           56


  VI.   COOKERY AND DAINTIES                                        89

  VII.  CHARACTER AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS                            100

  VIII. THE POSITION AND WORK OF WOMEN                             121

  IX.   LOVE AND MARRIAGE                                          138

  X.    MORALS                                                     157



  XIII. RELIGIOUS IDEAS                                            209

  XIV.  THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY                           301

  XV.   EUROPEANS AND NATIVES                                      313

  XVI.  WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED?                                     327

  XVII. CONCLUSION                                                 341



  COAST OF GREENLAND)                                   _Frontispiece_

   AND WHITE FROM SEA TO SEA'                        _to face page_  2

  COVERING A KAIAK                                      "     "     32

   THE SEAS'                                            "     "     58

  SEAWARD IN SEARCH OF SEALS                            "     "     60

  SEAL-HUNTING                                          "     "     62

  BEFORE THE WIND                                       "     "     66

  A KAIAK-MAN RESCUING A COMRADE                        "     "     68

  A KAIAK-MAN ATTACKED BY A WALRUS                      "     "     74

  HALIBUT-FISHING                                       "     "     76

  AN ESKIMO CAMP                                        "     "     84

  A SUMMER JOURNEY                                      "     "     86

  FISHING                                               "     "    114

  A GREENLAND DANCE                                     "     "    190


  NORTHERN LIGHTS--'THE DEAD AT PLAY'                   "     "    348

  (2) Female Costume                                                26

  BLADDER-DART                                                      34

  HARPOON                                                           36

  THE HEAD OF THE HARPOON                                           37

  LANCE                                                             39

  THROWING-STICK WITH BIRD-DART                                     40

  THE BIRD-DART THROWN                                              42

  THROWING-STICK WITH HARPOON                                       43

  KAIAK, SEEN FROM ABOVE                                            44

  KAIAK-FRAME                                                       44

  SECTION OF THE KAIAK                                              47

  PADDLE                                                            49

  HALF-JACKET                                                       50

  WHOLE-JACKET                                                      50

  ESKIMO VENUS AND APOLLO                                          199




Greenland is in a peculiar manner associated with Norway and with the
Norwegians. Our forefathers were the first Europeans who found their way
to its shores. In their open vessels the old Vikings made their daring
voyages, through tempests and drift-ice, to this distant land of snows,
settled there throughout several centuries, and added it to the domain
of the Norwegian crown.

After the memory of its existence had practically passed away, it was
again one of our countrymen[1] who, on behalf of a Norwegian company,
founded the second European settlement of the country.

It is poor, this land of the Eskimo, which we have taken from him; it
has neither timber nor gold to offer us--it is naked, lonely, like no
other land inhabited of man. But in all its naked poverty, how beautiful
it is! If Norway is glorious, Greenland is in truth no less so. When one
has once seen it, how dear to him is its recollection! I do not know if
others feel as I do, but for me it is touched with all the dream-like
beauty of the fairyland of my childish imagination. It seems as though
I there found our own Norwegian scenery repeated in still nobler, purer

It is strong and wild, this Nature, like a saga of antiquity carven in
ice and stone, yet with moods of lyric delicacy and refinement. It is
like cold steel with the shimmering colours of a sunlit cloud playing
through it.

When I see glaciers and ice-mountains, my thoughts fly to Greenland
where the glaciers are vaster than anywhere else, where the
ice-mountains jut into a sea covered with icebergs and drift-ice. When
I hear loud encomiums on the progress of our society, its great men
and their great deeds, my thoughts revert to the boundless snow-fields
stretching white and serene in an unbroken sweep from sea to sea, high
over what have once been fruitful valleys and mountains. Some day,
perhaps, a similar snow-field will cover us all.


Everything in Greenland is simple and great--white snow, blue ice,
naked, black rocks and peaks, and dark stormy sea. When I see the sun
sink glowing into the waves, it recalls to me the Greenland sunsets,
with the islets and rocks floating, as it were, on the burnished
surface of the smooth, softly-heaving sea, while inland the peaks rise
row on row, flushing in the evening light. And sometimes when I see
the sæter-life[2] at home and watch the sæter-girls and the grazing
cows, I think of the tent-life and the reindeer-herds on the Greenland
fiords and uplands; I think of the screaming ptarmigan, the moors and
willow-copses, the lakes and valleys in among the mountains where the
Eskimo lives through his brief summer.

But like nothing else is the Greenland winter-night with its flaming
northern lights; it is Nature's own mystic spirit-dance.

Strange is the power which this land exercises over the mind; but the
race that inhabits it is not less remarkable than the land itself.

The Eskimo, more than anyone else, belongs to the coast and the sea. He
dwells by the sea, upon it he seeks his subsistence, it gives him all
the necessaries of his life, over it he makes all his journeys, whether
in his skin-canoes in summer, or in his dog-sledges when it is ice-bound
in winter. The sea is thus the strongest influence in the life of the
Eskimo; what wonder, then, if his soul reflects its moods? His mind
changes with the sea--grave in the storm; in sunshine and calm full of
unfettered glee. He is a child of the sea, thoughtlessly gay like the
playful wavelet, but sometimes dark as the foaming tempest. One feeling
chases another from his childlike mind as rapidly as, when the storm
has died down, the billows sink to rest, and the very memory of it has
passed away.

The good things of life are very unequally divided in this world. To
some existence is so easy that they need only plant a bread-fruit tree
in their youth, and their whole life is provided for. Others, again,
seem to be denied everything except the strength to battle for life;
they must laboriously wring from hostile Nature every mouthful of their
sustenance. They are sent forth to the outposts, these people; they form
the wings of the great army of humanity in its constant struggle for the
subjugation of nature.

Such a people are the Eskimos, and among the most remarkable in
existence. They are a living proof of the rare faculty of the human
being for adapting himself to circumstances and spreading over the face
of the earth.

The Eskimo forms the extreme outpost towards the infinite stillness of
the regions of ice, and as far, almost, as we have forced our way to the
northward, we find traces left behind them by this hardy race.

The tracts which all others despise he has made his own. By dint of
constant struggle and slow development, he learnt some things that none
have learnt better. Where for others the conditions which make life
possible came to an end, there life began for him. He has come to love
these regions; they are to him a world in which he himself embodies the
whole of the human race.[3] Outside their limits he could not exist.

It is to this people that the following pages are devoted.

The mutual resemblance of the different tribes of Eskimos is no less
striking than their difference from all other races in features, figure,
implements and weapons, and general manner of life.

A pure-bred Eskimo from Bering Straits is so like a Greenlander that
one cannot for a moment doubt that they belong to the same race. Their
language, too, is so far alike that an Alaska Eskimo and a Greenlander
would probably, after some little time, be able to converse without
much difficulty. Captain Adrian Jacobsen, who has travelled both in
Greenland and in Alaska, told me that in Alaska he could manage to get
along with the few words of Eskimo he had learnt in Greenland. These two
peoples are divided by a distance of about 3,000 miles--something like
the distance between London and Afghanistan. Such unity of speech among
races so widely separated is probably unique in the history of mankind.

The likeness between all the different tribes of Eskimos, as well
as their secluded position with respect to other peoples, and the
perfection of their implements, might be taken to indicate that they
are of a very old race, in which everything has stiffened into definite
forms, which can now be but slowly altered. Other indications, however,
seem to conflict with such a hypothesis, and render it more probable
that the race was originally a small one, which did not until a
comparatively late period develop to the point at which we now find it,
and spread over the countries which it at present inhabits.

If it should seem difficult to understand, at first sight, how they
could have spread in a comparatively short time over these wide tracts
of country without moving in great masses, as in the case of larger
migrations, we need only reflect that their present inhospitable
abiding-places can scarcely have been inhabited, at any rate
permanently, before they took possession of them, and that therefore
they had nothing to contend with except nature itself.

The region now inhabited by the Eskimos stretches from the west coast of
Bering Straits over Alaska, the north coast of North America, the North
American groups of Arctic Islands, the west coast, and, finally, the
east coast, of Greenland.

By reason of his absolutely secluded position, the Eskimo has given the
anthropologists much trouble, and the most contradictory opinions have
been advanced with reference to his origin.

Dr. H. Rink, who has made Greenland and its people the study of his
life, and is beyond comparison the greatest authority on the subject,
holds that the Eskimo implements and weapons--at any rate, for the
greater part--may be traced to America. He regards it as probable that
the Eskimos were once a race dwelling in the interior of Alaska, where
there are still a considerable number of inland Eskimos, and that they
have migrated thence to the coasts of the ice-sea. He further maintains
that their speech is most closely connected with the primitive dialects
of America, and that their legends and customs recall those of the

One point among others, however, in which the Eskimos differ from the
Indians is the use of dog-sledges. With the exception of the Incas of
Peru, who used the llama as a beast of burden, no American aborigines
employed animals either for drawing or for carrying. In this, then, the
Eskimos more resemble the races of the Asiatic polar regions.

But it would lead us too far afield if we were to follow up this
difficult scientific question, on which the evidence is as yet by
no means thoroughly sifted. So much alone can we declare with any
assurance, that the Eskimos dwelt in comparatively recent times on the
coasts around Bering Straits and Bering Sea--probably on the American
side--and have thence, stage by stage, spread eastward over Arctic
America to Greenland.

It is in my judgment impossible to determine at what time they reached
Greenland and permanently settled there. From what has already been said
it appears probable that the period was comparatively late, but it does
not seem to me established, as has been asserted in several quarters,
that we can conclude from the Icelandic sagas that they first made their
appearance on the west coast of Greenland in the fourteenth century.
It certainly appears as though the Norwegian colonies of Österbygd and
Vesterbygd (_i.e._ Easter- and Wester-district or settlement) were
not until that period exposed to serious attacks on the part of the
'Skrellings' or Eskimos, coming in bands from the north; but this does
not preclude the supposition that they had occupied certain tracts of
the west coast of Greenland long before that time and long before the
Norwegians discovered the country. They do not seem to have been settled
upon the southern part of the coast during the first four hundred
years of the Norwegian occupation, since they are not mentioned in the
sagas; but it is expressly stated that the first Norwegians (Erik the
Red and others) who came to the country, found both in the Easter-and
the Wester-districts ruins of human habitations, fragments of boats,
and stone implements, which in their opinion must have belonged to a
feeble folk, whom they therefore called 'Skrellings' (or 'weaklings').
We must accordingly conclude that the 'Skrellings' had been there
previously; and as such remains were found in both districts, it seems
that they could scarcely have paid mere passing visits to them. It is
not impossible that the Eskimos might simply have taken to their heels
when the Norwegian viking-ships appeared in the offing; we, too, found
them do so upon the east coast; but it does not seem at all probable
that they could vanish so rapidly as to let the Norwegians catch no
glimpse of them. The probability is, on the whole, that at that time the
permanent settlements of the Eskimos were further north on the coast,
above the 68th degree of north latitude, where seals and whales abound,
and where they would first arrive on their course from the northward[4]
(see p. 13). From these permanent settlements they probably, in Eskimo
fashion, made frequent excursions of more or less duration to the more
southerly part of the west coast, and there left behind them the traces
which were first found. When the Norwegian settlers began to range
northwards they at last came in contact with the Eskimos. Professor
G. Storm[5] is of opinion that this must first have happened in the
twelfth century.[6] We read in the 'Historia Norvegiæ' that the hunters
in the unsettled districts of north Greenland came upon an undersized
people whom they called 'Skrellings,' and who used stone knives and
arrow-points of whalebone. As their more northern settlements became
over-populated, the Eskimos no doubt began to migrate southwards in
earnest; and as the Norwegians often dealt hardly with them when they
met, they may eventually have taken revenge in the fourteenth century by
first (after 1341) attacking and devastating (?) the Wester-district,
and later (1379) making an expedition against the Easter-district, which
seems in the following century to have been entirely destroyed.[7] It
was about this time, accordingly, that the Eskimos probably effected
their first permanent settlements in the southern parts of the country.

There is evidence in the Eskimo legends as well of the battles between
them and the old Norsemen. But from the same legends we also learn
that there was sometimes friendly intercourse between them; indeed the
Norsemen are several times mentioned with esteem. This appears to show
that there was no rooted hatred between the two races; and the theory
that the Eskimos carried on an actual war of extermination against the
settlers seems, moreover, in total conflict with their character as we
now know it. Thus it can scarcely have been such a war alone that caused
the downfall of the colony. We may, perhaps, attribute it partly to
natural decline due to seclusion from the world, partly to absorption
of the race, brought about by the crossing of the two stocks; for the
Europeans of that age were probably no more inaccessible than those of
to-day to the seductions of Eskimo loveliness.

As to the route by which the Eskimos made their way to the west coast
of Greenland there has been a good deal of difference of opinion. Dr.
Rink maintains that after passing Smith's Sound the Eskimos did not
proceed southwards along the west coast, which would seem their most
natural course, but turned northwards, rounded the northernmost point
of the country, and came down along the east coast. In this way they
must ultimately have approached the west coast from the southward, after
making their way round the southern extremity of Greenland. This opinion
is mainly founded upon the belief that Thorgils Orrabeinsfostre fell
in with Eskimos upon the east coast, and that this was the Norsemen's
first encounter with them. I have already, in a note on the preceding
page, remarked on the untrustworthiness of this evidence; and such a
theory as to the route of the Eskimo immigration stands, as we know,
in direct conflict with the accounts given in the sagas, from which
it appears (as above) that the Eskimos came from the north and not
from the south, the Wester-district having been destroyed before the
Easter-district. It appears, moreover, that we can draw the same
conclusion from an Eskimo tradition in which their first encounter
with the old Norsemen is described. In former days, we are told, when
the coast was still very thinly populated, a boatful of explorers came
into Godthaab-fiord and saw there a large house whose inhabitants were
strange to them, not being Kaladlit--that is, Eskimo. They had suddenly
come upon the old Norsemen. These, on their side, saw the Kaladlit for
the first time, and treated them in the most friendly fashion. This
happened, it will be observed, in Godthaab-fiord, which was in the
ancient Wester-district--that is to say, the more northern colony. There
is another circumstance which, to my thinking, renders improbable the
route conjectured by Dr. Rink, and that is that if they made their way
around the northern extremity of the country, they must, while in these
high latitudes, have lived as the so-called Arctic Highlanders--that is,
the Eskimos of Cape York and northwards--now do; in other words, they
must have subsisted chiefly by hunting upon the ice, must have travelled
in dog-sledges, and, while in the far north, must have used neither
kaiaks nor woman-boats, since the sea, being usually ice-bound, offers
little or no opportunity for kaiak-hunting or boating of any sort. It
may not be in itself impossible that, when they came further south and
reached more ice-free waters again, they may have recovered the art of
building woman-boats and kaiaks, of which some tradition would in any
case survive; but it seems improbable, not to say impossible, that after
having lost the habit of kaiak-hunting they should be able to master it
afresh, and to develop it, and all the appliances belonging to it, to a
higher point of perfection than had elsewhere been attained.

The most natural account of the matter, in my opinion, is that the
Eskimos, after crossing Smith's Sound (so far there can be no doubt
about their route), made their way southwards along the coast, and
subsequently passed from the west coast, around the southern extremity
of the country, up the east coast. It is impossible to determine whether
they had reached the east coast and settled there before the Norsemen
came to Greenland. On their southward journey from Smith's Sound they
must, indeed, have met with a great obstacle in the Melville glacier
(at about 77° north latitude), which stands right out into the sea
at a point at which the coast is for a long distance unprotected by
islands. But, in the first place, they may have been able to make their
way onward in the lee of the drift-ice; and, in the second place, this
difficulty is at worst not so great as those they must have encountered
in passing round the northern extremity of Greenland. Moreover, the
passage in an open boat from Smith's Sound southward along the west
coast of Greenland to the Danish colonies has been several times
accomplished in recent years without any particular difficulty. In
opposition to this theory it may, no doubt, be alleged that the East
Greenlanders possess dog-sledges, which are not used on the southern
part of the west coast, where there is not enough ice for them. But if
we remember with what rapidity, comparatively speaking, the Eskimos
travel in their women-boats, and how fond they were in former times of
roaming up and down along the coast--and when we take into account the
fact that from time immemorial dogs have been kept along the whole of
the west coast--this objection seems to lose its weight.

The Eskimos are at present spread over the whole west coast of
Greenland, right from Smith's Sound to Cape Farewell. On the Danish
part of the west coast they number very nearly 10,000. On the east
coast, as we learn from the account of the Danish woman-boat expedition
of 1884-85, under Captain Holm, there are Eskimos as far north as the
Angmagsalik district (66° north latitude), their numbers in the autumn
of 1884 being in all 548. Further north, as the Eskimos told Captain
Holm, there were no permanent settlements so far as they knew. They
often, however, made excursions to the northward, possibly as far as
to the 68th or 69th degree of latitude; and a year or two before two
woman-boats had sailed in that direction, and had never been heard of
again. It is uncertain whether there may not be Eskimos upon the east
coast further north than the 70th degree of latitude. Clavering is
known to have found one or two families of them in 1823 at about 74°
north latitude; but since that time none have been seen; and the German
expedition which explored that coast in 1869-70, and wintered there,
found houses and other remains, but no people, and therefore assumed
that they must have died out. The Danish expedition of 1890 to Scoresby
Sound, under Lieutenant Ryder, reports the same experience. It therefore
seems probable that they have either died out or have abandoned this
part of Greenland. This does not seem to me absolutely certain, however.
There may be small and confined Eskimo colonies in these northern
districts, or there may be a few nomadic families whom no one has as
yet come across. This portion of the east coast must, in my opinion,
be quite specially adapted for Eskimo habitation, as it is very rich
in game. It therefore seems to me strange that when once the Eskimos
had arrived there they should have gone away again; nor does it seem
probable that they would die out in so excellent a hunting-ground. If
there are Eskimos upon this north-east coast, their secluded position,
debarring them from all intercourse, direct or indirect, with the outer
world, must render them, from an ethnological point of view, among the
most interesting people in existence.


[1: Hans Egede. _Trans._]

[2: Sæter==mountain châlet. _Trans._]

[3: The Eskimos call themselves _inuit_--that is to say, 'human beings';
all other men they conceive as belonging to a different genus of

[4: North of the 68th degree they could kill seals and whales in plenty
from the ice all the winter through; and this is a method of hunting
which they must have learnt further north, where it would be the most
important of all for them.]

[5: Gustav Storm: _Studies on the Vineland Voyages_, Extracts from
_Mémoires de la Société Royale des Antiquaires du Nord_, 1888, p. 53.]

[6: The Eskimos themselves have several legends as to their encounters
with the old Norsemen. See Rink: _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_,
pp. 308-321.]

[7: Some writers have concluded from the mention of 'troll-women' in the
'Flóamannasaga' that so early as the year 1000, or thereabouts, Thorgils
Orrabeinsfostre must have encountered Eskimos on the south-east coast
of Greenland. But, as Professor Storm has pointed out, the romantic
character of this saga forbids us to base any such inference upon it.
It must also be remembered that the extant manuscript dates from no
earlier than about 1400, long after the time when the Norsemen had come
in contact with the Eskimos on the west coast. Even if the Eskimos are
meant in the passage about the troll-women, which is extremely doubtful,
it may very well be a late interpolation.]



As I now sit down to describe these people, at such a distance from them
and from the scenery amid which we lived together, how vividly my first
meeting with them, upon the east coast of Greenland, stands before my
mind's eye! I see two brown laughing countenances, surrounded by long,
coal-black hair, beaming, even amid the ice, with bright contentment
both with themselves and the world, and full of the friendliest
good-humour, mingled with unaffected astonishment at the appearance of
the marvellous strangers.

The pure-bred Eskimo would at first glance seem to most of us Europeans
anything but beautiful.

He has a round, broad face, with large, coarse features; small, dark,
sometimes rather oblique eyes; a flat nose, narrow between the eyes
and broad at the base; round cheeks, bursting with fat; a broad mouth;
heavy, broad jaws; which, together with the round cheeks, give the
lower part of the face a great preponderance in the physiognomy. When
the mouth is drawn up in an oleaginous smile, two rows of strong white
teeth reveal themselves. One receives the impression, upon the whole, of
an admirable chewing apparatus, conveying pleasant suggestions of much
and good eating. But, at the same time, one traces in these features,
especially in those of the women, a certain touch of ingratiating petted

To our way of thinking, such a face could scarcely be described as
beautiful; but how much prejudice there is in our ideas of beauty! I
soon came to find these brown faces, gleaming with health and fat,
really pleasing. They reflected the free life of nature, and suggested
to my mind pictures of blue sea, white glaciers, and glittering

It was, however, chiefly the young that produced this impression; and
they soon grow old. The shrunken, blear-eyed, hairless old women,
reminding one of frost-bitten apples, were certainly not beautiful; and
yet there was a certain style in them, too. Toil had left its traces
upon their wrinkled countenances, but also a life of rude plenty and a
habit of good-humoured, hopeless resignation. There was nothing of that
vitreous hardness or desiccated dignity which the school of life so
often imprints upon aged countenances in other parts of the world.

The half-caste race which has arisen upon the west coast, of mingled
European and Eskimo blood, is apt to be, according to our ideas,
handsomer than the pure-bred Eskimos. They have, as a rule, a somewhat
southern appearance, with their dark hair, dark eyebrows and eyes, and
brown complexion. A remarkably Jewish cast of countenance sometimes
appears among them. Types of real beauty are by no means rare--male as
well as female. Yet there is apt to be something feeble about these
half-breeds. The pure-bred Eskimos undoubtedly seem more genuine and

It is a common error among us in Europe to think of the Eskimos as a
diminutive race. Though no doubt smaller than the Scandinavian peoples,
they must be reckoned among the middle-sized races, and I even found
among those of purest breeding men of nearly six feet in height. Their
frame produces, on the whole, an impression of strength, especially the
upper part of the body. The men have broad shoulders, strong, muscular
arms, and a good chest; but, on the other hand, one notices that their
thighs are comparatively narrow, and their legs not particularly strong.
When they get up in years, therefore, they are apt to have an uncertain
gait, with knees slightly bent. This defective development of the
lower extremities must be ascribed, for the most part, to the daily
confinement in the cramped kaiak.

A noticeable physical characteristic of the women appeared to me to
be their comparatively narrow hips, which we are apt to regard as
inconsistent with the type of feminine beauty. They certainly seemed to
me considerably narrower than those of European women; but it is hard to
say how much of this effect is to be ascribed to difference of dress.
The Eskimo women, however, are remarkable for their very small and
well-formed hands and feet. Their physique, as a whole, strikes one as
sympathetic and pleasing.

The complexion of the pure-bred Greenlander is of a brownish or greyish
yellow, and even among the half-breeds a certain tinge of brownish
yellow is unmistakable. This natural darkness of the skin, however, is
generally much intensified, especially in the case of men and old women,
by a total lack of cleanliness. As an indication of their habits in this
particular, it will be sufficient if I quote the concise description
given by our very reverend countryman, Hans Egede, of the method of
washing practised by the men in particular: 'They scrape the sweat off
their faces with a knife.'

The skin of new-born children is fair, and that not merely because
they have not yet had time to grow dirty. Hans Egede Saabye noted long
ago in his Journal[8] that children have on the small of their back a
bluish-black patch, about the size of a sixpenny piece, from which the
dark colour of the skin seems to spread as they grow older. Holm makes
a note to the same effect in his account of the east coast.[9] I cannot
speak on the subject from personal observation. It is perhaps worth
noting that something similar is related of Japanese children.

Most of my readers have probably formed some idea of the Eskimo costume
from pictures (see Frontispiece). They are probably aware that its most
noteworthy peculiarity lies in the fact that the women dress almost like
the men. Their costume is certainly very much prettier and more sensible
than our ugly and awkward female fashions.

In South Greenland the men wear upon their body what is called a
_timiak_. It is made of bird-skins, with the feathers or down turned
inwards, is shaped very much like our woollen jerseys, and, like them,
is drawn over the head. The timiak is provided with a hood, used as a
head-covering in the open air; at other times it is thrown back, and
forms, with its upstanding selvage of black dog-skin, a sort of collar
round the neck. At the wrists, too, the timiak is edged with black
dog-skin, like a showy fur overcoat among us. Above the timiak, an outer
vest (_anorak_) is worn, now for the most part made of cotton. Trousers
of seal-skin, or of European cloth, are worn upon the legs; on the feet
a peculiar sort of shoes, _kamiks_, made of seal-skin. These consist
of two layers, an interior sock of skin with the fur turned inwards,
and an exterior shoe of hairless, water-tight hide. In the sole,
between the sock and the outer shoe, is placed a layer of straw or of
bladder-sedge.[10] Into these kamiks the naked foot is thrust.

The costume of the women closely resembles that of the men. In South
Greenland a bird-skin jacket is worn upon the body, which has, however,
no hood to cover the head, but instead of it a high upstanding
collar edged with black dog-skin, which is made to glisten as much
as possible; and outside this collar a broad necklace of glass beads
is often worn, radiant with all the colours of the rainbow. The
wrists, too, are edged with black dog-skin. The cotton vest above this
garment is of course as brightly coloured as possible, red, blue,
green, yellow, and round its lower edge there generally runs a broad
variegated band of cotton, or, if possible, of silk. Trousers are
worn on the legs, generally of mottled seal-skin, but sometimes of
reindeer-skin. They are considerably shorter than the men's trousers,
coming only to a little way above the knee, but are richly decorated in
front with bright-coloured embroideries in leather, and white stripes
of reindeer-skin or dog-skin. The kamiks are longer than those of the
men, and come up to above the knees; they are generally painted red,
but sometimes blue, violet, or white. Down the front of them is sewn a
band of many-coloured embroidery.

Besides the garments above-mentioned, there is another, used by women
who are nursing children. It is called an _amaut_, and resembles an
ordinary anorak, except that at the back there is a great enlargement or
pouch, in which they carry the child all day long, whatever work they
may be about. As the amaut is lined both inside and out with reindeer-
or seal-skin, this pouch makes a nice warm nest for the child.

As no fashion-paper is published in Greenland, fashions are not so
variable among the Eskimos as they are with us. Even in this respect,
however, they are no mere barbarians, as the following example will

In former times, the women's anoraks and jackets were as long as the
men's; but after the Europeans had imported the extravagant luxury
of wearing white linen, they felt that such a wonderful tissue was
far too beautiful and effective to be concealed. Instead, however, of
cutting away their bodices from above, like our beauties at home, they
began below, and made their anoraks so short that between them and the
trouser-band, which was allowed to slip right down on the hips, there
appeared a gap of a hand's breadth or more, in which the fabric in
question became visible. A somewhat original style of 'low dress,' this.

The Eskimos of the east coast wear costumes practically similar to those
here described, only that they almost always use seal-skins instead of
bird-skins for their jackets. In North Greenland, too, seal-skin and
reindeer-skin are greatly used for these garments, and the same was the
case in earlier times all along the west coast.

On the east coast, a surprising habit prevails; to wit, that in their
houses and tents, men, women, and children go about entirely naked--or
so, at least, it seemed to me. Balto, however, no doubt after closer
examination, assured me that the grown men and women had all a narrow
band around their loins, a detail which my bashfulness had prevented
me from discovering. This remarkable observation of our friend Balto
is corroborated by the majority of travellers who have undertaken
researches on the subject, so I am bound to believe them. This band,
which the travellers are pleased to designate under-drawers--how far
it deserves such a name I will leave to the reader to judge from
the accompanying illustration--is, I am told, called _nâtit_ by the


(1) Male costume. (2) Female costume.]

In former days this simple indoor garb was worn all over Greenland,
right up to the northernmost settlements on Smith's Sound, where,
indeed, it is still in use.

This light raiment is, of course, very wholesome; for the many layers
of skins in the outdoor dress greatly impede transpiration, and it is
therefore a natural impulse which leads the Eskimo to throw them off
in the warm rooms, where they would be particularly insanitary. When
the Europeans came to the country, however, this free-and-easy custom
offended their sense of propriety, and the missionaries preached against
it. Thus it happens that the national indoor dress has been abolished
on the west coast. Whether this has led to an improvement in morality,
I cannot say--I have my doubts. That it has not been conducive to
sanitation, I can unhesitatingly declare.

The Eskimos, however, are still very unsophisticated with respect to
the exposure of their person. Many women, it is true, make some attempt
to conceal their nudities when a European enters their houses; but I
greatly fear that this is rather an affectation which they think will
please us, than a result of real modesty; and when they discover that we
are not greatly impressed by their attempts, they very soon give them
up. In regard to their own countrymen they show very little sense of

The hair of the Eskimos is coal-black, coarse and straight, like
horsehair, and is allowed by the men to grow wild. On the east coast
they usually do not cut it at all, even regarding it as dangerous to
lose any of it; they keep it back from the face by means of a band
or thong. Sometimes they take it into their heads to cut the hair of
children, and the children so treated must continue all through their
lives to cut their hair, and must also observe certain fixed formalities
in the matter; for instance, they must cut the ears and tails of their
dogs while they are puppies. Iron must on no account come in contact
with the hair, which is, therefore, sawn off with the jawbone of a
Greenland shark.

The women knot their hair in a tuft upon the crown of the head. This
they do by gathering it tightly together from all sides and tying it
up, on the east coast with a thong, on the west coast with ribbons of
various colours. Unmarried women wear a red ribbon, which they exchange
for green if they have had a child. Married women wear a blue, and
widows a black ribbon. If a widow wants to marry again she will probably
mingle a little red with the black; elderly widows, who have given up
all thought of marriage, often wear a white ribbon. If a widow gives
birth to a child, she too must assume the green ribbon.

Her top-knot is the pride of the Greenland woman, and it must stand
as stiff and straight up in the air as possible. This is, of course,
held especially important by the young marriageable women, and as they
are scarcely less vain than their European sisters, they draw the hair
so tightly together that it is gradually torn away from the forehead,
the temples and the neck, whence they often become more or less bald
while still comparatively young. This does not add greatly to their
attractiveness, but is, nevertheless, a speaking proof of the vanity of
human nature.

In order to get the hair thoroughly well knotted together, and at the
same time to give it the glistening appearance which is prized as a
beauty, they have furthermore the habit of steeping it in urine before
doing it up, thus making it moist and easier to tighten.

Mothers lick their children instead of washing them, or at least did so
in former days; and as to the insects they come across in the process,
their principle is, 'They bite, therefore they must be bitten.'

If any should be offended by these peculiarities in the manners and
customs of the Greenlanders, they ought to reflect that their own
forefathers, not so many generations ago, conducted themselves not so
very differently. Let them read the accounts of the domestic life of the
Teutonic peoples some centuries ago, and they will learn many things
that will surprise them.


[8: Saabye: _Greenland; being extracts from a Journal kept in that
country in the years 1770 to 1778._ London: 1818.]

[9: _Meddelelser om Grönland._ Pt. 10, p. 58. Copenhagen: 1889.]

[10: Norwegian, _sennegræs_. _Trans._]



A superficial examination of certain details in the outward life of the
Eskimo might easily lead to the erroneous conclusion that he stands at
a low grade of civilisation. When we take the trouble to look a little
more closely at him, we soon see him in another light.

Many people nowadays are vastly impressed with the greatness of our age,
with all the inventions and the progress of which we daily hear, and
which appear indisputably to exalt the highly gifted white race far over
all others. These people would learn much by paying close attention to
the development of the Eskimos, and to the tools and inventions by aid
of which they obtain the necessaries of life among natural surroundings
which place such pitifully small means at their disposal.

Picture a people placed upon a coast so desert and inhospitable as
that of Greenland, cut off from the outer world, without iron, without
firearms, without any resources except those provided by Nature upon the
spot. These consist solely of stone, a little drift-wood, skins, and
bone; but in order to obtain the latter they must first kill the animals
from which to take them. We, in their place, would inevitably go to the
wall, if we did not get help from home; but the Eskimo not only manages
to live, but lives in contentment and happiness, while intercourse with
the rest of the world has, to him, meant nothing but ruin.

In order that the reader may realise more vividly upon what an
accumulation of experiences the civilisation of this people rests, I
shall try to give a sketch of the way in which we must conceive it to
have arisen.

Let us, then, assume that the ancestors of the Eskimos, according to
Dr. Rink's opinion, lived in long bygone ages somewhere in the interior
of Alaska. They must at all events have been inlanders somewhere and
at some time, either in America or in Asia. Besides being hunters upon
land, these Eskimos must also have gone a-fishing upon the lakes and
rivers in birch-bark canoes, as the inland Eskimos of Alaska and the
Indians of the North-West do to this day. In course of time, however,
some of these inland Eskimos must either have been allured by the riches
of the sea or must have been pressed upon by hostile and more warlike
Indian tribes, so that they must have migrated in their canoes down the
river-courses toward the western and northern coasts. The nearer they
drew to the sea, the more scanty became the supply of wood, and they
had to hit upon some other material than birch-bark with which to cover
their canoes. It is not at all improbable that before leaving the rivers
they had made experiments with the skins of aquatic animals; for we
still see examples of this among several Indian tribes.

It was not, however, until the Eskimo encountered the rough sea at the
mouths of the rivers that he thought of giving his boat a deck, and at
last of closing it in entirely and joining his own skin-jacket to it so
that the whole became water-tight. The kaiak was now complete. But even
these inventions, which seem so simple and straightforward now that we
see them perfected--what huge strides of progress must they not have
meant in their day, and how much labour and how many failures must they
not have cost!

[Illustration: COVERING A KAIAK]

Arrived at the sea-coast, these Eskimos of the past soon discovered that
their existence depended almost entirely upon the capture of seals.
To this, then, they directed all their cunning, and the kaiak guided
them to the discovery of the many remarkable and admirable seal-hunting
instruments, which they brought to higher and ever-higher perfection,
and which prove, indeed, in the most striking fashion, what ingenious
animals many of us human beings really are.

The bow and arrow, which they used on land, they could not handle in
their constrained position in the kaiak; therefore, they had to fall
back upon throwing-weapons.

The idea of these, too, they borrowed from America, making use in the
first instance of the Indian darts with steering-feathers, which they
had themselves used in hunting upon land. Small harpoons or javelins of
this sort are still in use among Eskimos of the southern part of the
west coast of Alaska.

As one passes northward along this coast, however, the feathers soon
disappear, and are replaced by a little bladder fastened to the shaft
of the javelin. This device has been found necessary in order to
prevent the harpooned seals from diving and swimming. Further, it has
been found necessary so to arrange the point of the javelin that it
cannot be broken by the seal's violent efforts to get rid of it, but
detaches itself instead (at _c_ on accompanying engraving) and remains
hanging to a line (from _c_ to _b_) fastened (at _b_1) to the middle of
the javelin-shaft, which is thus made to take a transverse position,
and still further to impede the movements of the seal when it rushes
away with it. Such was the origin of the so-called _bladder-dart_,
known to all Eskimo tribes who live by the sea.

The bladder is made of a seagull's or cormorant's gullet, inflated and
dried. It is fastened to the javelin-shaft by means of a piece of bone
with a hole bored through it for the purpose of blowing up the bladder.
This hole is closed with a little wooden plug.

[Illustration: BLADDER-DART]

From this bladder-dart the Eskimo's principal hunting-weapon--the
ingenious harpoon with bladder and line--has probably developed. In
order to cope with the larger marine animals, the size of the bladder
was doubtless gradually increased; but the disadvantage of this--the
fact that it offered too much resistance to the air to be thrown far and
with force--must soon have been felt. The bladder was then separated
from the javelin, and only attached to its point by means of a long
and strong line, the harpoon-line. The harpoon, which was now made
larger and heavier than the original javelin, was henceforward thrown
by itself, but drawing the line after it. The bladder, fastened to the
other end of the line, remained in the kaiak until the animal had been
pierced, when it was thrown overboard.

This harpoon, with all its ingenuity of structure, ranks, along with the
kaiak, as the highest achievement of the Eskimo mind.[11]

Its shaft is made in Greenland of red drift-wood--a sort of fir from
Siberia, drifted by the polar current across the Polar Sea--which is
heavier than the white drift-wood used in making smaller and lighter
projectiles. The upper end of the shaft is fitted with a thick and
strong plate of bone, on the top of which is fixed a long bone
foreshaft--commonly made of walrus or narwhal tusk--which is fastened
to the shaft by means of a joint of thongs, so that a strong pressure
or blow from the side, instead of shattering the foreshaft, causes it
to break off at the joint. This foreshaft fits exactly into a hole in
the harpoon-head proper, which is made of bone, generally of walrus
or narwhal tusk. It is now always provided with a point, or rather
a sharp blade, of iron; in earlier days they used flint or simply
bone. The harpoon-head is fastened to the harpoon-line by means of a
hole bored through it, and is provided with barbs or hooks so that it
sticks fast wherever it penetrates. It is, moreover, so adjusted that
it works itself transversely into the flesh as the wounded seal tugs
at the line. It is attached to the harpoon-shaft by being fitted to
the before-mentioned foreshaft, whereupon the line is hooked on to a
peg, placed some distance up the harpoon-shaft (at _a_), by means of a
perforated piece of bone fixed at the proper distance. Thus the head and
the shaft are held firmly together.

[Illustration: HARPOON]

When the harpoon strikes and the seal begins to plunge, the bone
foreshaft instantly breaks off at the joint (see illustration), and the
harpoon-head, with the line attached to it, is thus loosened from the
shaft, which floats up to the surface and is picked up by its owner,
while the seal dashes away, dragging the line and bladder after it.
It must be admitted, I think, that it is difficult to conceive a more
ingenious appliance, composed of such materials as bone, seal-skin,
and drift-wood; and we may be sure that it has cost the labour of many


Two forms of this harpoon are in use in Greenland. The one is called
_unâk_; its butt-end is finished off with nothing more than a bone
knob, and it is longer and slighter than the other. This is called
_ernangnak_, and has at its butt-end two flanges or wings of bone, now
commonly made of whale-rib, designed to increase the weight of the
harpoon and to guide it through the air. It is one of these which is
represented on p. 36.[12]

At Godthaab the ernangnak was most in use; but I heard old hunters
complaining that, in a wind, it was more difficult to throw than the
unâk, since a side gust was apt to take too strong hold of the bone
flanges and to make the harpoon twist.

The harpoon-line is made of the hide either of the bearded seal (_Phoca
barbata_) or of the young walrus. It is generally from 15 to 18 yards
long, and a good quarter of an inch (about 7 millimetres) thick.

For the bladder they use the hide of a young ringed seal (_Phoca
foetida_). The skin is slipped off, as nearly as possible whole, the
hair is removed, the apertures at the head, the fore limbs, and the hind
limbs are tied up so as to be air-tight, and the whole is dried.

The line is coiled upon the kaiak-stand, which is fixed in front of the
man. It serves to keep the coil well above the sea, which is always
washing over the deck; and thus the line is always ready to run out
without fouling when the harpoon is thrown.

The harpooned seal is killed by means of a lance (_anguvigak_). This
consists of a wooden shaft (commonly made of the light white drift-wood,
in order that it may carry well), a long bone foreshaft, and an
iron-bladed tip. In former days flint was used instead of iron. The
foreshaft is generally made of reindeer-horn or else of narwhal tusk. In
order that the seal may not break it off, it is fastened to the shaft by
a joint similar to that which fastens the foreshaft to the harpoon.

[Illustration: LANCE]

The Eskimos have also the so-called bird-dart (_nufit_). Its shaft is
likewise of white drift-wood. Its point consists of a long narrow spike,
now made of iron, but in earlier times of bone; and besides this there
are fastened to the middle of the shaft three forward-slanting spikes,
made of reindeer-horn and provided with large barbs. The idea is that
if the end of the dart does not pierce the bird, the shaft shall glide
along it, and one of these outstanding spikes must strike and penetrate
it; and it is thus, in fact, that the bird is generally brought down.
Another invention, this, which no one need blush to own.

All these projectiles can, as I have shown above, be traced back to the
Indian feather-dart.


But in order to throw their weapons further and with greater force,
the Eskimos have invented an appliance which distinguishes them from
all surrounding races, whether American or Asiatic. This invention is
the _throwing-stick_. Oddly enough, this admirable device, which by
its sling-like action greatly augments the length and strength of the
arm, is known in very few parts of the world--probably only in three.
It is found in Australia in a very primitive form, among the Conibos
and Purus on the Upper Amazon, where it is scarcely more developed
than in Australia, and finally among the Eskimos, where it has reached
its highest perfection.[13] We can scarcely conjecture that the
throwing-stick, appearing in places so remote from each other, springs
from any common origin, and we must thus accept the Eskimo form of it
as an original invention of that particular race. It is generally made
in Greenland of red drift-wood, and is about half a yard long (fourteen
sticks in my possession range from 42 to 52 centimetres in length). At
its lower and broader end it is about 3 inches (7 or 8 centimetres) in
width, and is flat, with a thickness of rather more than half an inch
(about 1-1/2 centimetre). The sides, at the lower and broader end, have
indentations in them for convenience in grasping--on one side for the
thumb, on the other for the fore-finger; while on the upper flat side
there runs a long groove along the whole length of the stick, to receive
the dart or harpoon.[14] The throwing-stick is found in two forms. The
one is most used for the bladder-dart and the bird-dart; it has at the
upper narrow end a knob which fits into an indentation in a plate of
bone fixed to the butt-end of the dart. (Compare illustrations on pp. 40
and 42). The other form is used for harpoons and lances; it has a hole
in the upper narrow end, into which fits a backward-slanting spur in
the side of the harpoon or lance-shaft, and it has besides another hole
further down and near the grip, into which fits another slanting spur.
(Compare illustration, p. 43). Throwing-sticks of this sort are used in
the North, for example in Sukkertoppen, for the bird-dart as well.

A third form of the throwing-stick is used in the most southern part of
Greenland and on the east coast for the ernangnak or flange harpoon.
This form has in its upper narrow end a small knob, as in the bird-dart
throwing-stick, and this knob fits into an indentation in the butt-end
of the harpoon between the bone flanges; in the lower end of the
shaft, on the other hand, near the grip, there are one or even two holes
into which fit bone knobs in the side of the harpoon-shaft, as above

[Illustration: THE BIRD-DART THROWN]

When the harpoon or the dart is to be hurled, the throwing-stick, of
whatever form it may be, is seized by the grip and held backward,
together with the weapon, in a horizontal position. (See illustration,
page 40); being then jerked forward with force, its lower end comes
away from the dart or harpoon, while, with the upper end, still fitted
to its knob or peg (see illustrations on this and the next page), the
thrower hurls the weapon away to a considerable distance and with great
accuracy. This is an extremely simple and effective invention.

Besides the weapons above-mentioned, the Eskimo has behind him in
his kaiak, when he goes out hunting, a knife with a handle about 4
feet long (1·20 metre) and a pointed blade measuring some 8 inches
(20 centimetres). This is used for giving the seal or other game its
finishing stroke. He has, moreover, a smaller knife lying before him
in the kaiak; it is used, amongst other things, for piercing holes
in the seal through which to pass the bone knobs of the towing-line,
wherewith the seal is made fast to the kaiak and towed to land. To this
end, too, he always carries with him one or more towing-bladders, which
he inflates and fastens to the seal in order to keep it afloat. These
bladders are made of the pouch of small whales (_e.g._ the grampus).


To complete this description, I should also mention the bone-knife which
forms part of the kaiak-man's outfit, especially in winter, and which is
principally used for scraping the ice off the kaiak.

From the accompanying drawing, the reader will be able to form an idea
of how all these weapons are fitted to the kaiak when it is in full
hunting trim: _a_ is the kaiak-opening; _b_, the harpoon-bladder;
_c_, the kaiak-stand with coiled harpoon-line (_e_); _d_, the harpoon
hanging in its place; _f_, the lance; _g_, the kaiak-knife; _h_, the
bladder-dart; _i_, the bird-dart; _k_, its throwing-stick.

[Illustration: KAIAK, SEEN FROM ABOVE]

[Illustration: KAIAK-FRAME]

But the most important thing of all yet remains, and that is a
description of the kaiak itself.

It has an internal framework of wood. This, of which the reader can, I
hope, form some conception from the accompanying drawing, was formerly
always made of drift-wood, usually of the white wood, which is lightest.
For the ribs, osiers were sometimes used, from willow bushes which are
found growing far up the fiords. In later days they have got into the
habit of buying European boards of spruce or Scotch fir in the west
coast colonies, although drift-wood is still considered preferable,
especially on account of its lightness.

This framework is covered externally with skins, as a rule with the skin
of the saddleback seal (_Phoca groenlandica_), or of the bladder-nose
or hood seal (_Cystophora cristata_). The latter is not so durable or
so water-tight as the former; but the skin of a young bladder-nose, in
which the pores are not yet very large, is considered good enough. Those
who can afford it use the skin of the bearded seal (_Phoca barbata_),
which is reckoned the best and strongest; but, as it is also used for
harpoon lines, it is, as a rule, only on the south and east coast that
it is found in such quantities that it can be commonly used for covering
the kaiak. The skin of the great ringed seal (_Phoca foetida_) is also
used, but not so frequently.

The preparation of the kaiak-skins will be described subsequently,
in Chapter VIII. They are generally fitted at once to the kaiak in a
raw state; but if they have been already dried they must be carefully
softened for several days before they can be used. The point is to get
them as moist and pliant as possible, so that they can be thoroughly
well stretched, and remain as tense as a drum-head when they dry. The
preparation of the skins, and the sewing and stretching them on the
kaiak, belongs to the women's department; it is not very easy work, and
woe to them if the skin sits badly or is too slack! They feel it a great

All, or at any rate a great many, of the women of the village are
generally present when a kaiak is being covered; it is a great
entertainment to them, especially as, in reward for their assistance,
they are often treated to coffee by the owner of the kaiak. The cost of
the entertainment ranges, according to his wealth, from threepence or
fourpence up to a shilling or more.

In the middle of the kaiak's deck there is a hole just large enough to
enable a man to get his legs through it and to sit down; his thighs
almost entirely fill the aperture. Thus it takes a good deal of practice
before one can slip into or out of the kaiak with any sort of ease.
The hole is surrounded by the kaiak-ring, which consists of a hoop of
wood. It stands a little more than an inch (3 or 3-1/2 centimetres)
above the kaiak's deck, and the waterproof jacket, as we shall presently
see, is drawn over it. At the spot where the rower sits, pieces of
old kaiak-skin are laid in the bottom over the ribs, with a piece of
bearskin or other fur to make the seat softer.

As a rule, each hunter makes his kaiak for himself, and it is fitted
to the man's size just like a garment. A kaiak for a Greenlander of
average size measures, in the neighbourhood of Godthaab, about 6 yards
(5-1/2 metres) in length. The greatest breadth of deck, in front of
the kaiak-ring, is about 18 inches (45 centimetres), or a little more;
but the boat narrows considerably towards the bottom. The breadth,
of course, varies according to the width of the man's thighs, and is
generally no greater than just to allow him to slip in. I should note,
however, that the kaiaks in Godthaab fiords--as, for example, at Sardlok
and Karnok--were longer and narrower than the kaiaks on the sea-coast,
for example at Kangek, obviously for the reason that on the open coast
they are exposed to heavier seas, and must therefore be stiffer and
easier to handle. The shorter and broader kaiaks are better sea-boats,
and ship less water.

[Illustration: SECTION OF THE KAIAK (The dotted line represents the

The depth of the kaiak from deck to bottom is generally from 5 to 6-1/2
inches (12 to 15 centimetres), but in front of the kaiak-ring it is an
inch or two more, in order to give room for the thighs, and to enable
the rower to get more easily into his place. The bottom of the kaiak is
pretty flat, sloping to a very obtuse angle (probably about 140°) in the
middle. The kaiak narrows evenly in, both fore and aft, and comes to a
point at both ends. It has no keel, but its underpart at both ends is
generally provided with bone flanges, for the most part of whale-rib,
designed to save the skin from being ripped up by drift-ice, or by
stones when the kaiak is beached. Both points are commonly provided with
knobs of bone, partly for ornament, partly for protection as well.

Across the deck, in front of the kaiak-ring, six thongs are usually
fastened, and from three to five behind the rower. Under these thongs
weapons and implements are inserted, so that they lie safe and handy
for use. Pieces of bone are let into the thongs, partly to hold them
together, partly to keep them a little bit up from the deck, so that
weapons can the more easily and quickly be pushed under them, and partly
also for the sake of ornament. To some of these thongs the booty is
fastened. The heads of birds are stuck in under them; seals, whales, or
halibut are attached by towing-lines to the thongs at the side of the
kaiak; and smaller fish are not fastened at all, but either simply laid
on the back part of the deck or pushed in under it.

A kaiak is so light that it can without difficulty be carried on the
head, with all its appurtenances, over several miles of land.

It is propelled by a two-bladed paddle, which is held in the middle
and dipped in the water on each side in turn, like the paddles we use
in canoes. It has probably been developed from the Indians' one-bladed
paddles. Among the Eskimos on the south-west coast of Alaska the
one-bladed paddle is universal; not until we come north of the Yukon
River do we find two-bladed paddles, and even there the single blade is
still the more common. Further north and eastward along the American
coast both forms are found, until the two blades at last come into
exclusive use eastward of the Mackenzie River.

[Illustration: PADDLE]

The Aleutians seem, strangely enough, to be acquainted with only the
two-bladed paddle,[15] and this is also the case, so far as I can
gather, with the Asiatic Eskimos.[16]

In fair weather the kaiak-man uses the so-called _half-jacket_
(_akuilisak_). This is made of water-tight skin with the hair removed,
and is sewn with sinews. Round its lower margin runs a draw-string, or
rather a draw-thong, by means of which the edge of the jacket can be
made to fit so closely to the kaiak-ring that it can only be pressed and
drawn down over it with some little trouble. This done, the half-jacket
forms, as it were, a water-tight extension of the kaiak. The upper
margin of the jacket comes close up to the armpits of the kaiak-man, and
is supported by braces or straps, which pass over the shoulders and can
be lengthened or shortened by means of handy runners or buckles of bone,
so simple and yet so ingenious that we, with all our metal buckles and
so forth, cannot equal them.

[Illustration: HALF-JACKET]

[Illustration: WHOLE-JACKET]

Loose sleeves of skin are drawn over the arms, and are lashed to the
over-arm and to the wrist, thus preventing the arm from becoming wet.
Watertight mittens of skin are drawn over the hands.

This half-jacket is enough to keep out the smaller waves which wash
over the kaiak. In a heavier sea, on the other hand, the _whole-jacket_
(_tuilik_) is used. This is made in the same way as the half-jacket,
and, like it, fits close to the kaiak-ring, but is longer above, has
sleeves attached to it, and a hood which comes right over the head.
It is laced tight round the face and wrists, so that with it on the
kaiak-man can go right through the breakers and can capsize and right
himself again, without getting wet and without letting a drop of water
into the kaiak.

It will readily be understood that it is not easy to sit in a vessel
like the kaiak without capsizing, and that it needs a good deal of
practice to master its peculiarities. I have seen a friend of mine in
Norway, on making his first experiment in my kaiak, capsize four times
in the space of two minutes; no sooner had we got him up on even keel
and let him go, than he again stood on his head with the bottom of the
kaiak in the air.

But when one has acquired by practice a mastery of the kaiak and of the
two-bladed paddle, one can get through the water in all sorts of weather
at an astonishing speed. The kaiak is beyond comparison the best boat
for a single oarsman ever invented.

In order to become an accomplished kaiak-man, one ought to begin early.
The Greenland boys often begin to practise in their father's kaiak
at from six to eight years old, and when they are ten or twelve the
provident Greenlander gives his sons kaiaks of their own. This was the
rule, at any rate, in former times. Lars Dalager even says: 'When they
are from eight to ten years old they take seriously to work in little

From this age onwards, the young Greenlander remains a toiler of the
sea. At first he generally confines himself to fishing, but before long
he extends his operations to the more difficult seal-hunting.

You cannot rank as an expert kaiak-man until you have mastered the art
of righting yourself after capsizing. To do this, you seize one end of
the paddle in your hand, and with the other hand grasp the shaft as
near the middle as possible; then you place it along the side of the
kaiak with its free end pointing forward towards the bow; and thereupon,
pushing the end of the paddle sharply out to the side,[17] and bending
your body well forward towards the deck, you raise yourself by a strong
circular sweep of the paddle. If you do not come right up, a second
stroke may be necessary.

A thorough kaiak-man can also right himself without an oar by help of
his throwing-stick, or even without it, by means of one arm. The height
of accomplishment is reached when he does not even need to use the flat
of his hand, but can clench it; and to show that he really does so, I
have seen a man take a stone in his clenched hand before capsizing, and
come up with it still in his grasp.

An Eskimo told me of another who was so extraordinarily skilful at
righting himself that he could do it in every possible way: with or
without an oar, with or without a throwing-stick, or with his clenched
hand. The only thing he could not right himself with was--his tongue;
and my informant protruded that member and made some horrible grimaces
with it to illustrate what exertions it would cost to recover yourself
with so inconvenient an implement.

In earlier times, on the west coast of Greenland, every at all capable
kaiak-man was able to right himself; but in these later days, since the
introduction of European civilisation, and the consequent degeneracy of
the race, this art has declined, along with everything else. It is still
quite common, however, in many places. For instance, I can assert of
my own knowledge that at Kangek, near Godthaab, almost all the hunters
possessed it. On the east coast, according to Captain Holm, it seems to
be usual, yet not so much so as it was in former times upon the west
coast. Nor is this to be wondered at, as it is far more necessary on the
west coast, where there is little drift-ice and heavy seas are common.

A kaiak-man who has entirely mastered the art of righting himself can
defy almost any weather. If he is capsized, he is on even keel again in
a moment, and can play like a sea-bird with the waves, and cut right
through them. If the sea is very heavy, he lays the broadside of his
kaiak to it, holds the paddle flat out on the windward side, pressing
it against the deck, bends forward, and lets the wave roll over him;
or else he throws himself on his side towards it, resting on his flat
paddle, and rights himself again when it has passed. The prettiest feat
of seamanship I have ever heard of is that to which some fishers, I am
told, have recourse among overwhelming rollers. As the sea curls down
over them they voluntarily capsize, receive it on the bottom of the
kaiak, and when it has passed right themselves again. I think it would
be difficult to name a more intrepid method of dealing with a heavy sea.

If you cannot right yourself, and if there is no help at hand, you are
lost beyond all hope as soon as you capsize. This may happen easily
enough--a wave can do it, or even the fouling of the harpoon-line when
a seal is struck. Just as often, too, it happens through an unguarded
movement in calm weather, or at moments when there seems to be no

Many Eskimos find their death every year in this manner. For example, I
may state that in Danish South Greenland in 1888, out of 162 deaths (of
which 90 were of males), 24, or about 15 per cent. (that is to say, more
than a fourth part of the male mortality), were caused by drowning in

In 1889, in South Greenland, out of 272 deaths (of which 152 were of
males), 24, or about 9 per cent., were due to the same cause. This in a
population of 5,614, of which 2,591 were males.


[11: The Indians of the North-West and the Tchuktchi--and even, if I am
not mistaken, the Koriaks and the Kamtchatkans--use the same harpoon,
with a line and large bladder, in hunting sea animals, throwing the
harpoon from the bow of their large open canoes or skin-boats. It seems
probable, however, that they have learned the use of these instruments
from the Eskimos.]

[12: In North Greenland there is yet a third and larger form of the
harpoon, which is used in walrus hunting, and is hurled without a
throwing-stick; it has instead two bone knobs, one for the thumb and one
for the fore-finger.]

[13: As to the different forms of the throwing-stick among the Eskimos,
see Mason's paper upon them in the Annual Report, &c. of the Smithsonian
Institution for 1884, Part II. p. 279.]

[14: In some places--for example, in the most southern part of Greenland
and on the East Coast--there is only a hollow for the thumb, while the
other side is smooth or edged with a piece of bone in which are notches
to prevent the hand from slipping.]

[15: On this point, see even such early authors as Cook and King, _A
Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, &c._, 3rd ed., ii. p. 513, London, 1785.]

[16: It is remarkable that the inhabitants of St. Lawrence Island do
not seem to use the kaiak at all. They have large open skin-boats
(_baidars_) of the same build as those of the Tchucktchi. (Compare
Nordenskiöld, _The Voyage of the Vega_, ii. p. 254, London, 1881.)]

[17: While the paddle is being pushed out sideways, until it comes at
right angles to the kaiak, it is held slightly aslant, so that the
blade, in moving, forces the water under it, and acquires an upward



One often hears the Eskimo accused of cowardice. This is no doubt
mainly due to the fact that his accusers have seen him only on land, or
in fine weather at sea; and then he is too good-natured and easy-going
to show any courage. It may be, too, they have not taken the trouble to
place themselves in sympathy with his view of life; or else they may
have called upon him to do things which he neither understood nor cared

If by courage we understand the tigerish ferocity which fights to the
last drop of blood, even against superior force--that courage which, as
Spencer says, is undoubtedly most common among the lowest races of men,
and is especially characteristic of many species of animals--it must be
admitted that of this the Eskimos do not possess any great share. They
are too peaceable and good-natured, for example, to strike back when
attacked; and therefore Europeans, ever since the time of Egede and the
first missionaries, have been able to strike them with impunity and to
call them cowardly. But this sort of courage is held in no great respect
by the natives in Greenland, and I am afraid that they do not look up
to us any the more because we exhibit a superabundance of it. They have
from all time respected the beautiful Christian doctrine that if a man
smite you on the right cheek, you should turn to him the left also.

But to conclude from this that the Eskimo is a coward would be unjust.

To estimate the worth of a human being, you must see him at his work.
Follow the Eskimo to sea, observe him there--where his vocation
lies--and you will soon behold him in another light; for, if we
understand by courage that faculty which, in moments of danger, lays its
plans with calmness and executes them with ready presence of mind, or
which faces inevitable danger, and even certain death, with immovable
self-possession, then we shall find in Greenland men of such courage as
we but rarely find elsewhere.

Kaiak-hunting has many dangers.

Though his father may have perished at sea, and very likely his brother
and his friend as well, the Eskimo nevertheless goes quietly about
his daily work, in storm no less than in calm. If the weather is too
terrible, he may be chary of putting to sea; experience has taught him
that in such weather many perish; but when once he is out he goes ahead
as though it were all the most indifferent thing in the world.

It is a gallant business, this kaiak-hunting; it is like a sportive
dance with the sea and with death. There is no finer sight possible than
to see the kaiak-man breasting the heavy rollers that seem utterly to
engulf him. Or when, overtaken by a storm at sea, the kaiaks run for
the shore, they come like black storm-birds rushing before the wind and
the waves, which, like rolling mountains, sweep on in their wake. The
paddles whirl through air and water, the body is bent a little forwards,
the head often turned half backwards to watch the seas; all is life and
spirit--while the sea around reeks like a seething cauldron. And then
it may happen that when the game is at its wildest a seal pops its head
up before them. Quicker than thought the harpoon is seized and rushes
through the foam with deadly aim; the seal dashes away with the bladder
behind it, but is presently caught and killed, and then towed onwards.
Everything is done with the same masterly skill and with the same quiet
demeanour. The Eskimo never dreams that he is performing feats of

Here he is great--and we? Ah, in these surroundings we are apt to seem
very small.

Let us follow the Eskimo on a day's hunting.


Several hours before dawn he stands upon the outlook-rock over the
village, and scans the sea to ascertain whether the weather is going
to be favourable. Having assured himself on this point, he comes
slowly down to his house and gets out his kaiak-jacket. His breakfast
in the good old days consisted of a drink of water; now that European
effeminacy has reached him too, it is generally one or two cups of
strong coffee. He eats nothing in the morning; he declares that it makes
him uneasy in the kaiak, and that he has more endurance without it. Nor
does he take any food with him--only a quid of tobacco.

When the kaiak is carried down to the beach and the hunting-weapons are
ranged in their places, he slips into the kaiak-hole, makes fast his
jacket over the ring, and puts out to sea. From other houses in the
village his neighbours are also putting forth at the same time. It is
the bladder-nose that they are after to-day, and the hunting-ground is
on some banks nine miles out to the open sea.

It is calm, the smooth sea heaves in a long swell towards the rocky
islets that fringe the shore, a light haze still lies over the sounds
between them, and the sea-birds floating on the surface seem double
their natural size. The kaiaks cut their way forwards, side by side,
making only a silent ripple; the paddles swing in an even rhythm,
while the men keep up an unbroken stream of conversation, and now and
then burst out into merry laughter. Bird-darts are thrown in sport,
now by one, now by another, in order to keep eye and hand in practice.
Presently an auk comes within range of one of them; the dart speeds
through the air, and the bird, transfixed, attempts, with much flapping
of wings, to dive, but is held up next moment upon the point of the
dart. The point is pulled out, the hunter seizes the bird's beak between
his teeth, and with a strong twitch breaks its neck, then fastens it to
the back part of the kaiak.

They soon leave the sounds and islets behind them and put straight out
to the open sea.

After some hours' paddling, they have at last reached the
hunting-ground. Great seal-heads are seen peering over the water in many
directions, and the hunters scatter in search of their prey.


Boas, one of the best hunters of the village, has seen a large he-seal
far off, and has paddled towards it; but it has dived, and he lies and
waits for its reappearance. There! a little way before him its round
black head pops up. He bends well forward, while with noiseless and
wary strokes he urges the kaiak toward the seal, which lies peaceful
and undisturbed, stretching its neck and rocking up and down upon the
swell. But suddenly it is on the alert; it has caught a glimpse of the
flashing paddle-blade, and now looks straight at him with its great
round eyes. He instantly stops paddling and sits motionless, while the
way on the kaiak carries it noiselessly forward. The seal discovers
nothing new to be alarmed at, and resumes its former quietude. It
throws its head backwards, holds its snout straight up in the air, and
bathes in the morning sun which gleams upon its black, wet skin. In the
meantime the kaiak is rapidly nearing; every time the seal looks in
that direction, Boas sits still and moves no muscle; but as soon as it
turns its head away again, he shoots forward like a flash of lightning.
He is coming within range; he gets his harpoon clear, sees that the
line is properly coiled upon the stand; one stroke more and it is time
to throw--when the seal quietly disappears under the water. It was not
frightened, and will consequently come up again at no great distance.
He lies still and waits. But the minutes drag on; a seal can remain
under water an incredible time, and it seems even longer to one who is
waiting for his prey. But the Eskimo is gifted with admirable patience;
he lies absolutely motionless except for his head, with which he keeps
watch on every side. At last the seal's head once more appears over the
water a little way off and to one side. He cautiously turns the kaiak,
unobserved by his prey, and once more he shoots towards it over the
mirror-like sea. But suddenly it catches sight of him again, looks at
him sharply for a moment, and dives. He knows its habits, however, and
at full speed he dashes towards the spot where it disappeared. Before
many moments have passed it pops up its head again to look around. Now
he is within range: the harpoon is seized and carried back over his
shoulder, then with a strong movement, as if hurled from a steel spring,
it rushes whistling from the throwing-stick, whirling the line behind
it. The seal gives a violent plunge, but at the moment it arches its
back to dive, the harpoon sinks into its side, and buries itself up to
the shaft. A few convulsive strokes of its tail churn the water into
foam, and away it goes, dragging the harpoon-line behind it towards the
depths. In the meantime Boas has seized the throwing-stick between his
teeth, and, quicker than thought, has thrown the bladder out of the
kaiak behind him. It dances away over the surface of the sea, now and
then seeming on the point of disappearing, as indeed it finally does.
Before long, however, it again comes in sight, and he chases after
it as quickly as his paddle can take him, snapping up on the way his
harpoon-shaft which has floated to the surface. The lance is laid ready
for use. Next moment the seal comes up; infuriated at its inability to
escape, it turns upon its pursuer, attacks first the bladder, which it
tears to pieces, and then goes straight for the kaiak. Again Boas is
within range; the animal arches its back and hurls itself forward with
gaping maw, so that the water foams around it. A miss may now cost him
his life; but he calmly raises his lance and sends it speeding with
terrible force through the seal's mouth and out at the back of its neck.
A shudder runs through it, and its head sinks; but the next moment it
raises itself perpendicularly in the water, the blood pours frothing
from its mouth, it gapes wildly and utters a smothered roar, while the
hood over its nose is inflated to an astounding size. It shakes its
head so that the lance-shaft quivers and waves to and fro; but it does
not succeed in breaking it or getting free from it. A moment more and
Boas's second lance has pierced through one of its fore-flappers into
its lungs; the seal collapses, and the fight is over. He paddles up to
its side, and as it still moves a little, he gives it a finishing stab
with his long-handled knife. Then he sets quietly about pulling out his
lances and replacing them in the kaiak, takes out his towing-line and
blows up his towing-bladder, which he fastens to the seal, cuts the
harpoon-head out and once more makes it fast to the shaft, coils the
line on the stand, and takes out a new bladder and places it behind him.
Next, the seal's flappers are lashed close to its body, with the thong
designed for that purpose, and the animal is attached by means of the
towing-line to one side of the kaiak, so that it can easily be towed
along, its head being fastened to the foremost pair of thongs on the
deck, and its tail to the hindmost. Now Boas is ready to look about him
for more game. He is lucky, and has not paddled far before he catches
sight of another seal. In an instant he has cast loose the one already
killed, which is kept afloat by the towing-bladder, while he again sets
off in pursuit. This one, too, he kills, after some wary stalking and
eager waiting; he takes it in tow and returns for his first prey. The
two great animals are fastened one on each side of the kaiak. He has now
a good cargo, and cannot get very quickly through the water; but that
does not prevent him from increasing his bag. As soon as another seal
comes in sight those already secured are cast loose, and when the next
one is killed it is fastened behind the others. In this way one man will
sometimes come towing as many as four seals, or even more at a pinch.

[Illustration: SEAL-HUNTING]

Tobias, in the meantime, another of the best hunters of the village, has
not been quite so fortunate as Boas. He began by chasing a seal which
dived and did not come up again within sight. Then he set off after
another; but as he is skimming over the sea towards it the huge head of
a hooded seal[18] suddenly pops up right in front of the kaiak, and is
harpooned in an instant. It makes a frightful wallowing and dives, the
harpoon-line whirls out, but suddenly gets fouled under the bird-dart
throwing-stick; the bow of the kaiak is drawn under with an irresistible
rush, and before Tobias knows where he is, the water is up to his
armpits, and nothing can be seen of him but his head and shoulders and
the stern of the kaiak, which sticks right up into the air. It looks as
if it were all over with him; those who are near him paddle with all
their might to his assistance, but with scant hope of arriving in time
to save him. Tobias, however, is a first-rate kaiak-man. In spite of his
difficult position, he keeps upon even keel while he is dragged through
the water by the seal, which does all it can to get him entirely under.
At last it comes up again, and in a moment he has seized his lance and,
with a deadly aim, has pierced it right through the head. A feeble
movement, and it is dead. The others come up in time to find Tobias busy
making his booty fast and to get their pieces of blubber from it.[19]
They cannot restrain their admiration for his coolness and skill, and
speak of it long afterwards. Tobias and Boas, however, are the best
hunters of the village. It is related of them that, in their younger
days, they were such masters of their craft that they even disdained the
use of bladders. They made fast the harpoon-line round their own waist
or round the kaiak-ring, and when the harpooned seal was not killed at
the first stroke, they let it drag themselves and the kaiak after it
instead of the bladder. This is looked upon by the Greenlanders as the
summit of possible achievement, but there are very few who attain such

Hitherto the weather has been fine, the glassy surface of the sea has
been heaving softly under the rising sun. But in the course of the last
hour or two, black and threatening banks of clouds have begun to draw
up over the southern horizon. Just as Tobias has made fast his seal, a
distant roar is heard and a sort of steam can be seen rising over the
sea to the southward. It is a storm approaching, and the steam is the
flying spray which it drives before it. Of all winds, the Greenlanders
fear the south wind (_nigek_) most, for it is always violent and sets up
a heavy sea.

The thing is now to get under the land as quickly as possible. Those who
have no seals in tow have the best of it, yet they try to keep with the

[Illustration: BEFORE THE WIND]

One relieves Boas of one of his seals. They have not paddled far before
the storm is upon them; it thrashes the water to foam as it approaches,
and the kaiak-men feel it on their backs, like a giant lifting and
hurling them forward. The sport has now turned to earnest; the seas soon
tower into mountains of water and break and welter down upon them. They
are making for the land with the wind nearly abeam; but they are still
far off, they can see nothing around them for the spray, and almost
every wave buries them so that only a few heads, arms, and ends of
paddles can be seen above the combs of froth.

Here comes a gigantic roller--they can see it shining black and white in
the far distance. It towers aloft so that the sky is almost hidden. In
a moment they have stuck their paddles under the thongs on the windward
side and bent their bodies forward so that the crest of the wave breaks
upon their backs. For a second almost everything has disappeared; those
who are further a-lee await their turn in anxiety; then the billow
passes, and once more the kaiaks skim forward as before. But such a sea
does not come singly; the next will be worse. They hold their paddles
flat to the deck and projecting to windward, bend their bodies forward,
and at the moment when the white cataract thunders down upon them they
hurl themselves into its very jaws, thus somewhat breaking its force.
For a moment they have again disappeared--then one kaiak comes up on
even keel, and presently another appears bottom upwards. It is Pedersuak
(_i.e._ the big Peter) who has capsized. His comrade speeds to his side,
but at the same moment the third wave breaks over them and he must look
out for himself. It is too late--the two kaiaks lie heaving bottom
upwards. The second manages to right himself, and his first thought is
for his comrade, to whose assistance he once more hastens. He runs his
kaiak alongside of the other, lays his paddle across both, bends down so
that he gets hold under the water of his comrade's arm, and with a jerk
drags him up upon his side, so that he too can get hold of the paddle
and in an instant raise himself upon even keel. The water-tight jacket
has come a little loose from the ring on one side and some water has got
in; not so much, however, but that he can still keep afloat. The others
have in the meantime come up; they get hold of the lost paddle, and all
can again push forward.


It grows worse and worse for those who have seals in tow; they lag far
behind, and the great beasts lie heaving and jarring against the sides
of the kaiaks. They think of sacrificing their prey, but one difficult
sea passes after another, and they will still try to hang on for a
while. The proudest moments in a hunter's life are those in which he
comes home towing his prey, and sees his wife's, his daughter's, and his
handmaiden's happy faces beaming upon him from the shore. Far out at sea
he already sees them in his mind's eye, and rejoices like a child. No
wonder that he will not cast loose his prey save at the direst pinch of

After passing through many ugly rollers, they have at last got under the
land. Here they are somewhat protected by a group of islands lying far
to the southward. The seas become less violent, and, as they gradually
get further in, they push on more quickly for home over the smoother

In the meantime the women at home have been in the greatest anxiety.
When the storm arose they ran up to the outlook-rock or out upon the
headlands, and stood there in groups gazing eagerly over the angry sea
for their sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers. So they stand watching
and shivering, until, with eyes rendered keener by anxiety, they at last
discern what seem like black specks approaching from the horizon, and
the whole village echoes to one glad shout: 'They are coming! They are
coming!' They begin to count how many there are; two are missing! No,
there is one of them! No, they are all there! They are all there!

They soon begin to recognise individuals, partly by their method of
paddling, partly by the kaiaks, although as yet they are little more
than tiny dots. Suddenly there sounds a wild shout of joy: 'Boase
kaligpok!' ('Boas is towing')--him they easily identify by his size.
This joyful intelligence passes from house to house, the children rush
around and shout it in through the windows, and the groups upon the
rocks dance for joy. Then comes a new shout: 'Ama Tobiase kaligpok!'
('Tobias too is towing'); and this news likewise passes from house to
house. Next is heard: 'Ama Simo kaligpok!' 'Ama David kaligpok!' And
now again comes another swarm of women out of the houses and up to the
rocks to look out over the sea breaking white against the islets and
cliffs, where eleven black dots can now and then be seen far out amid
the rolling masses of water, moving slowly nearer.

At last the leading kaiaks shoot into the little bight in front of the
village. They are those who have no seals. Lightly and with assured aim
one after the other dashes up on the flat beach, carried high upon the
crest of the waves. The women stand ready to receive them and to draw
them further up.

Then come those who have seals in tow; they must proceed somewhat more
cautiously. First, they cast loose their prey and see that it comes to
the hands of the women on shore. Then they themselves make for the land.
When once they have got out of the kaiak, they, like the first comers,
pay no heed to anything but themselves and their weapons, which they
carry to their places above high-water mark. They do not even look at
their prey as it lies on the shore. From this time forward all work in
connection with the 'take' falls to the share of the women.

The men go to their homes, take off their wet clothes and put on
their indoor dress, which, as we have seen, was in the heathen times
exceedingly airy, but has now become more visible.

Then at last comes the first meal of the day; but it does not begin in
earnest till the day's 'take' is boiled and served up in a huge dish
placed in the middle of the floor. Then there disappear incredible
quantities of flesh and raw blubber.

When hunger is appeased, the women always set themselves to some
household work, sewing or the like, whilst the men give themselves up to
well-earned laziness, or attend a little to their weapons, hang up the
harpoon-line to dry, and so forth.

Then the hunters begin to relate the events of the day, the family
listening eagerly, especially the boys. The narrative is sober, with
none of that boasting or striving to impress the hearers with an
exaggerated idea of the difficulties overcome, in which we Europeans,
under similar circumstances, would often indulge.

But at the same time it is lively and picturesque, with a peculiar
breadth of colouring. Experiences are described with illustrative
gestures, and, as Dalager says: "When they have come so far in the story
that the cast has to be depicted, they swing the right arm in the air
while the left is held straight out to represent the animal. Then the
demonstration goes on as follows: 'When the time came for using the
harpoon, I looked to it, I took it, I seized it, I gripped it, I had it
fast in my hand, I balanced it'--and so forth. This alone may go on for
several minutes, until at last the hand sinks to represent the throw;
and after that they do not forget to make note of the last twitches
given by the seal."

At other times the most remarkable events are dismissed in a few words.
But as often as an opportunity presents itself, a broad humour enters
into the narration, and is unfailingly rewarded by shrieks of laughter
from the eager listeners. No more perfect picture could be imagined of
happy family life.

So the days pass for the Eskimo. Although there is nothing unusual in
experiences such as these, they have for him a distinct attraction. His
best thoughts are wedded to the sea, the hard life upon it is for him
the kernel of existence--and when he is forced to remain at home, his
heart is heavy. But when he grows old--ah, then the saga is over. There
is always a melancholy in old age, and nowhere more than here. These
kindly old men have also in their day known strength and youth--times
when they were the pillars of their little society. Now they have only
the memories of that life left to them, and they must let themselves be
fed by others. But when the young people come home from sea with their
booty, they, too, hobble down to the beach to receive them; even if it
were but a poor foreigner like me, they were glad to be able to help me
ashore with my kaiak. And then when evening comes they set themselves
to story-telling; adventure follows adventure, the past comes to life
again, and the young people are spurred on to action.

The hunting is often more dangerous than that described above. It
will easily be understood that from his constrained position in the
kaiak, which does not permit of much turning, the hunter cannot throw
backwards or to the right. If, then, a wounded seal suddenly attacks
him from these quarters, it requires both skill and presence of mind
to elude it or to turn so quickly as to aim a fatal throw at it before
it has time to do him damage. It is just as bad when he is attacked
from below, or when the animal suddenly shoots up close at his side,
for it is lightning-like in its movements and lacks neither courage
nor strength. If it once gets up on the kaiak and capsizes it, there
is little hope of rescue. It will often attack the hunter under water,
or throw itself upon the bottom of the kaiak and tear holes in it. In
such a predicament, it needs very unusual self-mastery to preserve the
coolness necessary for recovering oneself upon even keel and renewing
the fight with the furious adversary. And yet it sometimes happens that
after being thus capsized the kaiak-man brings the seal home in triumph.

A still more terrible adversary is the walrus; therefore there are
generally several in company when they go walrus-hunting, so that one
can stand by another if anything should happen. But often enough, too, a
single hunter will attack and overcome this monster.


The walrus, I need scarcely say, is a huge animal of as much as 16 feet
(5 metres) in length, with a thick and tough hide, a deep layer of
blubber, a terribly hard skull, and a powerful body. There needs, then,
a sure and strong arm to kill it. The walrus has the habit, as soon as
it is attacked, of turning upon its assailant, and will often, with its
ugly tusks, make itself exceedingly unpleasant. If there are several
walruses in a flock, they will very likely surround him and attack him
all at once.

Even the Norwegian hunters, who go after the walrus in large, strong
boats, each containing many men, armed with guns, lances, and axes--even
they stand much in awe of it.

How much more courage and skill does it require for the Eskimo to attack
it in his frail skin canoe, with his light ingenious projectiles--and

But this is no unusual occurrence for the Eskimo. He fights out his
fight with his dangerous adversary; calmly, with his lance ready poised
for throwing, he awaits its attack, and, coolly seizing his advantage,
he at the right moment plunges the weapon into its body.

Coolness is more than ever essential in walrus-hunting, for the most
unforeseen difficulties may arise; and catastrophes are by no means
rare. At Kangamiut, some years ago, a kaiak was attacked from below, and
a long walrus-tusk was suddenly thrust through its bottom, through the
man's thigh, and right up through the deck. His comrades at once rushed
to his assistance, and the man was rescued and helped ashore.

Besides these animals, the Eskimo also attacks whales from his little
kaiak. There is one species in particular which is more dangerous
than any other--the grampus, or, as he calls it, _ardluk_. With its
strength, its swiftness, and its horrible teeth, if it happens to take
the offensive, it can make an end of a kaiak in an instant. Even the
Eskimo fears it; but that does not prevent him from attacking it when
opportunity offers.

In former times they hunted the larger whales as well, using, however,
the great woman-boats, with many people in them, both men and women. For
this sort of whale-hunting, says Hans Egede, 'they get themselves up in
their greatest finery as if for a marriage, for otherwise the whale will
avoid them; he cannot endure uncleanliness.' The whale was harpooned, or
rather pierced with a big lance, from the bow, and it sometimes happened
that with a whisk of its tail it would crush the boat or capsize it. The
men were often so daring as to jump on the whale's back, when it began
to be exhausted, in order to give it a finishing stroke. This method of
hunting is now unusual.

It is not only the larger animals that expose the Eskimo to danger. Even
in ordinary fishing--for example, for halibut--disasters may happen. If
one has not taken care to keep the line clear, and it gets fouled in one
place or another, while the strong fish is making a sudden dash for the
bottom, the crank kaiak is easily enough capsized. Many have met their
end in this way.

[Illustration: HALIBUT-FISHING]

But we must not dwell too long on the shady sides of life. I hope I
have succeeded in giving the reader a slight impression of the life
of the Eskimo at sea, and of some of the dangers which are his daily
lot--enough, perhaps, to have convinced him that this race is not
lacking in courage when it comes to the pinch, nor in endurance and cool

But the Eskimo has more than this; when disaster overtakes him, he will
often show the rarest endurance and hardihood. In spite of the many
dangers and sufferings inseparable from his industry, he devotes himself
to it with joy. If the history of the Eskimos had ever been written,
it would have been one long series of feats of courage and fortitude;
and how much moving self-sacrifice and devotion to others would have
had to be recorded! How many deeds of heroism have been irrecoverably
forgotten! And this is the people whom we Europeans have called
worthless and cowardly, and have thought ourselves entitled to despise.


[18: _Hoettesoel_, the full-grown male of the _Klapmyts_ (bladder-nose).
It has a hood over its nose, which it can inflate enormously.]

[19: When a seal is killed, each of the kaiak-men in the neighbourhood
receives a piece of its blubber, which he generally devours forthwith.]



In winter the Greenlanders live in houses built of stones and turf. They
rise only from four to six feet (one and a half to two metres) above the
level of the ground, and the floor is sunk somewhat beneath it. The roof
is flat or slightly arched. From outside, the whole structure generally
looks like an insignificant mound of earth.

There is only one room in these houses, and in it several families
generally live together--men and women, young and old. The roof is so
low that a man of any stature can scarcely stand upright. The room forms
an oblong quadrangle. Along the whole of the longer wall, opposite the
door, runs the chief sleeping-bench, about six feet six inches in width,
upon which sleep the married people, with grown-up unmarried daughters
and young boys and girls. Here they lie in a row, side by side, with
their feet towards the wall and their heads out into the room.

Hans Egede Saabye says, in his before-mentioned Journal, that they make
their marriage-bed under the sleeping-bench. I saw nothing to indicate
that any such practice now exists anywhere in the Godthaab district.

Unmarried men generally lie upon smaller benches under the windows,
which are in the opposite long wall, and of which there are one,
two, or three, according to the size of the house. The windows were
formerly filled with gut-skin, or some similar material; but nowadays,
on the west coast, glass is commonly used. Against the side walls,
too--the shorter walls--there are generally benches. These, or the
window-benches, are, as a rule, assigned to strangers as their

When several families, as is generally the case, dwell in one house, the
chief sleeping-bench is divided into stalls--one for each family. The
stalls are marked off by wooden posts, placed against the outer edge of
the bench, and reaching to the roof, from which low partitions extend
to the back wall. It is incredible how little room they are content
with. Captain Holm describes a house on the east coast which measured
about twenty-seven feet by fourteen and a half, and in which dwelt eight
families, consisting in all of thirty-eight persons. In one stall, four
feet broad, dwelt a man with two wives and seven children. This does not
give much space to each.

They use seal-skins or reindeer-skins to lie upon, and also, in former
days, as bedclothes, going to bed entirely naked, with the exception of
the before-mentioned indoor dress. Nowadays, on the west coast, down
quilts are commonly used as bedclothes.

Internally, the walls of the house were in former times always lined
with skins. The floor was formed by the naked earth, partly paved with
flags. Nowadays, since the introduction of so much European luxury, they
have begun, on the west coast, to line the walls with boards and to lay
wooden floors. They have even, to a certain extent, adopted the habit of
washing the floors--so much as several times a year.

The house is entered through a long and narrow passage, partly dug out
beneath the level of the ground, and, like the houses, walled with
stones and turf. You descend into it from the level of the ground
through a hole. It is, as a rule, so low and narrow that one has to
crouch one's way through it, and a large man finds it difficult enough
to effect an entrance. I was told at Sardlok of a fat storekeeper from
Godthaab who stuck fast at a difficult point in the passage leading to
Terkel's house. There he stuck, struggling and roaring, but could not
advance, and still less retreat. In the end, he had to get four small
boys to help him, two shoving behind and two, from within the house,
dragging him in front by the arms. They laboured and toiled in the sweat
of their brows, but the man was jammed as fast as a wad in a gun-barrel,
and there was some thought of pulling down the walls of the passage in
order to liberate him, before he at last managed to squeeze through. If
I remember rightly, a window had to be torn down in order to let him out
of the house again.

From the passage, you enter the house through a little square opening,
usually in the front long wall, which is closed by a door or trap-door.

The purpose of this passage is to prevent the cold air from coming in
and the warm light air from escaping. It is to this end that it is made
to lie lower than the house; by which means, too, a little ventilation
is obtained, since the heavy bad air can, to some extent, sink down into
it and escape.

In Greenland houses of the old style there are no fireplaces; they are
warmed, as well as lighted, by train-oil lamps, which burn day and
night. They are left burning all night through, not merely for the sake
of warmth, but also because the Eskimos are exceedingly superstitious,
and therefore afraid of even sleeping in darkness. You may hear them
relate, as a proof of extreme poverty, that this family or that, poor
things, have to sleep at night with no lamp burning.

The lamps are large, flat open saucers of soapstone. They are of
semi-circular form, and along the straight side lies the wick, which
is formed of dry moss, or, nowadays, of cotton. These lamps rest on a
wooden stand, and are placed on a little table or raised place in front
of the sleeping-bench. There is generally one of these lamp-tables to
each family. If several families dwell in one house, there are many
lamps, for each family has at least one burning, and, as a rule, more.

In former days, food used to be cooked over these lamps in soapstone
pots, which hung from the roof. The preparation of food, like every
other business of life, of course went on in the common room.

So it is to this day on the east coast. On the west coast, modern
civilisation has effected a change, in so far that food is now generally
cooked in a special room with a fireplace, built on to the side of
the passage leading into the house. Peat is used as fuel in these
fireplaces, and also lumps of dried seagulls' dung. Iron saucepans, too,
bought at the stores in the colonies, are now used instead of soapstone

Many West Greenlanders have, moreover, become so highly sophisticated as
to have bought stoves, which they use instead of the train-oil lamps for
heating their houses. The fuel used is the same as that mentioned above.
At the same time, however, the indispensable lamps are kept burning, for
the sake of light, if for no other reason.

In former days the houses were generally large, and several families
lived in each. By this means they were able to economise in fuel,
and they lived warmly and comfortably, while in many other ways
the habitation in common was found advantageous. In this point the
influence of the Europeans has been unfortunate. They have encouraged
the distribution of the families into separate small houses, and have
even offered prizes for house-building; it was thought to be such a
grand thing that each family should have its own home for itself. The
result was that the houses became poorer and colder, more material in
proportion was needed for warming and lighting--material which was not
always forthcoming--and the advantages of the old system of partial
communism were sacrificed; so that the separation tended to the greater
discomfort of the greater number.

In winter, when everything is frozen hard, these houses are all well
enough; but in summer, when the moisture exudes from the thawing walls
and the roof leaks and sometimes falls in, they are anything but
wholesome dwelling-places. As soon as spring arrives, therefore, with
the month of April, the Greenlanders used always in former days to
quit their houses, often unroofing them themselves, in order that they
might be thoroughly ventilated and washed out by the autumn rains--an
exceedingly simple method of house-cleaning.

The whole summer through, and a good way into the autumn (until
September or October), the Greenlanders dwelt in tents, each family,
as a rule, having its own. These tents are of a peculiar semi-circular
form, with the entrance-door in the high flat side. Internally, they
are arranged very like the houses, with the sleeping-bench running
along the curved back wall opposite to the door, which is closed with
a curtain of semi-transparent gut-skin. The walls of the tent consist
of an outer layer of water-tight skin with the hair taken off (old
boat-skins being used as a rule), and an inner layer of reindeer- or
seal-skin with the fur turned inwards. These tents are tolerably warm,
and in them, as in their houses, they go without clothes.

The woman-boat is inseparably connected with this summer tent-life.
These boats, which are from 30 to 40 feet long (10 to 12 metres), have
received their name from the Europeans, because, unlike the kaiaks, they
are rowed by women.

[Illustration: AN ESKIMO CAMP]

They are entirely open boats, consisting of a wooden framework covered
with seal-skin, and are narrow in proportion to their length, and
flat-bottomed. They are easy to row, but their shape renders them
defective and inconvenient sea-boats, so that as soon as there is any
wind the Greenlanders make for the land with them. They have generally a
small sail which can be set in the bow, for running before a fair wind;
but it will be readily understood that they are not good sailing-boats.
Sailing is, on the whole, a pursuit of which the Eskimo understands
little, and for which he has no great liking.

In these boats there is room for all a family's worldly goods--tents,
household implements, dogs, children, women, &c. They are rowed by as
many as half a score of oarswomen, and when they are so well 'manned,'
they attain a good speed. A run of fifty English miles a day is not at
all uncommon. They are generally steered by the paterfamilias, while the
other males of the family follow in their kaiaks.

In their woman-boats, the Greenlanders used to move from one
hunting-ground to another all through the summer. For one or two months
they always went far up the fiords in search of reindeer, and there they
lived on the fat of the land.

In those days they often undertook long journeys up and down the west
coast, as they do to this day on the east coast. To show how long these
journeys sometimes are, I may mention that on the east coast families
travel from the Angmagsalik district, in 65-1/2° north latitude, the
whole way to the trading-settlements west of Cape Farewell, and back
again--a distance of about 500 miles. They do not generally travel
quickly; one of two woman-boats which we met on the east coast at Cape
Bille in 1888, on their way southwards, did not reach Pamiagdluk, west
of Cape Farewell, until two years later, in 1890--and this is only a
distance of some 180 miles, which we with our boats could no doubt have
covered in a week or two. But as soon as the Eskimos come to a place
where there are plenty of seals, they go ashore, pitch their camp,
take to hunting, and live at their ease. When the autumn and winter
approach, they choose a good site and build a winter-house, continuing
their journey in the spring or summer as soon as the ice permits. The
woman-boat in question had in this manner spent three years on the
passage from Umivik, and would no doubt take pretty nearly as long to
return. The other woman-boat that was passing southwards from Cape Bille
got as far as Nanusek, about 65 miles from the trading-settlements west
of Cape Farewell, and there went into winter quarters; but then the
father of the family died, and they faced round and set about the long
journey back to Angmagsalik, without ever having reached their goal, the
trading-settlements, or accomplished their errand.

[Illustration: A SUMMER JOURNEY]

Journeys along the west coast were of course easier and more rapid, as
the drift-ice did not there present impediments.

By means of this habit of wandering they escaped the evil effects of
too great seclusion in separate villages; they met together and kept up
intercourse with other people, so that there was all through the summer
a certain life and traffic from which they reaped many benefits. Their
minds were enlivened, interest in hunting was stimulated, and skill was
developed in many different ways, to say nothing of the fact that the
frequent changing of hunting-grounds brought much more game within their

This summer life in the comparatively clean, airy tents, besides being
exceedingly pleasant, was, as we may easily understand, very much
healthier than confinement in the close, evil-smelling earth cabins. No
wonder, then, that the Greenlanders' fairest dreams of happiness were
associated with the woman-boat and the tent.

Here again, alas! we Europeans have brought about melancholy changes.
Hans Egede, indeed, complained bitterly of the difficulty of getting the
Greenlanders to leave off their perpetual wanderings and settle down
peaceably in one place, so that he could preach Christianity to them at
his ease; he even proposed that they should be forcibly bound down to
a less migratory life. If this pious man, who thought of nothing but
the advancement of the Kingdom of God, had been living now, he might
in so far have been happy; for the Christian Greenlanders of to-day
scarcely travel at all. By reason of the great impoverishment which we
have brought upon them, there are every day fewer and fewer hunters who
can procure enough skins to make a woman-boat and a tent, both of which
are of course necessary for travelling. They are more and more forced
to pass the whole year round in the unwholesome winter houses, which
are, of course, mere hot-beds for bacteria and all sorts of contagious
diseases, while the men are thus unable to change their hunting-grounds,
and must keep to the same spots year out year in. By this means the
'take' is of course greatly diminished, food is consequently much less
plentiful, and the indispensable seal-skins become fewer and fewer. As
soon as the whole Greenland community has sunk to the level of Egede's
ideal and has entirely abandoned its migratory habits, it will be
almost, if not quite, beyond salvation. The decline in this direction
has of late years been very alarming.



One feature of the Greenlanders' daily life, which to us seems strange
enough, is that they have no fixed meal-times; they simply eat when
they are hungry, if there is anything to be had. As already mentioned,
the hunters often go the whole day without anything to eat. They have a
remarkable power of doing without food, but to make up for this they can
consume at a sitting astonishing quantities of meat, blubber, fish, &c.

Their cookery is simple and easy to learn.

Meat and fish are eaten sometimes raw or frozen, sometimes boiled,
sometimes dried; and sometimes meat is allowed to undergo a sort of
decomposition or fermentation, when it is called _mikiak_, and is eaten
without further preparation. A dish of this sort, which is very highly
esteemed, is rotten seals'-heads.

The blubber of seals and whales is generally eaten raw. My dainty
readers will of course shudder at the very thought of eating raw
blubber; but I can assure them that, especially when quite fresh, it is
very good. It has a sweetish, perhaps rather mawkish, taste, reminding
one of cream, with nothing of what we should call an oily or fishy
flavour; this does not make itself felt until the blubber has been
boiled or roasted, or when it has grown rancid. There are still people,
no doubt, who believe that the Eskimos are in the habit of drinking
train-oil, although even Hans Egede has pointed out that this is a
mistake. That they do not always refuse it, however, when it comes in
their way, I was able to assure myself at Godthaab; for I always saw
our old maid-servant Rosina take a sip or two out of our lamp when she
was cleaning it in the morning, and, as she usually did, had filled the
vessel a little too full. It did not seem at all to disagree with her.

They also preserve the stalks of angelica in train-oil, preparing them,
according to Saabye's account, in the following peculiar fashion; 'A
woman takes a mouthful of blubber, chews it, and spits it out, and so
continues until she thinks she has enough. When the angelica-stalks have
steeped for a certain time in this liquid, they are taken out and eaten
as dessert with much appetite.'

Of vegetable food, the primitive Greenlanders used several sorts; in
addition to angelica, I may mention dandelions, sorrel, crowberries,
bilberries, and different kinds of seaweed. One of their greatest
delicacies is the contents of a reindeer's stomach. If a Greenlander
kills a reindeer, and is unable to convey much of it home with him, he
will, I believe, secure the stomach first of all; and the last thing an
Eskimo lady enjoins upon her lover, when he sets off reindeer-hunting,
is that he must reserve for her the stomach of his prey. It is no doubt
because they stand in need of vegetable food that they prize this so
highly, and also because it is in reality a very choice collection of
the finest moss and grasses which that _gourmet_, the reindeer, picks
out for himself. It has undergone a sort of stewing in the process of
semi-digestion, while the gastric juice provides a somewhat sharp and
aromatic sauce. Many will no doubt make a wry face at the thought of
this dish, but they really need not do so. I have tasted it, and found
it not uneatable, though somewhat sour, like fermented milk. As a dish
for very special occasions, it is served up with pieces of blubber and

Another dish, which will doubtless shock many Europeans, is the entrails
of ptarmigans. In this case they do not confine themselves to the
stomachs, but devour in a twinkling the viscera with their contents.
The remainder of the ptarmigan they sell to the traders for a penny or
less (5 to 8 öre). This is the reason why, in Greenland, one never sees
ptarmigan whole, except those one has shot oneself.

One time when we went on a hunting expedition up the Ameralik fiord,
and had the Greenlander Joel with us, he devoted a day to tearing the
entrails out of all our ptarmigan; but as they numbered a good many more
than a hundred, he could not devour the whole on the spot, and gathered
up the remains in a large sack. Upon its delicious contents, which must
have become a sort of gruel before he reached home, he no doubt intended
to feast in company with his well-beloved Anna Cornelia. I hope the
reader will pardon my inability to inform him how this dish tastes; it
was the one Greenland delicacy which I could not make up my mind to

Among other dainties I must mention the skin (_matak_) of different
sorts of whales, especially of white whale and porpoise, which is
regarded as the acme of deliciousness. The skin is taken off with the
layer of blubber next to it, and is eaten raw without further ceremony.
I must offer the Eskimos my sincerest congratulations on the invention
of this dish. I can assure the reader that now, as I write of it,
my mouth waters at the very thought of matak with its indescribably
delicate taste of nuts and oysters mingled. And then it has this
advantage over oysters, that the skin is as tough as india-rubber to
masticate, so that the enjoyment can be protracted to any extent. Even
the Danes in Greenland are greatly addicted to this delicacy when it
is to be had; they cook it, however, as a rule, thus making it of a
jellyish consistency and easy of mastication. The taste of nuts and
oysters disappears entirely.

A delicate dish, which does not, however, rival matak, is raw
halibut-skin. It has the same advantage that, by reason of its
toughness, it goes such a long way. I can confidently recommend it as
exceedingly palatable, especially in winter.

The Greenlander is also very fond of raw seal-skin with the blubber. Its
taste was very tolerable, but I could not quite reconcile myself to the
hairs, and therefore took the liberty of spitting them out again, after
having made several vain attempts to swallow them.

They eat the flesh of seals, whales, reindeer, birds, hares, bears, even
of dogs and foxes. The only things, so far as I know, that they despise,
are ravens; as these birds feed to some extent upon the dung-heaps, they
are regarded, like the plants that grow there, as unclean.

Lean meat they do not care about at all; therefore they prefer, for
example, sea-birds to ptarmigan. It happened once that in one of the
colonies in South Greenland, a clergyman, who had just arrived in the
country, invited some of his flock to a party, and his wife treated
them to the greatest delicacy she knew, namely, roast ptarmigan. The
Greenlanders ate very sparingly of it, though their hostess pressed
it hospitably upon them. At last she asked whether they did not like
ptarmigan. Oh yes, they answered, they ate it sometimes--when there was
a famine.

What I have said above will doubtless be enough to prove that the
Eskimos are by no means so easily contented in their diet as is
generally supposed. In famine times, however, they will eat almost
anything. Dalager assures us that they will, for example, 'cut their
tent skins to pieces and make soup with them,' and it is not uncommon to
hear of someone who has made soup of his old skin trousers.

The method of serving the food differs considerably from that which
obtains in Europe. There are no tables in the Greenland house; therefore
the dish is placed in the middle of the floor, and the people sit on the
benches around, and dip into it with the forks provided by Nature. It
seldom occurs to them to place the dish upon a box or any other raised
place; it seems almost a necessity for them to stoop. An example of
this may be found in an anecdote of a young Danish lady who, soon after
her arrival in Greenland, got some Eskimo women into her house to do
washing. Coming into the wash-house, she found them bending over the
wash-tubs, which stood upon the floor, and, thinking this an awkward
position, she brought them some stools to place the tubs upon. Shortly
afterwards she went in again to see how they were getting on, and found
them, to her astonishment, standing upon the stools and, of course,
stooping still more awkwardly over the tubs, which remained upon the
floor. _Se non è vero è ben trovato._

Of all the many delicacies to which we have introduced them, the
Christian Greenlanders are most addicted to coffee, and the indulgence
in it has on the west coast become almost a vice. They brew it strong,
and seldom drink less than two large bowls at a time; and it is not
at all unusual for them to take coffee four or five times a day--it
tastes so nice and puts them in such excellent spirits. They are not
insensible to its deleterious effects, however, and therefore young men
are allowed little or none of it, lest it should spoil them for hunting.
A dizziness from which the older men sometimes suffer, and which makes
them unsteady in the kaiak, they attribute in large part to coffee.
This harmonises curiously with the results of recent physiological
experiments, which have shown that the most dangerous poisons contained
in coffee--cafeonet, &c.--attack precisely that part of the nervous
system on which equilibrium depends.

Next to coffee they are devoted to tobacco and bread. On the west
coast, tobacco is for the most part smoked or chewed; while snuff is
the East Greenlanders' weakness. The women on the west coast, too, are
given to snuffing, and it is often an unpleasant surprise to observe
an attractive young woman blackening her nostrils and upper lip with
a copious pinch. They grind their own snuff with flat stones, out of
undamped roll-tobacco, which they cut up small and dry over the lamp.
To make it go further it is sometimes mixed with powdered stone; and it
is kept in horns of different sizes. On the east coast, snuff performs
a definite social function. The Eskimos have no words for 'good-day'
or 'welcome,' and fill up the gap by offering their snuff-horns to
any stranger who is acceptable in their sight, whereupon the newcomer
responds by offering his horn in exchange. When they part, the same
ceremony is repeated.

The West Greenlanders prepare their chewing tobacco in a way which to us
seems somewhat surprising. A deep Danish porcelain pipe is half-filled
with smoking-tobacco, which is then thoroughly drenched with water,
after which the pipe is filled to the brim with dry tobacco; then it
is smoked till the fire reaches the wet tobacco and is extinguished.
The ashes are then knocked out, and as much oil as possible is scraped
together from the oil-cell, the pipe-stem, the old accretions in the
pipe-bowl, &c., and is added to the already well impregnated mass in the
bottom of the bowl, which is then considered ready for chewing. This
particularly strong preparation is specially prized for use on board the

The Government has, fortunately, prohibited the sale of brandy to the
Greenlanders. Europeans, however, are allowed to order it from home, and
may treat the Greenlanders with it. It is very common to let them have
a dram when they are serving as rowers on board the boats of Europeans
travelling in the summer-time, and after any bargain has been concluded
with them. It has furthermore been wisely ordained that the _kifaks_,
or those who are in the employ of the Danish Company, get each his dram
every morning; while the hunters, who ought to be more capable and
better men than the kifaks, cannot obtain any without either entering
into the service of the Europeans or selling something to them.

They are passionately fond of brandy--women as well as men--not, as they
often confided to me, because they like the taste of it, but because it
is so delightful to be drunk; and they get drunk whenever an opportunity
offers, which is, happily, not very often. That the intoxication is
really the main object in view appears also from the fact that the
kifaks do not greatly value their morning dram, because it is not enough
to make them drunk. Several of them, therefore, agreed to bring their
portions into a common stock, one of them drinking the whole to-day,
the next to-morrow, and so on by turns. Thus they could get comfortably
drunk at certain fixed intervals. When the authorities discovered this
practice, however, they took means to stop it.

Unlike their sisters here in Europe, the Eskimo wives, as a rule, find
their husbands charming in their cups, and take great pleasure in the
sight of them. I must confess, indeed, that the Eskimos, both men and
women, seemed to me, with few exceptions, considerably less repulsive,
and, of course, considerably more peaceable, in a state of intoxication
than Europeans are apt to be under similar conditions.

When the Europeans first came to the country, the natives could not at
all understand the effects of brandy. When Christmas approached, they
came and asked Niels Egede when his people were going to be 'mad';
for they thought that 'madness' was an inseparable accompaniment of
the feast, and the recurring paroxysm had become to them a landmark
in the almanack. They afterwards ascertained that it was due to this
liquor, which they therefore called _silaerúnartok_--that is to say,
the thing which makes men lose their wits; but now they usually call it



When I see all the wrangling and all the coarse abuse of opponents
which form the staple of the different party newspapers at home, I now
and then wonder what these worthy politicians would say if they knew
anything of the Eskimo community, and whether they would not blush
before the people whom that man of God, Hans Egede, characterises as
follows:--'These ignorant, cold-blooded creatures, living without order
or discipline, with no knowledge of any sort of worship, in brutish
stupidity.' With what good right would these 'savages' look down upon
us, if they knew that here, even in the public press, we apply to each
other the lowest terms of contumely, as for example 'liar,' 'traitor,'
'perjurer,' 'lout,' 'rowdy,' &c., while they never utter a syllable of
abuse, their very language being unprovided with words of this class, in
which ours is so rich.

This contrast typifies a radical difference of character. The
Greenlander is of all God's creatures gifted with the best disposition.
Good-humour, peaceableness, and evenness of temper are the most
prominent features in his character. He is eager to stand on as good a
footing as possible with his fellow-men, and therefore refrains from
offending them and much more from using coarse terms of abuse. He is
very loth to contradict another even should he be saying what he knows
to be false; if he does so, he takes care to word his remonstrance in
the mildest possible form, and it would be very hard indeed for him to
say right out that the other was lying. He is chary of telling other
people truths which he thinks will be unpleasant to them; in such
cases he chooses the vaguest expressions, even with reference to such
indifferent things as, for example, wind and weather. His peaceableness
even goes so far that when anything is stolen from him, which seldom
happens, he does not as a rule reclaim it even if he knows who has taken
it. 'Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away
thy goods ask them not again' (Luke vi. 30).

The result is that there is seldom or never any quarrelling among them.
The Greenlanders cannot afford to waste time in wrangling amongst
themselves; the struggle to wring from nature the necessities of life,
that great problem of humanity, is there harder than anywhere else, and
therefore this little people has agreed to carry it on without needless

On the whole, the Greenlander is a happy being, his soul being light and
cheerful as a child's. If sorrow overtakes him, he may perhaps suffer
bitterly for the moment; but it is soon forgotten, and he is once more
as radiantly contented with existence as he used to be.

This happy levity of his saves him from brooding much upon the future.
If he has enough to eat for the moment, he eats it and is happy, even if
he has afterwards to suffer want--which is now, unfortunately, often the
case, and becomes so oftener year by year.

His carelessness has frequently been made a subject of bitter reproach
to him. The missionaries declare, no doubt rightly, that it makes him
inaccessible to civilisation, and have tried to exhort him to greater
providence and frugality. They quite overlook the fact that it is
written, 'Take ye no thought for the morrow.... Behold the fowls of the
air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet
your heavenly Father feedeth them.'

This levity of mind has also its bright side; it is even, in a way, the
Eskimo's chief strength.

Poverty and want have, with us, two consequences. The most immediate
is, of course, the physical suffering; but together with it and after
it comes mental suffering, 'the cares of bread,' the unceasing anxiety
which pursues one night and day, even in sleep, and embitters every hour
of life. In the majority of cases, this is probably what tells most upon
our poor people; but for this, the bodily sufferings, which, after all,
are generally transitory, would be easily supported. But it is precisely
from this phase of suffering that the Eskimo's elastic spirit saves him.
Even a long period of starvation and endurance is at once forgotten
so soon as he is fed; and the memory of bygone sufferings can no more
destroy his enjoyment and happiness, than can the fear of those which
to-morrow or the next day may bring. The only thing that really makes
him unhappy is to see others in want, and therefore he shares with them
whenever he has anything to share.

What chiefly cuts the Eskimos to the heart is to see their children
starving; 'and therefore,' says Dalager, 'they give food to their
children even if they themselves are ready to die of hunger; for they
live every day in the hope of a happy change of fortune--a hope which
really sustains life in many of them.'

In order to obtain a clearer conception of the radical difference
between the Eskimo character and ours, we ought to study the Eskimos in
their social relations.

It is not unusual to hear people express the opinion that the Eskimo
community is devoid of law and order. This is a mistake.

Originally, on the contrary, it was singularly well ordered. It had
its customs and its fixed rules for every possible circumstance, and
these customs and rules were handed down from generation to generation,
and were almost always observed; for the people are really incredibly
well-disposed, as even Egede himself, who has, as we have seen, written
so harshly of them, cannot help admitting in such a passage as, for
example, the following; 'It is wonderful in what peace and unity
they live with each other; for quarrelling and strife, hatred and
covetousness, are seldom heard of among them.[20] And even if one of
them happens to bear an ill-will to another, he does not let it be seen,
nor, on account of their great tenderness for each other, does he take
upon himself to attack him openly with violence or abuse, their language
being indeed devoid of the necessary words.' Observe that this is said
by a missionary of heathens, who, therefore, could not have developed
this peaceful temper through the influence of Christianity.

Then came the Europeans. Without knowing or understanding the people
or its requirements, they started from the assumption that it stood in
need of improvement in every possible way, and consequently set to work
to disturb and overturn the whole social order. They tried to force
upon the Eskimos a totally new character, gave them, all in a moment,
a new religion, and broke down their respect for their old customs
and traditions, of course without being able to give them new ones in
their place. The missionaries thought that they could make this wild,
free people of hunters into a civilised Christian nation, without for
a moment suspecting that at heart these people were in many respects
more Christian than themselves, and, among other things, like so many
primitive people, had put into practice the Christian doctrine of love
(charity) very much more fully than any Christian nation. The Europeans,
in short, conducted themselves in Greenland exactly as they are in the
habit of doing wherever they come forward in the name of the Christian
religion to 'make the poor heathen partakers in the blessings of eternal

Very characteristic of this view is the following utterance of Egede's,
of which I have already spoken: 'The inborn stupidity and dulness of the
Greenlanders, their slothful and brutish upbringing, their wandering
and unstable way of life, certainly offer great hindrances to their
conversion, and ought as much as possible to be obviated and remedied.'
What a lack of comprehension! Only think, to want to obviate and remedy
the nomadic life of a tribe of hunters! What would remain to them? I
may add that he at another time proposes to attain this end by means of
'chastisement and discipline.'

The Eskimos at first listened in astonishment to the strangers. They
had hitherto been very well content with themselves and their whole way
of living; they did not know that man and his life on earth were so
miserable as the missionaries again and again assured them they were.
They had not, as Egede says, 'any just realisation of their own profound
corruption,' and had great difficulty in understanding a religion so
cruel as to condemn people to everlasting fire. They could quite well
recognise 'original sin' as a common characteristic of the _kavdlunaks_
(Europeans), for it was clear enough that many of them were bad; but the
_kaladlit_ (Eskimos) were good people, and ought without any trouble to
get into heaven.

When in 1728 a number of Danish men and women came to Godthaab to
colonise the country, many of them gave great offence to the heathens by
their evil ways, so that they 'often asked how it was that so many of
our people were so bad. Women (that is, Greenland women), they said, are
naturally quiet and modest; but these (the Europeans) were boisterous,
brazen, and lacking in all womanly propriety. Yet they surely all knew
God's will.' And the Greenlanders looked down upon and laughed at the
stupid, self-satisfied Europeans who preached so finely but practised so
little what they preached, and who, besides, knew nothing about hunting
or about all the things which the Eskimos regarded as the most important
in life.

The power which comes of a higher development gradually gave the
Europeans the upper hand, so that in the course of time they have
brought about a complete disturbance of the primitive social order, and
replaced it by an indeterminate mixture of Eskimo and modern European
habits and civilisation; while they have also effected a deplorable
mixture of breeds, and produced, without the help of the clergy, an
exceedingly mongrel population.

But, as the Eskimos are a very conservative people, we can still find
many important traces of their primitive condition.

The Greenlanders, like all nations of hunters, have a very restricted
sense of property; but it is a mistake to suppose it entirely

As regards the great majority of things, a certain communism prevails;
but this is always limited to wider or narrower circles according to
the nature of the thing in question. Ascending from the individual, we
find in the family the narrowest social circle; then come housemates and
the nearest kinsfolk, and then all the families of the village. Private
property is most fully recognised in the kaiak, the kaiak-dress and the
hunting-weapons, which belong to the hunter alone, and which no one
must touch. With them he supports himself and his family, and he must
therefore always be sure of finding them where he last laid them; it is
seldom that they are even lent to others. In former times, good hunters
would often own two kaiaks, but that is seldom the case now. Snow-shoes
may almost be regarded as belonging to implements of the chase; but as
they were introduced by the Europeans, they are not considered matters
of private property in the same degree; so that while an Eskimo seldom
or never touches another's weapons he will scarcely think twice about
using another's snow-shoes without asking leave.

Next to clothes and hunting implements come the tools which are used in
the houses, such as knives, axes, saws, skin-cutters, &c. Many of these,
and especially the women's sewing materials, are regarded as altogether
private property.

Other household implements are the common property of the family or
even of all the occupants of the house. The woman-boat and the tent
belong to the father of the family or to the family as a whole. The
house belongs to the family, and if several families live together they
own it in common.

The Eskimo knows nothing of private property in land; yet there seems
to be a recognised rule that no one shall pitch a tent or build a house
at a place where people are already settled without obtaining their

As an example of their consideration for each other in this respect I
may cite a custom which was thus described by Lars Dalager more than
a hundred years ago: 'In the summer, when they take their tents and
baggage with them, and think of settling down at a place where other
Greenlanders are living, they row very slowly towards the shore, and
when they come to within a gunshot of it they stop and lie upon their
oars without saying a word. If those on shore are equally silent and
give no sign, the newcomers think they are not wanted and therefore
row away as fast as possible to some unoccupied place. But if those
on shore, as generally happens, meet them with compliments, such as:
"Look here! here are good places for your tents, a good beach for your
woman-boats--come and rest after the labours of the day!" they, after a
little consideration, lay in to the shore where the others stand ready
to receive them and to help with the landing of the baggage. But when
they are starting again, the people of the place confine themselves
to helping in the launch of the woman-boat, and let the strangers
themselves see to the rest, unless they happen to be very good friends
or near relations, in which case they are despatched with the same marks
of honour with which they were received, and with some such phrases as
this: "Your visit will be a pleasant memory to us."'[21]

We may perhaps find the rudiments of the conception of private property
in land in the fact that where dams have been built in a salmon river
to gather the fish together, it is not regarded as the right thing if
strangers come and interfere with the dams or fish with nets in the
dammed-up waters, as Europeans were often in the habit of doing in
earlier times. This too is mentioned by Dalager.

Driftwood belongs to whoever first finds it floating in the sea,
wherever it may happen to be. In order to sustain his right to it, the
finder is bound to tow it ashore and place it above the high-water line,
if possible marking it in one way or another. For this form of property
the Eskimo has the greatest respect, and one who has left a piece of
drift-wood on the shore may be sure of finding it again even several
years after, unless Europeans have come along in the meantime. Any one
taking it would be regarded as a scoundrel.

As to their customs in lending and trading, I may again quote Dalager:
'If one man lends another anything, for example a boat, a harpoon, a
fishing-line, or other sea-implement, and it comes to harm--if, for
instance, the seal gets away with the harpoon, or the fish breaks the
line, or the fish or seal does injury to the boat--the owner must bear
the loss, the borrower making no reparation. But if anyone borrows darts
or implements without the knowledge of the owner, and they come to
harm, the borrower is bound to make good the damage. This happens very
seldom; for a Greenlander must be hard pushed before he will trouble his
neighbour to lend him anything, for fear of any harm occurring to it.

'When one makes a purchase from another, and the wares do not suit him,
he can return them even after a considerable time has elapsed.

'If one buys of another such costly things as a boat or a gun, and the
buyer is not in a position to satisfy the seller in ready money, he
is allowed credit until he can pay up. But if the debtor dies in the
meantime, the creditor never makes any claim. This,' adds Dalager, 'is
an inconvenient habit for the merchants of the colony, who are always
bound to give credit; whereof I have had several experiences, especially
this year, many of my debtors having departed this life, and thus
brought me into considerable perplexity.'

On his complaining to 'some influential and reasonable Greenlanders,'
they advised him 'to register his claim at once, but to let the man's
lice die in the grave (as they expressed it) before he proceeded to

Beyond the articles above enumerated,[22] the Greenlander, according
to his primitive customs, can possess but little. Even if he had a
faculty for laying up riches, which he very seldom has, his needier
fellows would have the right to enforce a claim upon such of his
possessions as were not necessary for himself. Thus we find in Greenland
this unfortunate state of things: that the European immigrants, who
are in reality supported by the natives, often become rich and live
in abundance (at any rate, according to the Eskimo ideas), while the
natives themselves are in want.

The Greenlander has not even unrestricted rights over the game he
himself secures. There have been fixed rules from time immemorial
according to which it is divided, and there are only a few sorts of
animals which he can keep pretty well to himself and to his family. To
these belong the _atak_ or Greenland seal; but even in its case he must
give a portion of blubber to each of the kaiak-men who are present when
he takes it, and in the same way the children of the village, when he
comes home, receive a little scrap of blubber apiece. There are fixed
rules for other sorts of game, in accordance with which the whole animal
is divided among those who were present when it was killed or even among
all the houses of the village. This is especially the case with regard
to the walrus and several sorts of whales, as, for example, the white
whale; of this the hunter receives only a comparatively small portion,
even when he has killed it without help from others. When a whale of
any size is brought to shore, it is said to be quite a horrible sight
to see all the inhabitants of the village, armed with knives, flinging
themselves upon it to secure each his share, while it is still in the

The scene is so sanguinary that Dalager declares that he has 'never
seen or heard of a whale being cut up without someone or other being
mutilated, or at least badly wounded, so great is the careless eagerness
with which several hundred people will rush upon the fish, each one
doing his best for himself, and, therefore, paying very little heed
as to where he slashes with his knife.' It is characteristic of their
amiability, however, that 'when one of them has thus come to harm, he
does not bear any grudge against the man who injured him, but regards it
as an accident.'

It is not only with respect to the larger animals that such rules hold
good; they also apply in the case of certain fishes. Thus if a halibut
is caught, the fisher is bound to give the other kaiak-men upon the
hunting-ground a piece of the skin for division among themselves; and
in addition to this, when he comes home, he generally gives some of the
animal to his housemates and neighbours.[23]

[Illustration: FISHING]

Even when a Greenlander has fulfilled all the aforesaid laws, he cannot
always keep to himself his own share of his booty. For instance, if he
makes a catch at a time when there is scarcity or famine in the village,
it is regarded as his duty either to give a feast or to divide his prey
among other families, who may perhaps have had to go for long without
fresh meat.

After a good haul, they make a feast, and eat as long as they can. If
everything is not eaten up, and there is plenty in the other houses
as well, what remains is stored against the winter; but in times of
scarcity it is regarded as the duty of those who have anything to
help those who have nothing, even to the last remnant of food. After
that, they starve in company, and sometimes starve to death. That some
people should live in profusion while others suffer need, as we see
it occurring daily in European communities, is an unheard of thing
in Greenland; except that the European settlers, with the habitual
providence of our race, have often stores of food while the Greenlanders
are starving.

It will be understood from what has been said that the tendency of
the law is, as much as possible, to let the whole village benefit by
the captured prey, so that no family shall be entirely dependent upon
the daily 'take' of those who provide for it. These are laws which
have developed through the experience of long ages, and have become
established by the habit of many generations.

The Greenlander is, on the whole, like a sympathetic child with respect
to the needs of others; _his first social law is to help his neighbour_.
Upon it, and upon their habit of clinging together through good and ill,
depends the existence of the little Greenland community. A hard life has
taught the Eskimo that however capable he may be, and able as a rule to
look after himself, there may come times when without the help of his
fellow-men he would have to go to the wall; therefore, it is best to
help others. 'Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should
do to you, do ye even so to them'--this commandment, one of the first
and most important of Christianity, Nature itself has instilled into
the Greenlander, and he always acts up to it, which can scarcely be
affirmed of Christian nations. It is unfortunate that, as he advances in
civilisation, this commandment seems to lose its power over him.

Hospitality to strangers is a no less binding law among the Eskimos
than helpfulness to neighbours. The traveller enters the first hut he
comes to, and remains there as long as convenient. He is kindly received
and entertained with what the house can offer, even if he be an enemy.
When he proceeds on his way, he often takes a store of food along
with him; I have seen kaiak-men leave houses where they had remained
weatherbound for several days, loaded with halibut flesh, which had
been presented to them on their departure. No payment is ever made for
the entertainment. A European, too, is everywhere hospitably received,
although the Greenlanders would not think of making similar claims upon
his hospitality. Europeans, however, often make some sort of recompense
by treating their entertainers to coffee and such other delicacies as
they may have with them.

That hospitality is considered a very binding duty upon the east coast
of Greenland appears from several remarkable instances related by
Captain Holm. I may refer the reader to what he tells of the murderer
Maratuk, who had killed his stepfather. He was a bad man, and no one
liked him; yet when he presented himself at the house of the murdered
man's nearest relatives, he was received and entertained for a long
time--but they spoke ill of him when he had gone.

Hospitality is of course forced upon them by their natural surroundings;
for it often happens that they are overtaken by storms when far
from home, so that they are compelled to take refuge in the nearest

It seems, unhappily, as though hospitality had declined of late years on
the west coast. Doubtless it is once more the Europeans who have given
the example. And the fact that the people are by no means so well-to-do
as in earlier times, and are therefore less able to entertain strangers,
has no doubt tended in the same direction.

Many of my readers are probably of opinion that I am unjust to us
Europeans; but that is far from my intention. If the Europeans have not
had the best influence, the fact cannot always be directly laid to their
charge; circumstances have rendered it inevitable, in spite of excellent
intentions on their part. For example, they have conscientiously
laboured to foster the sense of property among the Greenlanders,
encouraging them to save up portions of their booty, instead of
lavishing it abroad in their usual free-handed way, and so forth; the
principle being that a more highly developed sense of property is the
first condition of civilisation. Whether this is a benefit may seem
doubtful to many; for my part I have no doubt about the matter. I must
admit, of course, that civilisation presupposes a much greater faculty
for the acquisition of worldly goods than the Eskimo is possessed of;
but what I cannot understand is what these poor people have to do with
civilisation. It assuredly makes them no happier, it ruins what is fine
and admirable in their character, makes them weaker in the struggle for
existence, and inevitably leads them to poverty and misery. But more of
this at a later opportunity.

The laws upon which the heathen community in Greenland rests are, as we
have seen, as nearly as possible socialism carried into practice. In
this respect, accordingly, they are more Christian than those of any
Christian community. The social reformers of to-day might learn much in
these high latitudes.

Spencer has in one of his books pointed out that mankind has
two religions. The first and most natural is the instinct of
self-preservation, which impels the individual to protect himself
against all outward opposition or hostile interference. This he calls
the religion of enmity. The other is the instinct of association, which
impels men to join fellowship with their neighbours; and to it we trace
the Christian doctrine that you should love your neighbour as yourself,
and should even love your enemies. This he calls the religion of
friendship. The former is the religion of the past, the latter that of
the future.

Precisely this religion of the future the Eskimo seems to have made his
own to a peculiar degree.

The men of some tribes or races are driven to combine with each other
by the pressure of human enemies, others by inhospitable natural
surroundings. The latter has been the case with the Eskimos. Where
the instinct of association and mutual help has been most strongly
developed, there has the community's power of maintaining itself been
greatest, and it has increased in numbers and in well-being; while other
small communities, with less of this instinct, have declined or even
succumbed altogether.

In so far as we believe with Spencer that the religion of friendship is
that of the future, that self-sacrifice for the benefit of the community
is the point towards which development is tending, we must assign to the
Eskimo a high place in the scale of nations.

It is a question, however, whether our forefathers also, in long bygone
ages, did not act upon a similar principle. It may be that social
development proceeds in a spiral with ever wider and wider convolutions.


[20: 'When they have seen our dissolute sailors quarrelling and
fighting, they regard such behaviour as inhuman, and say: "They do
not treat each other as human beings." In the same way, if one of the
officers strikes a subordinate, they at once exclaim: "He behaves to his
fellow-men as if they were dogs."']

[21: Dalager, _Grönlandske Relationer_, Copenhagen, 1752, pp. 15-16.]

[22: Dogs, however, must be added to the list, and, in the case of the
North and East Greenlanders, dog-sledges.]

[23: When several are hunting in company, there are fixed rules to
determine to whom the game belongs. If two or more shoot at a reindeer,
the animal belongs to him who first hit it, even if he only wounded
it slightly. As to the rules for seal-hunting, Dalager says: 'If a
Greenlander strikes a seal or other marine animal with his light dart,
and it is not killed, but gets away with the dart, and if another then
comes and kills it with his darts, it nevertheless belongs to the first;
but if he has used the ordinary harpoon, and the line breaks, and
another comes and kills the animal, the first has lost his right to it.
If, however, they both throw at the same time and both harpoons strike,
the animal is cut lengthwise in two, and divided between them, skin and
all.' 'If two throw at a bird simultaneously, it is divided between
them.' 'If a dead seal is found with a harpoon fixed in it, if the owner
of the harpoon is known in the neighbourhood, he gets his weapon back,
but the finder keeps the seal.' Similar rules seem also to be in force
upon the east coast.]



Many leading thinkers have remarked that the social position occupied by
its women affords the best criterion of a people's place in the scale of
civilisation. I am not entirely convinced that this is always the case;
but if it is, I think we have here another indication that the Eskimo
must be allowed to have reached a pretty high level of development.
For the Eskimo woman plays no insignificant part in the life of the

It is true that, according to the primitive Eskimo conception, she is
practically regarded as the property of her husband, who has either
carried her off, or sometimes bought her, from her father. He can
therefore send her away when he pleases, or lend her, or exchange her
for another; and, when he can afford it, he can have more wives than
one. But as a rule she is well treated, and we find this conception
of her as the husband's chattel more clearly marked among many other
races; there is even a good deal of it in our own society, only under a
somewhat different disguise.

There are some who maintain that our women have plenty to do, but that
the great mistake is that their employments are not exactly the same
as those of the men. These people will be no better contented with the
state of affairs in Greenland, for there, too, the employments of the
two sexes are entirely distinct.

It is true that both sexes wear trousers, and have done so from
time immemorial; but nevertheless they have not yet attained to the
conception that there is little or no difference between men and women.

They hold that there are, among other things, certain essential physical
differences, and imagine that women are not as a rule so strong, active,
and courageous as men, and that they therefore are not so well fitted
for hunting and fishing. On the other hand, they do not think that men
are best fitted to have the care of children, to give them suck, and so

This is no doubt the reason for the very clear line of demarcation
between the employments proper to the two sexes in Greenland.

To the man's share falls the laborious life at sea, as hunter and
food-provider; but when he reaches the shore with his booty, he has
fulfilled the most important part of his social function. He is received
by his women-folk, who help him ashore; and while he has nothing to do
but to look after his kaiak and his weapons, it is the part of the women
to drag the booty up to the house. In earlier times, at any rate, it was
beneath the dignity of any hunter to lend a hand in this work, and so it
still is with the majority.

The women flay the seal and cut it up according to fixed rules, and the
mother of the family presides at the division of it. Further, it is the
women's duty to cook the food, to prepare the skins, to cover the kaiaks
and woman-boats, to make clothes, and to attend to all other domestic
tasks. In addition to this they build the houses, pitch the tents, and
row the woman-boats.

To row in a woman-boat was formerly, at any rate, quite beneath a
hunter's dignity, but it was the part of the father of the family to
steer it. Now we often see men sitting and rowing, especially if they
are hired by travelling Europeans. When you have become thoroughly
accustomed to their way of life, this makes an unpleasant impression;
the kaiak is and must be the indispensable condition of their existence,
and one feels that they ought to neglect no opportunity for exercising
themselves in its use. Even now no hunter of the first rank will
condescend to enter a woman-boat, except as steersman.

When the family is out reindeer-hunting, it is of course the men who
shoot the reindeer, while it often falls to the share of the women to
drag the game to the tent; and this is a laborious business, calling for
a great deal of endurance.

The only sort of fishery with which the women as a rule concern
themselves is caplin-fishing. The season for this is the early summer,
when the caplin appear on the coast in such dense shoals that they can
be drawn up in bucketsful into the woman-boats. The fishing continues
until a sufficient store is laid up against the winter; when once that
is done they care no more about them, however abundant they may be. The
fish are dried by being spread out on the rocks and stones; it is the
women's business to look after them, and, when they are dried, to pack
them together.

Sometimes they take part in seal-fishing, when a sort of battue is made,
the seals being hunted into narrow sounds and fiords and driven ashore.

Only a few cases are on record in which women have tried their hand at

Captain Holm mentions two girls at Imarsivik on the east coast who
had taken to the kaiak. The proportion between men and women in the
village was unfortunate, there being only five men out of a population
of twenty-one. We are unhappily not informed whether these women had
attained as great skill in hunting as their male comrades.

They had entirely adopted the masculine manner of living, dressed like
men and wore their hair like men. When they were allowed to select what
they wanted from among Holm's articles of barter, they did not choose
needles or other feminine implements, but preferred spear-heads for
their weapons. It must have been difficult to distinguish them from men;
I must doubtless have seen them when I was on the east coast in 1888,
without suspecting their sex. Holm mentions that one or two other girls
in the same place were also destined to be trained as hunters, but they
were as yet too young.

While the men pass most of their time on the sea, the women remain at
home in their houses; and there you will generally find them busily
occupied with one task or another, in contrast to those fair ones on
our side of the ocean who do nothing but eat, lounge about, gossip,
and sleep. When they go beyond the circle of their ordinary domestic
employments, it is generally to busy themselves with the weapons of the
men, ornamenting them with bone-carvings, &c.; these are their chief

The men generally sit at the outer edge of the sleeping-bench with
their feet on the floor; but the women always sit well back on the
bench, with their legs crossed, like a tailor on his table. Here they
sew, embroider, cut up skins with their peculiar crooked knives,
chew bird-skins, and in short attend to many of their most important
occupations, while their tongues are in ceaseless activity; for they
are very lively and seldom lack matter for conversation. I cannot,
unhappily, quite acquit them of the proverbial feminine loquacity; and,
if we may believe Dalager, they are not altogether free from graver
defects. He says: 'Lying and backbiting are chiefly to be found among
the women. The men, on the other hand, are much more honest, and shrink
from relating anything which they are unable to substantiate.'

Oh woman, woman, are you everywhere the same!

The very first thought to which Lokë gave birth, It was a lie, and he
bade it descend In a woman's shape to the men of earth.

The preparation of skins is a very important part of the women's
work, and as the methods are extremely peculiar, I shall give a short
description of them, as I learnt them from the Eskimos of the Godthaab
district. The processes vary according to the different sorts of skins
and the purposes for which they are destined.

Kaiak-skins are dressed either black or white.[24]

_The black skin_ (_erisâk_) is obtained by scraping the blubber from
the under side of the skin while it is fresh, and then steeping it for
a day or two in stale urine, until the hairs can be plucked out with
a knife. These being removed, the skin is rinsed in sea water, and in
summer it is then dried, but not in the sun. In winter, it is not dried,
but if possible preserved by being buried in snow. Whether in summer or
winter, however, it is best if, immediately after being washed, it can
be stretched on the kaiak so as to dry upon the framework. These skins
are dark because the grain or outer membrane of the skin of the seal is
either black or dark brown.

_White kaiak-skins_ (_únek_) are prepared in this way: While they are
quite fresh, and after the blubber has been roughly removed, they are
rolled up and laid in a tolerably warm place either out of doors or
in. There they lie until the hairs and the outer membrane can easily
be scraped away with a mussel-shell. For this purpose, however, the
Greenland beauties generally prefer to use their teeth, since they
can thus suck out a certain amount of blubber, which they consider
delicious. Then, in summer, the skins are hung up to dry--not in the
sun--upon a wooden rail, and are often turned in order that they may dry
evenly all over. In winter they are preserved, like the black skins, in
the snow. The dark membrane being scraped away, these skins are quite
light-coloured or white when they are finished.

It must be noted that neither of these sorts of skins is stretched while

Both sorts are used for woman-boats as well as for kaiaks.

For the kaiak, the white skins, which ought always to be kept well
greased with seal-blubber, are considered best in summer; the black,
on the other hand, which are never greased, are preferred in winter. A
well-appointed hunter, therefore, ought to re-cover his kaiak twice a
year: nowadays, however, he can generally do so only once, and sometimes
only once in two years.

If the seal-skins are to be used for kamiks (shoes), the blubber and
the inner layer of the skin itself is scraped away with a crooked
knife (_ulo_) upon a board made for the purpose out of a whale's
shoulder-blade. When the skin has been scraped thin it is steeped for
a day or so in stale urine until the hairs can be plucked off with a
knife. This done, the skin is stretched, by means of small bone pegs,
upon the earth or the snow, and dried. Then it is rubbed until it is
soft, and the process is complete. As this sort of skin has its outer
membrane intact, it is of a dark colour.

White kamik-skins are prepared up to a certain point like the foregoing,
but when the hairs have been removed they are dipped in warm water (not
too warm) until the black membrane is loosened, and then steeped in sea
water, as cold as possible. If all the membrane is not removed, the skin
is again dipped alternately in warm water and sea water until it comes
away. Then the skin is pegged out and dried like the black skin.

The white skins, not being as strong and water-tight as the black, are
used almost entirely by women, who either keep them white or dye them in
different ways.

Sole leather for the kamiks is prepared in the same way as the black
kaiak-skin, but is pegged out while drying.

Skins for kaiak-gloves are prepared at first like the black kamik-skins,
but after the hairs have been removed they are dressed with blood,
and then rolled together and put away. This is repeated two or three
times until they become entirely black. Then they are stretched for
drying--in summer out of doors, but in winter in the houses. This skin
is wonderfully water-tight.

If the seal-skin is to be prepared with its hairs on, as for example,
for the inner sock of the kamiks or for jackets, it is scraped on the
blubber side with a crooked knife, just like the ordinary kamik-skin.
Then it is steeped in water, and washed with soft soap; whereupon it is
rinsed out in clean water, stretched, and dried as above described. It
is then made soft and pliant by rubbing, and is ready for use.

Reindeer-skin is simply dried and rubbed, no water being applied to it.

In preparing bird-skins, the first step is carefully to dry the
feathers; then the skins are turned inside out, and the layer of fat is
scraped away as thoroughly as possible with a mussel-shell or a spoon,
and is eaten--it is held a great delicacy. Then the skins are hung up
under the roof to dry. After a few days, the last remnants of fat are
removed from them by means of chewing, then they are dried again, then
washed in warm water with soda and soap three times over, then rinsed
out in very cold water, pressed, and hung up for the final drying. If
the feathers are to be removed so that only the down is left, as, for
example, in the case of the eider-duck, they are plucked out when the
skin is half dry. Then it is thoroughly dried and cut up, and so is
ready for use.

The chewing above-mentioned is a remarkable process. The operator takes
the dry skin, almost dripping with fat, and chews away at one spot until
all the fat is sucked out and the skin is soft and white; then the
chewing area is slowly widened, the skin gradually retreating further
and further into the mouth, until it often disappears entirely, to be
spat out again at last with every particle of fat chewed away. This
industry is for the most part carried on by the women and children, and
is very highly relished by reason of the quantity of fat it enables
them to absorb. In times of scarcity, the men are often glad enough to
be allowed to do their share. It is a strange scene that is presented
when one enters a house and finds the whole of its population thus
engaged in chewing, each with his skin in his mouth. The excellence
of the Greenland bird-skins is due to this process. How few of those
who have admired the exquisite eider-down rugs which adorn so many a
luxurious European home, have any idea of the stages through which they
have gone! And how many a European beauty, resplendent in costly skins,
would shudder if she could see in a vision all the more or less inviting
mouths through which her finery has passed, up there in the far North,
before it came to deck her swan-like form!

On the whole, the Greenland women make great use of their teeth, now to
stretch the skins, now to hold them while they are being scraped, and
again for the actual scraping. It is rather startling to us Europeans to
see them take up a skin out of the tub of fetid liquor in which it has
been steeping, and straightway fix their teeth in it and begin to dress
it. The mouth, in fact, is a third hand to them; and therefore the front
teeth of old Eskimo women are often worn away to the merest stumps.

The sinews of seals, whales, and reindeer are used as thread in
making garments out of skins. The sinews are simply dried. For sewing
kaiak-jackets, kaiak-gloves, and sometimes for kamiks, the gullet of
the saddleback seal, the ringed seal, the bladder-nose seal, the small
mottled seal, and the cormorant is also used. The outer membranes of
the gullet are cut away while it is quite fresh, and then it is drawn
over a round stick prepared for the purpose, and greased with blubber.
Sometimes the gullet is also scraped with mussel-shells. When it has
dried upon the stick and has been cut lengthwise into narrow strips, it
is ready for use. The thread thus obtained has this advantage over the
sinew-thread that it does not soften in water.

The Greenland women are very capable at their work, and are especially
skilful with their needle. One has only to examine the seams of a
kaiak-skin, a kaiak-jacket, or a gut-skin shirt to convince oneself
of this. But their skill is still more conspicuous in the admirable
embroideries with which they ornament their trousers, kamiks, and other
garments. On the west coast, where they have learned the use of dyes
from the Europeans, they now execute these embroideries with small
patches of hide of different colours, which they sew together into a
sort of mosaic. They work entirely in freehand, without any pattern to
go by, and display great neatness and precision, to say nothing of their
sense of colour and of form.

In living with the Eskimos in their homes, one does not at all receive
the impression that the women are particularly oppressed or slighted. It
seemed to me, on the contrary, that the housewives of Godthaab and the
surrounding district often played a very important part in the domestic
economy, in some cases even ruling the roost. Judging from my own
experience, then, I should say that there is a good deal of exaggeration
in what Dalager says of the women, that 'even what ought to be the best
hours of their life, from the time they come to maturity, are nothing
but a long chain of trouble, contempt, and sorrow.'

It cannot be denied that in social life one observes a certain
difference of status between men and women. Thus at meal-times or
at coffee-parties, the hunters and the men of most importance are
first helped, then the less important males, and finally the women
and children. Dalager, in last century, makes a similar remark in his
description of a banquet. The men, he says, take the leading place,
and tell each other their adventures, while 'the women too have in the
meantime formed a little party by themselves in another corner, where,
no doubt, nothing but empty chatter is to be heard.' But, if it comes to
that, such a description would apply in several other parts of the world
besides Greenland.

I must admit, however, that the Eskimo men sometimes show themselves
sadly deficient in politeness towards the ladies. For example, 'when
the women are hard at work, building houses, drawing water, or carrying
heavy burdens of one sort or another, the men stand by with their hands
thrust into the breast of their jackets, and laugh at them, without
offering the slightest help.' But is this so very much worse than what
we often see in Norway, when a Bergen peasant, returning from market,
lights his pipe, stretches himself in the stern of the boat, and lets
his women row him home?

That women are not held in such high esteem as men is also unhappily
evident from the fact that when a man-child is born, the father is
jubilant, and the mother beams with pride, while if it be a girl, they
both weep, or are at any rate very ill content.

But is this so very much to be wondered at? With all his goodness of
heart, the Eskimo is, after all, no more than a man. The boy is, of
course, regarded as the kaiak-man and hunter of the future, the support
of the family in the old age of his parents, in short as a direct
addition to the working capital; while they no doubt think that there
will always be plenty of girls in the world.

The same difference is observable in the bringing-up of the children,
the boys being always regarded as the food-providers of the future, who
must in every way be well cared for; and if a boy's parents die, his
position is never a whit the worse, for all the neighbours are quite
willing to receive him into their houses and do all they can to make a
man of him. With the girls it is different; if they lose their parents
and have no relations, they can always, indeed, have plenty of food, but
they have often to put up with the most miserable clothing, so that it
is pitiful to see them. When they come to the marriageable age, however,
they stand on pretty much the same level as girls who have been more
fortunately situated; for no such thing as a dowry is known, and their
chances simply depend upon 'beauty and solidity, which shall secure them
favour in the eyes of the young men--lacking these they are despised,
and will never be married, since there are always plenty to choose
from.' Of this, however, they cannot complain, for the men themselves
are no better off. If they are not strong enough to make good hunters,
as sometimes happens, they have poor enough chances of ever finding a
mate, and are looked down upon by every one.

That boys are regarded very much in the light of capital appears from
the fact that although widows are not in demand in the marriage-market,
it sometimes happens that they find a husband, 'especially if they have
a family of boys; in that case they are pretty sure one day to make a
match with a respectable widower.'

Even in death, women seem to be placed at a disadvantage, as we may
conclude from the following remark of Dalager's: 'It sometimes happens
that a woman of no great importance, when mortal sickness falls upon
her, is buried alive. A horrible case of this sort occurred a short time
ago at this very place. Several people declared that they had heard the
woman, a long time after her burial, calling out from her grave and
begging for something to drink. If you remonstrate with them upon such
inhuman cruelty, they answer that when the patient cannot recover, it
is better that she should be put away in her last resting-place, than
that the survivors should go through the agony of death in observing her
misery. But this reasoning will not hold good; for if any male person
were thus barbarously dealt with, it would be regarded as the most
brutal murder.' Yes, this was ill done; but fortunately such events are
very exceptional. Their real reason, moreover, is probably to be found
in the Eskimos' intense dread of touching dead bodies, which makes them
clothe the dying, whether men or women, in their grave-clothes, often
long before death occurs, preparing everything for the carrying out of
the corpse and its burial, while the patient himself lies and looks on.
For the same reason, they shrink from assisting one who has met with
an accident at sea, if he seems to be already in the pinch of death,
fearing lest they should happen to lay hands upon him after life has


[24: The skins used, as before-mentioned (p. 45) are usually those of
the saddleback seal or hood seal; but the skin of the bearded seal is
also used, and occasionally that of the ringed seal or even of the
mottled or common seal (_Phoca vitulina_).]



Love, that power which permeates all creation, is by no means unknown
in Greenland; but the Greenland variety of it is a simple impulse of
nature, lacking the many tender shoots and intricate blossoms of the
hot-house plant which we know by this name.

It does not make the lover sick of soul, but drives him to sea, to the
chase; it strengthens his arm and sharpens his sight; for his one desire
is to become an expert hunter, so that he can lead his Naia home as his
bride, and support a family. And the tender young Naia stands upon the
outlook-rock gazing after him; she sees with what speed and certainty
he shoots ahead, how gracefully he wields the paddle, and how lightly
his kaiak dances over the waves. Then he disappears in the far distance;
but she still gazes over the endless blue expanse, which heaves over the
grave of so many a bold kaiak-man.

At last he comes home again, towing his booty; she rushes down to the
beach and helps the other women to bring his prey ashore, while he
quietly puts his weapons together and goes up to his house.

But one evening he does not return, for all her waiting and gazing; all
the others have come--him the sea has taken. She weeps and weeps, she
can never survive the blow. But her despair does not last long; after
all, there are other men in the world, and she begins to look on them
with favour.

The pure-bred Eskimo generally marries as soon as he can provide for a
wife. The motive is not always love; 'the right one' has perhaps not yet
appeared on the scene; but he marries because he requires a woman's help
to prepare his skins, make his clothes, and so forth. He often marries,
it is said, before he is of an age to beget children. On the east coast,
indeed, according to Holm, it is quite common for a man to have been
married three or four times before that age.[25]

Marriage in Greenland was, in earlier times, a very simple matter. When
a man had a mind to a girl, he went to her house or tent, seized her
by the hair or wherever he could best get hold of her, and dragged her
without further ceremony home to his house,[26] where her place was
assigned her upon the sleeping-bench. The bridegroom would sometimes
give her a lamp and a new water-bucket, or something of that sort, and
that concluded the matter. In Greenland, however, as in other parts
of the world, good taste demanded that the lady in question should
on no account let it appear that she was a consenting party, however
favourably disposed towards her wooer she might be in her heart. As a
well-conducted bride among us feels it her duty to weep as she passes
up the church, so the Eskimo bride was bound to struggle against her
captor, and to wail and bemoan herself as much as ever she could. If she
was a lady of the very highest breeding, she would weep and 'carry on'
for several days, and even run away home again from her husband's house.
If she went too far in her care for the proprieties, it would sometimes
happen, we are told, that the husband, unless he was already tired of
her, would scratch her a little on the soles of the feet, so that she
could not walk; and before the sores were healed, she was generally a
contented housewife.

When they first saw marriages conducted after the European fashion,
they thought it very shocking that the bride, when asked if she would
have the bridegroom for her husband, should answer Yes. According to
their ideas, it would be much more becoming for her to answer No, for
they regard it as a shameful thing for a young lady to reply to such a
question in the affirmative. When assured that this was the custom among
us, they were of opinion that our women-folk must be devoid of modesty.

The simple method of marriage above described is still the only one
known upon the east coast of Greenland, and a good deal of violence
is sometimes employed in the carrying off of the bride. The lady's
relations, however, stand quite unmoved and look on. It is all a
private matter between the parties, and the Greenlander's love of a
good understanding with his fellows makes him chary of mixing himself
up in the affairs of others.

It sometimes happens, of course, that the young lady really objects to
her wooer; in that case she continues her resistance until she either
learns to possess her soul in patience, or until her captor gives her

Graah relates a curious instance[27] proving how difficult it is for
an onlooker to determine what are really the lady's sentiments. An
able-bodied young rowing-woman in his boat, an East Greenlander named
Kellitiuk, was one day seized and carried to the mountains by one
of her countrymen named Siorakitsok, in spite of the most violent
resistance on her part. As Graah believed that she really disliked
him, and as her friends affirmed the same thing, he went after her
and rescued her. A few days later, as he was preparing to set forth
on his journey again, and the boat had just been launched, Kellitiuk
jumped into it, lay down under the thwarts, and covered herself with
bags and skins. It soon appeared that this was because Siorakitsok had
just landed on the island, bringing his father with him to back him up.
While Graah's back was turned for a moment, he jumped into the boat and
dragged the fair one out of her hiding-place. Convinced that her brutal
wooer was really repulsive to her, Graah thought it his duty to rescue
her. When he came up, the suitor had already got her half out of the
boat, and his father stood by on shore ready to lend a hand. Graah tore
her from his grasp, and recommended him instead to try his luck with
'Black Dorothy,' another of the rowing-women, whom he would have been
glad to get rid of. The baffled bridegroom listened to him quietly,
'muttered some inaudible words in his beard, and went away with
wrathful and threatening looks.' The father did not take his son's fate
much to heart, 'but helped us to load the boat,' says Graah, 'and then
bade us a no doubt well-meant farewell.' When they were about to start,
however, Kellitiuk was nowhere to be found, although they shouted and
searched for her all over the little island. She had evidently hidden
herself away somewhere, and they set off without her; so it appears
that she had, after all, no irreconcilable antipathy to Siorakitsok.

Among the heathen Greenlanders, divorce is as simple an affair as
marriage. When a man grows tired of his wife--the reverse is of rarer
occurrence--he need only, says Dalager, 'lie apart from her on the
sleeping-benches, without speaking a word. She at once takes the
hint,' and next morning gathers all her garments together and quietly
returns to her parents' house, trying, as well as she can, to appear
indifferent. How many husbands at home could wish that their wives were

If a man takes a fancy to another man's wife, he takes her without
ceremony, if he happens to be the stronger. Papik, a highly respected
and skilful hunter at Angmagsalik, on the east coast, took a fancy to
the young wife of Patuak, and, towing a second kaiak behind his own, he
set off for the place where Patuak lived. He went to his tent, carried
off the woman, made her get into the second kaiak, and paddled away
with her. Patuak, being younger than Papik, and not to be compared with
him in strength and skill, had to put up with the loss of his wife.[28]

There are cases on the east coast of women who have been married to
half-a-score of different men. Utukuluk, at Angmagsalik, had tried
eight husbands, and the ninth time she remarried husband No. 6.[29]

Divorce is especially easy so long as there are no children. When the
woman has had a child, especially if it be a boy, the bond is apt to
become more lasting.

On the east coast, if a man can keep more than one wife, he takes
another; most of the good hunters, therefore, have two, but never
more.[30] It appears that in many cases the first wife does not like
to have a rival; but sometimes it is she that suggests the second
marriage, in order that she may have help in her household work.
Another motive may also come into play. 'I once asked a married woman,'
says Dalager, 'why her husband had taken another wife? "I asked him to
myself," she replied, "for I'm tired of bearing children."'

The first wife seems always to be regarded as the head of the
household, even if the husband shows a preference for the second.

Polyandry seldom occurs. Nils Egede mentions a woman who had two
husbands, but both she and they were angekoks.[31]

On the introduction of Christianity, these primitive and simple
marriage customs were of course abolished on the west coast of
Greenland, where people are now united with religious ceremonies as in
Europe. The bride, too, is no longer required to offer so determined a

But if it was formerly easy to get oneself a wife, under the new
order of things it has become difficult enough. For the ceremony
must necessarily be performed by a clergyman, the native catechists,
who fill the place of the pastors in the various villages, not being
reckoned good enough. If, then, you happen to live at a place which the
pastor visits only once a year, or perhaps once in two years, you must
take care to come to an understanding with the lady of your choice just
in time to seize the opportunity. If a young fellow should take it into
his head to marry just after the pastor has gone away, he must wait a
year, or perhaps two, before he can go through the necessary ceremony,
unless, indeed, he and his bride are prepared to take a long journey in
search of clerical ministrations.

Such a state of things would inevitably lead many to form less binding
connections, or to marry without the help of the clergy, even if the
Greenlanders were naturally less inclined towards such laxity than as a
matter of fact they are. I have heard of a case in which a cleric, on
coming to a certain village after a two years' absence, had to confirm
a girl, marry her, and christen her child on the same day. This may be
called summary procedure. Such an arrangement cannot but be hurtful,
tending to undermine all respect for the ceremony whose impressiveness
it is sought to enhance by making the clergy alone competent to
officiate at it.

On the introduction of Christianity, polygamy was of course abolished.
The missionaries even insisted that when a man who was married to two
wives became a Christian, he should put away one of them. In 1745, an
Eskimo at Frederikshaab had a mind to be baptised, 'but when it came to
a question of putting away his second wife, he began to hesitate, for
he had two sons by her, whom he would thus lose. In the end he changed
his mind and went his way.'[32] For this one can scarcely blame him.
Similar cases, in which it is required that a man shall put away one
of his wives, with whom he has perhaps lived happily for many a year,
still occur now and then, when a Greenlander from the east coast settles
on the west coast (near Cape Farewell) and is baptised. The hardship
which the man is thus forced to inflict upon the woman need scarcely
be insisted upon. Even to Dalager, in last century, it appeared an
injustice, and 'how far it conflicted with the ordinances of God that a
man should have more than one wife, seemed to him a problem.'

Polygamy, however, is still occasionally to be found upon the west
coast, a second wife being apparently one of the indulgences which first
occur to a Greenlander's mind when he is inclined to kick over the

In Greenland, as elsewhere, the position of women in marriage differs
according to the circumstances of each particular case. As a rule the
man is the master; but I have also seen cases, doubtless exceptional, in
which the grey mare has been the better horse.

Among the primitive Eskimos, the wife seems practically to have been
regarded as the husband's property. It sometimes happens on the east
coast that a formal bargain and sale precedes the marriage, the
bridegroom paying the father a harpoon, or something of the sort,
for the privilege of wedding his lovely daughter. Sometimes, on the
other hand, the father will pay a hunter of credit and renown to
take his daughter off his hands, and the daughter is bound to marry
at her father's bidding.[33] Moreover, it often occurs on the east
coast that two hunters agree to exchange wives for a longer or shorter
period--sometimes for good. Temporary exchanges of wives still occur,
doubtless, on the west coast as well, especially during the summer
reindeer-hunting, when the people are living in tents in the interior of
the country. At these times they allow themselves many liberties which
cannot be controlled by the missionaries.

Married people as a rule live on very good terms with each other. I have
never heard an unkind word exchanged between man and wife; and this is
the general experience. Dalager declares that 'the longer a married
couple live together, the more closely are they united in affection,
until at last they pass their old age together like innocent children.'
They are, on the whole, exceedingly considerate towards each other, and
may sometimes be seen to exchange caresses. They do not kiss as we do,
however, but press their noses together or snuff at each other. This
process I am unfortunately unable to describe, as I lack the necessary

On the east coast, too, the relation between husband and wife seems to
be very good as a rule, though it appears, according to Captain Holm,
that scenes of violence are not unknown.

A certain Sanimuinak one day came home to his spouse Puitek, bringing
with him a second wife, the young Utukuluk (the before-mentioned lady of
the nine husbands), whereupon Puitek became angry and fell to scolding
her husband. This made him so furious that he seized her by the top-knot
and struck her with his clenched fist on the back and in the face. At
last he seized a knife and stabbed her in the knee, so that the blood
spurted forth.[34] Holm also relates a case in which a man received a
sound thrashing from his wife. Scenes of this sort, however, are very
rare among this peaceable people.

Any very deep love between man and wife is no doubt exceptional, depth
of feeling being, on the whole, uncommon among the Eskimos. If one
dies the survivor is generally pretty easily consoled. 'If a man loses
his wife,' says Dalager, 'not many of his own sex come to condole with
him. The women-folk, on the other hand, squat along the inner edge of
the sleeping-benches in his house and bewail the deceased, while he,
in response, sobs and wipes his nose. After a short time, however, he
begins to adorn himself as he used to in his bachelor days, polishing up
his kaiak and his weapons with particular care, these being the things
with which a Greenlander always makes the greatest show. When, at sea,
he comes dashing up to his comrades in this brilliant array, they say
to each other: "Look, look--here comes a new brother-in-law." If he
overhears it, he says nothing, but smiles to himself.' It is highly
incumbent upon a widower's new wife to lament her own imperfections
and belaud the virtues of her predecessor: 'Whence we learn that the
Greenland women are as apt at acting a part, where their interest is
concerned, as are others of their sex in more polite countries.'

The chief end and aim of marriage in Greenland is unquestionably the
procreation of children. Therefore, as in the Old Testament times,
unfruitful women are contemned, and a childless marriage is often

On the average, the pure-bred Greenlanders are not prolific. Two, three,
or four children to each marriage is the general rule, though there are
instances of families of six or eight, or even more.

Twins are uncommon, and I was often asked by the women if it were true
that in the land of the long beards (Norway) women gave birth to two
children at a time. When I answered that they not only bore twins but
also triplets and even four children at a birth, they shrieked with
laughter and declared that our women were like dogs: for human beings
and seals bear only one at a time.

As a rule, the Greenland women suffer little in childbirth. As an
example of how easily they take this incident in their lives, I may
quote a case mentioned by Graah. As he was passing by Bernstorffsfiord,
on his journey along the east coast, one of the women of his company
was taken with labour-pains. They hastened to land upon a naked rock on
the north side of the fiord. While the labour continued, the husband
stretched himself on the rock and fell asleep; but presently they
awakened him with the joyful intelligence that a son had been born
to him. As already stated, this is regarded as a piece of good luck,
while the birth of a daughter is a matter of indifference. 'Ernenek
accordingly (that was the husband's name) expressed his satisfaction by
smiling on his spouse and saying "Ajungilatit" (Not so bad for you).
With our new passenger, we at once proceeded on our journey.'[35]

The heathen Greenlanders kill deformed children and those which are so
sickly as to seem unlikely to live; those, too, whose mother dies in
childbirth, so that there is no one to give them suck. This they do, as
a rule, by exposing the child or throwing it into the sea.[36] However
cruel this may sound to many European mothers, it is nevertheless done
from compassion, and it is undeniably reasonable; for under such hard
natural conditions as those of Greenland, we cannot wonder that people
are unwilling to bring up offspring which can never be of any use, and
can only help to diminish the common store of sustenance.[37] It is for
the same reason that people who have grown so old as to be quite unable
to fend for themselves are held in small esteem and are thought to be
better out of the way. On the east coast it sometimes happens that old
people, who seem likely to die, are drowned, or else drown themselves.
Similar practices also obtained in former days upon the west coast
(compare next chapter).

Greenland mothers are very slow to wean their children. They often give
suck until the child is three or four, and I have even heard of cases in
which children of ten or twelve continued to take the breast. A European
at Godthaab told me that he had seen a dashing youth of twelve or so
come home in his kaiak with his booty, rush up to his home, and there
consume a biscuit, standing between his mother's knees, and drinking,
from time to time, from her breast.

All the children of Christian Greenlanders are of course christened
and given names. The original Greenland names however, have, owing to
the influence of the missionaries, almost entirely died out. In their
stead are used all possible Biblical names from both the Old and the New
Testament. Nowhere in the world, probably, is one surer to meet with
the whole dramatis personæ of the Scriptures, right from Father Adam
down to Peter and Paul. Our notable friend Dalager does not seem to have
liked this misuse of the Bible, and therefore, he says, 'I once asked a
certain missionary why a Greenlander, when he was christened, could not
be allowed to retain his former name, which was probably a very natural
and good one. "It sounds ill" he replied, "to have a Christian called
after a seal or a sea-bird." I smiled and answered that at home there
were plenty of Ravens, Hawks, and Crows, who passed for excellent people
none the less.' On this point I cannot but agree with Dalager.

The Greenlanders are exceedingly fond of their children and do
everything to make them happy, especially if they are boys. These little
tyrants will often rule over the whole house, and the words of Solomon:
'Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for
his crying,' are by no means acted upon. Punishment, especially of
course where their own flesh and blood is concerned, they regard on
the whole as inhuman. I have never once heard an Eskimo say an unkind
word to his child. With such an upbringing, one might expect that the
Greenland children would be naughty and intractable. This is not at
all the case. Although I have gone about a good deal among the Eskimos
on the west coast, I have only once seen a naughty Eskimo child, and
that was in a more European than Eskimo home. When the children are old
enough to understand, a gentle hint from father or mother is enough
to make them desist from anything forbidden. I have never seen Eskimo
children quarrelling either indoors or in the open air; not even talking
angrily to each other, much less fighting. I have watched them playing
by the hour, and have even taken part in their football (a peculiar
game of theirs, very like the English football), which, as we know,
is rather apt to lead to quarrels; but I have never seen an angry or
even an unfriendly look pass between them. Could such a thing happen in
Europe? I shall not attempt to determine what may be the reason of this
remarkable difference between Eskimo and European children. No doubt it
is mainly due to the excessively peaceable and good-humoured temperament
of the race, devoid of all nervousness or irritability. It may partly be
attributed, also, to the fact that the Eskimo women always live in the
same room as their children, and carry them with them in the amauts on
their backs even when they go to work. Thus they can give them much more
constant care, and there is a more unbroken intercourse between children
and parents in Greenland than in Europe.

We must not judge the Eskimo boys too severely if they now and then
amuse themselves with throwing stones at the Colonial Manager's or
the Pastor's fowls and ducks, or if they make occasional irruptions
into the Manager's garden and root up or destroy the plants. It must
be remembered that the conception of property in land, and the notion
that one is not at liberty to chase or to appropriate whatever moves or
grows upon the face of the earth, are quite foreign to their instinctive
ideas. Even if such conceptions are inculcated upon them, they do not
grasp them clearly; they are, and will always remain, notions which the
European foreigners have tried to introduce in their own interests, and
which are founded upon no natural right.

In order to exercise their eyes and their arms, the provident
Greenlander gives his sons, even while they are mere children, toy
bird-darts and harpoons; and with these, or, failing these, with common
stones, one may see the three or four-year-old hunters practising upon
small birds and anything else worthy of their passion for the chase
which they happen to come across. I have already mentioned that they
commence practising in the kaiak at a very early age.

It is, of course, of the greatest importance for the Greenland community
that the rising generation should be brought up to be expert hunters. On
this their whole future depends.

The girls, too, must be early trained in their life-work; they must
learn to sew, and to assist their mother in her domestic labours.


[25: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 94.]

[26: It sometimes happened, too, that he got others to do this for him;
but the affair must always take the form of a capture or abduction.
Similar customs, as is well known, formerly prevailed in Europe, and
have even, in certain places, survived down to our own day.]

[27: W. A. Graah, _Narrative of an Expedition to the East Coast of
Greenland_, London, 1837, pp. 140-143.]

[28: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 96.]

[29: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 103.]

[30: Dalager states that, in his time, on the west coast, 'scarcely one
in twenty of the Greenlanders had two wives, very few three, and still
fewer four; I have, however, known a man who had eleven.'--_Grönlandske
Relationer_, p. 9.]

[31: Angekok==medicine-man, or priest.]

[32: Dalager: _Grönlandske Relationer_, p. 9.]

[33: Holm: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 96.]

[34: Holm: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 102.]

[35: W. A. Graah, _Narrative of an Expedition to the East Coast of
Greenland_, London, 1837, p. 135.]

[36: Compare P. Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 107; and Holm,
_Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 91.]

[37: Although, as we have seen, the Eskimos are not greatly delighted
at the birth of daughters, they do not, like so many other primitive
people, make a habit of killing female children.]



The Eskimo has, of course, like every other race of men, his virtues and
his foibles; possibly with this difference from the civilised European,
that the former are more numerous in proportion to the latter. But, on
the other hand, neither his virtues nor his foibles are found in such
high development.

Even the earliest accounts of Greenland, however, such as Egede's,
Cranz's, Dalager's, and others, show clearly enough the falsity of
the frequent assertion that the Eskimo stands upon a low moral plane;
although in some of these writers, for example in Hans Egede, we
can trace an evident tendency to paint the Eskimo, individually and
socially, in as dark colours as possible, in order to prove how sadly
this people stood in need of the lights of religion, and how necessary
it therefore was that the Greenland mission should be supported.

One of the most prominent and attractive traits in the Eskimo's moral
character is certainly his integrity. If some Europeans have denied him
this virtue, it can only be, I am sure, because these gentlemen have
not taken the trouble to place themselves in sympathy with his modes of
thought, and to realise what he regards as dishonourable.

It is of special importance for the Eskimo that he should be able to
rely with confidence upon his neighbours and his fellow-men; and it is
the first condition of this mutual confidence, on which depends all
united action in the battle for life, that every man shall be upright
in his dealings with his neighbours. The Eskimo therefore regards it
as in the highest degree dishonourable to steal from his housemates or
from his fellow-villagers, and it is very seldom that anything of the
sort occurs. Even Egede tells us that they let their goods and chattels
'lie open to everyone without fear of anyone stealing or taking away
the least portion of them.... This misdemeanour is so repulsive to them
that if a girl is found stealing, she loses all chance of making a good

For the same reason they very seldom lie to each other--especially the
men. The following trait, related by Dalager, affords a remarkable proof
of this: 'In describing a thing to another person, they are very careful
not to paint it in brighter colours than it deserves; especially in the
sale of an object which the buyer has not seen, even although the seller
may be anxious to get rid of it, he will depreciate it rather than
overpraise it.'

When one owes another money, the creditor may, as a rule, be assured
that the debtor will pay up as soon as ever he can. The Danish merchants
confirm this trait. They have often told me that they lend with
confidence to the Greenlanders, because it very seldom happens that they
are not repaid in full.

The Eskimo's conception of his duties towards strangers, especially
towards people of another race, is not quite so strict. We must remember
that a foreigner is to him an indifferent object, whose welfare he has
no interest in furthering; and it matters little to him whether he can
rely on the foreigner or not, since he has not got to live with him.
Thus he does not always find it inconsistent with his interests to
appropriate a little of the foreigner's property, if he thinks it can be
of use to him.

The first Europeans who came to the country suffered a good deal from
this peculiarity. We cannot greatly wonder that the Eskimos stole
from them, when we consider how the European expeditions at first
conducted themselves, after the land had been discovered anew. They
often plundered the natives, maltreated their women, and what was worse,
tempted them on board their ships, set sail, and took them as prisoners
to Europe. Thus the Eskimos had from the first but little reason to
regard us as friends. Nor does it seem by any means irreconcilable with
European morality to plunder foreign peoples, if we may judge by the way
in which we deal with the native races in Africa and elsewhere. Or let
us suppose that it had been the Eskimos who came and planted themselves
upon our shores, and behaved to us as we did in Greenland--would it then
have been altogether inconsistent with our moral code to rob and filch
from them whatever we could?

It must also be taken into account that in comparison with the Eskimos
the Europeans possess property in superabundance. According to Eskimo
morality, therefore, it appears that we ought to be able to dispense
with some of our superfluity, and if we decline to do so it is because
we are miserly and selfish.

As the Europeans have gradually settled down in the country and ceased
to be regarded as foreigners, matters have altered a good deal, and
theft even from them is now rare. I believe, however, that when an
opportunity offers the natives are still inclined to appropriate trifles
which they think can never be missed. I have myself seen respectable
Greenlanders fill their pockets and gloves with meal from the barrels
in the store, quite unabashed by the fact of my observing them. In such
a case they no doubt think that it is the Royal Greenland Company from
whose superfluity they are helping themselves. The company will neither
be richer nor poorer for a few handfuls of meal, which for them are of
great moment--and in this comfortable conviction they go on their way
rejoicing. I am afraid that such modes of thought are not peculiar to

For the rest, it must be remembered as an extenuating circumstance
that the Eskimos were from the first, and even down to comparatively
recent times, shamelessly defrauded by the European traders, who used
false weights and measures, and gave them, in barter, wares of wretched
quality. I need only mention, on Saabye's authority, that the traders
of last century used excessively large four-bushel measures, which had,
in addition, no bottom, but were carefully placed over cavities in the
floor. These the natives had to fill with their blubber when they wanted
to sell it, so that what passed for four bushels was in reality at least
six. They knew and understood quite well that they were being cheated,
but they submitted uncomplainingly. Such practices are now, of course,
things of the past.

As a proof of the Eskimo's scrupulous respect for the moral law which
he recognises, I may remind the reader that he never touches drift-wood
which another has placed above high-water mark, though it would often
be so easy to appropriate it without fear of detection. And when we
Europeans break through this law, and help ourselves without ceremony to
their stored-up drift-wood--as we have often done, I am sorry to say,
intentionally or otherwise--have not the Eskimos, I wonder, at least as
good right to despise us as we have to look down upon them?

Fighting and brutalities of that sort, as before-mentioned, are unknown
among them, and murder is very rare. They hold it atrocious to kill a
fellow-creature; therefore war is in their eyes incomprehensible and
repulsive, a thing for which their language has no word; and soldiers
and officers, brought up to the trade of killing, they regard as mere

It has, indeed, as Egede says, 'occurred now and then that an extremely
malicious person, out of rankling hatred, has killed another.' But when
he adds that 'this they regard with the greatest coolness, neither
punishing the murderer nor taking the thing to heart in any way,' I
believe that he is not quite just to them. They certainly abhor the
crime, and if they do not actively mix themselves up in the matter,
it is because they regard it as a private affair between the murderer
and his victim. It is not the business of the community, but simply of
the murdered man's nearest relatives, to take revenge for his death,
if they are in a position to do so; and thus we find, even among this
peaceable folk, traces of a sort of blood-feud, though the practice is
but slightly developed, and the duty does not, as a rule, seem to weigh
heavily upon the survivors. In cases of extreme atrocity, however,
the men of a village have been known to make common cause against a
murderer, and kill him.

Here, as elsewhere, women and love are among the most frequent causes of

The attack often takes place at sea, the murderer transfixing his victim
from behind with his harpoon, or capsizing his kaiak and cutting a hole
in it. It does not accord with the Eskimo's character to attack another
face to face, not so much because he is afraid as because he is bashful,
and would feel it embarrassing to go to work under the other's eye.

They do not regard it as criminal to kill old witches and wizards, who,
they think, can injure and even kill others by their arts. Nor is it
inconsistent with their moral code to hasten the death of those who are
sick and in great suffering, or of those in delirium, of which they have
a great horror.

Of our commandments, the seventh is that which the Greenlanders are
most apt to break; for, as the reader may already have gathered from
the foregoing chapter, virtue and modesty are not held in high esteem
among them. This is especially the case among the Christian Eskimos of
the west coast, who have come much in contact with us Europeans. By many
of them it is not regarded as any particular disgrace for an unmarried
girl to have children. Of this I have seen frequent examples. While we
were at Godthaab, two unmarried girls of the neighbourhood who were
with child made no sort of attempt to conceal the fact, and even tied
up their top-knots with green ribbon[38] long before it was necessary,
seeming almost proud of this visible sign that they were not disdained.
I have seen green-tops who not only wore the colour in their hair, but
trimmed and embroidered their anoraks quite stylishly with ribbons
of the same hue, though such a proceeding is neither obligatory nor

The missionaries have, of course, been vehement in their denunciations
of the prevalent laxity in this direction, and have tried to inculcate
a stricter morality upon the youth of both sexes, from their schooldays
onwards; but they do not seem to have succeeded in inducing their flocks
to regard the matter from a higher standpoint, for things grow worse
rather than better. When a young woman stands in an illicit relation to
a man, she attempts no concealment; if the man be a European, indeed,
she positively glories in it, and it seems to procure her additional
consideration among her female friends. For this state of things the
Europeans themselves are chiefly to blame. In the first place, the young
men who have come to Greenland have often behaved ill to the native
women, and set a bad example; and, in the second place, the Europeans
have on the whole managed so to impose upon the natives that the women
will now prefer the commonest European sailor to the very best Eskimo
hunter. The result is that during the century and a half since we
settled in the country, the race has suffered so large an admixture
of European blood that it is now extremely difficult to find a single
pure-bred Eskimo on the whole west coast.[39] And this although the
Europeans form but a small fraction of the population of the country, a
few hundred as against ten thousand.

It is obvious that the proneness of the Europeans to this form of
immorality has not made it any easier for the missionaries to vindicate
the sanctity of the seventh commandment. My experience, and I believe
that of most observers, is that the native women of the colonies,
where many Europeans reside, are much more immodest than those of the
villages where there are no Europeans. For example, I may mention that
the women at Sardlok, Kornok, Kangek, and Narsak made an altogether
better impression than those at Godthaab and New Herrnhut, where their
behaviour was often the reverse of discouraging towards young men who
happened to take their fancy.

Sexual morality seems to have been considerably higher among the heathen
Eskimos before the Europeans came to the country. Even Hans Egede,
who does not, as a rule, depict their moral qualities in too bright
colours, says in his 'New Perlustration': 'Young girls and maidens, on
the other hand, are modest enough. We have never seen them conducting
themselves wantonly with the young men, or making the least approach to
such conduct, either in word or deed. During the fifteen years I was in
Greenland, I knew of only two or three unmarried girls who gave birth to
children; for this they regard as a great disgrace.'

Dalager's general testimony to the national character in this respect
is that 'the Greenlanders are certainly inclined to the sin of
incontinence, but not so much so as other nations.' Of the girls he
says that 'in their first years of maturity they bear themselves very
chastely, for otherwise they are certain to spoil their chances in

Among the heathens of the east coast at the present day, the matter does
not seem to be regarded so seriously; for Holm assures us that 'it is
not considered any disgrace for an unmarried girl to have children.'

The strict morality which obtained among the unmarried youths and
maidens of the west coast in the heathen days, seems to have been very
considerably relaxed when once they were married. The men, at any rate,
had then the most unrestricted freedom. Egede says that for long 'he
could not ascertain that men had to do with other women than their own
wives, or wives with other men; but at last we discovered that they were
none too particular in this respect.' He describes, among other things,
a remarkable game for which 'married men and women come together,
as though to an assembly.' The men stepped forth by turns, and, to
the accompaniment of a drum, sang songs in honour of women and love;
whereupon shameless license became the order of the day for all present.
'But in this game the young and unmarried are forbidden by modesty to
take part; married people see in it nothing to be ashamed of.'

Egede also remarks that women regard it as a great honour and happiness
to become the concubine of an angekok--that is, 'one of their prophets
and learned men.' 'Many husbands even regard this with favour, and will
sometimes pay the angekoks to lie with their wives, especially if they
themselves have no children by them.'

The Eskimo women, then, are allowed far greater freedom in this respect
than women of Germanic stock. The reason probably is that whereas
inheritance, and the continuance of the race and name, have been matters
of supreme importance to the Teutons, the Eskimos have had little or
no property to transmit from father to son, while for them the great
consideration is simply that children shall be born.

With reference to the above-mentioned game, however, Dalager declares
that it is of very rare occurrence, 'and that it is to be observed that
a married woman who has duly become the mother of a family never takes
part in it.'

On the other hand, he tells us that widows and divorced wives are not so
particular. While it is very seldom that 'a young girl has a child, one
sees older women bearing just as many children as if they were living in
wedlock. If they are reproved for this, even by their own countrymen,
they will often answer that their conduct does not proceed from mere
wantonness, but from a natural longing to bear children, which leads
them to seduce many a worthy man.'

On the east coast, too, the morality of married people seems to leave
a good deal to be desired, according to our ideas. I have mentioned,
for instance, that the men often exchange wives; but the exchange is
strictly a personal matter, and the husband will usually resent any
unfaithfulness on the wife's part to the man to whom he has lent her, he
himself, however, claiming full liberty. While living in their winter
houses they often play a wife-exchanging or lamp-extinguishing game,
like that above-mentioned; but in this the unmarried also take part.
Holm tells us that 'a good host always has the lamps put out at night
when there are guests in the house.'

So far as I know, this game is no longer practised on the west coast.
Married Christian Greenlanders, however, do not seem to have any
overweening respect for the seventh commandment, and irregularities of
conduct are far from uncommon.

The morals above described seem to us very bad on the whole; but it does
not follow that the Eskimos share this feeling. We should beware how we
fix ourselves at one point of view, and unsparingly condemn ideas and
practices which the experience of many generations has developed among
another people, however much they may conflict with our own. There may
be underlying reasons which do not at once meet the eye, and which place
the whole matter in a very different light.

The conceptions of good and evil in this world are exceedingly
divergent. As an example, let me cite the case of the Eskimo girl who,
when Niels Egede spoke to her of love of God and her neighbour, said to
him: 'I have given proof of love for my neighbour. Once an old woman
who was ill, but could not die, offered to pay me if I would lead her
to the top of the steep cliff from which our people have always thrown
themselves when they are tired of living; but I, having ever loved my
neighbours, led her thither without payment, and cast her over the
cliff.' Egede told her that this was ill done, and that she had killed
a fellow-creature. 'She said no; but that she was filled with pity for
her, and cried after she had fallen over.' Are we to call this a good or
an evil deed?

Another time, when Egede was explaining how God punishes wicked people,
an Eskimo remarked that in that respect he was like God, for he had
killed three old women who were witches.

The same divergence of judgment makes itself felt with regard to the
seventh commandment. To the Eskimo the other exhortation to increase and
multiply seems to be of greater weight. The reason may partly be that
his race is by nature unprolific.

Like many other peoples, the Eskimos found it strange that we should not
regard polygamy with warm approval. Among them, a man was held in esteem
in proportion to the number of wives he possessed, and they therefore
thought the Old Testament patriarchs more reasonable than we. This,
however, is a view which we find prevailing among our own forefathers,
until well on in historical times.

When Paul Egede was remonstrating with the Greenlanders one day upon
their polygamous proclivities, one of them fell to eulogising his own
wife for her 'good humour in never being angry because he loved strange
women.' Egede said that 'women in our country could not endure that
their husbands should care for others; they would turn them out of their
houses.' 'It is no praise to your women,' replied the Eskimo, 'that they
want to have their husbands all to themselves and to be masters over
them; we hold that a fault.'

Their way of thinking in these matters is less ideal and more practical
than ours, and their point of view entirely different. Their habit of
exchanging wives, for example, and their treatment of barren women,
seems to us wanton and immoral; but when we remember that the production
of offspring is the great end and aim of their conduct, and reflect what
an all-important matter this is for them, we may perhaps pass a somewhat
milder judgment.

If a Greenlander's wife does not bear children, his marriage fails of
its chief purpose, and it is quite natural that he should try to find
a remedy. A young man whose wife had no children once offered Niels
Egede a fox-skin either to come to his aid himself in the matter, or to
order one of his sailors to do so, and was much astonished to find Egede
indignant at the proposal. 'There would be no disgrace,' he said, 'for
she is married, and she could have one of your married sailors.'

It appears, however, that even the married Greenlanders are not by
nature devoid of what we understand as moral feeling, for their everyday
behaviour is, as a rule, quite reputable and void of offence; on that
point all travellers must agree.

If a heathen--and in many cases even a Christian--Greenlander refrains
from having to do with another man's wife, whom he has looked upon
with favour, it is generally, no doubt, more because he shrinks from
quarrelling with the husband than because he regards adultery as
morally wrong; but we may gather from the following saying, current at
Angmagsalik, that even on the east coast there is a vague feeling that
it is not the right thing. 'The whale, the musk-ox, and the reindeer,'
so the saying runs, 'left the country because men had too much to
do with other men's wives.' Many men declared, however, that it was
'because the women were jealous of their husbands.' The jealousy of the
women was also alleged as a reason for the fact that the channel which
formerly went right through the country, from the Sermelik Fiord to the
west coast, had been blocked with ice.[40]

Egede relates that, strangely enough as he thought, the women before
his arrival had felt no jealousy when their husbands had more wives
than one, 'and got on very well with each other'; but as soon as he had
preached to them the wickedness of such proceedings, they began to show
much annoyance when their husbands wanted to take second wives. 'When
I have been reading with them,' he says, 'and instructing them in the
Word of God, they have often urged me to bring the seventh commandment
sharply home to their husbands.' The men, as may be supposed, did not
at all approve of the missionaries' influence over the women in this
respect, and one of them, whose two wives had fallen by the ears, said
angrily to Niels Egede: 'You have spoiled them with your teaching, and
now they're jealous of each other.' It appears to me that the man's
anger was not without justification. What should we say if Greenlanders
came to our country, forced themselves into our houses, and preached
their own morality to our wives?

Before we utterly condemn the morality of the Eskimos, we ought also,
perhaps, to remember the golden maxim that those who live in glass
houses should not throw stones. European morality is in many respects of
such doubtful value that we have scarcely the right to pose as judges.
After all is said and done, it is possible that the most essential
difference between our morality and that of the Eskimos is that with us
the worst things take place behind the scenes, in partial or complete
secrecy, and therefore produce all the more demoralising effect, while
among the Eskimos everything happens on the open stage. The instincts
of human nature cannot be altogether suppressed. It is with them as
with explosives: where they lie unprotected on the surface, they may
be easily 'set off,' but they do little mischief; whereas when they
lie deeper and more concealed, they are perhaps less easily kindled,
but when once they take fire the explosion is far more violent and
destructive, and the greater the weight that is piled upon them, the
greater havoc do they work.

According to the Eskimo code, marriage between first cousins, or between
any near relations, is prohibited. Even foster-children, who happen to
have been brought up in the same household, cannot marry. A man should,
if possible, seek his wife in another village.

This rule answers to the so-called law of exogamy, or prohibition of
marriage with blood relations, with people of the same family name, or
even belonging to the same clan (among the Chinese), gotra (among the
Hindus), or gens (among the Romans?), which is also found in slightly
different forms in the Greek, and formerly in the Catholic, Church,
among the Slavonic and Indian races, and in many other quarters.
Plutarch says of the Romans that in earlier times they no more thought
of marrying women of the same stock than they would in his day think
of marrying aunts or cousins. Our own forefathers, in long past ages,
probably observed the law of exogamy, which, however, stands in sharp
opposition to the feeling now dominant in Norway, that natives of the
same place should be chosen in marriage, and if possible near relatives,
even first cousins. It seems to be the general rule that we find the
widest circles of prohibition against marriage among savage peoples,
while among modern and civilised nations a greater freedom prevails.
Exogamy would thus appear to be a relic of barbarism from which we
Norwegians have very thoroughly freed ourselves. It is very difficult
to explain the origin of this law. Many writers, as we know, seek to
trace it to the primitive conception of woman as a chattel, and commonly
as a captive of the spear, whence it followed that a wife ought not to
be taken from among relations or friends, but should be carried off
from another tribe. Although the scientific authorities are against
me, it appears to me by no means impossible that we may also find at
the root of the custom the belief that marriage between near relations
produces a weakly progeny. This belief, at any rate, prevails among
almost all nations in the form of a dread of incest. It is true that
modern research has sought to show that marriage between kinsfolk is
not injurious; but whether well-founded or not, the contrary belief
has undoubtedly been entertained, and from it the law of exogamy would
naturally follow. The fact that among the Greenlanders it goes the
length of forbidding marriage between people of the same village is
easily explicable when we think of the above-mentioned customs, which
render it impossible to be sure who may or may not be half-brothers and

In several respects the morality of the heathen Eskimos stands
considerably higher than that which one generally finds in Christian
communities. As I have already pointed this out (in Chapter VIII.),
I will here only remind the reader of their self-sacrificing love of
their neighbour and their mutual helpfulness, to which, indeed, we
find no parallel in European society. These virtues, however, are not
unfrequently to be found among primitive peoples, and are probably in
the main due to the simpler structure of society. A more developed and
consequently more complicated social order leads to the decline of many
of the natural virtues of humanity.

But the Eskimo's love of his neighbour goes the length of restraining
him from slandering him, and even from any sort of evil-speaking,
especially in the case of a neighbour in the literal sense of the word.
Scandal and malice are inconsistent with his peaceable and kindly
disposition. As before remarked, the women do not seem to be quite so
exemplary in this respect; but we know that such weaknesses are commonly
attributed to the softer sex all the world over.

Reverence for the aged is not a prominent feature of the Eskimo
character. They are honoured, indeed, so long as they are able to work,
and if they have in their younger days been good hunters, and have sons,
they may retain great influence and be regarded as the head of the
household. A woman who has able-bodied sons may also be treated with
reverence, even should she attain a great age. A widow especially has
often great power, governing the house as long as she lives, and having
the upper hand of her daughters-in-law. But, as a rule, when people
grow so old that they cannot take care of themselves, they are apt to
be treated with scant consideration, especially women. Sometimes the
younger generation will even go the length of making fun of them, and to
this the poor old people submit with great patience, regarding it simply
as the way of the world.

That the reader may form some conception of a primitive Eskimo's habits
of thought on moral questions, I quote the following letter from a
converted Greenlander to Paul Egede.[41] I reproduce it here, because it
in many respects bears out the views above expressed, and Egede's book
'Accounts of Greenland,'[42] in which this translation is printed (pp.
230-236) is now not easily obtainable. The writer was a heathen who had
been baptised by Paul Egede's father, Hans Egede. The letter, which was
of course written in Eskimo, gives evidence not only of a peculiar moral
point of view, but also of a keen understanding, and of feelings which,
as Paul Egede says, one would scarcely expect 'in so stupid a people as
we have hitherto taken them to be.' It is, as will be seen, an answer to
an epistle of Egede's, and runs as follows:--

Amiable Pauia![43]

You know how precious and agreeable your letter is to me; but how
appalled I was when I read of the destruction of such multitudes of
people in the great earthquake,[44] inconceivable to us, which you say
devoured in one moment more people than there are in all our country. I
cannot tell you how this moved me, or how frightened we were, so that
many fled from the place where they lived to another, which was quite
as unsafe, though it was on a rock; for we see even here that rocks
have been split open from the top to the very depths, though when it
happened none of us know. Granite rocks, such as our land consists of,
and sand-hills like your land, are equally easy for God to overthrow,
in whose power the whole world stands, and we poor little animals are
easily buried in the ruins. You give me to understand that with you
there have been neither snow nor great cold this winter, and conclude
that it must have been all the severer with us; but we, too, have had
an unusually mild winter. I hear that your learned men are of opinion
that this mild weather has been caused by the warm vapours emanating
from the earth at the time of the earthquake, which have warmed the
air and melted the snow-material. But if I had not heard that this
was the opinion of the learned, I should have thought that the warmth
of the earth would avail little to heat the height and breadth of the
air--as little as a man's breath avails to warm a large house in which
he simply breathes for a moment and then goes out again. The south
winds, which are always warm, and have blown all the year through with
us, are the cause of the moderate cold we have had; but why the south
wind blew I cannot tell, nor the learned either, perhaps. Were these
wretched people killed by the heat, or did the earth swallow them up,
or were they shaken to death? Skipper B. thought that their own houses
must have fallen upon them and killed them. Your people do not seem
to care very much about it; for they are not only cheerful and merry,
but they relate that the two nations[45] who come here whale-fishing,
not your countrymen, but of the same faith as you, are fighting with
and shooting each other both by land and sea, hunting each other as we
hunt seals and reindeer, and stealing and taking away ships and goods
from each other, from people they have never seen or known, simply
because their lord and master will have it so. When I asked the skipper,
through an interpreter, what could be the cause of such inhumanity, he
answered that it was all about a piece of land right opposite ours,[46]
so far away that it could only be reached after three months' sailing.
Then I thought that there must be great scarcity of land where these
people dwell; but he said no, that it was only because of the great
lords' greediness for more riches and more people to rule over. I was
so astounded by this greediness, and so terrified lest it should fall
upon us too, that I was almost out of my mind; but I presently took
heart again, you will scarcely guess why. I thought of our snow-clad
country and its poor inhabitants, and said to myself: 'Thank God! we are
poor and possess nothing which these greedy Kablunaks [so they call all
foreigners] can desire. What we have upon the earth they do not care to
possess, what we require for food and clothing swims in the great sea;
of that they may take as much as they can, there will always be enough
for us.' If only we have as much food as we can eat, and skins enough to
keep us from the cold, we are quite contented; and you know very well
that we let to-morrow take care of itself. Therefore we will not fight
with anyone, even if we were strong enough; although we can as justly
say that the sea belongs to us as the believers in the East can say of
the unbelievers in the West that they and their possessions belong to
them. We can say it is our sea which surrounds our land, and that the
whales, cachalots, grampuses, porpoises, unicorns [that is, narwhals],
white whales, seals, halibuts, salmon, cod, and sea-scorpions which
swim in it belong to us too; but we willingly allow others to take of
this great store as much as they please. We are happy in that we have
not so great a natural covetousness as they. I have often wondered at
the Christians, and have not known what to think about them--they leave
their own beautiful land, and suffer much hardship in this country,
which is to them so rough and disagreeable, simply for the sake of
making us good people; but have you seen so much evil in our nation,
have you ever heard such strange and utterly senseless talk among us?
Their teachers instruct us how we are to escape the devil, whom we never
knew; and yet the roystering sailors pray with the greatest earnestness
that the devil may take them, or may split them. I daresay you remember
how I, in my youth, learned such phrases from them to please them,
without knowing what they meant, until you forbade me to use them.
Since I have come to understand them myself, I have heard more than I
wanted of them. This year in particular I have heard so much of the
Christians, that if I had not, in the course of long familiarity with
them, known many good and worthy men among them, and if Hans Pungiok
and Arnarsak, who have been to your country, had not told me that there
were many pious and virtuous people there, I could have wished that we
had never set eyes upon them lest they should corrupt our people. I
daresay you have often heard how my countrymen think of you and yours
that you have learned good behaviour among us; and when they see a pious
person among you, they will often say, 'He is like a human being,' or
'a Greenlander.' You no doubt remember that funny fellow Okako's idea
of sending angekoks [that is, medicine-men] to your country to teach
the people to be good, as your king has sent preachers hither to teach
us that there is a God, which we did not know before. But I know that
your people do not lack instruction, and therefore that proposal is of
no use. It is strange enough, my dear Pauia!--your people know that
there is a God, the creator and upholder of all things, that after this
life they will either be happy or miserable, according as they shall
have conducted themselves here, and yet they live as if they were under
orders to be wicked, and it was to their honour and advantage to sin. My
countrymen, on the other hand, know nothing either of a God or a devil,
believe neither in punishment nor in reward after this life; and yet
they live decently, treat each other kindly, and share with each other
peaceably when they have food to share. There are, of course, bad people
among us too, which proves that we must be of one stock; and perhaps
we must thank our barren land for the fact that most of us are above
reproach. (You do not think, I hope, that I am talking hypocritically
about my countrymen, for you know by experience that what I say is
true.) When I have heard accounts of your pleasant country I have often
envied its inhabitants; for they have great abundance of the delicious
fruits of the earth, and of animals, birds, and fishes of innumerable
sorts, fine large comfortable houses, fine clothes, a long summer, no
snow or cold, no midges, but everything pleasant and desirable; and this
happiness, I thought, belonged to you alone because you were believers,
and, as it were, God's own children, while we, as unbelievers, were
placed in this country as a punishment. But, oh, we happy Greenlanders!
Oh, dear native land! How well it is that you are covered with ice and
snow; how well it is that if in your rocks there are gold and silver,
for which the Christians are so greedy, it is covered with so much
snow that they cannot get at it! Your unfruitfulness makes us happy
and saves us from molestation! Pauia! we are indeed contented with our
lot. Fish and flesh are our sole food; dainties seldom come in our way,
but are all the pleasanter when they do. Our drink is ice-cold water;
it quenches thirst and does not steal away the understanding or the
natural strength like that maddening drink of which your people are so
fond. Our clothing is of unsightly thick-haired skins, but it is well
suited to this country, both for the animals, while the skins are still
theirs, and for us when we take them from them. Here then, thank God,
there is nothing to tempt anyone to come and kill us for its sake. We
live without fear. It is true that here in the North we have the fierce
white bears; but to deal with them we have our dogs, which fight for us,
so that we do not run the slightest risk. Murder is very seldom heard
of among us. It does not happen unless someone is suspected or accused
of being a magician and of having killed someone by his witchcraft, in
which case he is killed without remorse by those whose duty it is, who
think they have just as good right as the executioner in your country
to take the lives of malefactors; but they make no boast of it, and do
not give thanks to God for it like the great lords in your country,
when they have killed all the people of another land, as D. has told
me. It surely cannot be to the good God of whom you teach us, who has
forbidden us to shed blood, that they give thanks and praises; it must
be to another who loves slaughter and destruction. I wonder if it is not
to the Tornarsuk [the devil]? Yet that cannot be either; for it would
be flying in the face of the good God to give any honour to Satan. I
hope you will explain this to me at your convenience. I promise not to
tell my countrymen about it. It might lead them to think like Kaua, who
dared not become a Christian for fear he should come to be like the
wicked sailors. I will not tell you anything about the conversion of my
countrymen, for I know that our teacher has given you all information.
The thing you desired me to look into I will, as far as I am able,
attend to. I have not been able to make the experiment with the compass,
since the cold this year has been only moderate. The cause of the two
conflicting currents is no doubt what you say. Since you value so much
the two fishes almost turned to stone, I shall try to procure more for
you; they are found in clay beds, as you suppose. Now I seem to have
been speaking to you and you to me--now I must close my letter. The
skipper is ready and the wind is fair. The mighty Protector of all
of us guide them over the great and perilous sea, and preserve them,
especially from the wicked men-hunters, of whom I see they are most in
dread, so that they may come scatheless to their fatherland and find
you, my beloved, with gladness.


_Greenland, 1756._

This letter, as well as what has been stated in the earlier part of this
chapter, surely justifies us in saying that the primitive morality of
the Eskimo stands in many respects close to that of ideal Christianity,
and is even in one way superior to it; for, as the letter-writer says,
the Greenlanders 'know nothing either of a God or a devil, believe
neither in punishment nor in reward after this life, and yet they live
virtuously' none the less.

Many people will, no doubt, think it astonishing that we should find so
highly developed a morality among a race so uncultivated, and so unclean
in their outward habits. Others will perhaps find it more surprising
that this morality should have been developed among a people who have
no religion, or at any rate a very imperfect one, as we shall presently
see. Such facts are inconsistent with the theory which is still held in
many quarters, that morality and religion are inseparable. A study of
the Eskimo community shows pretty clearly, I think, that morality to a
great extent springs from and rests upon natural law.


[38: As stated on p. 28, green top-knots are worn by unmarried women
who have had children.]

[39: One reason of this is also to be found in natural selection,
for the half-castes are now generally regarded as handsomer than
the pure-bred Eskimos, and are consequently apt to be preferred in

[40: Holm: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 100.]

[41: Paul Egede was for many years a missionary in Greenland, but had
at this time (1756) returned to Copenhagen.]

[42: _Efterretninger om Grönland._]

[43: Pauia or Pavia is the Eskimo corruption of Paul.]

[44: [Evidently the earthquake at Lisbon.--_Trans._]]

[45: Probably the Dutch and English.--[Surely rather the French and

[46: Doubtless America.]



I have again and again sought to impress upon the reader that the
Eskimos are a peaceable and kindly race. There is no more striking proof
of this, I think, than their primitive judicial process.

It is a mistake to suppose that the heathen Eskimos had no means of
submitting any wrong they had suffered to the judgment of their fellows.
Their judicial process, however, was of a quite peculiar nature, and
consisted of a sort of duel. It was not fought with lethal weapons, as
in the so-called civilised countries; in this, as in other things, the
Greenlander went more mildly to work, challenging the man who had done
him wrong to a contest of song or a drum-dance. This generally took
place at the great summer meetings, where many people were assembled
with their tents. The litigants stood face to face with each other in
the midst of a circle of on-lookers, both men and women, and, beating a
tambourine or drum, each in turn sang satirical songs about the other.
In these songs, which as a rule were composed beforehand, but were
sometimes improvised, they related all the misdeeds of their opponent
and tried in every possible way to make him ridiculous. The one who got
the audience to laugh most at his jibes or invectives was the conqueror.
Even such serious crimes as murder were often expiated in this way.
It may appear to us a somewhat mild form of punishment, but for this
people, with their marked sense of honour, it was sufficient; for the
worst thing that can happen to a Greenlander is to be made ridiculous
in the eyes of his fellows, and to be scoffed at by them. It has even
happened that a man has been forced to go into exile by reason of a
defeat in a drum-dance.

This drum-dance is still to be found upon the east coast. It seems
clear that it must be an exceedingly desirable institution, and for my
part I only wish that it could be introduced into Europe; for a quicker
and easier fashion of settling quarrels and punishing evil-doers it is
difficult to imagine.

The missionaries on the west coast of Greenland, unfortunately, do
not seem to have been of the same opinion. Being a heathen custom, it
was therefore, in their opinion, immoral and noxious as well; and on
the introduction of Christianity they opposed it and rooted it out.
Dalager even tells us that 'there is scarcely any vice practised among
the Greenlanders against which our missionaries preach more vehemently
than they do against this dance, affirming that it is the occasion of
all sorts of misbehaviour, especially among the young.' This policy he
did not at all approve. He admits, indeed, that the dances may be the
occasion of a few irregularities, but adds that if a girl has made up
her mind to part with her virtue, she is not likely to select so unquiet
a time and place; and one cannot but agree with him when he exclaims,
'And in truth, if people danced to such good purpose among us, we should
presently see every second moralist and advocate transformed into a

The result of this inconsiderate action on the part of the missionaries
is that, in reality, no law and no forms of justice now exist in
Greenland. The Europeans cannot, of course, or at any rate should not,
mix themselves up in the Greenlanders' private affairs. But when, on
some rare occasion, a crime of real importance occurs, the Danish
authorities feel that they must intervene. The consequences of such
intervention are sometimes rather surprising. At a settlement in North
Greenland some years ago (so I have been told), a man who had killed
his mother was punished by banishment to a desert island. In order that
he should be able to support himself in solitude, they had to give
him a new kaiak, and a small store of food to begin with. Some time
afterwards, the food having run out, he returned to the settlement and
declared that he could not live on the island, because there was not
enough game in the waters around it. He therefore settled down again
in his old house, and the only change in his life brought about by his
matricide was that he got a new kaiak.

The managers of the colonies sometimes have recourse to a more effective
method of punishment in the case of women: it consists in excluding them
for a certain time from dealing at the stores.

Besides being a judicial process, the drum-dance was also a great
entertainment, and was often danced merely for the sake of pastime.
In this case the dancers sang songs of various kinds, beating a drum
the while, and going through a varied series of more or less burlesque
writhings and contortions of the body. This is another consideration
which ought to have made the missionaries think twice before abolishing
the drum-dances, for amusement is a necessity of life, serving to
refresh the mind, and is of quite peculiar importance for a people
which, like the Greenlanders, inhabits an inhospitable region and has
few diversions. To make up for the loss of the drum-dances, they have
now borrowed from the European whale-fishers and sailors many European
dances, especially reels, which they have to some extent modified
according to their own taste. At the colonies, the carpenter's shop,
the blubber-loft, or some other large apartment, is generally used as a
ball-room, and here dances take place as often as the managers or other
authorities will give permission--generally once a week. In the other
villages the dancing takes place in the Greenlanders' own houses.

A Greenland ball offers a picturesque spectacle--the room half lighted
by the train-oil lamps, and the crowd of people, young and old, all in
their many-coloured garments, some of them taking part in the dance,
some standing as on-lookers in crowded groups along the walls and
upon the sleeping-benches and seats. There is plenty of beauty and of
graceful form, commingled with the most extravagant hideousness. Over
the whole scene there is a sense of sparkling merriment, and in the
dance a great deal of grace and accomplishment. The feet will often move
so nimbly in the reel that the eye can with difficulty follow them. In
former days the music was generally supplied by a violin, but now the
accordion, too, is much in use.

The unhappy Eskimos who belong to the German or Herrnhut communities, of
which there are several in the country, are forbidden to dance, and even
to look at others dancing. If they do, they are excommunicated by the
missionaries, or put down in their black books.

[Illustration: A GREENLAND DANCE]

Among other amusements, church-going takes a prominent place. They find
the psalm-singing extremely diverting, and the women in particular are
very much addicted to it.

The women, however, find shopping at least as entertaining. As the time
for opening the stores approaches, they are to be seen, even in the
winter snowstorms, standing in groups along the walls and waiting for
the moment when the doors of Paradise shall be flung wide and they can
rush in. Most of them do not want to buy anything, but they while away
the hours during which the store is open, partly in examining all the
European articles of luxury, especially stuffs and shawls, partly in
flirting with the storekeepers, and partly in exchanging all sorts of
more or less refined witticisms and 'larking' with each other.

The rush is particularly great every summer, after the arrival of
the ships with cargoes of new wares from Europe. Then the stores are
literally in a state of siege the whole day long. Like their European
sisters, the Eskimo women are fond of novelties of all sorts, so that
as soon as they arrive the stores do a roaring trade in them. The main
point, so far as I could understand, is that the wares shall be new; the
use they are to be put to is a minor consideration.



The Greenlanders are endowed with good mental faculties and great
inventiveness. Their implements and weapons, as we have seen, afford
a striking proof of this. The missionaries, too, especially at first,
found only too ample opportunity to judge of the keenness of their
understanding, when they were so foolish as to let themselves be drawn
into discussions with the heathen angekoks. When the missionaries were
cornered, however, they had often arguments in reserve which were much
more forcible than those of the natives. They wielded, as my friend, the
master carpenter at Godthaab used to say, 'a proper fist,' and to its
persuasions the peaceable Greenlanders could not but yield.

To prove that their natural parts are good, I may mention that they
learn to read and write with comparative ease. Most of the Christian
Eskimos can now read and write, many of them very well; indeed, their
faculty for writing is often quite marvellous. Even the heathen Eskimos
learn to play dominoes, draughts, and even chess, with ease. I have
often played draughts with the natives of the Godthaab district, and was
astonished at the ability and foresight which they displayed.

All our ordinary branches of education they master with more or less
readiness. Arithmetic is what they find most difficult, and there are
comparatively few who get so far as to deal competently with fractions;
the majority have quite enough to do with addition and subtraction
of integers, to say nothing of multiplication and division. The
imperfection of their gifts in this direction is no doubt due to age-old
causes. The Eskimo language, like most primitive idioms, has a very
undeveloped system of numerals, five being the highest number for which
they have a special word. They count upon their fingers: One, _atausek_;
two, _mardluk_; three, _pingasut_; four, _sisamet_; five, _tatdlimat_,
the last having probably been the original word for the hand. When an
Eskimo wants to count beyond five, he expresses six by saying 'the first
finger of the other hand' (_arfinek_ or _igluane atausek_); for seven he
says 'the second finger of the other hand' (_arfinek mardluk_), and so
forth. When he reaches ten he has no more hands to count with, and must
have recourse to his feet. Twelve, accordingly, is represented by 'two
toes upon the one foot' (_arkanek mardluk_), and so forth; seventeen
by 'two toes on the second foot' (_arfersanek mardluk_), and so forth.
Thus he manages to mount to twenty, which he calls a whole man (_inuk
nâvdlugo_). Here the mathematical conceptions of many Eskimos come to an
end; but men of commanding intellect can count still further, and for
one-and-twenty say 'one on the second man' (_inûp áipagssâne atausek_).
Thirty-eight is expressed by 'three toes on the second man's second
foot' (_inûp áipagssâne arfinek pingasut_), forty by 'the whole of the
second man' (_inûp áipagssâ nâvdlugo_), and so forth. In this way they
can count to a hundred, or 'the whole of the fifth man'; but beyond that
his language will not carry even the most gifted Eskimo.

This is, as will be easily understood, a somewhat unwieldy method of
expression when one has to deal with numbers over twenty. In former days
there was seldom any need to go further than this; but the introduction
of money and trade has, unfortunately, rendered this more frequently
necessary. It is therefore not surprising that, in spite of their
remarkable power of resistance to foreign words, the Greenlanders have
begun more and more to adopt the Danish numerals, even for the smaller
numbers. By their aid they have now got so far that they can count to
over a hundred, which they call _untritigdlit_[47]; but I strongly
suspect that they have still a difficulty in forming any distinct
conception of so high a number. A thousand they call _tusintigdlit_.[48]

This primitive Eskimo method of numeration answers to what we find among
most primitive peoples, the fingers and toes having been from all time
the most natural appliances for counting with; even our forefathers no
doubt reckoned in the same way. Imperfect though it be, however, this
method is a great advance upon that of the Australian tribes, who cannot
count beyond three, or in some cases not beyond two, and whose numerals
consist of: 'One, two, plenty.' That the forefathers of the Eskimos, as
of all other peoples, at one time stood on this level appears from their
original grammar, in which we find a singular, dual, and plural, as in
Gothic, Greek, Sanscrit, the Semitic languages, and many others.

All travellers agree in acknowledging the Eskimo's remarkable sense of
locality and talent for topography. When Captain Ommaney, in 1850, asked
an Eskimo from Cape York to draw the coast, he took a pencil, a thing he
had never seen before, and sketched the coast-line along Smith's Sound
from his birthplace northwards with astonishing accuracy, indicating
all the islands, and the more important rocks, glaciers, and mountains,
and mentioning the names of all of them. The heathen natives brought to
Captain Holm a map of the east coast north of Angmagsalik, which they
had cut out in wood.

The Greenlanders have, in my opinion, an indubitable artistic faculty,
and if their culture in this direction is but little developed, I
believe the reason lies in their hard fight for existence, which has
left them no time for artistic pursuits. Their art[49] consists chiefly
in the decoration of weapons, tools, and garments with patterns and
figures, cut out of bone or wood, or embroidered in leather. The designs
often represent animals, human beings, woman-boats, and kaiaks; but
they are conventional, and intended rather for decorative or symbolic
effect than as true reproductions of Nature; indeed, they have as a
rule assumed quite traditional forms. Some, too, are of religious
significance, and represent, for example, the _tôrnârssuk_--one of their
spirits or supernatural beings. When they really try to copy Nature,
they sometimes display a rare sense of form and power of reproducing
it, as may be seen from the remarkable pictures given by Captain Holm
of dolls and toys from the east coast, which are therefore quite
uninfluenced by European art-products.

Weapons and tools were doubtless among the first things upon which the
human artistic faculty thought of exercising itself; but the human body
itself was perhaps a still earlier subject for artistic treatment.
Relics of this early form of art are found among the Eskimos, the women
seeking to heighten their attractions by means of geometrical lines and
figures which they produce upon face, breast, arms, or legs, by means of
drawing sinews, blackened with lamp-soot, through the skin.

Hieroglyphics, which many believe to have been, in part at least,
the origin of art, seem oddly enough to have been unknown among the
Greenlanders, unless indeed the symbolic designs in their ornamentation
can be supposed to have some such significance. The only attempt at real
picture-writing which I have been able to discover among them does not
evince a very high order of talent. It was a missive to Paul Egede from
an angekok, which consisted simply of a stick, upon which was drawn,
with soot and train-oil, a figure like this: [inverted V symbol]. The
angekok called after the letter-carrier, as he took his departure, 'If
Pauia Angekok does not understand what I mean (though he probably will),
then say to him: "This means a pair of trousers which I want him to buy
for me at the stores." But he will understand it well enough.'

Eskimos who have seen specimens of European art and methods of
representation, will sometimes produce remarkable things without any
sort of instruction. A Greenlander named Aaron once fell sick and had
to keep to his bed. Dr. Rink sent him some materials for wood-engraving
and some old woodcuts. Lying in bed, he at once began to illustrate the
Eskimo legends, and he not only drew his pictures, but also cut them on
the wood.


As an example of their talent for sculpture I here reproduce two heads,
carved in wood, which a native of a village in the Godthaab district
brought to me. They seem to me to betray a marked sense of humour; and
one can scarcely doubt that it is the features of his own race which the
artist has immortalised.

Of musical talent the Greenlanders have a good share. They pick up our
music with remarkable ease, and reproduce it, sometimes vocally, for
they are very fond of singing, sometimes on the violin, guitar, organ,
accordion, or other instruments, which they quickly teach themselves to
play upon. This is the more remarkable as their primitive music, which
was performed at the drum-dances, is monotonous and undeveloped, like
that of most primitive peoples. It employs only a few notes, as a rule
not more than five; but it is nevertheless peculiar and not without
interest. It is believed to be in the main an imitation of the rushing
of the rivers. The East Greenlanders told Holm that when they sleep
beside a river they hear the singing of the dead, and this they seek to

The primitive characteristics of their music have of course been more
or less destroyed by their intercourse with Europeans. They have now
adopted many European airs, and it produces a quaint and surprising
effect, among the mountains and the glaciers, suddenly to hear a snatch
of a Copenhagen street song, as for example, 'Gina, lovely maiden mine,
... won't you come along?'

The Greenlanders have a great wealth of fairy tales and legends, many
of them very characteristic. Nothing affords a better insight into the
whole spiritual life of the people, their disposition, feelings, and
moods, than the matter of these legends and the manner in which they are
told. We find in them a considerable talent for narrative and gift of
imagination, along with a grotesque humour, which of course often takes
the form of coarseness.

Besides this legendary lore (see next chapter) and narratives of
exploits and adventures, the Greenlanders had a poetry of their own.
The songs were either lampoons, such as they used to sing at the
before-mentioned drum-dances, or else descriptions of different objects
and events.

When, on the introduction of Christianity, the drum-dance was abolished,
the art of versification also fell into disuse or assumed new shapes.
Still, however, the Greenlanders make up songs. They are often of a
jocose character, the poet setting forth to ridicule, in a more or less
innocent manner, the peculiarities of others. I understand that several
songs of this nature were composed with reference to members of my
expedition. Indeed I have often heard them sung about the settlement of
an evening, though I never succeeded in obtaining the text of any of

Thanks to the initiative of Dr. Rink, an Eskimo newspaper,
_Atuagagdliutit_, has ever since 1861 been published in Godthaab. It
is printed by a native, Lars Möller, who has been to Copenhagen to
learn the trade, and who even draws and lithographs pictures for it.
It is published twelve times a year, and is distributed gratis to
the community, the expenses being borne out of the public funds. Its
contents consist partly of translations from the Danish, partly of
independent contributions from the natives describing their hunting,
their travels, and so forth. Thus a whole new literature has been called
into existence.

A specimen of their method of narration was given in 'The First Crossing
of Greenland,' Vol. II. pp. 217-236. It consisted of the account given
by an Eskimo named Silas, in the _Atuagagdliutit_, of his expedition
from Unanak on Godthaab-fiord to the Ameralik fiord to render assistance
to the four members of our expedition who had remained behind there
in October 1888, after Sverdrup and I had proceeded to Godthaab. The
following narrative, from the _Atuagagdliutit_, is also a good sample
of their style. It exemplifies, moreover, the strong hold which their
superstitions still possess upon the Eskimo mind, and is thus of
interest with reference to the matter of my next chapter. I have to
thank Mrs. Signe Rink for her kindness in translating it for me.

At last I send you something which I have long thought of contributing
to your 'Varieties' column. There is not much in what I have to tell,
but what there is I have seen with my own eyes. I refer to the comical
customs in connection with the killing of a bear in certain southern
districts, which are quite unknown elsewhere. These things took place in
the year 1882-83 down at Augpilagtut, a little way from Pamiagdluk.[50]
There are two Eskimo houses at Augpilagtut. In one of them lived three
seal-hunters with their families, to wit, Benjamin, surnamed Akâtit,
Isaac, or Umangûjok, and lastly Moritz; and in the other dwelt Mathæus,
who was generally called Ulivkakaungamik, or 'the full-stuffed,' from a
catch-word he himself was in the habit of using. He was over seventy,
but still went hunting very often, and had even killed many bears all by

It happened one Sunday, when all the other hunters had gone to sea, that
we who remained behind held a prayer-meeting in Mathæus's house. When
it was over, Benjamin's son was the first who went out, and he came
rushing back again crying, 'There's a bear right outside here, eating
the blubber.'

I was half frightened, half rejoiced by this news; but old Mathæus
positively trembled with delight, and burst forth, 'Thanks to him who
brings such good tidings; I must go out at once and kill the bear.' I
looked at him, thinking that he was going to pick out for himself a good
weapon, a long knife or spear. But nothing of the kind! The weapon he
had taken scarcely stuck out from his clenched fist. What use can that
be, I thought, against the bear's hide and thick layer of fat. However,
the women of the house would not let him attack the bear, and all
seized upon him to hold him back, I helping them. The women all untied
their top-knots and let their hair spread loose, that the bear might
think they were men, and therefore keep his distance. For our heathen
forefathers thought that bears had human understanding.

As we were afraid lest this bear should take it into his head to come
into the house through the gut-skin window, I, too, had to think about
getting hold of some weapon or other, and therefore asked for their axe;
but I of course found that it had been lent to the people of the other
house. At the same time I caught sight of a woman's knife lying upon the
_ipak_[51] beside the lamp, and that I seized, along with a piece of
wood from an old kaiak-keel, which I wanted to tie to the knife and use
as a spear-shaft. But no sooner had I taken these things than someone
behind me cried, 'Give them to me; I am ever so much stronger than you!'
It was no other than Mathæus's daughter, a widow. She took them both
away from me.

The house-clock[52] now began to strike eleven, and that brute of a bear
forthwith began to look hungrier. I rushed at once to stop the striking,
but in my consternation I made a mistake and increased the racket, until
at last I managed to get the weight loosened and the striking stopped.
The women were still holding tight to Mathæus to keep him back. Then,
all at once, the mother of the boy who had seen the bear began to slip
her trousers down to her knees, and so go shuffling round the room,
while she plaited some straws. This, they said, was to weaken the bear,
so as to make it easier to get the better of him. In the meantime, old
Mathæus shook the women off and set forth. I rushed after him, and came
up with him before he had quite got out of the entrance-passage. He told
me to go quietly, and said, 'Hush, hush, now he's going down towards the

Mathæus's rifle was lying in his kaiak on the beach, and as soon as the
bear had passed the kaiak, the old man crept cautiously on all fours
in the same direction. I stood at the entrance to the passage and saw
the bear suddenly turn and rush roaring towards him. This frightened
me so that I fled over to the other house where, in my hurry, I came
tumbling in at the door. While I still lay grovelling upon the floor, I
could see through the window[53] how the bear and Mathæus stared each
other straight in the face, each on his own side of the kaiak, Mathæus
making grimaces, and the bear roaring with his mouth wide open, ready
to bite him; but Mathæus planted his foot firmly against the kaiak and
aimed, without once taking his eyes off the bear for a single moment;
and then he fired. I now hurried out, just in time to see him thrust his
sealing-lance into its carcase. Then he called loudly to those in the
house that now they had better come and get their _ningek_ (slice of
fat). In their hurry to outstrip each other, the women almost stuck fast
in the narrow house-passage, part of which they tore down. When they
reached the bear, they all thrust their hands into the wound and lapped
some of the blood, while each of them named the part of the animal which
she wanted to have. At last my turn came to drink the blood, and I did
so, saying that I wanted one ham as my portion; but thereupon they
answered that all the limbs were already bespoke, and that I, moreover,
had neglected to touch the bear when I came up to it. It was extremely
vexatious that I had forgotten this detail. The mother of the boy who
had first seen the bear now ran for a bowl of water and made us all take
a mouthful of it, though none of us was thirsty. This she did in order
that her son might always have good luck in spying bears. The drinking
of the blood was meant to prove to the whole race of bears how they
thirsted after them. Before they set to work to cut up the bear, they
kept drumming at his skin and crying: 'You are fat, fat, beautifully
fat.' This they do out of politeness, in the hope that the bear may
really be fat; but when we skinned this one it was found to be quite
unusually lean.

When they carried the head into the house, I went along with them,
knowing that they would go through certain ceremonies with it. First
it was placed on the edge of the lamp-table with the face towards the
south-east; then they stopped its mouth and nostrils with sediment from
the lamps and other sorts of grease; and lastly, they bedecked the crown
of the head with all sorts of little things, such as shoesoles, sawdust,
glass beads, knives, &c. The south-east direction is due to the fact
that it is from this quarter of the compass that the bears generally
come, being carried by 'the great ice' round the southern extremity of
the land. The lamp-moss in the nostrils is meant to prevent the bear
they next attack from scenting the approach of men; and the greasing
of the mouth is designed to give it pleasure, as the bear is supposed
to be a lover of all sorts of fried grease. The head is covered with
knick-knacks because they think that the bear is sent to them by their
forefathers for the purpose of bringing these things with it to the
other world; and as they reckon that the bear's soul cannot reach its
home in less than five days, they always refrain for that time from
eating its head, lest its soul should die on the way, and the little
gifts to their relatives should thus be lost. They are even careful to
stop up all the holes in the neck where the head has been cut off, in
order to prevent the soul from bleeding to death on its journey. For
my part, I call all this idolatry. The heathens, indeed, believed in
the old days that everything, whether living or dead, had its soul; but
there is nothing that one ought to mix up with man's immortal soul.
The fact that, even in our days, so long after the introduction of
Christianity, the people here in the far south still cling to some of
the habits of their forefathers is due to their frequent (almost yearly)
intercourse with the heathens of the east coast.

I left Augpilagtut in 1885. I am not quite sure whether even out at
Pamiagdluk there may not be a few families who still lean to these bear
superstitions; but all certainly do not--not Isaac's family, for one. At
other places, for example here at the Colony, they have scarcely even
heard of the customs I have described.

I had not been told on what day they intended to cook the bear's head,
and was therefore surprised by a sudden invitation to come and share
in it. I cut the snout off without ceremony; but they soon let me know
that I had made a mistake, at once tearing it out of my hands. I confess
I was a good deal offended, and told them straight out that, however
foolish they might think me, I did not believe a bit in all this. They
assured me quite earnestly that in that case I would never kill a bear,
whereupon I answered that this prophecy was very likely to be fulfilled,
since I was so short-sighted that the bear would probably be licking me
before I was aware of its presence.

They have also these further customs: If they see the track of a bear
in the snow, they eat a little of it in order to assure themselves of
killing the bear if it should happen to come back the same way. Little
boys are given the kidneys of bears to eat, in order that they may be
strong and courageous in bear-hunting. Furthermore, they are careful
during the aforesaid five days not to make any jingling noise, for the
bear is supposed to dislike any sort of clinking or clanking.

Mathæus told me that the bear I had seen him kill was his eleventh, and
that he had not been in the least afraid of it because in this case he
knew he had his rifle to trust to; but that once before when he had seen
a bear come crawling up the beach in the same way, he had rushed right
in upon it with only his lance. He said he could not remember how long
ago that was.


[47: Danish, _hundrede_.]

[48: Danish, _tusinde_.]

[49: The most important contribution to our knowledge of Eskimo art in
its primitive condition is to be found in Captain Holm's instructive
account of the Eskimos at Angmagsalik, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt.
10, p. 148, &c., with illustrations.]

[50: Near Cape Farewell.]

[51: The _ipak_ is an extension of the sleeping-bench (generally square)
on which they place the lamp with its wooden stand.]

[52: Cheap Nuremberg or Swiss clocks are among the articles of luxury
which commerce has introduced into Greenland; they are to be found in
the remotest corners of the country.]

[53: Which is very low in the genuine Eskimo huts.]



Religion and religious ideas are among the most remarkable products
of the human spirit. With all their reason-defying assertions and
astounding incongruities, they seem at first sight inexplicable. Time
out of mind, therefore, men have found it difficult to conceive them
as having arisen otherwise than through a supernatural or divine
revelation, which, it would follow, must originally have been imparted
to all men alike. But gradually, as people became acquainted with the
more or less rudimentary religions of the various races, which often
differ greatly on the most essential matters, they began to doubt the
accuracy of this assumption, and came more and more to consider whether
religious ideas must not be reckoned as a natural product of the human
mind itself, under the influence of its surroundings.

The first theory was that they arose from a religious craving common
to all human beings, which was itself, therefore, in a certain sense
supernatural. It is a mysterious incomprehensible presentiment, says
Schleiermacher, which drives mankind across the boundaries of the finite
world, and leads everyone to religion; only by the crippling of this
natural proclivity can irreligiousness arise. 'Religion begins in the
first encounter of the life of the All with that of the individual; it
is the sacred and infallible inter-marriage--the creative, productive
embrace--of the universe with incarnate reason.'

Gradually the explanations became less vague and high-sounding. Peschel
and others held that religious ideas arose from the need of conceiving
the cause or beginning of all things, or, in other words, that it was
the sources of movement, life, and thought, which mankind sought after,
with its inborn longing to realise the absolute. Others hold, with
Max Müller, that a longing for the infinite, a striving to understand
the incomprehensible, to name the unnameable, is the deep spiritual
bass-note which makes itself heard in all religions. Others again, like
O. Pfleiderer, see in mankind's inborn and incomprehensible thirst
for beauty, its fantasy, and its æsthetic sense, the first germs of
religious consciousness. Some theorists, finally, have sought to explain
religious ideas as an outcome of the moral sense of mankind, of its
thirst for righteousness.

In the light of a moderately penetrating study of the religious ideas of
the Eskimos, as of every other primitive people, all these philosophic
theories vanish away. In our empirical age, people have come more
and more to recognise that religious ideas must be ascribed to the
same natural laws which condition all other phenomena, and to hold,
as David Hume first maintained, that they can be traced for the most
part to two tendencies in our nature--or perhaps we should rather call
them instincts--which are common to all animals; to wit, _the fear of
death and the desire of life_. From the former instinct arises fear
of the dead and of external nature with its titanic forces, and the
craving for protection against them. From the latter arises the desire
for happiness, for power, and for other advantages. Thus, too, we
understand the fact that the early religions are not disinterested, but
egotistical, that the worshipper is not so much rapt in contemplation
of the enigmas of nature and of the infinite, as eager to secure some
advantage to himself. When, for example, amulets and fetishes are
supposed to possess supernatural power, they are not only treasured, but

It is difficult, not to say impossible, to search back to the first
vague forms in which religious ideas dawned in the morning of
humanity, when thought began to emerge from the primal mists of animal
consciousness. It was with religious ideas in that time as with the
first organic beings which arose upon our earth--they had not yet
assumed such determinate forms, their component parts were not yet so
definitely fixed, as to leave traces behind them; what we find are
the more advanced stages of development. The first ideas must have
been exceedingly obscure impressions, dependent upon many outward
chances, and we can no more reason ourselves back to them, than we can
conceive the appearance of the first organisms. Nor can we determine at
what stage of the development of humanity these first vague germs of
religious ideas appeared--whether, for example, they were present in our
simian forefathers. It does not even seem to me certain that the lower
animals are devoid of all superstitious feeling. We cannot, therefore,
expect to discover in any now existing race a total lack of even the
most rudimentary superstitious conceptions. We must rather wonder that
in a people otherwise so highly developed as the Eskimos, they should
still remain on such a remarkably low level.

In the light of our knowledge of the primitive religions, it seems
to me best not to regard the aforesaid instincts as the direct cause
of superstitious conceptions, but rather to distinguish between at
least three germs or impulses, which have provided the material out of
which these instincts--in reality resolvable into one, the instinct
of self-preservation--have fashioned all religious systems. The three
germs are: our tendency to personify nature, our belief in its and
our own duality and in the immortality of the soul, and the belief
in the supernatural power and influence of certain inanimate objects
(amulets). In order to recognise the great importance of these germs,
especially at a primitive stage of development, we must try to throw our
minds back to the standpoint of the child, which most nearly answers
to that of primitive man. To personify nature is for the child no
mere passing fancy; he consistently regards all surrounding objects,
animate and inanimate, as persons, and will, for example, carry on
long conversations with his toys. A child of my acquaintance, standing
one day in the kitchen watching some long sausages boiling in a pot,
exclaimed to the cook: 'I say, are these sausages killed yet?' All
of us, probably, can remember from our childhood how we personified
trees, certain mountains, and the like. It is the same proclivity, as
Tylor says, which reappears in our often irrational desire or thirst
for vengeance upon inanimate things which in one way or another have
caused us pain or injury. For example, when we were crossing Greenland,
Sverdrup and I had a sledge which was heavy to draw; it would have
caused us quite real satisfaction to have destroyed it, or otherwise
revenged ourselves upon it, when we at last left it behind. Another
inseparable characteristic of the child-mind is its determination to see
in every movement or occurrence in its little world the activity of a
personal will.

In the first childish philosophy of the human race, the same method
of regarding all natural objects as persons must have been quite
inevitable. Trees, stones, rivers, the winds, clouds, stars, the sun and
moon became living persons or animals. The Eskimos, for example, believe
that the heavenly bodies were once ordinary men and women before they
were transferred to the sky.

But after or along with this proclivity there must also have arisen
quite naturally the tendency to conceive a twofoldness, a duality, in
nature and in man, the feeling of a visible and tangible, and of an
invisible and super-sensible, existence. Let us, for instance, with
Tylor, conceive an ignorant primitive man hearing the echo of his own
voice; how can he help believing that it is produced by a man? He knows
nothing of the theory of sound-waves. But when he hears it time after
time, and can find no man who produces the sound, it is inevitable that
he should attribute it to invisible beings.

Or take, for example, the dew, which he sees appearing and disappearing,
he cannot tell whence or whither; the stars which are lighted in the
evening, and put out again at morning; the clouds which gather all of a
sudden, and of a sudden are dispersed; the rain, the wind, the currents
in the water--must not all these arouse in him the thought or conception
of visible and invisible existences? When the primitive Eskimo first
met with the glacier which he saw gliding out into the sea, and giving
birth, from time to time, to mighty icebergs, could he see in this
anything else than the activity of a live being? He attributed life to
the thing itself, and regarded these monstrous births as voluntary and
awe-inspiring actions.

Or, to take another example, when a primitive man saw his own shadow or
his own image in the water, now here, now gone again, eluding alike his
touch and his grasp, how could this fail to arouse in him the conception
of tangible and intangible existences, things that could now be here and
at the next moment could vanish away?

There were plenty of grounds, in short, for the evocation of the idea of
duality in nature, of a visible and an invisible phase of existence. But
this belief in the duality of nature must have been greatly strengthened
by the primitive man's conceptions of himself. When he slept, and
dreamed that he was out hunting, was dancing, was visiting others, in
short, was wandering far and wide, and then awoke and discovered that
his body had not moved from his cave or hut, and heard his wife or his
companions corroborate this, he naturally could not but believe that
he consisted of two parts, of one part which could leave him at night
and go through all these experiences, and one which lay still at home.
To distinguish between dreams and reality was far more than could be
expected of him. The speech of many primitive races cannot to this day,
as Spencer points out, express this distinction, having no means of
saying 'I dreamed that I saw' instead of 'I saw.' When he had further
noticed that his shadow followed him by day but not by night, it was
quite natural that he should give to the part that was separable from
him the name of 'shadow' or 'shade,' which, therefore, came to mean the
same thing which others denominate soul or spirit. We shall presently
see that the Eskimo has acquired in this way his belief in, and his name
for, the soul. The conviction of his own kinship with all the objects
around him is further strengthened by the observation that they have
shadows as well as himself.

But when primitive man was brought face to face with death it must have
made a powerful impression upon him, and the belief in his own duality
must have been confirmed in a still higher degree. Here, he saw, was
the same body, the same mouth, and the same limbs; the only difference
was that in life they spoke and moved, whereas now all was still. Their
speech and motion must be due to some life-giving principle, and this
must of course be the soul, which, as he knew from dreams, had the
power of quitting the body. We must also hold it only natural that the
soul, which at death departed from the body, came to be associated with
the breath of the mouth, which was now gone; and therefore (as for
example among some of the Eskimos) man was endowed with two souls, the
_shadow_ and the _breath_. This belief in the duality of the soul, which
is sometimes also traceable to the shadow and the reflection in the
mirror, is very widely spread, and to it we may probably trace our own
distinction between soul and spirit, _psyche_ and _pneuma_.

It might at first sight seem natural for primitive man to conclude that
the soul no less than the body dies at death. There are, in fact, some
who think so; but most of them, on meeting the dead again in their
dreams, were driven to the conclusion that their souls still lived.
Furthermore, it was not at all difficult to conceive that, as the soul
was temporarily absent from the body in sleep, delirium, and so forth,
it was permanently absent in death. Thus the belief in the continued
life of the soul has quite naturally and inevitably arisen; and as the
idea of annihilation is very unattractive to every living creature, this
conception of immortality has appealed forcibly to the human mind.

But as most men are afraid of death and of the dead, they do not like to
meet them again as ghosts; and, terror stimulating the imagination, a
supernatural power is attributed to them, mainly hurtful, but sometimes
helpful as well. People therefore come to think it wisest to propitiate
and make friends with them. Thus has arisen that worship of the dead
which plays so great a part in the religion of most races, and which
lies, if not at the foundation, at any rate, very near to it, in almost
all religions--as, for instance, among the Eskimos.

It cannot be thought unnatural that the spirits of the dead, and
especially those of the more eminent among them, such as chiefs and
princes, were gradually converted into gods.

The word for God among the Hebrews (_il_ or _el_), among the Egyptians
(_nutar_), and among many other peoples, meant only a powerful being,
and could be applied as well to heroes as to gods. As there were upon
the earth peculiarly powerful men, so there must be in the spirit-world
peculiarly powerful spirits; and these naturally became the divinities
_par excellence_ whom it was specially important to worship. Thus we
arrive at last at the belief in one God, at the moment when absolute
monarchy is established in the spirit world.

But alongside of this ancestor-worship, we recognise as a powerful
factor in the development of superstitious ideas the marked tendency
of the human race to attribute supernatural power to certain inanimate
objects, which, in the primitive stage, are used to avert or influence
the power of the dead or to attain other advantages; and from this has
developed the whole widespread belief in amulets, and possibly also, in
a measure, fetish-worship. We shall consider later how the belief in the
power of the amulet may have arisen.

An important force tending towards the continuance and development of
superstitious conceptions, when they have once arisen, is of course
to be found in the authority of the medicine-men (spirit-exorcisers),
or of the priests, over their fellow-men. Some minds, and these the
ablest, naturally came to have a better understanding than the others of
supernatural things, and to stand in a closer relation to the dead. It
was clear that they could thus help their neighbours, when, for example,
there was question of applying the powers of the dead to the benefit
of an individual or of a body of men; and the priest thus attained
power and influence in the community, and often advantages of a more
material nature as well. It has thus always been to the interest of
the medicine-men and priests to sustain and nurture superstitious or
religious ideas. They must themselves appear to believe in them; they
may even discover new precepts of divinity to their own advantage, and
thereby increase both their power and their revenues.

Among people like the Eskimos, yet another influence comes into play,
which colours their superstition; the influence, to wit, of the natural
surroundings among which they are placed, and of the hard and hazardous
life they lead. It is a recognised fact that a race which lives by
hunting and fishing has a special tendency to become superstitious;
of this we have a striking example in our own country. Compare the
men of the west and north coasts with those of the eastern districts.
The former have to look mainly to the sea for their livelihood, they
are dependent on wind and weather, on the coming of shoals of fish,
&c.--in short, on a whole series of influences unfathomable by man,
which they describe in one word as chance, and which may be not only
unfavourable but even fatal to them. Inevitably, therefore, they become
superstitious; nor is there any part of the country where pietism and
obscurantism find such fertile soil as on the west coast. When we turn
to the peasant of the eastern districts we find a remarkable difference.
He dwells at ease upon his farm; somewhat dependent, it is true, on wind
and weather, but in a comparatively secure position; and therefore he
is less superstitious. How much more strongly must the stimulus towards
superstition act upon the Eskimo, whose whole life depends upon hunting
and fishing! And it is still further intensified by the perpetual danger
in which he lives, and by his Arctic surroundings. Nature so wild and
majestic as that of Greenland--with its glaciers, icebergs, mirages,
tempests, and the long winter nights with the shimmering Northern
Lights--obtains an irresistible power over the mind, evokes reverence
and terror, and feeds the imagination. We look upon all these marvels
in the dry light of reason; but primitive man, like a child, ekes
out defective comprehension with wild fantasy, and his belief in the
supernatural is strengthened and developed.

Morality, which many believe to be intimately connected with religious
conceptions, has in its origin little or nothing to do with them. As
already indicated in Chapter X. it springs from the social instinct, and
is, among primitive races, quite distinct from superstitious ideas. Thus
they have no rewards beyond the grave for a life of moral excellence.

The Eskimos are in some measure an example of this. It is true that
we find hints in the Greenland legends of punishment in this life for
evil-doing, and especially for witchcraft, at the hands of supernatural
powers. The dead may possibly to a certain extent requite survivors for
benefits conferred upon them during their life; the souls (or inue?) of
animals can revenge a too cruel slaughter of their offspring; the soul
or spirit of a murdered man demands that his murder shall be avenged;
wrong done to the weak is punished in divers fashions, and so forth. But
all these notions are so vague that they cannot be conceived as primary
or fundamental, but rather as a sort of occasional overgrowth, due to
the natural mingling of social relations and laws with the primitive
legends. They may therefore be regarded as the first hesitating steps
of the religious ideas towards morality. It is not until a considerably
later stage that religion has consciously and in earnest entered into
an alliance with morality which helps to strengthen both. Religion has
thereby acquired a strong back-bone, and moral precepts produce a deeper
impression when they come from an exalted and divine source, and are
moreover reinforced by promises of rewards and punishments beyond the

A remarkable feature in all religions is that in spite of their great
differences in many essentials, there are also such great and important
similarities spread over the whole earth. This may be explained in two
ways: either on the theory that all religion is the result of the same
causes, acting independently in different places, or on the theory that
religious conceptions have arisen in one place and have thence spread
all the world over. For my part I believe that we may have recourse
to both theories in order to explain this similarity of religions.
The human brain and nerve-system are astonishingly similar among all
races; the differences consist chiefly in the development which must be
associated with the progress of the higher races. It follows that we
must assume the same laws of thought to hold good throughout, especially
in earlier and less complex stages of development; and as experiences
must in a certain measure have been everywhere identical, people must
not only have arrived at the same right conclusions, but must have also,
when the right explanation did not lie on the surface, have everywhere
fallen into the same fundamental errors; and upon these errors religions
are built. But in addition to this, certain definite religious
conceptions have presumably shaped themselves in particular places, and
have, in the form of mouth-to-mouth traditions and legends, permeated
all races of the earth. We shall subsequently find speaking evidence
for the belief that they may have reached even such remote races as the

The faith of the Greenland Eskimo is of great interest towards the
elucidation of the questions above touched upon. It is so primitive
that I doubt whether it deserves the name of a religion. There are many
legends and much superstition, but it all lacks clear and definite form;
conceptions of the supernatural vary from individual to individual, and
they produce, as a whole, the impression of a religion in process of
formation, a mass of incoherent and fantastic notions which have not yet
crystallised into a definite view of the world. We must assume that all
religions have at one time or another passed through just such a stage
as this.

The Greenlanders, like all primitive races, originally conceived nature
as animate throughout, every object--stone, mountain, weapon, and so
forth--having its soul. We still find traces of this belief. The souls
of tools, weapons, and clothes, follow the dead on his wandering to the
land of the shades; therefore they are laid in the grave, that there
they may rot and their souls may be set free. Gradually, however, this
belief has, in the confused and illogical way peculiar to primitive
races, mixed itself up with a totally different one: the belief, to wit,
that the souls of the dead can take up their abode in different animals,
objects, mountains, and the like, which they subjugate to themselves,
and from which they can issue from time to time, even showing themselves
to the living. There has thus arisen the belief that in every natural
object there dwells a particular being, called its _inua_ (that is, its
owner)--a word which, characteristically enough, originally signified
human being or Eskimo.

According to the Eskimos, every stone, mountain, glacier, river, lake,
has its inua; the very air has one. It is still more remarkable to
find that even abstract conceptions have their inue; they speak for
example of the inue of particular instincts or passions. This may
seem surprising in a primitive people, but it is not very difficult
to explain. When, for example, a primitive man suffering from violent
hunger, feels an inward gnawing, it is quite natural that he should
conceive this to be caused by a being, whom he therefore describes as
the inua of hunger or appetite. As a rule, these inue are invisible,
but when they are seen, according to Rink, they take the form of a
brightness or fire, and the sight of them is very dangerous.

Man himself, according to the Greenlanders, consists of at least two
parts: the _body_ and the _soul_--and these they hold to be quite
distinct from each other. The soul can only be seen by aid of a
particular sense which is found in men under certain conditions, or
in those who possess a special gift: to wit, the angekoks. It appears
in the same shape as the body, but is of a more airy composition. The
angekoks explained to Hans Egede that souls were 'quite soft to the
touch, indeed scarcely tangible at all, just as if they had neither
muscle nor bone.'[54] The people of the east coast hold that the soul
is quite small, no larger than a hand or a finger. The Greenlanders'
word for the soul is _tarnik_; this resembles the word _tarrak_, which
signifies shadow, and I think there can be no doubt that they have
originally been the same word, since the Eskimo, as before indicated,
used to regard the soul and the shadow as one and the same thing.[55]
This tallies exactly with what we find among other peoples. The Fijian,
for example, calls his shadow his dark soul, which leaves him during
the night; his image in the mirror is his light soul. _Tarrak_ in
the Greenland language means both shadow and reflection, so that the
original word for soul meant all these three things. According to
Cranz,[56] some of the Greenlanders believed that man had two souls: his
shadow and his breath (compare above, pp. 216, &c.). The general belief
in Egede's and Cranz's time seems to have been that the soul was most
intimately connected with the breath. For instance, the angekok used to
blow upon a sick man in order to cure him or give him a new soul.

It is worth noting that Hanserak, a native catechist from West Greenland
who accompanied Captain Holm on his journey along the east coast (in
1884-85), stated in his diary (written in Eskimo), with reference to
the Angmagsaliks' belief in the soul, that 'a man has many souls. The
largest dwell in the larynx and in the left side, and are tiny men
about the size of a sparrow. The other souls dwell in other parts of
the body and are the size of a finger joint. If one of them is taken
away, its particular member sickens.'[57] Whether this belief has ever
been widespread among the Eskimos does not appear from other sources of

The soul is quite independent, and can thus leave the body for any time,
short or long. It does so every night, when, in vivid dreams, it goes
hunting or joins in merrymakings and so forth. The soul can also remain
at home when the man is on a journey, a notion which Cranz believes to
arise from home-sickness. It can also be lost, or stolen by means of
witchcraft. Then the man falls ill and must get his angekok to set off
and fetch his soul back again. If, in the meantime, any disaster has
happened to it, for example if it has been eaten up by another angekok's
tornarssuk, the man must die. An angekok, however, had also power to
provide a new soul or exchange a sick soul for a sound, which, according
to Cranz, he could obtain from, say, a hare, a reindeer, a bird, or a
young child.

The strangest thing of all is that the soul could not only be lost in
its entirety, but that pieces of it could also go astray; and then the
angekok had to be called in to patch it up.

Among the Greenlanders of the east coast, according to Holm, a third
element in addition to these two enters into the composition of man: to
wit 'the name' (_atekata_). 'The name is as large as the man himself,
and enters into the child after its birth, on its mouth being damped
with water, while at the same time the "names" of the dead are spoken.'
Among all the Greenlanders, even the Christians, the first child born
after the death of a member of the family is almost always called
after him, the object being to procure peace for him in his grave. The
East Greenlander believes that the 'name' remains with the body or
migrates through different animals,[58] until a child is called by it.
It is therefore a duty to take care that this is done; if not, evil
consequences may follow for the child to whom the name ought to have
been given.

This belief is remarkably similar to one which (as Professor Moltke
Moe[59] informs me) is current in Norway: to wit, that the dead 'seek
after names.' A pregnant woman dreams of one or other departed relative
who comes to her ('seeking after a name'), and after him she must
call her child; if not, she is guilty of an act of neglect, which may
injuriously affect the child's future.[60] The same superstition is also
found among the Lapps. Among the Koloshes in North-West America, the
mother sees in a dream the departed relative whose soul gives the child
its likeness. Among the Indians also the naming of children is made to
depend on a dream.[61]

In Greenland, as everywhere else, the name is of great importance; it
is believed that there is a spiritual affinity between two people of
the same name,[62] and that the characteristics of a dead person are
transmitted to one who is called after him, who, moreover, is specially
bound to defy the influences which have caused his predecessor's death.
Thus the name-child of a man who has died at sea must make it his
special business to defy the sea in his kaiak--a notion which is also
found among other races, for example, the Indians.

The Greenlanders are very much afraid of mentioning the names of the
dead. On the east coast, according to Holm, this fear goes so far that
when two people have borne the same name the survivor must change his;
and if the deceased has been named after an animal, an object, or an
abstract idea, the word designating it must be altered. The language is
thus subjected to important temporary changes, for these re-christenings
are accepted by a whole tribe.[63] The same custom is very widely
diffused among the Indians of North America and of Patagonia, among
the Samoyedes in Asia, and the Gipsies in Europe. It is also found in
Eastern Africa, in Madagascar, Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, and the
Society Islands. When Queen Pomare of Tahiti died, the word _po_ (night)
was dropped from the language, and _mi_ took its place.[64]

The fear of mentioning the names of the dead is also found in Europe--in
Germany, the Shetland Islands,[65] and elsewhere--and, no doubt, among
us in Norway as well. In Greenland, as among some native races in
America and in the Sunda Islands,[66] sick people who bear the same name
as one who is dead change it in order to cheat death.

The East Greenlanders are also afraid to speak their own names. Holm
says that when they were asked what they were called they always got
others to answer for them. When a mother was asked 'what was the name
of her child, she answered that she could not tell. The father likewise
refused to say; he intimated that he had forgotten it, but that we could
learn it from his wife's brother.'[67]

Among the Indians, the name plays a great part; they even try to keep
it secret, and therefore a man is often called by a nickname.[68] Among
many races, custom forbids the mention of the names of relations, as,
for instance, a husband's, a mother-in-law's, a son-in-law's, the names
of parents, or the name of the king. This potency of the name goes to
considerable lengths amongst certain races. When the King of Dahomey,
Bossa Ahadi, ascended the throne, he had everyone beheaded who bore the
name of Bossa.

The fear of mentioning names is common to humanity; we find it in
many of our legends,[69] and it prevails among us even to this day,
especially upon the west coast.[70] It may probably be traced to the
fact that the name and the thing are apt to melt into one. People come
to think that when once the name is known the thing[71] is known as
well, so that the mention of its name comes to exercise an influence
upon the thing itself. A man may thus lose his strength by revealing
his name. Therefore, too, we may suppose that dead people do not like
to be called by their names, and that to name them may be a means of
summoning them from their graves or of disturbing them in their rest.
The Greenlanders dare not even speak the name of a glacier (_puisortok_)
as they row past it, for fear lest it should be offended and throw off
an iceberg.[72] A similar notion is very prevalent among the Indians and
others, who dare not speak the names of places or of rivers.[73]

With reference to the soul's life after death, the Greenlanders seem to
have had diverse opinions. Some, whom the missionaries call stupid and
brutish people, thought that all was over at death, and that there was
no life beyond the grave. Most of the Greenlanders, however, seem to
have thought that even if the soul was not quite immortal, it was yet
in the habit of continuing to live after leaving the body, or at any
rate of coming to life again even if it had died along with the body. In
that case it went either to a place under the earth and the sea or to
the upper world in the sky, or rather between the sky and the earth.[74]
The former place is regarded as the better of the two; it is a very
good land, where, according to Hans Egede, there is 'lovely sunshine,
excellent water, animals and birds in abundance.' To many it may seem
strange that, unlike us, they should place their happiest region under
the earth or the sea; but this, it seems to me, may easily have arisen
from their having seen the heaven and the mountains reflected in the
water, and believed that it was another world they saw. No doubt they
have in process of time discovered that it is only a reflection, but the
original belief in an under-world has maintained itself none the less.
It is particularly characteristic that this under-world is placed under
the water, and that there is much sunshine in it; for it must have been
chiefly in the sunshine that they saw the reflection.

The other region, in the over-world, is colder; it is like the earth
with its hills and valleys, and over it is arched the blue heaven.
There the souls of the dead dwell in tents round a lake, and when the
lake overflows it rains on earth. There are many crowberries there, and
many ravens, who always settle on the heads of old women[75] and cling
on to their hair; it is difficult to drive them off, and they seem to
fill the place of lice here on earth. The souls of the dead can be seen
up there by night, in the form of northern lights, playing football
with a walrus head. On the east coast, however, it is believed that the
northern lights are merely the souls of stillborn or prematurely born
children, or of those who are killed after their birth. These children's
souls 'take each other's hands and dance around in mazy circles. They
play at ball, too, and when they see orphan children, they rush upon
them and throw them to the ground. They accompany their sports with a
hissing, whistling sound.'[76] Therefore, the northern lights are called
_alugsukat_, which appears to mean untimely births, or children born in
concealment. This notion of the Greenlanders seems to be closely related
to the Indians' belief[77] that the northern lights are the dead in
dancing array.

The Eskimos have no hell. Both the above-named regions are more or less
good, and whether the soul goes to the one or to the other does not seem
to depend particularly upon the man's good or evil acts.

Egede, however, asserts that to the lovely land under the earth there
go only 'women who die in childbirth, men who are drowned at sea, and
whale-fishers, as a reward for the evil they have suffered here on
earth; all others go to the sky.'[78] It seems doubtful whether this was
ever a general belief. An exactly analogous idea is to be found among
ourselves. An old woman in Telemark said to Moltke Moe, speaking of her
son: 'Ah, yes, he is certain enough to have gone straight to heaven; for
you know it's said in God's Word that those who are drowned at sea or
die in childbirth go straight away to the Kingdom of God.'[79]

From other accounts, in any case, it seems that these are not the
only souls which go to the under-world. The destination of the soul
may partly depend on the treatment of the body. Paul Egede says
(_Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 174) that 'it was their custom to take
people who were sick unto death gently out of bed, and, laying them on
the floor, to swathe them in their grave-clothes. This lowering them
down from the bed probably symbolises their wish that after death they
may descend beneath the earth. But if a man dies before he is taken
from the bed, his soul goes upward.' On his inquiring why a dog's head
was laid beside the grave, he was answered 'that it was a custom among
some of their fellows to lay a dog's head beside a child when it was
buried, in order that it might scent about and guide the child to the
land of spirits when it came to life again, children being foolish and
witless, and unable to find their own way.'[80] It seems as though
Captain Holm[81] doubted the correctness of this trait (which, however,
he quotes from Hans Egede), on the ground that he could discover no
such poetical custom among the East Greenlanders. But in this he does
not seem to be quite justified; for, on the one hand, we are scarcely
entitled to doubt so definite a statement by a man like Paul Egede,
who knew the Greenlanders and their language so well, while, on the
other hand, we must always remember how fluctuating and changeable are
religious conceptions. Analogous customs, moreover, are found among the
Indians. The Aztecs killed a dog at funerals, and burned or buried it
along with the body, with a cotton thread tied around its throat. Its
function was to lead the deceased over the deep waters of Chiuhnahuapan
on the way to the land of the dead.[82]

The journey to the beautiful region is, however, no easy matter. Egede
says that there is on the way a high sharp rock, 'down which the dead
must slide on their backs, wherefore the rock is bloody.' Cranz asserts
that it takes the souls five or even more days to slide down this rock
or mountain; and those luckless ones are especially to be pitied who
have to make the journey in winter or in stormy weather, for then they
can easily come to harm. This they call the second death, after which
nothing is left of them.[83] They fear this very much, and, in order
to avert it, the survivors, during the critical days, are bound to
observe certain precautions. Similar legends as to the many difficulties
besetting the long journey of souls to the land of the dead are to be
found amongst most races.[84] It seems probable that these difficulties
have arisen in order to serve as tests through which the good can
pass more easily than the wicked. But since, among the Eskimos, the
difficulties afford no touchstone of moral qualities, we must conclude
that the legend describing them must be borrowed from others, and most
probably from the Indians. The sharp rock in particular reminds us of
the Indians' 'mountain ridge, which was as sharp as the sharpest knife,'
along which the souls had to pass on the way to their dwelling-place,

The Greenlanders seem generally to have attributed a soul to animals,
which, like the human soul, could survive the body and journey to the
regions beyond. This appears clearly enough from the bear story related
in Chapter XII (see p. 206). It also appears from the custom mentioned
on p. 237 of laying dogs' heads in the graves of children; for it is of
course the dog's soul, dwelling in its head, which is to accompany the
child. For the rest, this is a general belief among primitive peoples.
The Kamtchatkans, for instance, believe that the souls of all animals,
even of the smallest fly, come to life again in the under-world.

The Greenlanders know of many supernatural beings of a higher order.
Among those who stand nearest to man, and are most useful to him through
the medium of the angekoks, we must first name the so-called _tôrnat_
(the plural of _tôrnak_). These are the angekoks' ministering spirits,
who impart to them their supernatural power. They are often said to be
souls of the dead, especially of grandfathers or other ancestors; but
they may also be the souls of various animals, or other supernatural
beings, either of human origin, like the _kivigtut_, to be hereafter
mentioned, or independent spiritual essences dwelling in the sea or far
inland. They may also be the souls of absent Europeans. An angekok would
as a rule have several, some acting as councillors, others as helpers in
danger, and others, again, as avengers and destroyers. These last were
despatched by the angekok to show themselves in the form of ghosts, and
thus to frighten to death those against whom the vengeance was directed.

In connection with, or superior to, the tornat, we find the
_tôrnârssuk_, which is generally held to be their master, or a
particularly powerful tornak. The tornarssuk was regarded as, on the
whole, a benevolent power; through his tornak the angekok could get into
communication with him and obtain wise counsels. But evil deeds seem
often to have been attributed to him. With him, as with all the other
supernatural beings, it probably depended on the angekoks whether he
should be beneficent or the reverse. His home lay in the under-world,
in the land of the souls. As to his appearance, ideas were very vague;
some holding that he had no form at all; others that he was like a bear;
others, again, that he was huge and had only one arm; and some, finally,
that he was no larger than a finger. As to his nature, according to Hans
Egede, there was no less difference of opinion; for while some held that
he was immortal, others believed that it needed very little to kill him.
Thus Egede relates that during an angekok's magic operations, or while
he is communing with the tornarssuk, 'no one must scratch his head, or
fall asleep; for by such means they say the wizard may be killed, and
even the devil [that is, the tornarssuk] himself.' Dr. Rink holds that
all this is founded upon misunderstandings on the part of Egede and the
other missionaries, and that, on the whole, very little was known either
as to the tornarssuk's appearance or as to his nature. The heathens on
the east coast, however, seem, as we shall see, to know all about him.

In this tornarssuk many have been fain to see a beneficent supreme
being whom the Eskimos worship; answering, accordingly, to our God.
Nevertheless he was, on the introduction of Christianity, transformed
into the devil, with whom he is now synonymous. I cannot help
believing that Egede and the first missionaries have had some hand in
working-up this conception of him as God. They no doubt started, as
many missionaries do even to this day, from the hypothesis that every
people must have a conception of God or of a beneficent supreme being,
and, assuming this, they probably cross-questioned the poor heathen
so long about their tornarssuk, that they at last came to answer
just what their questioners desired. Moreover, they doubtless talked
so much of their good and almighty God that the heathen priests, in
order not to be beaten, began to maintain that they, too, had such a
God to help them. That the tornarssuk was not so great a spirit as is
commonly stated seems evident from Captain Holm's account of the heathen
East Greenlanders' belief. Their tornarssuk is a much less imposing
creature, who dwells in the sea, and whom many people, both angekoks and
others, can see and have seen. They therefore describe him with great
exactitude, and have even numerous representations of him. He is long,
like a large seal, but fatter than a seal, and has, among other things,
long tentacles. Holm, judging from their descriptions, has come to the
heretical opinion that he must be an ordinary cuttle-fish. He devours
the souls of those whom he can capture, and is often quite red with
blood. One must admit that if this creature is descended from our innate
conception of God, he has deplorably degenerated. Moreover, he is not,
on the east coast, one and indivisible; but every angekok, according
to Holm, has his tornarssuk. He has also a coadjutor, _aperketek_, a
black animal as much as two ells in length, and with great 'knife-tongs
in his head.' Holm says expressly that he could discover no trace of
a conception of the tornarssuk as the master of the tornak; and we
are thus forced to subtract a little from the power and importance
attributed to this spirit by former authors.[86]

It seems to me clear that this belief in the tornarssuk, no less than
in the tornat, must be traced to a belief in the spirits or ghosts
of ancestors. We may possibly find evidence of this in the words
themselves. It seems probable that _tôrnak_ may have been the same word
as _tarnik_ or _tarne_ (that is, soul), which again resembles _tarrak_
(shadow--compare p. 226). We find some support for this theory in the
fact that _tôrnak_ appears on the east coast in the form of _tartok_
or _tartak_, which is the same word as _tarrak_.[87] Thus it appears
to me probable that all these words were originally one and the same,
signifying shadow, reflection, or soul, and also designating the souls
of the dead. _Tôrnârssuk_, again, is certainly a derivative of _tôrnak_,
having probably been in its origin the same as _tôrnârssuak_, that is to
say, 'the big, or the bad and horrible, tornak.' This implies that he
was originally a particularly powerful tornak, which, among some tribes,
has gradually obtained a sort of dominion over the other tornat or souls
of the dead.

That these souls should have become the subject of peculiar
superstitions is readily comprehensible when we observe the fear
with which they still regard the dead, and still more, of course,
their spectres. These _gengangere_ are often visible and may be very
dangerous, though sometimes, too, they are tolerably well-disposed.
The most amiable way in which they can manifest themselves is in a
whistling sound, or a singing in people's ears. In the latter case they
are begging for food, and to such a request a Greenlander will reply:
'Help yourself'--meaning 'from my stores.'[88] That the ghost is not
always hostile appears from what Niels Egede[89] relates of a boy at
Godthaab who, playing one day with several others in the neighbourhood
of his mother's grave, suddenly saw a shape rising up from it. He and
the others took to their heels, but the ghost ran after them, caught her
son, 'embraced him, kissed him, and said, "Do not be frightened of me; I
am your mother, and love you";' with more to the same effect.

Their customs at the death and burial of their friends show how much
they fear the dead, and especially their souls or ghosts. The dying are
often dressed in their grave-clothes--that is to say, in their best
garments--a little while before death. The legs, too, are often bent
together, so that the feet come up under the back, and in this position
they are sewed or swathed in skins. The object is, no doubt, that they
may take up less space and need a smaller grave; and it is done during
their life in order that the survivors may have to handle their corpses
as little as possible. This dread of touching a dead body goes so far
(as before-mentioned on page 137) that they will not help a man in
danger--for example, a kaiak-man who is drowning--when they believe that
he is at the point of death.

When they are finally dead, they are taken, if it be in a house, out
through the window; if in a tent, through an opening cut in the skins
of the back wall.[90] This corresponds remarkably with the common
custom in our own country of carrying a body out through an opening
in the wall made for the purpose.[91] The reason is, no doubt, the
same in both cases--namely, that these openings can be entirely closed
again, so that the spectre or soul cannot re-enter, as it might if the
body were carried out by way of the passage or the door. It is not
improbable that the Greenlanders may have borrowed the habit from the
ancient Norwegian or Icelandic settlers in Greenland. It is mentioned
in several sagas as having been the custom of the heathen Icelanders.
In the Eyrbyggja Saga[92] it is said: 'Then he [Arnkel] let break
down the wall behind him [the body of Thorolf], and brought him out
thereby.' The clothes and other possessions of the deceased are also
at once thrown out, that they may not make the survivors unclean. This
recalls our death-bed burning, which is also a widespread custom among
our kindred races in Europe.[93]

The survivors also carry their own possessions out of the house, that
the smell of death may pass away from them. They are either brought
in again at evening, or, as on the east coast, are left lying out for
several days. The relatives of the dead man, on the east coast, go
so far as to leave off wearing their old clothes, which they throw

When the body is carried out, a woman sets fire to a piece of wood, and
waves it backwards and forwards, saying: 'There is nothing more to be
had here.' This is, no doubt, done with a view to showing the soul that
everything belonging to it has been thrown out.

Bodies are either buried in the earth or thrown into the sea (if one of
the dead man's ancestors has perished in a kaiak (?)). The possessions
of the deceased--such as his kaiak, weapons, and clothes; or, in the
case of a woman, her sewing materials, crooked knife, &c.--are laid on
or beside the grave, or, if the body is thrown into the sea, they are
laid somewhere upon the beach. This seems to be partly due to their
fear of a dead person's property and unwillingness to use it; partly,
too, as Hans Egede says, to the fact that the sight of these things and
the consequent recollection of the dear departed would be apt to set
them crying, and 'if they cry too much over the departed they believe
that it makes him cold.'[95] This idea reminds one strongly of the
second song of Helge Hundingsbane, where his widow Sigrun meets him
wet and frozen, and wrapped in a cloud of hoar frost, by reason of her
weeping over him. ('Helge swims in the dew of sorrow.'[96]) Compare
also the well-known Swedish-Danish folk-song of 'Aage and Else,' in
which we read:

'For every time that in thy breast Thy heart is glad and light, Then
all within my coffin seems With rose-leaves decked and dight.

For every time that in thy breast Thy heart is sad and sore, Then all
within my coffin seems To swim in red, red gore.'

But, beyond this, it was doubtless the belief of the Greenlanders that
the deceased had need of his implements, partly for earthly excursions
from the grave, partly also in the other world. They saw, indeed, that
the implements rotted, but that only meant that their souls followed
the soul of the deceased. Those who carry the body out, or have
touched it or anything belonging to it, are for some time unclean, and
must refrain from certain foods and occupations, which the angekoks
prescribe; indeed, all those who live in the same house must observe
the like precautions, partly to avoid injury to themselves, partly in
order to place no hindrance in the way of the departed soul on its
journey to the other world.

They must weep and mourn for a stated time over the deceased; and if
they meet acquaintances or relatives whom they have not seen since the
death took place, they must, even if it be a long while after, begin
to weep and howl as soon as the newcomer enters the house. Such scenes
of lamentation must often be exceedingly ludicrous, and are, in fact,
the merest comedy, ending in a consolatory banquet. They have also many
other mourning customs, which exercise a tolerably powerful influence
upon their lives. Those, for example, who have carried out a body must
do no work in iron for several years. Moreover, we must remember the
before-mentioned dread of uttering the name of the deceased.

The great object of all this is no doubt, as the East Greenlanders
said to Holm, 'to keep the dead from being angry;' whence we see what
a powerful influence over this life they attribute to the departed.
There is, therefore, nothing improbable in the theory that the whole
belief in the tornat and tornarssuk may have developed from this fear.
In process of time, however, other kinds of superstition have doubtless
come to play a part in the matter.

The Greenlanders believe in a whole host of other supernatural beings.
Of these I can only mention a few.

Marine animals are under the sway of a gigantic woman whom some call
'the nameless one,' others _Arnarkuagssâk_, which simply means 'the old

Her dwelling is under the sea, where she sits beside a lamp under which,
as under all Greenland lamps, there is a saucer or stand to catch
the dripping train-oil. In this saucer whole flocks of sea-birds are
swimming, and out of it proceed all the sea animals, such as the seal,
the walrus, and the narwhal. When certain impurities gather in her
hair, she keeps the sea animals away from the coasts, or they remain
away of their own accord, attracted by the impurities; and it is then
the angekok's difficult duty to seek her out and appease or comb her.
The way to her abode is perilous, and the angekok must have his tornak
with him. First he passes through the lovely land of spirits in the
under-world; then he comes to a great abyss, which he can cross only (by
the help of the tornak) on a large wheel as smooth as ice, and whirling
rapidly. Then he passes a boiling cauldron with live seals in it; then
either through a dangerous picket of angry seals who stand erect and
bite on every side, or else past a huge dog which stands outside the
woman's house, and gives warning when a great angekok approaches. This
dog takes only a few winks of sleep every now and then, and one must
be ready to seize the opportunity; but this only the highest angekoks
can manage. Here, again, the tornak must take the angekok by the hand;
the entrance is wide enough, but the further way is narrow as a thread
or the edge of a knife, and passes over a horrible abyss. At last they
enter the house where the woman is sitting. She is said to have a hand
as large as the tail-fin of a whale, and if she strikes you with it
there is an end of you. According to some accounts, she tears her hair
and perspires with fury over such a visit, so that the angekok, aided
by his tornak, must fight with her in order to get her hair cleaned or
combed; while others hold that she is accessible to persuasions and
appeals. His task achieved, the return journey is comparatively easy
for the angekok.[97] This myth reminds us strongly of the visits to
the under-world or Hades which play so prominent a part in European
legends, for example, in those of Dionysos, Orpheus, Heracles, and
others (compare also Dante), and to which we have a parallel in our
own mythology in Hermod's ride to Hel to bring back Balder. Similar
legends are also found, however, among the Indians. From information
given me by Moltke Moe, it seems scarcely doubtful that this Eskimo
conception is coloured by, or even borrowed from, European legends.
The smooth wheel,[98] for example, and the bridge which is narrow as
a thread or a knife-edge, reappear, sometimes in the same words, in
mediæval legends of journeys to the under world. In an old ballad of
the north of England mention is made of 'the bridge of dread no wider
than a thread.' Tundal sees in purgatory a narrow bridge over a horribly
deep, dark, and malodorous valley, and so forth. The oldest appearance
in legendary literature of this hell-bridge is in Pope Gregory the
Great's Dialogues, dating from the year 594 (lib. iv. cap. 36).[99] But
these mediæval conceptions, in their turn, are indubitably coloured by
Oriental traditions. The Jews speak of the thread-like hell-bridge,
and the Mahommedans believe that in the middle of hell all souls must
pass over a bridge narrower than a hair, sharper than a sword, and
darker than night.[100] According to the Avesta, the souls of the old
Parsees, on the third night after death, had to cross the 'high Hara'--a
mountain which surrounds the earth and reaches right to heaven--in order
to arrive at the Tsjinvat-bridge which is guarded by two dogs. In the
Pehlevi writings, this bridge is said to widen out to nearly a parasang
when the souls of the pious pass over it, but it narrows in before the
ungodly until they topple down into hell, which lies right under.[101]

An analogous conception is found (compare Sophus Bugge, _op. cit._) in
the old folk-song 'Draumekvædi,' as to the Gjallar-bridge on the way to
the land of the dead. It hangs high in air so that one grows dizzy upon
it ('Gjallarbrui, hon henge saa högt i vinde'), and in some variants of
the song it is expressly stated to be narrow, whilst in others it is
said to be 'both steep and broad.' In the Eddas we are told that Hermod,
on the way to Hel, rode over the Gjallar-bridge, which was roofed with
shining gold, and which thundered under his horse's hoofs not less than
if five squadrons of dead men (that is to say 250) had been passing over

It seems probable that this belief of the Greenlanders in a narrow
bridge or pass must be coloured by these European, or partly Oriental,
conceptions, imparted to them by the ancient Scandinavians. At the same
time there may also be something more original at the root of it. Thus
we find among the Indians the notion of a snake-bridge, or a tree trunk
swinging in the air, which leads over the river of the dead to the city
of the dead.[102]

The notion of the huge dog who guards the entrance to the woman's house
reminds us strongly of Hel's terrible dog Garm, with the bloody breast,
who barks before the Gnipa-cave. For the rest, this notion of the dog
in the other world is a common one. Among the Hindoos, two dogs watch
the path to the abode of Jama,[103] and among the old Parsees, two
dogs guard the Tsjinvat-bridge (see last page). The Indians station
a huge and furious dog at the other end of the above-mentioned snake

In European folk-tales, and especially in those of Scandinavia, we
often meet with an old woman who bears rule over animals. She likes
to be called 'Mother,' is fond of being scratched or washed, and is
glad to get hold of a pair of shoes, a piece of tobacco, or the like.
If the Ash-Lad meets her and does her any such service, she requites
him with a 'motherly turn,' making her animals help him or giving him
gifts. But besides this common theme which reappears in a majority
of our folk-tales, we can also point to a particular story which is
founded on similar conceptions. The Ash-Lad comes to the ogress with
a whole company of animals, the stoat, the tree-bear (the squirrel),
the hare, the fox, the wolf and the bear, to try to rescue his sister
whom she has carried off. While he is eating, the ogress cries 'Scratch
me! scratch me!' 'You must wait till I've finished,' says the boy; but
his sister warns him that if he does not do it at once the ogress will
tear him to pieces. Then he makes the animals scratch her, one after
the other; but none of them content her until it comes to the turn of
the bear, who claws her till her itch departs. In several variants,
three brothers make the attempt one after the other, and she kills the
first two of them.[105] Even at first sight this Scandinavian group of
stories seems suspiciously like the Greenland legends, the scratching
and washing especially reminding us strongly of the hair-combing; but
when we also find that Arnarkuagssak is unknown to the Alaskan Eskimos,
the connection seems to be clear. According to one Greenland legend she
was the daughter of a powerful angekok who, being overtaken by a storm,
threw her out of the woman-boat to save himself. She clung on to the
gunwale, whereupon he, one by one, cut off her fingers and her hands.
These were transformed into seals and whales, over which she obtained
dominion; and when she sank to the bottom, she took up her abode there
for good. Among the Eskimos of Baffin's Land the same legend is told of
a woman named _Sedna_, who has, however, become a different being from
Arnarkuagssak. The latter seems to be unknown on the Mackenzie river.
'If it should appear,' says Dr. Rink, 'that the Greenland myth is not
known in Alaska either, we must conclude that it was invented during
the course of the emigration to Greenland.'[106] It seems more natural,
however, to conjecture, as I have done above, that it descends from the
old Scandinavians.

On the whole, then, it seems probable that this Greenland divinity
was originally a character in old Norwegian folk-lore, and that the
description of the journey to her abode is descended from, or at
least coloured by, European myths and legends, imported by the old
Scandinavian settlers; but more original Eskimo elements may also be
mixed up in it, having their origin in the west, and resembling the
myths of the Indians.

The souls who go to the over-world have to pass the abode of a
strange woman who dwells at the top of a high mountain. She is called
_Erdlaversissok_ (_i.e._ the disemboweller), and her properties are a
trough and a bloody knife. She beats upon a drum, dances with her own
shadow, and says nothing but 'My buttocks, &c.,' or else sings 'Ya, ha,
ha, ha!' When she turns her back she displays huge hindquarters, from
which dangles a lean sea-scorpion; and when she turns sideways her mouth
is twisted utterly askew, so that her face becomes horizontally oblong.
When she bends forwards she can lick her own hindquarters, and when she
bends sideways she can strike her cheek, with a loud smack, against her
thigh. If you can look at her without laughing you are in no danger;
but as soon as anyone begins to smile she throws away her drum, seizes
him, hurls him to the earth, takes her knife and rips him up, tears out
his entrails, throws them into the trough, and then greedily devours
them.[107] In this story, too, we meet with more than one trait of
Scandinavian tradition.[108] Thus 'the underground folk' cannot endure
laughter; the human being who wounds them by laughing at them must pay
dear for his thoughtlessness. And in two names for the Jotun-woman which
are preserved in Snorro's Edda,[109] _Bakrauf_ and _Rifingafla_ ('the
woman with the cleft or torn hindquarters') we find exactly the same
idea which is represented in the ogress of the Greenland legend.

On the same journey the souls also pass the dwelling of the Moon Spirit.
The way they have to go is described as very narrow, and one sinks in it
up to the shoulders.[110] This reminds us of the bogs which are said in
our 'Draumekvædi' to lie in the neighbourhood of the Gjallar-bridge, and
into which the wicked sink.[111]

  Hög'e æ den Gjallarbrui,
  ho tisst 'punde skyi hange;
  men eg totte tyngre dei Gaglemyrann,--
  gu' bære den, dei ska gange![112]

  High is the Gjallar-bridge; it hangs,
  Close to the clouds, in air;
  But worse I deem the Gagle-moss--
  God help who treadeth there!

In Denmark, too, popular legend speaks of these hell-bogs or
hell-mosses. Thus it seems that here again we can trace the influence of
the ancient Scandinavians, to whom the conception of such penitential
swamps in the under-world no doubt came from the ecclesiastical
vision-fictions of the middle ages.

When kaiak-men are at sea, they believe themselves to be surrounded by
the so-called _ignerssuit_ (the plural of _ignerssuak_, which means
'great fire'). These are for the most part good spirits, inclined to
help men. The entrance to their dwellings is on the sea shore. 'The
first earth which came into existence had neither seas nor mountains,
but was quite smooth. When the One above was displeased with the people
upon it, he destroyed the world. It burst open, and the people fell
down into the rifts and became ignerssuit, and the water poured over
everything. When the earth reappeared, it was entirely covered by a
glacier. Little by little this decreased, and two human beings fell down
from heaven, by whom the earth was peopled. One can see every year that
the glacier is shrinking. In many places signs may yet be seen of the
time when the sea rose over the mountains.'[113]

In this myth we can trace influences from no fewer than four different
quarters. The conception of the ignerssuit, who resemble men and live
under the earth, suggests the Indian legend that men formerly lived
under the earth, but began one day to climb to the surface by means of a
vine which grew up through a fissure or chasm in a mountain. When a fat
old woman (or man) tried to clamber up, the vine broke off, and the rest
had to remain below, while those who had reached the top peopled the

The two beings who fall down from heaven appear to belong to the
cosmogony of the Finnish-Ugrian races, or to be borrowed from the same
source. Among the Vogulians, the two first people descended from heaven
in a cradle of silver wire. The idea that heaven is the birthplace of
humanity is also found in the myths of other Finnish-Ugrian tribes in
Asia and Europe.[115]

Similar ideas have also reached the Indians (perhaps through the
Eskimos?) Thus the Hurons believe that the first human beings came
from heaven.[116] The idea that the earth was originally flat and then
split up also reminds us of the Finnish-Ugrian cosmogony, according to
which the earth, when first created, formed a quite smooth and level
crust over the water, but was afterwards made to billow by an internal
convulsion, and stiffened in its billowy form, whence the origin of
mountains and valleys.[117]

We may distinguish a third element in the people who originally dwelt
upon this flat earth, in its displeasure with whom the Power above
caused the earth to split and the water to rush forth. It seems scarcely
doubtful that this conception is due to a direct intermixture of the
Christian or Jewish legend of the Deluge, which might, of course, have
passed from the west coast up along the east coast. Possibly, however,
the notion of the flood may have been supplemented by touches from a
very widespread legend in Europe, and especially in Scandinavia, as
to how the subterranean or invisible people (_huldre-folk_) came into
existence. The Lord one day paid a visit to Eve as she was busy washing
her children. All those who were not yet washed she hurriedly hid in
cellars and corners and under big vessels, and presented the others to
the visitor. The Lord asked if these were all, and she answered 'Yes';
whereupon He replied, 'Then those which are "dulde" (hidden) shall
remain "hulde" (concealed, invisible).' And from them the _huldre-folk_
are sprung.[118] Be this as it may, the ignerssuit cannot but remind us
of the subterranean people in our Scandinavian folk-lore.

Finally we have as a fourth element the glacier, which must belong
exclusively to Greenland itself.[119]

Among other supernatural beings may be mentioned the different sorts
of inland-folk who live in the interior of the country or upon the
ice-fields. Some of these are called _tornit_ (the plural of _tunek_)
or _inorutsit_, or, upon the east coast, _timersit_. They are of human
aspect, but of huge stature. Some say they are 4 metres (13 feet) in
height, and others that they are as tall as a woman-boat is long, that
is to say at least 10 metres (more than 32 feet). Their souls alone
are as big as ordinary people. They live by hunting both land and sea
animals. They can run exceedingly fast. On the sea they do not use
kaiaks, but sit in the water 'with the fog for their kaiak.'[120] They
can catch seals from the land (in great traps), and they can carry two
huge saddlebacks or bladder-noses inland with them in a seal-skin bag
upon their shoulders. As a rule they stand on a hostile footing towards
men, but they are also open to friendly intercourse, and will sometimes
even exchange wives with them.

Another class of inland-folk are the _igaligdlit_ (the plural of
_igalilik_), who go about with a whole kitchen on their backs. The pot
alone is so huge that they can boil an entire seal in it; and it boils
even as they carry it about. A third class are the _erkigdlit_ (the
plural of _erkilek_), who, according to some, are like men above and
dogs below, but according to others have dogs' heads or dogs' noses.
They are expert archers, and carry their arrows in quivers on their
backs.[121] They are hostile to men. I may also mention the _isserkat_
(the plural of _isserak_), who 'blink lengthwise'--which probably means
that their eye-holes are perpendicular instead of horizontal.

As Rink has shown, there can be very little doubt that these
inland-folk, who all play a prominent part in the Eskimo legends, were
originally different races of Indians with whom the forefathers of the
Greenlanders, while they still dwelt on the north coast of America,
had dealings, sometimes amicable, but generally hostile. They brought
with them to Greenland stories of these adventures, and they still
laid the scene in the interior of the country, where the Indians in
process of time became entirely mythical beings. The word _tunek_ seems
simply to mean Indian, and is so used to this day by the Eskimos of
Labrador. By the Eskimo tribes on the west coast of Hudson's Bay and
further west the word _erkigdlit_ is applied to the Indians of the
interior. The description of the tornit as large and swift applies well
to the Indians, who are taller than the Eskimos, and have the upper
hand of them by land. The fact that the erkigdlit are clever with the
bow and carry their arrows in quivers--a custom not in use among the
Greenlanders--also suggests the Indians. So, too, do the dogs' legs
or dogs' faces attributed to them, these having no doubt arisen from
the Indians' own belief that they are descended from a dog (see p.
271).[122] The isserkat, 'those who blink lengthwise,' may originally
have been Indian races with remarkably oblique or otherwise peculiar
eyes; such tribes are described by travellers. Here, then, we have
supernatural or mythical beings who may be assumed to be of historical
origin. The legends of wars with them have also, no doubt, a certain
historical foundation. In the same way, probably, did the classical
peoples come in contact with the mythical races of their legends.[123]

The _kivitut_ (the plural of _kivitok_) are beings of a peculiar nature.
They have at one time been ordinary men, who for some reason or other,
often quite insignificant, have fallen out with their families or
their companions, or have felt aggrieved by them, and have therefore
turned their backs upon their fellows and fled to the mountains or into
the interior. Here they henceforth live alone, feeding upon animals
which they kill without ordinary weapons, simply by throwing stones
at them, an art in which they become very skilful. While the kivitok
has only been a short time away, it is still open to him to return to
his fellows; but if he does not within a certain number of days obey
the voice of his homeward longing, he loses the power of resuming his
place among men. Some hold that a year is the allotted period. He now
acquires supernatural faculties; he becomes so swift of foot that he can
leap from one mountain peak to another, he can catch reindeer without
weapons, and whatever he aims at he hits. He grows to a great size,
clothes himself in reindeer-skins, and, according to some, his face
turns black and his hair white. Furthermore, he becomes omniscient or
clairvoyant; he can hear the speech of men from any distance, and comes
to understand the language of the animals. But he pays for all this
in his inability to die, and he is always mournful, shedding tears of
longing for humankind to which he can never return. He can, however,
when opportunity offers, especially at night, make his way into houses
or store-rooms to pick up something to eat, or perhaps a little tobacco.
Those who have wronged him are always in danger of his vengeance.

The remarkable feature of this belief is that it probably has a
certain foundation in fact. Suicide is almost unknown in Greenland,
except in the case of a few old or hopelessly infirm people, who,
finding themselves at death's door, sometimes throw themselves over a
precipice into the sea (compare p. 170) in order to put an end to their
sufferings and assure themselves burial. On the other hand, it now and
then happens that someone or other, wounded, perhaps, by a single word
from one of his kinsfolk, runs away to the mountains, and is lost for
several days at least. I myself know Greenlanders who have done this;
and authentic examples are given of people who have lived for years as
kivitoks. About twenty-five years ago, on the island of Akugdlek in
North Greenland, a cave was found which bore evidence of having been a
human habitation for a considerable time. A well-trodden path led up to
it, and within it was a hearth, a hole in the ground which had served
as a store-room, a soft bed of moss, remains of dried fish, edible
roots, &c. A few paces away, there was found a smaller cave with stones
piled up against its mouth. In this the kivitok had buried himself
when he found death approaching. There he lay, still in his seal-skin
jacket; he had himself, from within, closed up the entrance to the
sepulchre with a stone. The Greenlanders recognised him, and concluded
that he must have lived there as a kivitok for two or three years. His
reason for turning his back upon mankind is said to have been that, as
a bad hunter, he was looked down upon and slighted by his kinsfolk;
and, after the death of his little son, life became so hard for him
that he fled.[124]

As Moltke Moe has pointed out to me, there is a remarkable resemblance
between these kivitut and the _utilegumenn_, 'out-liers' so common in
the Icelandic popular legends--criminals, that is to say, who have fled
to the mountains and live in the wilderness far from mankind. The great
part which these 'out-liers' play in the popular fantasy, and the mystic
fear with which they are regarded, has caused them, from a very early
period, to be in great measure confounded in common belief with trolls,
huldre-folk, and other legendary creatures, in whose supernatural
faculties they partake. They can see into the future, they know what
is happening in distant places, they can conjure up mists and lead the
traveller astray, and they possess superhuman strength.[125] Like the
kivitok, they seek the abodes of men in order to pick up something
to eat; they steal sheep, food, and clothes from the people of the
settlements. The most characteristic feature of both the Greenland and
the Iceland legends is that men, by being cut off from society, obtain
supernatural power. The coincidence becomes still more striking when
we observe that both in Greenland and in Iceland these legends form an
_essential_ part of living popular tradition and belief. Among other
races (with the partial exception of Norwegians of the west coast, and
especially of Nordland) similar ideas are scarcely to be found at all.
The conclusion, then, is almost inevitable, that the belief in the
kivitok is derived from the ancient Scandinavians, or rather from the
Icelanders in particular.

I have still to mention, among the remarkable beings known to the
Greenlanders, the _igdlokok_, who is like half a human being, with half
a head, one eye, one arm, and one leg. Precisely similar beings are
also to be found among the Greeks, the Mohammedans, the Zulus, and the

As to the creation of the world, the Greenlanders had no definite
opinion. The earth and the universe must either have come into existence
of their own accord, or must have existed from all time and be destined
so to endure.

Nor had they any clear idea as to the creation of man, or of the Eskimo
race itself. Some were of opinion that the first man grew up out of the
ground and mated with a mound of earth. It brought forth a girl, whom he
took to wife.[127] This notion of growing up from the ground is quite
common, occurring in Scandinavia and Iceland,[128] among other places.
We say: 'He who strikes the earth with a stick beats his mother; he who
strikes a stone beats his father'--an idea which closely corresponds
with the Eskimo conception, in which, no doubt, the man should properly
be represented as rising from a rock.

As to the origin of us Europeans, they have a legend which is not
altogether flattering to our vanity. An Eskimo woman, with whom no
husband would remain for any time, at last took a dog to mate, and
was brought to bed of a mingled litter of human children and puppies.
The puppies she placed on an old shoesole and pushed them out to sea,
saying, 'Be off with you and become _kavdlunaks_' (_i.e._ Europeans).
Therefore it is, say the Eskimos, that the kavdlunaks always live on
the sea, and that their ships are shaped like a Greenland shoe, round
before and behind. The human children she placed upon willow-leaves
and despatched them in the opposite direction, so that they became
inland-folk or Indians (_erkiligdlit_ or _tornit_).[129] Precisely
similar legends are to be found among the Eskimos of Baffinsland,[130]
and also on the north coast of Alaska; though there they refer to the
Indians alone, not to the Europeans. Analogous myths of descent from
dogs (or wolves, or bears) occur among many races, Aryan as well as
Mongolian or American.[131] They lie at the root of the mythology of
many Indian tribes, who hold that the first woman took a dog to mate,
and that they themselves are descended from this connection. It seems
to me evident that the Eskimos have taken their legend from this
source, and that they originally applied it to the Indians alone. When,
subsequently, they fell in with another strange race (the Europeans),
they extended it so as to account for them also. It is noteworthy that
the shoe which turns into a ship occurs in the Baffinsland versions as

The Eskimos, according to some authorities, trace the origin of death
to a woman who once said: 'Let people gradually die, or else there
will be no room for them in the world.' Others believe that two of the
first human beings quarrelled, the one saying 'Let there be day and
night and let men die,' the other 'Let there be night alone, and let
men live for ever;' and after a long quarrel the former gained the
victory. Others, again, hold that there was a race between a snake and
a louse as to which should first reach mankind; if the snake arrived
first they should live for ever, if the louse arrived first they must
die. The snake got a long start, but fell over a high precipice by the
way, and had to make a long detour, so that the louse won the race and
brought death with it.[132] These myths, by their very meaninglessness
and incoherence, seem to show that they come from elsewhere, and
are fragments of older beliefs whose original point and meaning is
forgotten. If we look around in the world, we shall find remarkable
analogies among the most distant races. The second myth (that of the
quarrel) reappears in the Fiji Islands, where the moon wrangles with
a rat, maintaining that men ought to die and come to life again as
she herself does; while the rat maintains that they ought rather to
die like rats--and he gets the best of it. Among the Indians it is
two wolf-brothers, ancestors of the race, who quarrel. The younger
says: 'When a man dies, let him come back the following day so that
his friends may rejoice.' 'No,' says the elder, 'let the dead never
return.' Then the younger kills the son of the elder, and that is the
beginning of death.[133]

We find remarkable analogues in South Africa to the myth of the snake
and the louse. On the Gold Coast, among the Zulus, and elsewhere, it
is related that the first great Being sent an animal (a chameleon) to
mankind with the message that they were to live and never die. But
then the Being changed his mind, and sent after it another animal (the
fleet-footed salamander) with the message that they were to die; and
as the latter arrived first, so it was. There are several forms of
this myth. Among the Hottentots it was the moon who sent the message
to mankind: 'You, like me, shall die and come to life again.' But the
hare heard this, and ran ahead and said: 'You, like me, shall die and
never come to life again.'[134] This myth, again, is remarkably similar
to the Fiji legend quoted above; and thus we have a bridge between the
second and third Greenland myth, which must accordingly be taken to be
two variants of one original--an exceedingly ancient one, since it has
spread so far.

The Eskimos trace to their fellow-countrymen the origin of almost
everything in external nature. It was an old man hewing chips from a
tree that brought into being the fishes and other marine animals. He
rubbed the chips between his legs ('sudore testiculorum') and threw
them into the water, upon which they turned into fishes. The Greenland
shark, however, is of different origin: 'One day a woman was washing
her hair in urine. A gust of wind carried away the cloth with which she
was drying her hair, and it became a shark; wherefore the flesh of this
fish still smells of urine.'[135]

The heavenly bodies were once ordinary Eskimos, living upon the earth,
who, for one reason or another, have been translated to the skies.
The sun was a fair woman, and the moon her brother, and they lived in
the same house. She was visited every night by a man, but could not
tell who it was. In order to find out, she blackened her hands with
lamp-soot, and rubbed them upon his back. When the morning came, it
turned out to be her brother, for his white reindeer-skin was all
smudged; and hence come the spots on the moon. The sun seized a crooked
knife, cut off one of her breasts, and threw it to him, crying: 'Since
my whole body tastes so good to you, eat this.' Then she lighted a
piece of lamp-moss and rushed out; the moon did likewise and ran after
her, but his moss went out, and that is why he looks like a live
cinder. He chased her up into the sky, and there they still are.[136]
The moon's dwelling lies close to the road by which souls have to pass
to the over-world; and in it is a room for his sister the sun. This
myth seems to have come to the Eskimos from the westward. Among the
North American Indians the sun and moon are brother and sister, and
even so far away as among the Indians of the Amazon district we find
the same myth, only that there the moon is a woman who visits her
brother the sun in the darkness. He discovers her criminal passion by
drawing his blackened hand over her face. (Compare also the myths from
Australia and the Himalayas on the following page.) Among the Incas of
Peru, the sun and moon were at the same time brother and sister and man
and wife. (Compare also the Egyptians' Isis and Osiris.)[137] It is
remarkable that among the Greenlanders the sun is conceived as being
beautiful in front, but a naked skeleton behind.[138] This so strongly
suggests our beautiful 'huldre,' who are hollow when seen from behind,
that it seems as though the idea must be a European and especially a
Scandinavian one, imported into Greenland by the old Norse settlers.
According to the East Greenlanders, the reason why the sun has nothing
but bare bones behind is that, when she is at her lowest point, that is
to say on the shortest day, people cut her back with knives in order
to make her rise again. The flesh is thus cut away, and only the bones

The moon has not yet turned over a new leaf, but still pays frequent
visits to the earth in search of amorous adventures. Therefore, it
behoves women to beware of him, not to go out alone in the moonlight,
not to stand looking at his orb, and so forth. This erotic proclivity
of the moon's seems to be of very ancient date. In Australia he is a
tom-cat who, on account of an intrigue with the wife of another, was
driven forth to wander for ever. Among the Khasias of the Himalayas,
the moon every month commits the unpardonable sin of falling in love
with his mother-in-law, who throws ashes in his face, thus causing the
spots upon it.[140] According to a Slavonic legend, the moon was the
sun's husband, who, on account of infidelity with the morning star,
was cleft in twain.[141] Among the old Greeks and Romans the moon was
of female sex, indeed, but the fair Luna was by no means exempt from
amatory tendencies. Among the Eskimos, again, the moon is supposed
to be the cause of cold weather. He produces snow by whittling a
walrus-tusk, and strewing the shavings upon the earth, or else by
blowing through a reed; and when he visits the earth, he always comes
driving in a sledge over the winter ice. It is quite natural that such
associations should attach to the moon, since it is in the ascendant
during the night and in winter. As a frigid and austere influence, too,
he is naturally enough regarded as a man; while further south, where
heat is more dreaded than cold, it is the sun who is supposed to be of
the sterner sex.

Thunder they believe to be produced by two old women fighting for a
dry and stiff skin, and tugging each at her end of it; in the heat
of the contest they upset their lamps, and thus cause the lightning.
The origin of fogs they trace to a tornarssuk who drank so much that
he burst.[142] As to the cause of rain, they have on the east coast
another legend in addition to that already mentioned. Rain, according
to this account, is produced by a being named Asiak, who dwells in
the sky. In ancient days, after a long drought, the angekoks would
set out for his abode to beg for rain. When they arrived, they would
peep in, and would usually see his wife sitting on the edge of the
sleeping-bench, while Asiak himself would be lying covered up close
to the wall. On their imploring her aid, she would ultimately reply:
'Last night he wetted his rug a little, as he usually does;' whereupon
she would take up the piece of bearskin on which he had been sitting,
and would shake it, thus causing it to rain upon earth.[143] The very
fact that the angekoks are represented as begging for rain, which is
of no service whatever to a people of hunters and fishers like the
Eskimos, seems to prove that this myth must have originated in other
latitudes, where agriculture is practised. It is not impossible, as
Holm conjectures, that Asiak may be identical with the rain-gods of
several of the American aboriginal races--deities who lived on the
tops of high mountains. The Mayas of Yucatan, it may be noted, called
their rain-god _Chac_. But it is also possible that the whole myth may
come from further west. Among primitive races, rain was very generally
traced to a similar origin. In Kamtchatka we meet with the idea in
its crudest form. When the modern Greek peasant indicates rain by the
phrase [Greek: katouraei ho theos], he is merely employing an image
at least as old as Aristophanes, who makes one of his characters in
'The Clouds' (v. 373) remark that formerly when it rained he used to
believe Zeus [Greek: dia koskinou ourein]. The same idea, more or less
disguised, and generally with a touch of the jocose in it, reappears
in many popular expressions current in Germany, Belgium, Norway, and
elsewhere. They have all their root in a belief of primeval antiquity,
which can also be traced among many other races--for example, among the
old heathen Arabians, and even among the Jews.[144]

In their beliefs or superstitions the Eskimos used to be, and still
are on the east coast, instructed by their priests or exorcisers, the
angekoks (_angakok_, plural, _angakut_). These men are the wisest and
ablest among them, but also, as a rule, the craftiest. They assert that
they have the power of conversing with spirits, journeying both to the
under-world and to the sky and other places unattainable to ordinary
mortals, conjuring up the tornarssuk and other supernatural beings,
obtaining revelations from them, and so forth. They influence and work
upon their countrymen principally through their mystic exorcisms and
séances, which occur as a rule in the winter, when they are living
in houses. The lamps are extinguished, and skins are hung before the
windows so that it is quite dark. The angekok himself sits upon the
floor. By dint of making a horrible noise so that the whole house
shakes, changing his voice, bellowing and shrieking, ventriloquising,
groaning, moaning, and whining, beating on drums, bursting forth into
diabolical shrieks of laughter, and all sorts of other tricks, he
persuades his companions that he is visited by the various spirits he
personates, and that it is they who make the disturbance.

In order to become an angekok a long apprenticeship is naturally
required, frequently as much as ten years. The neophyte must often and
for long periods go into solitary retirement,[145] and rub a stone
round upon another stone, following the sun, for several days on end,
whereupon a spirit comes forth from the mountain. Then he must die
of fright, but afterwards come to life again; and thus he gradually
obtains the mastery of his tornat. He must not reveal that he is going
through this probation until it is completed, but then he must make
public announcement of the fact. If he is to be a regular tip-top[146]
angekok, it is highly desirable that he should be seized and dragged
to the seashore by a bear; then there comes a walrus, buries its tusks
in his genital organs, drags him away to the horizon, and eats him up.
Thereupon his bones set off homewards, and meet the shreds of flesh
upon the way; they grow together again, and he is whole once more. Now
he is at the head of his profession.

The influence of these angekoks of course depended upon their
adroitness; but they do not seem to have been mere charlatans. It is
probable that they themselves partly believed in their own arts, and
were even convinced that they sometimes received actual revelations;
although Egede is not inclined to believe that they had 'any real
commerce or understanding with the devil.'

They can also cure diseases by reciting charms, give a man a new
soul, and so forth. Among the diseases which they profess to cure are
reckoned inability to catch seals, in a man, and, in a woman, inability
to bear children. In the latter case, the East Greenland angekok, even
to this day, has to journey to the moon, from which a child is thrown
down to the woman, who becomes pregnant of it. After this laborious
journey, the angekok has the right to lie with the woman.[147] This
visit to the moon is, of course, connected with the aforesaid erotic
proclivities of that luminary. Among the Indians, too, the moon seems
to possess an influence over procreation.

In order that the angekok may heal diseases he must be well paid;
otherwise his arts will be of no avail. It is of course not he himself
that receives the gifts, but the tornak, for whom he merely acts as

By reason of their connection with the supernatural world, the most
esteemed angekoks have considerable authority over their countrymen,
who are afraid of the evil results which may follow any act of
disobedience. For it is in Greenland as it used to be here, with
priests who were really masters of their craft--they were not only the
servants of God, but knew 'the black book' as well, and had power over
the devil. The angekoks, indeed, are for the most part well-disposed;
but they may also work evil by robbing other people of their souls and
giving them to their tornarssuk to eat, by sending their tornat to
frighten the life out of their enemies, and so forth. Thus we find even
among the Eskimos the beginnings of priestly rule.

For the most part, however, it is people of another class who are
guilty of such misdeeds as killing others by magic, bewitching their
weapons, and the like. These are the so-called _ilisitsoks_, who
may be either male or female.[148] These wizards and witches are
much hated. It used to be held that most evils, especially death and
disease, were due to them; and if an old woman was suspected of being
an ilisitsok she was remorselessly killed. This cannot surprise us,
when we remember how our own ancestors, with the priests at their head,
used to burn their witches. While the angekoks commune with the spirits
in the presence of other people, the ilisitsoks' dealings with the
supernatural powers are carried on in the deepest secrecy and always to
noxious ends. They must be instructed in secrecy by an older ilisitsok
and must pay dear for the teaching. It does not seem to be clear
what supernatural powers they have dealings with; they are doubtless
different from those known to the angekoks, and are purposely kept
secret. In their diabolical arts they use many different properties,
as for instance human bones, the flesh of corpses, skulls, snakes,
spiders, water-beetles, and the like; but their most potent device
consists in making _tupileks_. A tupilek is prepared in the deadliest
secrecy of various animals' bones, skins, pieces of the anorak of the
man who is to be injured or portions of the seals he has caught; all
this being wrapped together and tied up in a skin. Finally, it is
brought to life by dint of singing charms over it. Then the ilisitsok
seats himself upon a bank of stones close to the mouth of a river. He
turns his anorak back to front, draws his hood up over his face, and
then dangles the tupilek between his legs. This makes it grow, and
when it has attained its proper size it glides away into the water
and disappears. It can transform itself into all sorts of animals and
monsters, and is supposed to bring ruin and death upon the man against
whom it is despatched; but if it fails in this, it turns against him
who sent it forth.[149]

These tupileks remind us strongly of the widespread belief both in
Norway and Iceland in _gand_ or 'messengers,' and it seems scarcely
doubtful that the Eskimos have borrowed this conception from our
ancestors in Greenland. The 'gand' in Iceland is also a fabulous, magic
creature, sent forth by wizards, with the power of transforming itself
into every possible shape; and if it does not succeed in destroying
the person against whom it is sent, it returns and kills the sender.
It can, however, in Greenland, no less than in Iceland and Norway, be
snapped up by other wizards or witches, and its evil influence thus

Rink sees in these ilisitsoks and their connection with the powers of
evil a possible survival from an older or primæval faith in Greenland,
which is persecuted by the priests of the new faith, the angekoks.[151]
Just so do we find that witchcraft among us consisted largely of
remnants of the old heathenism and was, therefore, bitterly persecuted
by the Christians. There seems to be much in favour of this ingenious
conclusion of Rink's. It appears to me possible, however, that as the
tupilek is descended from the ancient Scandinavians' belief in gand
or 'messengers,' so the origin of the whole witch-lore may be found
in the same quarter. There seem to be sufficient points of likeness
to justify such a conjecture.[152] It is by no means improbable that
precisely this belief in the power of the Evil One, the contract with
Satan, the Black Book and so forth--in a word the whole belief in
wizardry which lay, and to some extent still lies, at the very root
of the superstitions of our race, even deeper, one might almost say,
than the belief in God--might have been the first thing borrowed by the
Eskimos in their dealings with our forefathers. This rapid and easy way
of obtaining supernatural power must have been particularly attractive
to them. So far as I have been able to learn, too, witchcraft does
not play anything like such a prominent part among the more western
Eskimos, if it is to be found at all (?).

I have still to speak of the Greenlanders' belief in amulets. They are
used by almost everyone, and consist of particular objects, generally
portions of animals or of human beings. Charms are sung or muttered
over them, and they are given by parents to their children while they
are still quite little; or young people are instructed by their elders
how to find amulets for themselves. They are worn all through life, as
a rule upon the body or among the clothes. The men, for example, often
have them sewn into skin pouches made for the purpose, and worn upon
the breast, while women often tie them into the top-knot of their hair.
Others are placed in the house-roof or in the tent; or in the kaiak to
prevent it from capsizing. One man as a rule will have several amulets.
They are supposed to have power to protect one against witchcraft, and
against injury from spirits, to be of assistance in times of danger,
and to endow their possessor with certain peculiar faculties. Some
amulets can even be used to disguise their possessors in the shape
of animals, and thus remind us of the 'hamlöbing' (the putting on of
falcon-skins, swan-skins, &c.) in our old mythology. If, for example,
a man has a bird or a fish for his amulet, he may by calling upon it
transform himself into a bird or a fish; or he may transform himself
into a tree, seaweed, or the like, if his amulet consists of a piece of
wood or of seaweed. The belief in amulets, as we all know, is spread
over the whole world, and can be traced from the most primitive right
up to the most highly developed races. Among the Eskimos it no doubt
dates from a very early stage of development, and is the most primitive
of their existing religious conceptions. The origin of this belief
appears to me quite explicable. Sometimes, of course, it may have
arisen from a mere external accident, for example the observation of
a series of fortunate events--that a man who is in possession of some
particular object has always been lucky in his fishing, and so forth.
But as a rule its source lies deeper. When, for example, a man sees
that a bird, such as the falcon, cleaves the air with incredible ease
and has extraordinary powers of attack with beak and claws, he is apt
to attribute these powers to every part of the animal, and especially
to the head, with the soul inhabiting it, to the beak, and to the
claws. It is not at all unnatural that barren women, in order to have
children, should take pieces of a European's shoesole and hang them
round their necks. Seeing that Europeans are prolific, they think that
through these shoesoles, on which our strength has rested, some part of
it will 'pass into their garments and serve them to the like end.'[153]
When a boy who spits blood, and whose family is consumptive, is given a
seal-blood plug as an amulet (the plug which is used to stop the flow
of blood from the wounds of a captured seal), and when this is sewn
into the anorak upon his breast, the reason is surely clear enough.
It is based upon the same belief in _sympathetic transference_ which
plays so great a part in the popular superstitions of all countries.
The Eskimos often have for amulets portions of their forefathers'
clothes or other possessions, as a rule of their grandfathers'. This
has no doubt its origin in the belief that the souls of the dead can
protect them, and that when they carry some portions of the dead man's
possessions about with them, it is easier to come into rapport with
him. Cases are also recorded of the carrying about of small male and
female figures to serve as amulets.[154] The transition from this
belief in amulets to fetish-worship, or rather idol- and image-worship,
does not seem to me to be very difficult.

The Greenlanders also think they derive supernatural help from their
charms. These are employed in sickness, in danger, against enemies,
&c., and have about the same influence as the amulets. Even less than
the amulets, however, have they any connection with spirits, and the
method of their action is unknown--no one knows even the meaning of
the words which are spoken. They are simply old formulas which have
been handed down by means of sale from generation to generation. They
have to be learned in secrecy, and must be paid for on the spot and at
a very high rate, else they have no efficacy. They are uttered slowly
in a subdued, mystic tone;[155] it seems as though they were connected
to a certain extent with witchcraft. They remind us forcibly of our
old witch-crones and their often meaningless formulas. It seems to me
probable that they must be reminiscences of old customs, imported from
outside, whose original signification has been lost. According to Rink,
charms may also be learnt by listening to the song of birds.[156]

Besides these formulas, magic songs are also in use. The words of
these, however, are comprehensible, and they may be sung in the hearing
of others.

According to Rink, it is as a rule the deceased relations and ancestors
of the person using the charm, and especially his grandparents,
whose help is invoked in these formulas and in the songs. From
Holm's account, on the other hand, we gather nothing of this sort.
It seems to me not unreasonable, however, to suppose that they, and
also the amulets, have often a certain connection with the dead, and
may thus be the beginning of (or a survival from) a more developed
ancestor-worship. When a boy is for the first time placed in a kaiak,
the father, by means of magic songs, will invoke for him the protection
of his deceased grandparents and great-grandparents.

Offerings to the supernatural powers are very infrequent among
the Greenlanders. The most common form of offering is made to the
inue of the sea, the so-called _kungusutarissat_ (the plural of
_kungusutariak_). They are fond of foxes' flesh and foxes' tails, which
are, therefore, offered to them whenever a fox is caught, that they
may make the fishing successful. In travelling, too, the Eskimos will
make offerings to certain headlands, glaciers, and the like, which they
regard as dangerous, in order to get past them unharmed. The offering
is as a rule thrown overboard into the sea; it often consists of food,
but may also take the form of beads or other things which they value.

Besides these religious ceremonies the Greenlanders have others,
especially certain rules of life as to fasting, abstinence, and the
like, which must be observed, for example, by women immediately before
or after the birth of a child. It would, however, lead us too far to go
in detail into these matters.

       *       *       *       *       *

From this survey of the religious conceptions of the Greenlanders,
it will doubtless appear that they are not so exempt from foreign
influences as many have been inclined to think. We can trace in them
admixtures from many quarters; we have found myths whose place of
origin is certainly as distant as Central Asia; nay we have even found
some which unquestionably bridge the distance between Greenland,
South Africa, and the Fiji Islands.[157] The migrations of such myths
presuppose immense periods of time. What is perhaps most interesting
for us, however, is the traces which we find of our own forefathers'
visits to Greenland. It is not only a few ruined buildings that
bear witness to their presence; they have also left an unmistakable
imprint on the spiritual life of the natives. I shall cite one or two
more examples of remarkable resemblances to European, and especially
Scandinavian, superstitions, which must in all probability have arisen
from intercourse with our forefathers.

The Greenlanders believe that children born in secrecy, or murdered
after birth, become dangerous spectres (_angiak_). Among other things,
they are in the habit of seeking out a dog's skull, which they use as
a kaiak, in order to persecute and kill their kinsfolk--either their
mother's later-born children, or, it may be, their mother's brothers,
who, by reproaching her for her misconduct, have led her to conceal the
birth. Sometimes, too, they pursue people in the form of a feather,
a mitten, &c.[158] This conception is very like the belief in what
is called _utburden_, which is very widespread in Norway. These are
children who, being born in concealment and killed, have not received
a name. They cannot rest, but, in the form of visible or invisible
ghosts, they pursue either the mother or people who pass by the place
where they have been laid.[159] The resemblance between this Norwegian
conception and the Greenland superstition is so great that there is
every probability of its having been imported into Greenland by the old

Passing on to their fairy tales, we find many which resemble Norwegian
and other European legends. For example we have in Norway an as yet
unpublished tale[161] of three sisters who were bent upon getting
married. The one said, 'I am minded to marry even if I got only a fox
for a husband;' the second said she would marry if she got only a
goat, and the third if she got only a squirrel. Thereupon there came
a fox, a goat, and a squirrel, and took each his wife. Their father
afterwards paid a visit to each of his sons-in-law. When he came to
the squirrel's house, the squirrel bade his wife hang a pot over the
fire, and then all three went out and came to a river, into which the
squirrel dived and brought up a trout. When the man reached home he
bade his wife put a pot on the fire and go out with him. On reaching a
river, the man tried to dive as he had seen the squirrel do, but was
drowned. In Greenland we find this story split into two. In the one
it is two sisters who go down to the shore and wish, the one for an
eagle, the other for a whale, as a husband; and these animals at once
come and carry them off.[162] In the other we are told of a pair of old
people who live alone with their daughter. One day there comes a big
unknown man, who says that he lives near them to the southward, and
asks for their daughter in marriage. He obtains her, and on leaving
her home asks his father-in-law to come and pay them a visit. This
the father-in-law does. When he enters the house, his daughter hangs
a kettle over the fire and her husband goes out. The old man looks
after him through the window, but sees only a cormorant which flies
over the water, dives, and comes up with a sea-scorpion. Presently
the son in-law comes in with the sea-scorpion, which he gives to his
father-in-law to eat. On the old man's return home he asks his wife
to hang the pot over the lamp, then rows with her a little way out
from the land, and ties a stone round his neck and a long rope round
his waist, saying to his wife: 'I will dive into the water, and when
I tug at the rope you must haul me up again.' He jumps overboard and
sinks, and when his wife hauls him up again he is drowned.[163] The
resemblance between this story and the latter part of the Norwegian one
is so great that there can scarcely be any doubt as to its origin. We
must, however, take into account the possibility that it did not come
through the old Scandinavians, but through Hans Egede and his people,
or even later.

The following story resembles both Asiatic and European legends. A
reindeer-hunter once saw a number of women bathing in a lake. He took
away the clothes of the fairest of them, who had therefore to follow
him home and become his wife, whilst the others rushed to the shore,
put on their clothes, and were transformed into geese or mergansers
and flew away. His wife bore him a son; but presently she set to work
collecting feathers, by means of which she changed both herself and
her son into birds, and flew away with him one fine day, when the man
was out hunting. He set forth to search for them, and came upon a man
who was cutting chips of wood which were transformed into fishes.
This man placed him upon the tail of a big salmon which he made out
of a chip, and told him to close his eyes, whereupon the fish brought
him to his wife and son.[164] The American Eskimos have an altogether
similar story. Among the Samoyedes it is related that a man went out
on a journey and came upon an old woman who was felling birch trees.
He helped her, and went with her to her tent, where he hid himself.
Then in came seven girls, who talked to the old woman and went away
again. She said to him: 'In the darkest part of yonder wood there is
a lake; there the seven girls will bathe; take away the clothes of
one of them'--and he did so. The remainder is quite different from
the Greenland story, and there is nothing at all about their being
changed into birds, though their home was in air or in the sky.[165]
This story, whose likeness to the Greenland legend is remarked by
Dr. Rink,[166] is not, however, so like it as an Icelandic story, in
which we are told that a man was walking early one morning beside the
sea and came to the mouth of a cave. He could hear sounds of dancing
and merriment from inside the cave, and outside it lay a heap of
seal-skins, one of which he took home with him. Later in the day he
came again to the mouth of the cave; there sat a fair young woman
quite naked, and weeping. She was the seal who owned the skin. He
gave her clothes, took her home with him, married her, and they had
children. But one day when the man was out fishing his wife found the
old seal-skin; the temptation was too strong for her, she said good-bye
to her children, put on the skin and threw herself into the sea.[167]
The Greenland story, for the rest, resembles the swan legends which are
spread over almost the whole world, and of which we have several in
Europe. That it cannot have been introduced into Greenland of recent
years is proved by the fact that Paul Egede heard it there so long ago
as 1735. The possibility that it may have been brought to Greenland
by the old Scandinavians seems to me strengthened by the fact that
swan legends and stories of a like nature do not seem to have been
common in America. Powers, for example, in his book about the Indians
of California, says that he can find no stories of this nature among

If space permitted I could adduce several other remarkable coincidences
between the folk-lore of Greenland and that of Europe, and especially
of Scandinavia. It appears, then, that the intercourse between the old
Scandinavians and the natives must have been greater than has generally
been believed.[169]


[54: As to the constitution of the soul see also Paul Egede,
_Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 149, and Cranz, _Historie von
Grönland_, p. 258.]

[55: Paul Egede says expressly (_Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 126)
that the natives make no distinction between _tarrak_ and _tarnek_
(_tarnik_), and he himself uses the two words indifferently. See also
the same work, p. 92.]

[56: _Historie von Grönland_, p. 257.]

[57: See Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 112.]

[58: A similar idea is also current on the west coast (compare
_Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 342), but seems there to have
reference to the ordinary soul of the deceased. The distinction between
the soul and the name cannot, therefore, be sharply drawn among the
different tribes.]

[59: Throughout the foot-notes to this chapter, Dr. Nansen is
profuse in his acknowledgments of the assistance rendered him by
Professor Moltke Moe. I have ventured to concentrate these recurrent
acknowledgments into this one note, and shall refer to Professor
Moe only where he figures as the authority for a statement of

[60: See also Liebrecht, _Zur Volkskunde_, p. 311.]

[61: Klemm, _Culturgeschichte_, iii. p. 77; Tylor, _Primitive Culture_
(1873), ii. p. 4; _Antiquarisk Tidsskrift_, 1861-63, p. 118.]

[62: It appears to me that exogamy between two of the same surname,
which is found among many races (see p. 175), can easily be explained
on this principle, since the same name creates a close spiritual
affinity, which may, like blood-affinity, act as a bar to marriage.]

[63: See Holm, _op. cit._ p. 111, where examples of such
re-christenings are given. Holm thinks that 'the old names reappear
when the deceased is quite forgotten.' It seems to me more natural to
suppose that this occurs as soon as a child has been called after the
dead man.]

[64: Nyrop, _Mindre Afhandlinger udgivne af det philologisk-historiske
Samfund_, Copenhagen, 1887, pp. 147-150.]

[65: Nyrop, _op. cit._ pp. 136 & 137.]

[66: Liebrecht, _Academy_, iii. (1872), p. 322.]

[67: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, pt. 10, p. 113.]

[68: See Schoolcraft, in _Antiquarisk Tidsskrift_, 1861-63, p. 119,
&c., also Andrée, _Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche_, p. 180;
Tylor, _Early History of Mankind_, p. 142.]

[69: The reluctance prevailed among our forefathers. 'Sigurd concealed
his name because people believed in the old days that a dying man's
curse had great power, when he called his enemy by name.'--_Sæmundar
Edda_, ed. by Sophus Bugge, p. 219.]

[70: Information received from Prof. Moltke Moe.]

[71: The way in which name and thing melt into one appears clearly,
to mention one instance, in the Swabian custom of 'throwing the names
of three shrewish women' into the wine, in order to turn it into good

[72: Compare Nansen: _The First Crossing of Greenland_, i., p. 328;
abridged edit., p. 160.]

[73: As to the significance of the name and its mention among the
different races, compare Kristoffer Nyrop's comprehensive essay,
'The Power of the Name,' in _Mindre Afhandlinger udgivne af det
philologisk-historiske Samfund_, Copenhagen, 1887, pp. 119-209. See
also B. Gröndahl in _Annaler for nordisk Oldkyndighed_, 1863, p. 127,
&c.; Moltke Moe, in _Letterstedtske Tidsskrift_, 1879, p. 286, &c.; S.
Grundtvig, _Danmarks gamle Folkeviser_, ii. p. 339, &c.; H. Spencer,
_Principles of Sociology_, vi. p. 701.]

[74: Compare Rink, _Aarböger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie_,
1868, iii. p. 202.]

[75: Compare Paul Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 149.]

[76: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 113.]

[77: Communicated to me by Moltke Moe.]

[78: See on the same subject Paul Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_,
p. 117. According to some accounts, witches and 'wicked people' go to
the over-world.]

[79: Communicated by Moltke Moe. Compare also J. Flood, _Grönland_,
Kristiania, 1873, p. 10, note. Similar notions are said to be current
in Bavaria and in the Marquesas islands. Compare Liebrecht, in the
_Academy_, iii. (1872), p. 321.]

[80: P. Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 109. See also H. Egede,
_Det gamle Grönlands nye Perlustration_, p. 84. Cranz, _Historie von
Grönland_, p. 301.]

[81: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 106, note.]

[82: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_ (1873), i. p. 472.]

[83: This conception of a second death, or the death of the soul, is
found among many races: Hindus, Tartars, Greeks, Kelts, Frenchmen,
Scandinavians, Germans, &c.]

[84: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, ii. p. 44.]

[85: Knortz, _Aus dem Wigwam_, Leipzig, 1880, p. 133; compare p. 142.]

[86: It is interesting to note that the Alaska Eskimos seem to believe
in a being similar to this tornarssuk of the east coast of Greenland,
with long tentacles, &c. See Holm: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10,
p. 115, note 1.]

[87: _Tartok_ means properly 'dark.' Among the Eskimos of Southern
Alaska, the same word, _taituk_, means 'mist.' In East Greenland
_târtek_ means 'black.' (Compare Rink: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part
11, p. 152.)]

[88: Rink: _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p. 44. In Scotland a
singing in the ears is called 'the dead-bell,' and portends the death
of a friend. Hogg: _Mountain Bard_, 3rd ed. p. 31.]

[89: _Tredie Continuation_, &c., p. 74.]

[90: Holm, however, tells us (_Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p.
105), that on the east coast the body is sometimes dragged out through
the house-passage by means of a thong looped around the legs. In such
cases, I take it, the dread of touching the body must have conquered
the dread of taking it out through the passage, for if it is taken
through the window it must be lifted and handled. By dragging it with
the feet foremost and pointing outwards they probably think to hinder
the soul from effecting a re-entrance.]

[91: From information given me by Moltke Moe. Compare also Liebrecht,
_Zur Volkskunde_, p. 372.]

[92: Morris and Magnússon, _The Saga Library_, vol ii. 'The
Ere-Dwellers,' p. 88.]

[93: See Moltke Moe's paper in the _Norske Universitets-og
Skoleannaler_, 1880, and the works there cited.]

[94: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 107.]

[95: Hans Egede, _Det gamle Grönlands nye Perlustration_, p. 83.]

[96: See P. A. Gödecke's translation of the _Edda_, p. 170, and notes
on p. 335.]

[97: Paul Egede, _Continuation af Relationerne_, &c., p. 45; Hans
Egede, _Grönlands nye Perlustration_, p. 118; Rink, _Tales and
Traditions of the Eskimo_, pp. 40, 466.]

[98: The Dakota Indians relate that on the way to Wanaratebe there is
a wheel which rolls with frightful velocity along the bottom of the
abyss below the mountain ridge mentioned on p. 239. To this wheel are
bound those who have treated their parents despitefully. See Liebrecht,
_Gervasius Otia Imperialia_ (1856), p. 91, note.]

[99: Reference communicated by Moltke Moe.]

[100: See Sophus Bugge, _Mythologiske Oplysninger til Draumekvædi_, in
_Norsk Tidsskrift for Videnskab og Literatur_, 1854-55, p. 108-111;
Grimm, _Mythologie_, p. 794; Liebrecht, _Gervasius Otia Imperialia_, p.
90. Compare also H. Hübschmann, _Die parsische Lehre vom Jenseits und
jüngsten Gericht_, in _Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie_, v.
(Leipzig, 1879), p. 242.]

[101: Compare H. Hübschmann, _op. cit._, pp. 216, 218, 220, 222.]

[102: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, ii. 50. Compare, too, the Indians'
conception of a mountain ridge as sharp as the sharpest knife (see p.
239). It is of course possible that the Indians may have got this idea
from the Eskimos, or more probably, perhaps, from the Europeans after
the discovery of America.]

[103: Sophus Bugge, _op. cit._, p. 114.]

[104: Tylor, _op. cit._, p. 50. Compare Knortz, _Aus dem Wigwam_, p.

[105: Communicated by Moltke Moe, from his unpublished collection of
folk-tales. See also a tale reported from Flatdal in _Fedraheimen_,
1877, No. 18; a Hardanger tale (watered down) in Haukenæs's _Natur,
Folkeliv og Folketro i Hardanger_, ii., 233. Danish variants in Kl.
Berntsen, _Folke-Æventyr_, I. (Odense, 1873) p. 116; Et. Kristensen,
_Jyska Folkeminder_, v. 271.]

[106: Rink, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 11, p. 17. Compare Boas,
_Petermann's Mittheilungen_, 1887, p. 303; Rink and Boas, 'Eskimo Tales
and Songs,' in _Journal of American Folk-Lore_, 1889 (?), p. 127.]

[107: Note by Glahn in Crantz's _Historie von Grönland_, Copenhagen,
1771, p. 348. Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p. 440;
Danish edit. pp. 87, 166, suppl. p. 44.]

[108: Communicated by Moltke Moe.]

[109: I. 551, 553.]

[110: Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p. 440; Danish edit.
p. 87.]

[111: Compare Sophus Bugge, _op. cit._, p. 115.]

[112: Noted by Moltke Moe.]

[113: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 144.]

[114: Compare K. Knortz, _Aus dem Wigwam_, p. 130. H. de Charencey
(_Melusine_, i. 225) mentions (quoting from Malthæus, _Hidatsa
Grammar_, 1873, Intr. p. xvii.) that the forefathers of the
Minnetarees, a tribe belonging to the Missouri region, lived at the
bottom of a great lake, and climbed up to the surface of the earth by
help of a big tree, which ultimately broke, so that many of them had
to remain below. (From an unpublished manuscript by Moltke Moe.) This
legend presents an even closer analogy to that of the ignerssuit, who
dwell under the sea.]

[115: See J. Krohn, _Finska Litteratur-Historie_, 1st Part, _Kalevala_
(1891), p. 165. Moltke Moe has directed my attention to this
similarity, and has lent me the MS. of an as yet unpublished essay on
legends of this class. As a rule, the connection between earth and
heaven is effected by a great tree, by which people climb up and down.
The myth of such heaven-trees is to be found in almost every quarter
of the world. We find it in Scandinavia (Ygdrasil) no less than in
Polynesia, Celebes, Borneo, New Zealand, &c. Among the Vogulians, the
son of the first two human beings (see above) transforms himself into a
squirrel, climbs up a tree to heaven, and afterwards climbs down again.
(Compare A. Lang, _Myth, Ritual and Religion_ (1887). i. 182, note
2.) Among the Indians the first man climbs into a tree, in chase of a
squirrel, and so reaches heaven, whence he returns with the elements
of civilisation, or, according to some, in order to take his sister up
with him again. (Compare Tylor, _Early History of Mankind_ (2nd ed.),
p. 349.) The gipsies on the borders of Transylvania have a legend of a
great tree from which flesh fell down to earth, and from whose leaves
human beings sprang forth (H. von Wlislocki, _Märchen und Sagen der
transsilvanischen Zigeuner_, No. 1.) There is probably some connection
between these myths and the Greenland legend; it is quite natural that
in the Eskimo version the tree should have disappeared.]

[116: Compare A. Lang, _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, i. 181.]

[117: Compare J. Krohn, _op. cit._, pp. 163-173.]

[118: Communicated by Moltke Moe. Others relate that it was the
ugly children whom Eve concealed, or that she was ashamed of having
so many. (See Faye, _Norske Folkesagn_, 2nd ed. p. xxv.; Söegaard,
_Fra Fjeldbygderne_, p. 102; _Dölen, 1862_ (III.) No. 17; Storaker
and Fuglestedt, _Folkesagn fra Lister og Mandals Amt_, p. 51; Finn
Magnusen, _Eddalæren_, iii. p. 329; Grimm, _Deutsche Mythologie_, 4th
ed. iii. 163, &c.) The legend is originally Jewish, and may be traced
to the Rabbis; see, for example, Liebrecht on _Gervasius Tilberiensis
Otia Imperialia_, p. 70.]

[119: Paul Egede gives a somewhat different account of the ignerssuit's
fall from human estate. They 'formerly dwelt upon earth, until the
time of the great flood, which caused the earth to capsize, so that
what had formerly been uppermost was now below.'--_Continuation af
Relationerne_, p. 96.]

[120: This suggests our Norwegian 'draug' which sails in a half boat
(_i.e._ a boat split in two longitudinally); and it does not seem
impossible that we may here trace the influence of the old Scandinavian

[121: Paul Egede: _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 172.]

[122: Legends of dog-men being widely spread over the world (they are
found, for instance, among the Greeks), it is possible that the Eskimos
may have received them from some other quarter, and applied them to the
Indians, who, they knew, claimed descent from a dog.]

[123: Compare Tobler: 'Ueber sagenhafte Völker des Altertums,' &c., in
_Zeitschrift der Völkerpsychologie_, vol. xviii. (1888), p. 225.]

[124: See Hammer, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 8, p. 22; E. Skram
in _Tilskueren_, October, 1885, p. 735. As to kivitut, see also Rink,
_Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_.]

[125: See Arnasen, _Íslenzktar thjódsogur_, ii. 160-304, translation
by Powell and Magnússon (London, 1866), pp. cxlvi, and 101-231. Maurer
_Isländische Volkssagen_, p. 240; Carl Andersen, _Islandske Folkesagn_,
2nd ed., p. 258.]

[126: P. Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 172; Tylor, _Primitive
Culture_, i. 391; Tobler, _op. cit._, p. 238; Liebrecht in _The
Academy_, iii. (1872), 321.]

[127: P. Egede, _Continuation af Relationerne_, p. 97; H. Egede,
_Grönlands Perlustration_, p. 117.]

[128: Compare Liebrecht, _Zur Volkskunde_, p. 332, and the authorities
there cited. See also Moltke Moe in _Letterstedtske Tidsskrift_, 1879,
pp. 277-281.]

[129: H. Egede, _Grönlands Perlustration_, p. 117; P. Egede,
_Continuation af Relationerne_, p. 47; Rink, _Tales and Traditions of
the Eskimo_, p. 471; _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, pp. 290, 342.]

[130: Rink and Boas, _Journal of American Folklore_ (1888?) p. 124.]

[131: F. Liebrecht, _Zur Volkskunde_, 1879, pp. 17-25; J.C. Müller,
_Geschichte der americanischen Urreligionen_, pp. 134, 65.]

[132: P. Egede, _Continuation af Relationerne_, pp. 32, 80;
_Efterretninger om Grönland_, pp. 127, 106. H. Egede, _Grönlands
Perlustration_, p. 117.]

[133: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, i. 355; A. Lang, _La Mythologie_
(Paris, 1886), pp. 204, 206; Smithsonian Institute, _Annual Report
of the Bureau of Ethnology_, 1879-80, p. 45. The choice between day
and night in the Greenland form of the myth may possibly be borrowed,
directly or indirectly, from the biblical cosmogony.]

[134: Christaller in _Zeitschrift für afrikanischen Sprachen_, I.
1887-88, pp. 49-62. Compare also Bleek, _Reineke Fuchs in Afrika_
(Weimar, 1870): Tylor, _op. cit._, p. 355; A. Lang, _op. cit._, p. 203.]

[135: Hans Egede, _Grönlands Perlustration_, p. 117; P. Egede,
_Continuation af Relationerne_, pp. 20, 60. As to washing in urine (see
p. 29), I may remark that it seems to have been a custom of untold
antiquity. We find allusions to it even in the sacred writings of the
Parsees. Thus it is said (_Vendidad_, 8, 13) that corpse-bearers shall
wash themselves with urine 'not of men or women, but of small animals
or beasts of draught.']

[136: P. Egede, _Continuation af Relationerne_, p. 16; H. Egede,
_Grönlands Perlustration_, p. 121; Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the
Eskimo_, p. 236; Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 268.]

[137: A. Lang, _Custom and Myth_, p. 132; Tylor, _Primitive Culture_ i.

[138: Compare Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, pp. 237, 440.
Danish ed. suppl. p. 44. Liebrecht in _Germania_, vol. 18 (1873), p.

[139: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 142.]

[140: This myth is so strikingly like the Greenland legend that there
can scarcely be a doubt of their having sprung from the same source.
Among the Khasias to love your mother-in-law is the direst sin, while
among the Greenlanders it is worst to love your sister.]

[141: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, i. 354. See also A. Lang, _Myth
Ritual, and Religion_, i. p. 128.]

[142: P. Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, pp. 150, 206.]

[143: Holm, _Geografisk Tidsskrift_ (Copenhagen, 1891), xi. 16. The
idea that rain is due to the overflow of a lake in the over-world may
possibly be traceable to more southern regions, where agriculture and
artificial irrigation are practised, and where accordingly the mountain
lakes have been dammed up. In the Greenland myth there is also mention
of the lake being closed by a dam. (Compare Egede and Cranz.)]

[144: See Schwartz, _Die poetischen Naturanschauungen_, i. pp. 138,
259; ii. p. 198; Schmidt, _Das Volksleben der Neugriechen_, i. p. 31;
_Belgisch. Museum_, v. p. 215; Ign. Goldziher, _Der Mythos bei den
Hebräern_, p. 88.]

[145: This idea recurs in several parts of the world. Compare Christ's
forty days' solitude in the wilderness.]

[146: So in original (_Trans._).]

[147: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 131.]

[148: Angekoks, too, might be of either sex, but women seem always to
have been in the minority among them.]

[149: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 135; Rink, _Tales
and Traditions of the Eskimo_, pp. 53, 151, 201, 461; N. Egede, _Tredie
Continuation af Relationerne_, pp. 43, 48; P. Egede, _Efterretninger om
Grönland_, p. 18, &c.]

[150: Compare Carl Andersen, _Islandske Folkesagn og Eventyr_, 2nd
edit. (1877) pp. 144-149. It is interesting to compare these Icelandic
tales with the East Greenland legend related by Holm (_Meddelelser om
Grönland_, part 10, p. 303), which is very similar in matter, though
of course adapted to the conditions of life in Greenland. Analogous
tales are also to be found in Norway, according to Moltke Moe, who has
directed my attention to this remarkable similarity.]

[151: Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimos_, p. 42.]

[152: One of the characteristics of the ilisitsoks, as well as of the
angekoks, is that they breathe fire. In the mediæval legends, and even
in more recent European folk-lore, this faculty was attributed to the
Devil, and was often extended to those who had sold themselves to him.
The Greenland fire-breathing is probably connected with this mediæval
superstition. The ilisitsoks, moreover, when seen by the angekoks
during their exorcisms, are observed to be black from the hands up
to the elbows--a trait which may also have its origin in the popular
European conception of the Devil and his host as black in colour.]

[153: Hans Egede, _Grönlands Perlustration_, p. 116.]

[154: Compare Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 118.]

[155: Holm, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part. 10, p. 119.]

[156: _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p. 51; Danish ed. suppl. p.

[157: As regards the greater part of these myths, the theory that they
were invented independently in different parts of the world seems quite
inadmissible; the coincidences are too numerous and too characteristic.
Examples may be cited, indeed, of the same invention having been made
independently by different races remotely situated from each other;
but they are remarkably rare. On the other hand, it is surprising how
certain tools, cultivated plants, and arts or accomplishments have
been handed on from people to people over immense tracts of the earth.
(Compare Peschel, _Abhandlungen zur Erd-und Völkerkunde_, 1877, i. p.

[158: Glahn, _Nye Samling af det kongelige norske Videnskabelige
Selskabs Skrifter_, i. 1784, p. 271. Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the
Eskimo_, pp. 45, 391, 439; Kleinschmidt, _Den grönlandske Ordbog_, p.

[159: See Moltke Moe's Introduction to Qvigstad and Sandberg: _Lappiske
Eventyr og Folkesagn_, p. vii; _Nyrop, Mindre Afhandlinger udgivne
af det philologisk-historiske Samfund_, Copenhagen, 1887, p. 193;
Liebrecht, _Zur Volkskunde_, p. 319.]

[160: I must not omit to note, however, that similar conceptions are
to be found in different parts of the world. In Tahiti, Oromatus, the
mightiest of spirits, is said to have come into existence in this
way, and among the Polynesians generally the souls of children are
regarded as being especially dangerous. (Compare F. Liebrecht, in _The
Academy_, iii. 1872, p. 321.) One of my reasons for thinking that the
Greenlanders may have borrowed their angiak from the Scandinavians
is that, so far as I can ascertain, other Eskimo tribes have no such
belief--at least it cannot be common among them. There is no mention of
the angiak even among the legends collected by Holm on the east coast.
On the other hand, there are several apparently more primitive myths of
ordinary children who are turned into monsters. (Compare _Meddelelser
om Grönland_, part 10, p. 287; Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the
Eskimo_, p. 258; Danish ed. suppl. p. 125.) One of these, who on the
east coast is the child of the moon by a human mother (_Meddelelser om
Grönland_, part 10, p. 281), has on the west coast become an angiak.
This is, no doubt, a late recasting of the legend--a theory which is
borne out by the fact that variants occur on the west coast in which
the angiak is an ordinary child.]

[161: Communicated by Moltke Moe.]

[162: Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p. 126; Holm,
_Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 10, p. 276.]

[163: Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, Danish ed. suppl. p.

[164: P. Egede, _Continuation af Relationerne_, p. 19; _Efterretninger
om Grönland_, p. 55; Rink, _Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, p.
145; _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 11, p. 20, Suppl. p. 117.]

[165: Castrén, _Ethnologiske Foreläsningar_, Helsingfors, 1857, p. 182.]

[166: _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 11, Suppl. p. 117.]

[167: C. Andersen, _Islandske Folkesagn_, 1877, p. 205.]

[168: The Iroquois, however, have a legend of seven boys who were
transformed into birds and flew away from their parents. They have also
a tale of a young man who goes out fishing and comes upon some boys
who have put off their wings and are swimming. They give him a pair
of wings which enable him to fly away with them; but they afterwards
take his wings away from him and leave him helpless. Compare Rink,
_Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 11, p. 21.]

[169: It has hitherto been supposed that there are no traces of such
intercourse except in the Eskimo legends (mentioned in Chapter I.), of
their encounters with the old Scandinavians, and in the three following
words: _nîsa_ for nise (porpoise), _kuánek_ for kvanne (angelica)
and _kalâlek_ (meaning Greenlander). The derivation of _nîsa_ (old
Norse nisa) and _kuánek_ seems probable enough, though some doubt is
thrown on the latter by the fact that in Labrador the word is applied
to an eatable seaweed. _Kalâlek_ was supposed to be the same as the
Norwegian skrælling--the name given by our forefathers to the Eskimos,
which in an Eskimo's mouth would sound something like kalalek. It is
rather surprising, however, to find the same word among the Eskimos of
Alaska in the form of _katlalik_ or _kallaaluch_, meaning an angekok
or chieftain (Rink, _Meddelelser om Grönland_, part 11, Suppl. p. 94;
_Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo_, Danish ed. suppl. p. 200). It is
possible, however, that the word may have been imported into Alaska
from Greenland in modern times. Another thing which, as it seems to
me, may possibly be a relic of the old Scandinavians, is the cross-bow
which Holm found upon the east coast, and which was formerly in use
on the west coast also. So far as I know, it is not found among the



All this superstition of which I have been speaking of course seems
to us mere meaningless confusion, the extirpation of which must be an
unmixed advantage. But if we place ourselves at their point of view,
is it so much more meaningless for them than our Christian dogmas,
which lead them into a world entirely foreign to them? In order to
understand these dogmas, they had first to transpose them into their
own key of thought, or, in other words, they had to make them more or
less heathen before they could really grasp them at all. It is useless
to imagine that a people can suddenly, at a word of command, begin to
think in an entirely new manner. This transmutation has cost them much
labour, and though they are still heathen at bottom and believe in
their old legends, yet the new doctrine has introduced confusion into
their ideas. This alone might tempt one to think that it would have
been better to have let them preserve their own faith undisturbed. It
gave them, with their comparatively meagre capacity for ideas, the
easiest explanation of their surroundings; it peopled nature with the
supernatural powers which they needed for consolation when reality
became too hard and complex for them. And how characteristic these
myths are of the Eskimos--for example, the conception of the region
beyond the grave! Here there is neither silver nor gold, neither
gorgeous raiment nor shining palaces, as in our stories; earthly riches
have no value for the Eskimo. Nor are there lovely women, flowery
gardens, and so forth. No; at most there is a mud hut, a little larger
than his own, and in it sit the happy spirits eating rotten seals'
heads, which lie in inexhaustible heaps under the benches; and around
it there are splendid hunting-grounds, with quantities of game and
much sunshine. In his eyes our Paradise of white-robed angels, where
the blessed sit around upon chairs, seems a tedious and colourless
existence which he does not understand, and which excites no longing
in him. We can scarcely wonder at an angekok, who said to Niels Egede
that he far preferred the tornarssuk's or 'Devil's house,' where he
had often been; 'For in heaven there is no food to be had, but in hell
there are seals and fishes in plenty.'

One would expect that the missionaries' victory[170] over heathendom
would be a very easy one among so peaceful and good-humoured a people
as the Greenlanders; but this can scarcely be said to have been the
case. The natives had many objections to allege against the Christian
assertions. For example, they could not understand that the sin which
Adam and Eve committed 'could be so great and involve such melancholy
consequences' as that the whole human race should be condemned on
account of it. 'Since God knew all things, why did he permit the first
man and woman to sin?' The idea of free-will seems to them, frankly
speaking, mere rubbish, and, but for free-will, Adam's offspring would
never have been corrupted, and the Son of God need not have suffered.

One girl was not at all contented with the answer she received to
these objections. 'She wanted to have them so answered that she could
inwardly assent and feel that the answer was true, and that she
could silence those who had so much to say against this part of our
doctrine.' Similarly, they were of opinion that Adam and Eve must have
been very foolish to think of chattering with a serpent, and 'that
they must have been very fond of fruit since they would rather die and
suffer pain than forego a few big berries.' Others thought that it was
just like the kavdlunaks (Europeans); for 'these greedy people never
have enough; they have, and they want to have, more than they require.'
One angekok thought it was very unlucky that Christ, the great angekok,
who could even bring the dead to life, was not born among the Eskimos;
they would have loved him, and obeyed him, and not done like the
foolish kavdlunaks. 'What madmen! to kill the man who could bring the
dead to life!' When they saw that Christian Europeans quarrelled and
fought, they had little faith in the Christian doctrines, and said:
'Perhaps, if we knew as much as they, we, too, would become inhuman.'
And they thought that it was impossible to find well-behaved Europeans,
'unless they had been several years in Greenland and had there learnt

Some asked, since Christianity was so essential, why God had not
instructed them in it sooner, for then their forefathers, too, could
have gone to heaven. When Paul Egede answered that perhaps God had seen
that they would not accept the Word, but rather despise it, and thereby
become more guilty, an old man said that he had known many excellent
people, and had himself had a pious father; and even if some of them
might have despised the Word, 'still there were the women and children,
who are all credulous.' When Paul Egede explained to them that worldly
goods are 'trumpery,' altogether unworthy to go to heaven, someone
answered: 'I did not know that these things were not worth thinking
about; if it is so nice there, why are we so unwilling to leave the

When the Scriptures came to be translated, considerable objections
presented themselves. Many even of the Christian Greenlanders thought
that it would not be advisable for their unbelieving countrymen to be
told, for example, of 'Jacob's slyness and treachery towards his father
and brother, of the patriarchs' polygamy, and especially of Simeon's
and Levi's matchless wickedness.' 'The story of Lot,' too, they thought
unfortunate. 'A selection of what was most important would be best for
this people.'[171]

The sacrament of the altar, of course, seemed in their eyes the most
arrant witchcraft, and baptism likewise. One time, says Niels Egede,
when they had seen some Europeans going through this ceremony, 'an
angekok asked me why I was always denouncing those who practised
witchcraft, when here was one of our own priests performing sorceries
over us?' To which Egede found no better answer than that it was 'in
accordance with Christ's command;' he did not think 'the dog had any
right to know more.' Once, when the missionaries told a man 'that he
should especially thank God who had given him many children,' he became
very angry and answered, 'It is a great lie to say that God has given
me children, for I made them myself. "Is it not so?" he said, turning
to his wife.'

Their criticism of the doctrine and practice of the missionaries was
sometimes so mordant that the intelligent and honest merchant Dalager
has to admit that 'even the stupidest natives from far beyond the
colony have often confronted me with such objections on these points as
have made me groan, while the perspiration stood on my brow.'

Divine service seems at first to have bored them very much; they
preferred to hear about Europe, and would ask many naïve questions:
'Whether the King was very big? Was he strong? Was he a great angekok?
And had he caught many whales?' Paul Egede records that when they
thought his father's sermons too long 'they went up to him and asked
him if he was not soon going to stop. Then he had to measure off upon
his arm how much of his discourse was left, whereupon they went back to
their places and sat moving their hands down their arms every moment.
When the preacher paused at the end of a paragraph, they made haste to
move the hand right out to the finger-tips; but when he began again
they cried "Ama" (that is, "Still more") and moved the hand back again
half way up the arm. The singing was in my department, and when I
began a new psalm, or sang for too long, they would often hold a wet
seal-skin mitten over my mouth.'

The missionaries' treatment of the natives was not always of the
gentlest. I may cite a couple of examples chosen at random from their
own statements: 'I gave him to understand,' says Niels Egede, 'that
if he would not let himself be persuaded by fair means, but despised
the Word of God, he should receive the same treatment from me as other
angekoks and liars had received (namely a thrashing).' 'When I had
tried all I could by means of persuasion and exhortation, without
avail, I had recourse to my usual method, flogged him soundly and
turned him out of the house.'[172] A girl was beaten by her priest,
'because she could not believe that God was so cruel as he represented
Him to be; he had said that all her forefathers were with Tornarssuk,
and were to be tortured to all eternity, because they did not know
God.' She tried to defend them by suggesting that they knew no better,
whereupon he lost his temper; and when at last she said 'that it was
horrible for her to learn that God was so terribly angry with those
who sinned that he could never forgive them, as even wicked men will
sometimes do,' he gave her a beating.[173] It cannot but jar upon us
to hear of such conduct on the part of our countrymen and Christian
missionaries towards so peaceable a people; and it would scarcely make
a better impression upon the natives themselves. We can only admire
the good humour which prevented them from driving the missionaries out
of their houses. In excuse for the missionaries, we must remember that
they were born in Europe, and in a much ruder age than our own.

The conversion of the natives at first went but slowly and with
difficulty; but they gradually discovered that the missionaries were
in reality great angekoks, and that their ceremonies, such as baptism,
their doctrines and formulas, the Christian books, and so forth, were
magical appliances, potent for curing disease, protecting against want,
and ensuring good fishery and other advantages; not to mention that
conversion and a little appearance of contrition often bore immediate
fruits in the shape of small rewards from the eager missionaries.
Accordingly they said of them: 'They are good people, they gave us
food when we believed and looked sorrowful.' A father whose son was
dangerously ill, after having had recourse to various angekoks, took
counsel with an old and experienced one 'as to whether he should not
seek help from the priest at the Colony;' whereupon the old man calmly
answered: 'You may do as you please; for I am of opinion that the Word
of God and the words of skilful angekoks are equally powerful.' This
gradually became the general opinion; and as it fortunately chanced
in several cases that the Word of God seemed more effectual than that
of the angekoks, it was natural that some should let themselves be
baptised. The example once given, there were plenty to follow it,
especially when distinguished hunters led the way.

But if the Greenlanders nominally went over to Christianity, they held,
and still hold in a greater or less degree, to their old faith as well.
It was at first very difficult to convince them of the falsity of the
grotesque inventions of their angekoks. When they were reproached with
their credulity they answered simply 'that they were not in the habit
of lying and therefore believed all that people said to them.'

That they were not absolutely simple-minded, however, in their
acceptance of all that the Europeans told them, seems clear from this,
amongst other things, that when some Greenlanders could not get Niels
Egede to swallow their assertion that 'they had killed a bear on Disco
which was so big that it had ice on its back that never melted,' they
said: 'We have believed what you tell us, but you will not believe what
we tell you.'

To show what a little way below the surface Christianity has gone,
and how some of them, at any rate, still understand baptism, I may
mention that some years ago in North Greenland a catechist (a man who
has received a theological education, and supplies the place of the
clergyman in his absence) baptised not only his parishioners, but
also his puppies in the name of the Father, the Son, &c. His wife was
childless, and he took this means, as he thought, of setting matters
right; and, sure enough, next year she bore a child.

The part of their old heathenism which now most haunts their fancy is,
so far as my experience goes, the belief in the kivitut or mountain-men
(see above, p. 266). Of these they stand in great dread, and frequently
think they see them. While we were at Godthaab several of them were
seen. Whenever anything is stolen from one of their store-rooms it is
of course the kivitut who have done it, and if a kaiak-man disappears,
and his body is not found, he is at once supposed to have taken to
the mountains, and become a kivitok. This belief seems of late years
to have gained ground greatly. A catechist, in the 'Atuagagdliutit,'
takes his countrymen to task on the subject, and exclaims: 'No, let us
believe of those who perish on the treacherous sea that they rest their
limbs upon the great burying-ground at the bottom of the ocean, and
that their souls live in the joys of eternity.'

I had once an unpleasant proof of the ingrained nature of this
superstitious terror. At Godthaab, late one evening, I went over to
one of the Greenlanders' houses with a letter which was to be sent
off early next morning with some kaiak-men from another place. When I
entered, the whole house was in deep slumber; men and women side by
side on the chief sleeping-bench like herrings on a thwart. Not to
disturb them more than necessary, I wanted to awaken the only unmarried
son of the house, Jacob, who lay alone on the window-bench. He and I
were excellent friends, and saw each other daily. I shook him, and
shouted 'Jacob' into his ear. He slept as heavily as ever, and I had
to shake him long and violently before he at last opened his eyes a
little and grunted. But when he saw me bending over him, his eyes grew
glassy with terror, and he sat up, uttered a frightful shriek, and
kicked and struck out at me. He went on shrieking more and more wildly,
and fought his way backwards on the bench. All of those upon the main
bench now sat up too and stared in blank affright at me, while poor I
stood there in speechless astonishment at the hubbub I had created. At
last I recovered my powers of speech, approached Jacob, held out my
hands towards him, and spoke some reassuring words. But that only made
him worse than ever. When I saw that words were of no avail, I stopped
speaking, and began to laugh, whereupon the yells ceased as suddenly as
they had begun, and Jacob became as red in the face as he had formerly
been white, and muttered something in a shamefaced way about having
dreamt of a kivitok that wanted to carry him off to the mountains. I
gave him my letter, and withdrew as quickly as I could. The next day
it was known over all the Colony that I had been a kivitok; for the
neighbours had heard the yells.


[170: Missionary activity in Greenland, then a possession of the
Norwegian crown, was commenced in 1721 by Hans Egede, who to that
end set on foot a combined commercial and missionary company in
Bergen. This mission was afterwards supported by the Danish-Norwegian
Government, and after the separation of 1814, by which Denmark retained
the Norwegian possessions of the Faroe Isles, Iceland, and Greenland,
by the Danish Government alone. Ten years after Egede's arrival in the
country, Count Zinsendorf, who had heard of his mission, despatched
three Moravian brethren to Greenland. These also formed a little
congregation, and the German or Hernhutt mission has likewise obtained
a footing. It has now a few stations in the Godthaab district, and one
or two in the extreme south of the country. The peculiarity of these
Hernhutt communities, so far as I could gather, is that in them the
natives have sunk to an even greater depth of misery than elsewhere.]

[171: Compare Paul Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, pp. 117, 162.]

[172: Niels Egede, _Tredie Continuation af Relationerne_, pp. 32, 45.]

[173: Paul Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 221.]



The relation of the Europeans to the Greenlanders is in many respects
unique, for the Eskimos have been treated more tenderly than any
other primitive people which has been subjected to our experiments in
civilisation. The Danish Government certainly deserves the highest
respect for its action in this matter, and it were much to be desired
that other States would follow the example here given them. Care for
the true welfare of the natives has been largely operative in their
policy, and there is scarcely another instance of a people of hunters
which has come into such close contact with European civilisation and
proselytism, and has held its own so well for so long a time.

We do not often meet with such enthusiasm as that which impelled our
countryman Hans Egede and the first missionaries to seek out this at
that time almost unknown land, and led them to endure so many hardships
there. They did it with the best of motives, and thought that they
were thereby advancing both the spiritual and temporal welfare of the
Eskimo. If we compare this mission and the treatment of Greenland as
a whole with the conduct of Europeans under similar circumstances in
other parts of the world, we cannot but recognise the working of an
unusually humane spirit; and as we examine the whole history of the
government of Greenland down to our own day, we find ever new and
gratifying examples of this spirit.

With all the good will in the world, however, civilised men cannot
resist the tendency to look down upon a primitive people as essentially
their inferiors. Even in the history of Greenland we find many proofs
of this. We learn from his own writings that the devoted Hans Egede
himself cherished no small contempt for the natives whom he held it his
mission to christianise. He even relates how he often beat them, and
had them flogged, or given the rope's end. On one occasion, learning
from a small boy that an angekok, named Elik, had said that it would
be an easy matter to root out the foreigners who had come to their
country, he set off with seven armed men, fell upon the angekok, took
him prisoner, and brought him to the colony. There 'he received some
blows with the rope's end, and was put in irons.' In the evening the
angekok's sons came to inquire about their father, and 'were permitted,
at their own request, to pitch their tents in the colony.' After a
few days the prisoner was set at liberty, and they went away. One
might suppose that after such treatment the Greenlanders would bear
ill-will to the foreigners; but their good-humour and hospitality
are incomparable. As luck would have it, the following winter, Hans
Egede's son, Paul, who had taken part in this high-handed proceeding,
was driven by stress of weather to a place where he was surprised
to find the angekok Elik. It was not particularly pleasant, as he
himself confesses; but to his astonishment he was invited to take up
his quarters with the angekok, who spread a reindeer-skin for him upon
his own sleeping-bench. There Paul Egede had to remain for three days,
and was entertained with the best of everything.[174] This is indeed
'To return good for evil' and 'To do good to them that hate you'; but
Egede attributed it to the Greenlanders' willingness 'to put up with
punishment when they feel they have deserved it.'

Hans Egede had also another habit, which does not show the greatest
possible consideration towards the natives; he would now and then take
children to his house, against their parents' wishes, and keep them
there to learn the language from them. In this connection they made a
song about him: 'There has come a strange man over the great sea from
the West, who steals boys, and gives them thick soup with skin upon it
(that is, porridge) to eat, and dried earth from his own land (that is,
ship's biscuits).' When Paul Egede on one occasion offered a mother a
present if she would let her son remain some time longer with him, she
answered that children were not articles of commerce.

We can still find evidences in Greenland of how difficult it is for
us to get rid of our ingrained contempt for all so-called aborigines.
The motive of the Europeans for supporting colonies in the country is
that they may be a blessing to it; it is, of course, exclusively for
the sake of the mission and of the natives that trade is carried on.
Nevertheless, the relation between the natives and the foreigners has
come to rest on an entirely wrong basis. The foreigners are regarded
both by themselves and by the Greenlanders as a higher race and the
lords of the country, to whom all obedience is due; whereas, if they
were really there for the sake of the natives, they ought rather to be
their self-sacrificing servants. Half voluntarily, half involuntarily,
the Europeans have themselves emphasised this relation, and have all
along treated the natives as a subject race. We came to the country
to preach Christianity; but how does this accord with our Christian
doctrine of freedom and equality, and especially with the example of
Christ himself?

As an instance of the extent to which this abuse has been carried I
may mention that at several settlements in South Greenland the natives
are forbidden to keep dogs, because the handful of European families
who live there want to keep goats. This prohibition has, it is true,
in many cases been determined upon in the local council (see p. 321);
but it has been proposed by the Europeans, and as the Greenlanders,
as I have said, always follow their lead, it was not difficult to get
them to consent to it, against their own real wishes. I have heard them
regretting bitterly that they should have been so foolish as to agree
to such a prohibition. The most glaring injustice, however, is to be
seen in the villages where the German missionaries reside, and where,
for no other reason but that his own goats may live in peace, the
reverend gentleman issues an ukase forbidding his flock to keep dogs.

I have spoken of this to many otherwise intelligent and kind-hearted
residents in Greenland, but found them all of the opinion that since
the dogs chased and worried the goats, it followed as a matter of
course that they must be prohibited. On my objecting that the Europeans
were few and the Greenlanders many, so that it was more reasonable that
the latter should forbid the keeping of goats, they simply laughed in
my face. It did not seem to occur to them that they themselves are the
interlopers, and that the Eskimos have kept dogs from time immemorial.
Nor did they see anything particularly wrong in the fact that the
goats often tore the turf from the roof and walls of the Greenlanders'
houses, injured their fish when it was hung up to dry, and so forth.

Another result of the different manner in which the rights of the
Europeans and of the natives are regarded is to be found in the
regulations concerning the sale of brandy. While it is illegal, as
stated in Chapter V., to sell brandy to the natives of the country,
the European residents are free to have as much of it as they please.
This is unfortunate: for it can scarcely fail to annoy the natives to
have it perpetually brought home to them that they are not held good
enough to be entrusted with that which the meanest European may have at
will. But this ordinance becomes still more hurtful from the fact that
the Greenlanders who enter into the service of Europeans are allowed
brandy every day, while others can obtain it if they sell something to
the Europeans. That this may easily lead to the gravest abuses is clear
enough, and we may be sure that it has actually done so. I pass over
minor inconsistencies, such as the fact that certain individual natives
of mixed descent and of social importance are allowed to order from
Europe a stated quantity of brandy every year.

It was of course a clear necessity to forbid the sale of brandy in
Greenland, on pain of greatly accelerating the extermination of the
native race. But the only right and consistent thing to do would have
been to make the prohibition apply to natives and Europeans alike. Many
maintain, I am aware, that this would have been to inflict an unjust
hardship upon the Europeans, who have all their lives been accustomed
to this stimulant; and I know that this would have been specially the
case with regard to people from Denmark, where brandy is drunk at
almost every meal, even among the working classes, and where it is
thus regarded as well-nigh a necessity of life. But notwithstanding
this, I cannot but hold to my opinion that a general prohibition would
have been the only right and advantageous thing for both parties. Such
a demand cannot be called unjust; for if the prohibition is known
beforehand, it is always open to any European to refrain from going
to Greenland, and I have no fear but that, in any event, there would
always be plenty of Europeans in the country.

But my demands would go still further. I hold that not only should the
sale of brandy be prohibited, but also the sale of coffee, tobacco,
and the other indubitably noxious, or at any rate valueless, products
which we have introduced among the natives. It is certain that they
had no desire for them; on the contrary, it took us a long time to
make them acquire the taste for them. The East Greenlanders to this
day do not like coffee. On the west coast, as before stated, we have
been unhappily successful in begetting this taste, and coffee has
contributed not a little to the decline of the race. But if the sale
of coffee to the natives were forbidden, its importation for the use
of Europeans should, of course, be forbidden as well. Many will call
this fanaticism, but I cannot help it. My opinion is that if it be
indeed for the sake of the natives that we have come to their country
and undertaken to live there and teach them, we must prove this by our
conduct, we must fulfil consistently the duties imposed upon us by such
a responsible and difficult mission, and we must submit to the small
deprivations it may involve. Such a work of self-sacrifice cannot be
carried on without deprivations. The Apostles of the Lord have always
regarded suffering as an essential part of their calling, and if we
cannot endure it we are neither fitted for, nor worthy of, such a
task, and ought to refrain from it altogether. If, on the other hand,
we have come to Greenland not for the natives' sake but for our own,
that is quite a different matter; but in that case let us call things
by their right names, and not use big words such as civilisation and

In order to remedy the state of lawlessness which arose from the
disuse of the old customs through the influence of the missionaries,
and from the fact that the meanest European felt himself entitled to
look down upon and domineer over the natives, the enthusiastic energy
of Dr. Kink has succeeded in introducing the so-called local councils
(_forstanderskaber_), which consist partly of native members, chosen
by the different villages or small districts. The intention was that
in these councils all the internal affairs of the community should
be regulated, the poor-rate should be determined, and, in general,
law and order should be maintained. As the Greenlanders, however,
did not themselves understand these matters, the pastor in every
district was to act as chairman of the council, and the other European
residents were to be members of it, and to advise and guide the native
councillors. It now appears that the Europeans have gradually got
into their hands the whole real authority, and that the others simply
obey their wishes. It was a fine idea, and worthy of all recognition,
that the natives should acquire the habit of self-government, and
Dr. Rink's innovation marks a turning-point for the better in the
history of the Greenlander. It suffers, however, from the disadvantage
inseparable from all measures which the Europeans can devise for the
benefit of the natives--to wit, that it has not arisen from among the
people themselves who are to profit by it. The introduction of new
social customs is nowhere to be effected in a moment; changes cannot
be brought about by a single act of will, but must be the result of a
long process of development in the people themselves. An institution
imposed from without by foreigners must at least need a very long time
to take root in the national life. Many Greenlanders now regard it as
a distinction to serve as a councillor; but I have also known others,
and these the most capable among them, who do not appreciate the
honour, holding it of more importance to look to their hunting and to
the support of their families than to travel long distances in order
to attend meetings where, after all, with their exaggerated deference
towards the Europeans, they can do nothing but follow their lead and
agree to what measures they propose.

From what I have just said, and from many other passages in this book,
the reader may perhaps be inclined to conclude that the Greenlanders
are a people of no natural independence, and born for subjection.
This, however, is quite a mistake. On the contrary, the Greenlander's
love of freedom and independence has always been very marked. When the
Europeans first came to the country, the natives held themselves at
least their equals, and the idea of standing in a menial or subordinate
position to another man, as they saw the Europeans do among themselves,
seemed to them strange and degrading. It is true that the father of a
family exercises a certain authority in his own household, and perhaps
over all the families who live in the same house; but this authority is
so mild and unobtrusive that it is scarcely felt. They have servants,
too, in so far that women who have no parents or other relatives to
provide for them are often received into the house of a hunter, to
assist the mother, daughters, and daughters-in-law in the household
work; but they stand on a footing of equality with them, and are thus
servants in name rather than in reality. Male servants are entirely
unknown. Consequently they could with difficulty reconcile themselves
to the idea of going into service; and they still dislike above
everything to be ordered about in a domineering fashion, even if their
extreme peaceableness of disposition prevents them from protesting

This love of freedom rendered it difficult at first for the Europeans
to procure native servants. Gradually, however, European influence has
demoralised the natives in this respect as well, so that even hunters
now enter the service of the Company and sometimes feel a certain pride
in so doing; for, among other things, they thus, as Danish 'officials,'
are entitled to their snapsemik (dram) every morning.

Danish ladies can still bear witness to the fact that it is not so easy
to avoid giving offence to the pride of their Greenland maid-servants.
They are active and agreeable so long as they are well treated;
but if a hard word is addressed to them, they will often disappear
without ceremony and not come back again. If then the mistress is not
prepared to eat the leek and beg pardon, she must look out for another

If the Greenlander sometimes impresses one as being of a servile
disposition, I think the effect is due to his astounding patience and
power of taking everything, even to the most open injustice, with
imperturbable calmness. It must be this patience which Egede describes
as 'the Greenlanders' inborn stupidity and cold-bloodedness, their lazy
and brutish upbringing,' and so forth. I believe it is the hardship of
their life that has taught them this apparently phlegmatic calmness.
The very uncertainty of their hunting, for instance, often puts their
patience to the severest tests; as, for example, when they strike a
run of ill luck, and come home day after day with no booty to their
hungry families. Egede least of all had any right to complain of this
characteristic; since but for it, and their extreme peaceableness of
disposition, they would certainly not have put up so amiably with
the often violent proceedings of the first Europeans. I had many an
opportunity of admiring their stoical patience--when, for example,
I would see them in the morning standing by the hour in the passage
of the Colonial Manager's house, or waiting in the snow outside his
door, to speak to him or his assistant, who happened to be otherwise
engaged. They had probably some little business to transact with them
before starting for their homes, often many miles from the colony, and
it might be of the greatest importance to them to get away as soon as
possible in order to reach their destination betimes. If the weather
happened to look threatening, every minute would be more than precious;
but there they would stand waiting, as immovable as ever, and to all
appearance as indifferent. If I asked them if they were going to make
a start, they only answered, 'I don't know,' 'Perhaps, if the weather
doesn't get worse,' or something to that effect; but I never once heard
the smallest murmur of impatience.

The following occurrence, for which my informant vouches, affords an
excellent illustration of this side of their character. An inspector at
Godthaab once sent a woman-boat with its crew into the Ameralik fiord
to mow grass for his goats. They remained a long time away, and no one
could understand what had become of them. At last they returned; and
when the inspector asked why they had been so long, they answered that
when they got to the place the grass was too short, so that they had to
settle down and wait until it grew.

With just the same patience do the Greenlanders await the ripening of
their own ruin. They are a patient people.


[174: P. Egede, _Efterretninger om Grönland_, p. 21; compare also p.



The purpose of our mission and of our work of civilisation in Greenland
was, in the first place, to win honour for ourselves before God and
man, and secure our own salvation in the other world; and, in the
second place, to benefit the natives. But what have we done?

Let us first look at the purely material side. It might seem at first
sight as if we ought to have been able to bring to a people like this,
living practically in the Stone Age, many things that would aid them in
their hard fight for existence. As a matter of fact, this has been by
no means the case. The things that were of most importance for them,
their weapons and their hunting implements, were in no way susceptible
of improvement at our hands. It is true that we brought them iron,
which is useful for harpoon-points and knives; but the Greenlanders
were not entirely ignorant of it before, and, can, besides, get on
quite well without it. They fitted their harpoons with points of hard
ivory or stone, they made their knives of the same material, and
caught, in those days, a great many more seals than they do now.

But have not our firearms been of great advantage to them? Quite
the reverse. The rifle, for example, has enabled them to perpetrate
terrible slaughter among the reindeer, merely for the sake of a small
and momentary gain. This went so far, that on the narrow strip of
naked, broken country which stretches along the west coast, no fewer
than 16,000 reindeer were killed every year, only the skin, as a rule,
being taken and sold to the Europeans, while the flesh was left behind
to rot. Of course, this presently led to the almost total extermination
of the animals, and hunting almost entirely ceased because, as it was
explained, 'the reindeer had left the coast.' In former days, when they
hunted with bow and arrow, they could kill all that they required, but
the slaughter was never so great as seriously to diminish the numbers
of the reindeer.


For marine hunting, too, the rifle has been the reverse of an
advantage. When there are many seals in the fiord, they are frightened
by the shots and set off to sea, whereas harpoon-hunting is carried
on in silence. Moreover, it is, of course, easier to kill seals with
the rifle than to harpoon them, and therefore the rifle has led to
a decline in skill with the harpoon. And yet the harpoon remains of
supreme importance; for while the rifle hunter must stop at home in
rough weather, the harpoon hunter can go out in all weathers and
support his family. Harpoon hunting, too, is the more rational method,
the wounded animal being almost always secured; whereas of seals
wounded by the rifle, at least as many escape and die to no purpose as
are secured and brought home.

Nor has the shot-gun been of real service. In many districts it has
tempted the inhabitants to devote themselves more to the easier
bird-shooting than to seal-hunting, which is and must be the pursuit
upon which depends the very existence of the Eskimo community; for the
seal provides flesh, blubber, both for food and fuel, and skins for
kaiaks, boats, tents, houses, clothes, boots, and so forth--nothing
can replace it. Another evil is that, by help of the shot-gun, the
Greenlanders are enabled to kill so many birds of certain species (for
example, eider-ducks) that their numbers are yearly decreasing; and
this will soon lead to great misery, for bird-hunting has now become
the chief means of support of many families. At Godthaab, for example,
the inhabitants live upon it during the greater part of the winter,
there being few capable seal-hunters. In earlier times, the Eskimo
killed birds with his throwing-dart. It, too, was an effective weapon,
and the birds he wounded he secured; when he now sends his small shot
scattering in among a flock of eider-duck, who can reckon how many are
destroyed without doing any good to anyone?

No, we certainly cannot flatter ourselves that we have perfected his
methods of hunting; we have only introduced disturbance into them, the
full extent of whose ruinous results we cannot even yet foresee.

But worst of all is the irreparable injury which all our European
commodities have done to him. We have, as I have shown, been so immoral
as to let him acquire a taste for coffee, tobacco, bread, European
stuffs and finery; and he has bartered away to us his indispensable
seal-skins and blubber, to procure all these things which give him
only a moment's doubtful enjoyment. In the meantime his woman-boat has
gone to ruin for want of skins, his tent likewise, and even his kaiak,
the essential condition of his existence, will often lie uncovered
on the beach. The lamps in his house have often to be extinguished
in the winter, because the autumn store of blubber has been sold to
the Company. He himself must go on winter days clad in European rags
instead of in the warm fur garments he used to have. He has grown
poorer and poorer, the delightful summer journeys have for the most
part had to be abandoned for want of woman-boats and tents, and all
the year round he has now to live in confined houses where contagious
diseases thrive and play worse havoc among the population than they
ever did before. To show how great the decadence has been in certain
districts, I may mention that at a place near Godthaab where a few
years ago there were eleven woman-boats,[175] there was now only one,
and that one belonged to the missionary.[176]

The statistics of population in Greenland during recent years may
at first sight seem encouraging. For example, the number of natives
on the west coast was, in 1855, 9,644, while in 1889 it was 10,177.
But we must not lull our conscience to sleep with these figures;
they are unfortunately deceptive, and the figures of the intervening
years will show that the population fluctuates very greatly. In 1881
it was no more than 9,701, and in 1883 only 9,744 (thus showing an
increase of only 100 since 1855). In 1885 it had risen to 9,914, and
in 1888 to 10,221; but then it fell again in 1889 to 10,177. I have
no later statistics. These figures, in which increase and decrease
alternate, show that the state of things cannot be healthy. It ought
not to be forgotten, too, that Hans Egede, a century and a half ago,
estimated the population of the west coast at 30,000. This is probably
a large over-estimate, but there is an enormous margin between 30,000
and 10,177. Assuredly this people is sailing with 'a corpse in the

Disease has of late years increased alarmingly. It is especially the
Greenlanders' scourge, consumption, or more properly tuberculosis,
which makes ever wider ravages. There can be few places in the world
where so large a proportion of the population is attacked by it. It is
not quite clear whether we imported this disease into Greenland, but
most probably we did; and at any rate, as I have several times pointed
out, our influence has in more ways than one tended strongly to promote
the spread of this and other contagious diseases.[178] Tuberculosis
is now so common that it is almost easier to number those who are
not attacked by it than those who are. It is remarkable, however,
what a power of resistance the natives show to this disease. They are
sometimes so far gone in it while young as to spit blood copiously,
and yet survive to a good age. I have even seen excellent hunters who
had consumption, and who would one day lie abed spitting blood, and a
few days later would be out at sea again. This power of resistance is
probably due in part to the amount of fat they consume, and especially
to the blubber which is admirably adapted to fortify them against
the disease. It is proved, too, that people at the Colonies, who
consequently live largely upon European fare, are most apt to succumb
to it. As a rule, however, it reduces their strength all round, so that
those attacked by it can do little for themselves; and it is clear that
this must hamper the activities of so small a community. An epidemic
disease such as smallpox, which we have of course also imported and
thereby greatly thinned the population, is much to be preferred; for it
kills its victims at once, and does not keep them lingering like this
slow, sneaking poison.[179]

We see, then, that the result of our influence upon the Greenlanders'
material circumstances has been a continuous decline from their former
well-being and prosperity towards an almost hopeless poverty and

Many will admit this, but object that it was really to raise the level
of their spiritual life and culture that we went to Greenland, and that
this cannot be done save at the expense of their temporal welfare.
Let us, then, look a little at this side of our activity. Many people
think that a highly developed and civilised community can be fashioned
at one stroke out of so unpromising material as a primitive race. This
is a great mistake; human nature is not to be transformed at the good
pleasure of individuals. It is, indeed, capable of modification; but
the development always occurs slowly, like development in nature as
a whole. We must not imagine, therefore, that we have the right, as
we have done in Greenland and in other places, to swoop down upon a
primitive race with our civilisation and impose it upon them. 'Try to
fit a hand with five fingers into a glove with four,' says Spencer,
'and the difficulty is strikingly like the difficulty of implanting a
complex or composite idea in a mind which has not a correspondingly
composite faculty.'

The only change which can be brought about with any sort of rapidity
among a primitive race is the change towards degeneration and ruin.
Such a change, in the spiritual sphere, sets in as soon as we attempt
to impose ethical conceptions upon a people at a stage of cultivation
different from our own. This is precisely what we have achieved among
the Eskimos. When, for example, in contempt of their own laws and
ordinances, we have sought to impose upon them our conceptions of
property, which are undeniably fitted for a more developed but less
neighbour-loving community than that of Greenland, how can we expect
to bring about anything but confusion and ruin? Their whole social
scheme was arranged to fit their primitive socialistic conceptions
of property, and as their habits of life are irreconcilable with the
new and foreign conception, degeneration is inevitable. And as with
the idea of property, so is it with all the other ideas which we have
sought to implant in them.

To take one more example: How baneful to them has been the introduction
of money! Formerly they had no means of saving up work or accumulating
riches; for the products of their labour did not last indefinitely, and
therefore they gave away their superfluity. But then they learned the
use of money; so that now, when they have more than they need for the
moment, the temptation to sell the overplus to the Europeans, instead
of giving it to their needy neighbours, is often too great for them;
for with the money they thus acquire they can supply themselves with
the much-coveted European commodities. Thus we Christians help more
and more to destroy instead of to develop their old self-sacrificing
love of their neighbours. And money does still more to undermine the
Greenland community. Their ideas of inheritance were formerly very
vague, for, as before-mentioned, the clothes and weapons of a dead
man were consigned with him to the grave. Now, on the other hand,
the introduction of money has enabled the survivors to sell the
effects of the deceased, and they are no longer ashamed to accept as
an inheritance what they can obtain in this way. This may seem an
advantage; but, here, too, their old habit of mind is upset. Greed and
covetousness--vices which they formerly abhorred above everything--have
taken possession of them. Their minds are warped and enthralled by

Let us, however, look at another aspect of the case. Our true aim, I
suppose, was, after all, to make them a cultivated people, and open
up to them a wider range of spiritual interests. But even if we could
actually attain this end, must it not necessarily be perilous in the
highest degree to give a people like the Eskimos new interests which
may divert them from the one thing needful--the duty of providing for
themselves and their families. It is vaunted as a brilliant achievement
that the majority of the natives of the west coast can now both read
and write. Unfortunately for them, they can; for these arts are not
to be learned for nothing, and they have indeed to pay dear for their
acquirements. It is self-evident that an Eskimo cannot possibly devote
his time to these branches of knowledge and nevertheless be as good a
hunter as when he had only one interest in life, and learned nothing
except hunting and the management of the kaiak.[180] We have direct
evidence of the fact that skill with the kaiak has declined, in the
many accidents which have happened of late years. Formerly, according
to Rink, no more than fifteen or twenty deaths in kaiak-hunting
occurred during the year; but in 1888 and 1889 there have been
thirty-one fatal kaiak accidents each year.

The chief aim of all education must surely be to make the rising
generation good and capable citizens of the community in which their
lot is cast. But in what way does an Eskimo become a capable citizen of
his little community? Since hunting and fishing are the sole means of
supporting existence assigned by Nature to this community, it follows
that he can become a capable citizen only by acquiring the greatest
possible skill in these pursuits. Of what profit, then, to the Eskimo,
is his ability to read and write? He assuredly does not learn hunting
by help of these arts. It is true that by means of the few books he
possesses he may gain information as to other and better countries,
unattainable conditions and alleviations, of which he before knew
nothing; and thus he becomes discontented with his own lot, which was
formerly the happiest he could conceive. And then, too, he can read the
Bible--but does he understand very much of it? And would it not do him
just as much good if the matter of it were related to him, as his old
legends used to be? There can be no doubt that the advantage is dearly
bought. We must bear well in mind that the Eskimo community lives upon
the very verge of possible human existence, and that a concentrated
exertion of all its energies is necessary to enable it to carry on the
fight with inhospitable nature. A little more ballast and it must sink.
This is what is already happening, and all the wisdom in the world is
of no avail.

The upshot, then, of European activity in Greenland has been
degeneration and decadence in every respect. And the only compensation
we have made to the natives is the introduction of Christianity. In so
far we have achieved a happy consummation, for, in name at least, all
the Greenlanders of the west coast are now Christians. But the question
seems to me to be forced upon us whether this Christianity, too, is not
exceedingly dearly bought, and whether the most ardent believer ought
not to have some doubts as to the blessings it has conferred upon this
people, when he sees how it has cost them their whole worldly welfare?

What part of Christianity is most to be valued, its dogmas or its moral
teaching? It seems to me that even the best Christian must admit that
it is the latter which is of enduring value; for history can teach him
how variable and uncertain the interpretation of the dogmas has always
been. Of what value, then, have these dogmas, which he understands so
imperfectly, been to the Eskimo? Can anyone seriously maintain that it
is a matter of essential moment to a people what dogmas it professes to
believe in? Must not the moral laws which it obeys always be the matter
of primary concern? And the Eskimo morality was, as we have seen, in
many respects at least as good as that of the Christian communities. So
that the result of all our teaching has been that, in this respect too,
the race has degenerated.

And lastly comes this question: Can an Eskimo who is nominally a
Christian, but who cannot support his family, is in ill-health and
is sinking into deeper and deeper misery, be held much more enviable
than a heathen who lives in 'spiritual darkness,' but can support his
family, is robust in body, and thoroughly contented with life? From
the Eskimo standpoint at any rate, the answer cannot be doubtful. If
he could see his true interest, the Eskimo would assuredly put up this
fervent petition: God save me from my friends, my enemies I can deal
with myself.


[175: That a man should have a woman-boat, which was formerly the
general rule, is now regarded as a conclusive proof of exceptional
wealth and capability; for he must of course catch many seals in order
to have enough skins for it. Compare _ante_ p. 85.]

[176: It must be mentioned, however, that accidental circumstances,
such as the removal of some good hunters to other places, had
contributed in some measure to this great falling off.]

[177: An allusion to the well-known nautical superstition.--TRANS.]

[178: For instance, by causing the natives to wear worse clothes, and
to live all the year round in their damp, insanitary houses, where
the germs of disease find the best possible soil to flourish in, by
introducing European articles of diet, and so forth.]

[179: It is strange that the Greenlanders have in great measure escaped
syphilis, which is usually one of the first gifts we confer upon those
primitive people whom we select as subjects for our experiments in
civilisation. It is found only in one place, Arsuk in South Greenland,
where they try to isolate it. It is only of recent years that it has
been introduced, but from what I hear it appears to have spread, and it
seems probable that it will continue to do so, and in course of time
affect the whole population.]

[180: Just as I am sending this to press there appears Gejerstam's
_Kulturkampen i Herjedalen_, in which the author argues, as I do, that
our school teaching has been the ruin of the Lapps, by weakening their
interest in the business of their lives.]



Let us cast a backward glance over the foregoing chapters, and mark
what lesson they teach us.

They show us a people, highly gifted by nature, which used to live
happily, and, in spite of its faults, stood at a high moral standpoint.
But our civilisation, our missions, and our commercial products have
reduced its material conditions, its morality, and its social order to
a state of such melancholy decline that the whole race seems doomed to

And yet, as we have seen, it has been more kindly and considerately
dealt with than any other people under similar conditions. Is not this
a serious warning for us? And if we look around among other primitive
peoples, do we not find that the result of their contact with European
civilisation and Christianity has everywhere been the same?

What has become of the Indians? What of the once so haughty Mexicans,
or the highly gifted Incas of Peru? Where are the aborigines of
Tasmania and the native races of Australia? Soon there will not be a
single one of them left to raise an accusing voice against the race
which has brought them to destruction. And Africa? Yes, it, too, is
to be Christianised; we have already begun to plunder it, and if the
negroes are not more tenacious of life than the other races, they will
doubtless go the same way when once Christianity comes upon them with
all its colours flying. Yet we are in no way deterred, and are ever
ready with high-sounding phrases about bringing to the poor savages the
blessings of Christianity and civilisation.

If we look at the missions of to-day, do we not almost everywhere learn
the same lesson? Take for instance a people like the Chinese, standing
on a high level of civilisation, and therefore, one would suppose,
all the better fitted to receive the new doctrine. One of 'the most
enlightened mandarins in China, himself a Christian, and educated at
European universities,' writes in the _North China Daily News_ an
article about the missionaries and their influence, in which, among
other things, he says: 'Is it not an open secret that it is only the
meanest, most helpless, most ignorant, necessitous, and disreputable
among the Chinese who have been and are what the missionaries
call "converted"?... I ask whether it cannot be proved that these
converts--men who have thrown away the faith of their childhood,
men who are forbidden by their teachers to show any sympathy, or
indeed anything but contempt, for the memories and traditions of our
ancient history--whether it cannot be proved that these men, as soon
as they have had to relinquish the hope of worldly gain, have shown
themselves to be worse than the worst of the common Chinese rabble? The
missionaries are ready enough to tell their hearers that the mandarins
are a parcel of idiots who believe in heavenly portents and all such
nonsense, while the very next day they will probably be telling the
same listeners that the sun and moon really stood still at the command
of the Hebrew general, Joshua.' As to the alleged beneficence of the
mission towards the natives in the way of relieving poverty and misery,
the writer asks: 'Can it be shown that this assistance affords even
the barest equivalent for the money which the Chinese Government has
to pay for the protection of the missionaries? I believe that the
interest alone of these immense sums would be sufficient to support a
much larger staff of skilful European doctors and nurses.... Let it be
shown what proportion of the millions which compassionate people in
Europe and America subscribe for the China missions really goes to the
relief of misery. Let it be shown how much goes to the support of the
missionaries and their wives and children, to the building of their
fine houses and sanatoriums, to postage and paper for their voluminous
rose-coloured reports, to the expenses of their congresses, and many
other things.... Is it not an open secret that the whole mission is
nothing but a charitable foundation for the benefit of unemployed
persons in Europe and America?' He further asks whether it is not
notorious that the missionaries, 'with their high opinion of their
own infallibility, are often intrusive and arrogant, and apt to mix
themselves up, with self-imposed authority, in matters that do not
concern them? If anyone doubts that the missionaries, taken as a whole,
are inclined to these vices, let him study and note the tone and spirit
of their own writings.'

This account of matters forcibly reminds us, in many particulars, of
what we have just seen in Greenland. The main difference is that when
the Chinese offer resistance to the missionaries who have come among
them uninvited, they are not simply cuffed and flogged. Recognising
the evils that threaten them, they 'beg the foreign powers, in the
interests of China as well as of America and Europe, to recall the
missionaries,' and having begged in vain, they then try to expel them
by force; whereupon these gentlemen, who have come to preach the Gospel
of Peace, call upon their Governments for protection, and are supported
by gunboats and troops who direct a destructive fire of shells and
grape-shot upon the natives, and secure for the pious missionaries a
sanguinary compensation for the harm done to their goods and gear, as
though it had never been written: 'Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor
brass in your purses' (Matthew x. 9).

In all this we recognise the race which, when China sought to protect
itself against the ruinous opium-poison, forced it, by means of a
bloody war, to open its harbours to the noxious traffic, in order that
Europeans might grow rich while the Chinese social fabric was being
undermined--from first to last a piece of such shameless scoundrelism
that no language has words adequate to describe it. The Eskimos,
unfortunately, do not seem to be so far wrong in thinking the Europeans
a corrupt and dishonourable race, which ought to come to Greenland in
order to learn morals.

But do not the missions elsewhere produce better results? Scarcely.
Statistics have recently been published as to crime in India, which cast
grave doubts upon the benefits resulting from missionary enterprise. As
to Africa I can find no statistics, but from all I can learn it appears
that there, too, the results of the missions are nothing to boast of.
African travellers are, I believe, unanimous in declaring that the
native converts to Christianity are by no means those whom they prefer
to take into their service or to rely upon in any way. And Norway, too,
contributes its hundreds of thousands[181] yearly to the missions both
in Africa and India! Have we so much superfluous wealth that we cannot
employ this money to better advantage at home? The desire to help these
poor savages whom we have never seen, and whose needs we do not know, is
no doubt a noble aspiration; but I wonder whether it would not be nobler
still to help the thousands of unfortunates whose necessities we have
daily before our eyes? Since we are bent on doing good works, why not
begin with those nearest to us? Then, when all at home were beyond the
need of assistance, it would be time enough to look abroad and inquire
whether there are not elsewhere others who need our help. 'Charity
begins at home.'

I am by no means arguing that all missionary enterprise must necessarily
be hurtful; but I am of opinion that in order to be really beneficent it
must fulfil conditions which, in our time, are almost beyond attainment.
In the first place, it demands such a number of noble, self-sacrificing,
and altogether remarkable men as we cannot hope to find all at one
time. One may come to the front, perhaps two or three, but there can
be no steady supply of them. And then we must remember that so many
evil influences follow in the wake of a mission, that the most ideal
missionaries can neither hold them aloof nor repair the damage they do
to the natives. So the result is always the same in the end.

Are we never, then, to open our eyes to what we are really doing?
Ought not all true friends of humanity, from pole to pole, to raise a
unanimous and crushing protest against all these abuses, against this
self-righteous and scandalous treatment of our fellow-creatures of
another faith and at another stage of civilisation?

The time will come when posterity will sternly condemn us, and these
abuses, which we now hold consistent with the fundamental principles
of Christianity, will be branded as profoundly immoral. Morality will
then have so far developed that men will no longer consider themselves
justified in swooping down upon the first primitive people that comes
in their way, in order to satisfy their own religious vanity and to
do 'good works' which shall minister to their self-complacency, but
which may or may not be beneficial to the race in question. Then only
competent and in every sense well-equipped people will take upon
themselves to study the life and civilisation of another race in order
to see whether it needs our assistance, and if so, in what way it can
best be accorded; and if the result of the inquiry is to show that we
can do them no good, they will be left alone. But before that time
comes, most of such races, even of those which now survive, will have
been swept away.

       *       *       *       *       *

If we ask, in conclusion, whether there is no hope of salvation for the
Eskimo community, everyone who knows the circumstances will be forced to
admit that the only expedient would be for the Europeans gradually to
withdraw from the country. Left to themselves, and freed from subversive
foreign influences, the Eskimos might possibly recover their old habits
of life, and the race might yet be saved. But this possibility must
doubtless be regarded as merely Utopian, at any rate for many a long day
to come. In the first place, it would be a severe blow to the vanity of
a European state to have to give up an experiment in civilisation which
it has once begun, and which it has recorded in large letters to the
credit side of its account in the other world; and in the second place
it would be useless for the Danish colonies to withdraw unless the ships
of other nations could be restrained from trading with the natives and
importing European commodities, especially brandy.


But apart from their intercourse with us, another danger threatens the
Eskimos: to wit, the alarming decrease in the number of seals. This is
not due to their own fisheries, in which the 'take' is infinitesimal
in comparison with the hundreds of thousands of newly born seal-whelps
which the European and American sealers slaughter every year, especially
upon the drift-ice off Newfoundland. Here it is again the white race
which injures the Eskimo; but even if he knew of it, he would not have
the power to set any limits to the abuse; his voice cannot make itself
heard. Yet seal-hunting is an industry with which our society could very
well dispense, while for the Eskimo the seal means life itself.

Thus we find this loveable people inevitably destined either to pass
utterly away or to decline into the shadow of what it once was. But the
Greenlander bears up cheerfully, and is perhaps happier than we are apt
to be; he does not realise his own ruin, and does not hate us, but gives
us a friendly welcome when we come to him.

Greenland was once an excellent source of revenue to the Danish
Government; but that time is past. Now the Royal Greenland Company and
the mission cost large sums every year, and the sums will grow ever
larger. Is it to be expected that the Danish Government will keep this
going for ever? Would it not be better and wiser for us first to recall
our outposts, and then gradually to withdraw the colonies and hand over
the warehouses and buildings to the natives? In my own opinion, the very
best thing we could do in the end would be to pack up all the stores,
put them and the traders on board the Company's nine ships, and set
sail with the whole back to Denmark. This will have to be done sooner
or later, but perhaps not until there are no natives left behind to
inhabit the land. The lifeless numbness of the inland ice will extend
to the margin of the sea, where only the mournful wail of the seagulls
will be heard along the unpeopled shores. The sun will rise and set and
waste its glory over a deserted land. Only once in a while will some
storm-driven ship skirt the desolate coasts. But in the long winter
nights the dead will dance in shimmering sheets of light over the
eternal silence of the snow-fields.


[181: Crowns, the _krone_ being equal to 1_s._ 1-1/2_d._--_Trans._]



AUGUST, 1893





























Abbott (Evelyn), 3, 14

---- (T. K.), 10

Acland (A. H. D.), 3

Acton (Eliza), 22

Æschylus, 14

Allingham (W.), 15

Anstey (F.), 16

Aristophanes, 14

Aristotle, 10

Armstrong (E.), 3

---- (G. F. Savage-), 15

---- (E. J.), 6, 15, 23

Arnold (Sir Edwin), 7, 15

Arnold (T.), 3

Ashley (W. J.), 13

Atelier du Lys (Author of), 16

Bacon, 6, 11

Bagehot (Walter), 6, 13, 23

Bagwell (R.), 3

Bain (Alexander), 11

Baker (James), 16

Baker (Sir S. W.), 7

Ball (J. T.), 3

Baring-Gould (S.), 23

Barrow (Sir J. Croker), 15

Beaconsfield (Earl of), 16, 17

Beaufort (Duke of), 9

Becker (Prof.), 14

Bell (Mrs. Hugh), 15

Bent (J. Theodore), 7

Björnsen (B.), 15

Boase (C. W.), 4

Boedder (B.), 12

Boyd (A. K. H.), 6, 23

Brassey (Lady), 7

Bray (C. and Mrs.), 11

'Brenda', 20

Buckle (H. T.), 3

Bull (T.), 22

Burrows (Montagu), 4

Bury (Viscount), 9

Butler (E. A.), 18

---- (Samuel), 23

Campbell-Walker (A.), 8

Carlyle (Thomas), 23

Caröe (W. D.), 4

Chesney (Sir G.), 3

Chetwynd (Sir G.), 8

Chilton (E.), 17

Cholmondeley-Pennell (H.), 9

Cicero, 14

Clarke (R. F.), 12

Clerke (Agnes M.), 14

Clodd (Edward), 14

Clutterbuck (W. J.), 8

Comyn (L. N.), 17

Conington (John), 14

Cox (Harding), 9

Crake (A. D.), 20

Creighton (Bishop), 4

Crozier (J. B.), 11

Crump (A.), 3, 13

Curzon (Hon. G. N.), 8

Cutts (E. L.), 4

Dante, 15

Davidson (W. L.), 11, 13

Deland (Mrs.), 17

Dent (C. T.), 9

De Salis (Mrs.), 22, 23

De Tocqueville (A.), 3

Devas (C. S.), 13

Dougall (L.), 17

Dowell (S.), 13

Doyle (A. Conan), 17

Falkener (E.), 10

Farnell (G. S.), 14

Farrar (Archdeacon), 13, 17

Fitzpatrick (W. J.), 3

Ford (H.), 10

Francis (Francis), 10

Freeman (Edward A.), 3

Froude (James A.), 4, 6, 8, 17

Furneaux (W.), 18

Gardiner (Samuel Rawson), 4

Gleig (G. R.), 7

Goethe, 15

Gordon (E. J. A.), 4

Graham (G. F.), 13

Graves (R. P.), 6

Green (T. Hill), 11

Greville (C. C. F.), 4

Haggard (H. Rider), 17

---- (Ella), 15

Halliwell-Phillipps (J. O.), 7, 23

Harrison (Mary), 23

Harrison (Jane E.), 14

Harte (Bret), 17

Hartwig (G.), 18, 19

Hassall (A.), 6

Hearn (W. E.), 4, 11

Heathcote (J. M. & C. J.), 9

Helmholtz (Prof.), 19

Henry (W.), 9

Hodgson (Shadworth H.), 11, 24

Hooper (G.), 6

Hopkins (E. P.), 10

Horley (E.), 4

Howard (B. D.), 8

Howitt (William), 8

Hullah (John), 24

Hume (David), 11

Hunt (W.), 4

Hutchinson (Horace G.), 9

Huth (A. H.), 14

Hyne (C. J. C.), 17

Ingelow (Jean), 15, 20

Jefferies (Richard), 24

Jewsbury (Geraldine), 24

Johnson (J. & J. H.), 24

Johnstone (L.), 11

Jones (E. E. C.), 11

Jordan (W. L.), 13

Joyce (P. W.), 4

Justinian, 11

Kant (I.), 11

Killick (A. H.), 11

Kitchin (G. W.), 4

Knight (E. F.), 8

Ladd (G. T.), 11

Lang (Andrew), 4, 10, 14, 15, 17, 20, 24

Lavisse (E.), 4

Lear (H. L. Sidney), 23

Lecky (W. E. H.), 4, 16

Lees (J. A.), 8

Leslie (T. E. C.), 13

Lewes (G. H.), 11

Leyton (F.), 16

Lodge (H. C.), 4

Loftie (W. J.), 4

Logeman (W. S.), 13

Longman (F. W.), 10

Longmore (Sir T.), 7

Lubbock (Sir John), 14

Lyall (Edna), 17

Lydekker (R.), 19

Lyttelton (R. H.), 9

Lytton (Earl of), 16

Macaulay (Lord), 5, 16

Macfarren (Sir G. A.), 24

Mackail (J. W.), 14

Macleod (H. D.), 13

Maher (M.), 12

Mannering (G. E.), 8

Marbot (Baron de), 6

Marshman (J. C.), 6

Martin (A. P.), 7

Matthews (Brander), 17, 24

Maunder (S.), 20

Max Müller (F.), 11, 13, 24

May (Sir T. Erskine), 5

Meath (Earl of), 13

Meade (L. T.), 20, 21

Melville (G. J. Whyte), 17

Mendelssohn, 24

Merivale (Dean), 5

Mill (James), 12

Mill (John Stuart), 12, 13

Milner (G.), 24

Molesworth (Mrs.), 21

Monck (H. S.), 12

Moore (E.), 6

Nansen (F.), 8

Nesbit (E.), 16

Norton (C. L.), 8

O'Brien (W.), 17

Oliphant (Mrs.), 18

Osbourne (L.), 18

Parkes (Sir H.), 5

Parr (Mrs.), 18

Paul (H.), 13

Payn (James), 18

Payne-Gallwey (Sir R.), 9, 10

Pembroke (Earl of), 9

Perring (Sir P.), 24

Phillipps-Wolley (C.), 9, 18

Piatt (S. & J. J.), 16

Plato, 14

Pole (W.), 10

Pollock (W. H.), 9

Poole (W. H. and Mrs.), 23

Praeger (F.), 7

Pratt (A. E.), 8

Prendergast (J. P.), 5

Proctor (Richard A.), 10, 19, 24

Raine (James), 4

Ransome (Cyril), 3

Reader (E. E.), 21

Rhoades (J.), 14, 16

Ribot (T.), 12

Rich (A.), 14

Richardson (Sir B. Ward), 24

Rickaby (John), 12

---- (Joseph), 12

Riley (J. W.), 16

---- (A.), 8

Robertson (A.), 18

Roget (John Lewis), 24

---- (Peter M.), 13

Romanes (G. J.), 14

Ronalds (A.), 10

Roosevelt (T.), 4

Rossetti (M. F.), 24

Round (J. H.), 5

Seebohm (F.), 5, 6

Sewell (Eliz. M.), 18

Shakespeare, 16

Shearman (M.), 9

Shirres (L. P.), 13

Sidgwick (Alfred), 12

Sinclair (A.), 9

Smith (R. Bosworth), 5

Sophocles, 14

Southey (R.), 24

Spedding (J.), 6

Stanley (Bishop), 19

Steel (A. G.), 9

Stephen (Sir James), 7

Stephens (H. C.), 5

---- (H. Morse), 5

---- (T.), 5

Stevenson (Robert Louis), 16, 18, 21

Stock (St. George), 12

Strong (H. A.), 13

Stubbs (J. W.), 5

Sturgis (Julian), 18

Suffolk and Berkshire (Earl of), 9

Sully (James), 12

Suttner (Baron von), 18

Swinburne (A. J.), 12

Symes (J. E.), 13

Thompson (Annie), 18

---- (D. G.), 12

Thomson (Archbishop), 12

Tirebuck (W.), 18

Todd (A.), 6

Toynbee (A.), 13

Trevelyan (Sir G. O.), 6

Trollope (Anthony), 18

Tupper (C. L.), 6

Tyrrell (R. Y.), 14

Verney (Francis P.), 7

Virgil, 14

Wade (G. W.), 13

Wakeman (H. O.), 6

Walford (Mrs.), 7, 18

Wallaschek (R.), 24

Walpole (Spencer), 6

Walsingham (Lord), 9

Walter (J.), 7

Watson (A. E. T.), 9

Webb (T. E.), 12

Weir (R.), 9

West (C.), 23

Weyman (Stanley J.), 18

Whately (Archbishop), 12

---- (E. J.), 13

Wheeler (B. I.), 13

Whishaw (F. J.), 8

Wilcocks (J. C.), 10

Wilkin (G.), 14

Willich (C. M.), 20

Wilson (A. J.), 13

Wishart (G.), 6

Wolff (H. W.), 8, 13

Woodgate (W. B.), 9

Wood (J. G.), 19

Wordsworth (Bishop Charles), 7

Wylie (J. H.), 6

Zeller (E.), 12





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