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Title: Among unknown Eskimo
Author: Bilby, Julian W.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Among unknown Eskimo" ***

                             UNKNOWN ESKIMO

                     THEIR WAYS OF LIVING, HUNTING
                           CUSTOMS & BELIEFS

                            JULIAN W. BILBY

                Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
                    Member of the Folk Lore Society


                        J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                  LONDON: SEELEY, SERVICE & CO., Ltd.


In offering the present book on the Eskimo tribes of the Arctics to the
reading British public, I must discharge the grateful and pleasing duty
of acknowledging my indebtedness for much courtesy and documentary
assistance to the Canadian Government, in the person of F. C. C. Lynch,
Esq., Superintendent of the “National Resources Branch of the
Department of the Interior.” He has been zealously instrumental in
enabling me to consult sources of classic recent information of which
otherwise I should not have had the confirmation and the benefit, and
also has placed at my publishers’ disposal the section of the official
map which represents the most up-to-date geographical information about
Baffin Land.

There is a considerable literature about the Eskimo (as distinct from a
quite formidable list of works dealing with travel and voyages in the
Arctics) which should be consulted by students of ethnography.

The classical authorities in this department are Dr Franz Boas and Dr
Rink, a study of whose researches should underlie all the more recent
first-hand contributions to what must remain for a long time to come a
new subject.

For the photographs I am greatly indebted to the Rev. A. L. Fleming,
L.T.H., who spent several years among the Eskimo of South Baffin Land.
His photos were taken during many intrepid journeys in those wilds, and
he knew exactly the scenes it was desired to record by photography in
this work. I am also indebted to Miss A. B. Teetgen for her assistance
in the literary construction of the book.

Finally, I wish to record my admiration and respect for the genial and
brave Eskimos of those barren lands, and for the way they face and
overcome the difficulties of the Arctic wilds.


    The Voyage to the Arctics                                    17

    Baffin Land                                                  32

    Arctic Flora & Fauna                                         47

    The Eskimo                                                   56

    The Building of the Village                                  72

    The Sealing Grounds                                          85

    Womanhood in the Arctics                                     97

    Clothing—Boat Building                                      108

    Eskimo Dogs                                                 119

    Tribal Life                                                 136

    Tribal Life—continued                                       154

    The Eskimo Language                                         171

    Legends                                                     184

    The Conjurors                                               196

    The Sedna Ceremony                                          210

    The Native Surgeon                                          224

    Sport & Hunting                                             235

    The Creatures of the Wild                                   252

    Appendix                                                    265

    Index                                                       271


    A Woman of the Fox Channel Tribe                   Frontispiece
    An Ancient Aboriginal Encampment                             40
    Part of an Eskimo Tribe of Women and Children                56
    An Iglovegak or Eskimo Dwelling                              64
    An Eskimo Tupik                                              73
    An Eskimo Snowhouse                                          76
    An Eskimo Home                                               80
    The Return of the Successful Seal Hunter in Springtime       88
    Young Seal Hunting in May                                    92
    Two Women in Summer Dress                                    96
    A Young Wife with her Baby in her Hood                      104
    Eskimo Family Group                                         104
    Models of Kayak, Umiak, and Okushuk                         112
    An Ancient Form of Sled                                     134
    The Two Wives of a Hunter                                   144
    An Eskimo Family outside their House                        144
    Preparing for a Long Winter Journey                         160
    A Native Chart                                              177
    Asseak and his Wife                                         200
    An Umiak or Family Boat                                     208
    The Summer Tent or Tapik                                    208
    A Conjuror’s Mask                                           211
    A Kagge or Singing House (Elevation)                        218
    A Kagge or Singing House (Plan)                             219
    An Eskimo Woman of the Fox Channel Tribe                    224
    An Eskimo Summer Encampment                                 224
    Specimens of Native Stone Carving                           232
    An Eskimo in his Kayak                                      240
    Beginning to Build a Snowhouse                              240
    A Wolf Trap                                                 255
    An Eskimo Trap for Bears, Foxes or Wolves                   257
    A Seagull Trap                                              261




A voyage to the Arctics has always been a dangerous and exciting
adventure, whether entered upon by whalers and hunters, intrepid men
lured by the hardy business of the frozen North, or by the no less
intrepid pioneers of exploration and of science. For the moment, we are
not concerned with the latter, but rather with some aspects of life in
the barren lands and icy seas north of “the Circle,” and with the
adventures and experiences of the few ships’ crews who have been making
yearly voyages in those regions for trading purposes ever since the
efforts of the sixteenth century navigators to discover the famous
North West Passage began to chart out these hitherto unnavigated seas.

The search, indeed, for this passage, a sea route of communication
between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (or, in other words, a short
way to the East Indies without doubling the Cape of Good Hope)—was
incidentally the means of opening up the whole of the north polar
regions to exploration and discovery. As early as the year 1527, the
idea of such a passage was suggested to Henry VIII by a merchant of
Bristol; but it was not until the beginning of the following century
that a first expedition was fitted out at the expense of some London
merchants and despatched to the arctic seas.

Centuries before this, however, the Arctic Ocean was entered by a
Norwegian adventurer about the time of King Alfred; and the west coast
of Greenland was colonised from Iceland early in the eleventh century.
But no further progress was made in arctic discovery until the
sixteenth century, when various seas and points of land were mapped
out, mainly in the eastern hemisphere. The navigator Henry Hudson
discovered the Straits and Bay named after him in the great North
American archipelago, in 1610. Frobisher, Drake, and Hall, made voyages
to the west coasts of Greenland and to the opposite coasts; but the
entrance to the arctic regions west of that continent was discovered by
John Davis in 1585. In 1616, Baffin and Bylot passed through this
passage and sailed up Smith Sound, but nothing further was learned of
these parts for another two hundred years.

The Eskimo preserve to this day the story of Frobisher. It was, indeed,
narrated to the writer with a wealth of authentic detail by a native,
to whom it had been handed down amid other oral traditions of his tribe
and locality.

“Now it is said that Frobisher, coming to Nauyatlik for the first time,
not knowing the place or where there was a safe anchorage, crept along
the side (of the land) in his small ship, and was wrecked. For it was
shallow water there, and getting aground, he ordered the fuel (coal) to
be taken out and carried ashore to a place called Akkelasak. For the
ship was no longer habitable. The crew found refuge on a small, flat
island, and pitched tents there of the vessel’s sails, and began to
fashion a graving dock by digging out the soft ground. When it was
finished, they towed the wreck to the spot and docked her. All this
happened a long time ago, but traces of their work are still visible.
The shipwrecked sailors overhauled the hull. When at length their
repairs and rebuilding were complete, they towed out the ship and
moored her alongside a cliff, at the top of which they fixed their
tackle, unstepped and restepped the mast, their task being completed.
At last, and having buried those of their shipmates who had died during
this weary time, they abandoned the remainder of their fuel and set
sail for home. This is the narrative of one who had it from her mother,
who in turn had received it from her dead father, who had it from his
forbears; for thus they were accustomed to narrate it.”

The above translation, of course, is very free. It would interest the
philologist to have it in the original, or even in a literal version;
but possibly the foregoing will convey to the general reader that
graphic grasp of the story which renders all Eskimo history so reliable
and enduring.

The attempt to find a north west passage by sea, from the Atlantic
Ocean to Behring Strait, where farthest east meets farthest west, was
abandoned until Commander John Ross, in modern times (1818), was sent
out to prosecute further exploration in the Arctic. Throughout the
nineteenth century, many intrepid voyages were made, with which the
names of such men as Parry, Ross, Richardson, Rae and Franklin are
associated. Prior to this wonderful epoch of dauntless adventure, all
within the Arctic Circle upon the map was a blank. The entire geography
of the Canadian arctic archipelago has been worked out, defined,
charted, and named, since that time. Voyages of discovery were made in
rapid succession, after Sir John Ross’s expedition in 1818, many of the
leaders working in conjunction with the officials of the Hudson Bay Fur
Trading Company, who were anxious to determine the extent and limits of
the immense continent they controlled, now known as the North West
Territories. Every name upon the arctic map, whether of sea, sound,
inlet, strait, island, peninsula or cape, is a historical association
with the personnel or the patrons of these numerous expeditions.

All the islands of the Arctic Archipelago lying to the northward of the
mainland of the continent, and the whole of Baffin Land, form part of
the British possessions in North America by right of discovery. They
were formally transferred to the Dominion of Canada by Order in Council
of the Imperial Government on September 1st, 1880.

An immense amount of scientific information was derived from all this
hardship, endurance and enterprise. The story of Sir John Franklin
alone is a deathless epic in the annals of this seafaring nation. And
the whole field was opened up for the whalers, sealers, hunters and
fishers, whose business it soon became to demonstrate that arctic
exploration had a bearing on commerce and the hardier industries of
maritime mankind.

The whaling trade originated as early as the discoveries of Barentz and
Hudson, but Sir John Ross opened up the northernmost waters of Baffin’s
Bay to it, in recent times. The search for the North West Passage,
indeed, proved abortive for many years, owing to the fact that the
season in which it was possible to navigate in very high latitudes only
lasted about seven weeks. The most experienced men, though, never gave
up the theory of the probability of its existence. Half a century went
by before the route was found at last. Captain McClure, in the search
for the long-lost Franklin, achieved the discovery of two routes to the
Behring Straits and the Pacific Ocean, in the autumn of the year 1850.
Useless and futile as the discovery proved to be, who can sufficiently
estimate and appraise all that has gone, of human worth and high
resolve, of suffering and of life itself, to the making of it?

Of the whalers and traders who followed in the wake of the explorers,
the Scottish seamen have been the most persistent. Scotch vessels
continue, to-day, to visit the Arctic every year. They sail from home
in early summer, cross the North Atlantic, work their way up Davis’
Strait, and, (unless they winter on the coast of Baffin Land or
Greenland), return to Scotland late in “the fall.” Sometimes the
practice was to make the passage, generally through open water, from
Dundee to St. John’s, spend some weeks upon the sealing grounds, then
return to refit at the Newfoundland port for a whaling cruise farther
north in Lancaster Sound. Having secured their cargo of seal skins and
oil, they return home. The vessels of the Dundee whaling fleet are
designed and built for navigation in northern seas. The hull is of
wood, on account of its resisting power where pressed by ice, and the
hardwood (“greenheart”) sheathing minimises the abrasions caused by
conflict with the jagged edges of the floes. The ship is immensely
braced by stout cross beams inside. The cutwater is protected by iron
bands or plates, to enable her to withstand the heavy strain of the
ice. She is barque rigged (i.e., a square rigged vessel, having yards
on the foremast and mainmast, but not on the mizzen mast), and fitted
with steam, to enable her to proceed during a calm, to shear her way
through ice, or to enter and leave harbour independently of wind or
tide. On all other occasions she depends upon her sails. A whaler
fitted after this fashion is called an “auxiliary steam vessel.” She
sails, however, much faster than she can steam. She carries about 500
tons of coal.

Many of these tried and tested Scottish whaling ships have been bought
up by the leaders of Arctic and Antarctic exploring expeditions, and
remodelled and refitted for the scientific uses to which they would be
put, and have done yeoman service in the assault on the Poles.

Of late years the Hudson Bay Company (of historic and ubiquitous
enterprise in Canada), have established posts on the southern shores of
Baffin Land, (opposite to that northernmost region of the bleak
Labrador known as Ungava), so that their ships, which sail from
Montreal as annual supply ships for all the Company’s “Forts” and
“Factories” along the Canadian coasts, have points of call along Hudson
Strait en route for Hudson Bay itself and the fur ports of that vast
inland sea.

The Scotch whaling industry has various agents posted in many a bleak,
un-heard of spot along the icebound littoral of the Eskimo countries,
whose duty it is to collect and store the pelts brought in by the
natives—employed by the agent—and ship them away annually or
bi-annually, as the case may be.

A whaling voyage was filled, especially in the earlier days, with as
much danger as adventure. The ships were manned by sailors who had
taken to the life as lads, or, held by the fascination of the North,
returned thither year after year, seldom caring to make voyages
elsewhere. They lived amid the ice. True northman and fine seaman, many
a whaler’s master is proud of the fact that he began his career as a
cabin boy and worked his way aft. He is a fighter, every inch of him,
such as only “the wild” can breed. He has an iron code of honour, and a
strain of true Norse hardness in him for his enemy. But he has also the
manly virtues of his type—fidelity to his fellows, and generosity to
lesser men than himself.

Previous to an Arctic voyage, months were spent in the commissioning of
these vessels. Every rope and block was overhauled. The ships’ boats
were rigorously tested and each carefully fitted out. Food and stores
of all kinds were taken aboard wholesale, against every contingency
experience and foresight could suggest, especially that of a forced
wintering in the north. An armoury of weapons was carried: harpoons and
harpoon guns for the boats, lances for killing whales, huge knives for
cutting up the carcases, bombs, hatchets, rifles and ammunition. No
less exhaustive was the inventory of the “trade”—articles for the
Eskimo trade and barter—such as needles, soaps (scented and otherwise),
pipes, matches, calico, beads, and, above all, tobacco! Every boy’s
book of adventure will suggest the scope of the slop chest, the
incredible handiness and nattiness of the galley, the reek of the
fo’c’sle, the snug dignity of the Captain’s cabin, and the compressed
completeness of an equipment designed to last a ships’ entire crew (let
us say her tonnage is about 129, and her company number twenty-nine)
over many months of toil, emergency, and utter isolation. She carried
no doctor. The first mate presided over the medicine chest, and had
resort to some small book of directions as to what to give and what to
do in case of illness or accident. In the early days adventurers to the
Arctic were sorely stricken with scurvy, for want of vegetable food and
a knowledge of how to provide against this deficiency. We have often
heard of desperate feats of amateur surgery carried out on board ship.
It has been that the mate of a whaling vessel often acted, not at all
unsuccessfully, as surgeon.

Doctor William S. Bruce, indeed, tells us in his “Polar Exploration”
that, generally speaking, germ diseases are unknown in the Arctic, the
intense cold making everywhere—in the air, on the sea and on the
land—for a high degree of bacterial sterility. “Under ordinary
conditions it is not possible to ‘catch cold’ in the polar regions ....
infectious fevers are practically unknown, unless contracted in a dirty
ship or filthily kept house.” Hence the feasibility of a practical
asepsis in accident or operation. Bishop Bompass once amputated a man’s
leg above the knee, and the operation was completely successful. The
Bishop had no medical knowledge beyond having attended some lectures at
an opthalmic hospital, in order to learn how to treat his Indians for

The whaling voyage itself might be uneventful enough until a high
latitude was reached; but after that, the greatest possible skill was
required to navigate the ship safely through the “pack” ice coming down
from the Pole through Davis Straits and Fox Channel, on its way to the
coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, to be finally melted and dispersed
in the Gulf Stream.

Arctic navigators and oceanographers enumerate many varieties and
vagaries of the polar ice. Suffice it here to note that “pack ice” is
the jammed and frozen conglomeration of masses of ice from broken floes
and vast disintegrating “fields” of ice. In Straits, this pack is
always heaviest in the centre but less compact along the shores, so
that a vessel can sometimes be worked along the coast when navigation
in the middle would be impossible. This “middle pack” is rightly
dreaded by Arctic seamen. A change of wind might drift it in upon the
shore, when the ship’s destruction would be inevitable. The great
danger in meeting the ice pack out at sea consists in the fact that the
larger part of the floe is almost submerged and little of it is to be
seen. Again, it bristles with spurs and points which stick up and out
like spears and rams, any one of which might rip up a hull sailing at
any speed.

The rapidity with which the ice pack moves is something wonderful.
Miles upon miles of sea will be free from ice, with the exception of
small masses from the floes, and the ship ploughs a steady course to
the north. Suddenly the wind changes. Ice swiftly makes its appearance
on every quarter, and—with incredible rapidity—the vessel is
surrounded. But warning has been given from the “crow’s nest” (the
look-out aloft, a barrel at masthead), and the Master works a cautious
way through the “leads” in the shifting ice. Should the pack be
exceptionally heavy, threatening to pen in the ship completely,
measures for her safety are immediately taken. Orders ring out sharply.
The crew, with ice saws or blasting powder, quickly make a space in the
ice, like a temporary dock, large enough to warp her into, where she
can lie snug while the savage floes grind and crash against each other
without. Woe to the ship caught between them ere such a refuge can be
made! No vessel that ever adventured in the polar seas could stand the
awful grip. There would be a rending of the stoutest timbers, groans of
a ship in agony, a lift and a quiver, and as the floes swung apart on
the black swell below, the brave creature, mangled, rent, and stove in,
would plunge to her bitter grave. As for her crew, their only chance
would be to lower the boats, and, either marooned on the ice, drift
south on the prevailing current until perchance sighted by a ship; or,
if afloat, work their perilous way to the Greenland coast, and take
refuge at one of the Danish settlements sparsely scattered on its
southern extremity.

Icebergs—those rightly dreaded wanderers of the northern seas—afford a
glorious vision in bright, calm weather, as they wend their majestic
course to the south, tinted by the setting sun or by the indescribable
loveliness of the northern sunrise. Sometimes a large portion having
been melted, breaks from the berg, when the vast mass slowly careens
over, plunges with a thunderous crash, and reasserts itself upon a new
floating base, peerless and beautiful as ever. The ship is fortunate
who finds herself standing well away at such a moment.

In spite, however, of their bad reputation, the bergs have their uses
for those hardy wayfarers of the sea who know them. The ancient Arctic
mariner will tell you that an iceberg can sail against the wind as well
as with it! Gripped for two-thirds of its bulk by a strong
under-current, it can crash its way and forge ahead against the wildest
adverse gale. An old whaler told of an experience he had when his ship
was beset by the loose floe, and like to be crushed to matchwood. The
men were striving all they knew to get her into safety, when a vast
berg drove slowly down beside her through the ice, shouldering it aside
as a giant liner drives through a heavy sea. With the inspiration of
sheer desperation, the Captain saw his chance! The vessel was
cautiously worked still nearer the berg and then kedged on to it. Towed
thus, with resistless might, she too forged safely through the chafing
floe to clear water and deliverance.

Again, a ship—no matter of what class or tonnage—can only carry a
certain quantity of water. So, too, with a whaler; she is limited in
her supply. It sometimes happens that, cruising about week after week,
she runs short of water. On sighting an iceberg, she sends off her
boats loaded with casks, and the crews refill them either with water
from the pools at the foot of the berg, or with the ice itself, which
being fresh water ice, melts down, of course, into splendid drinking
water after the brine and salt coating from the sea has first been
scraped off. For, be it remembered, an iceberg is a portion—the seaward
end—of one of the polar glaciers. As the immense ice river reaches the
coast it is pushed out over the cliffs, and vast masses break off with
terrific detonation, plunge into the sea, and the newly born icebergs
go floating far and wide. A large number of these bergs are formed in
Eternity Fiord on the Greenland coast, and the crash and roar of them
can be heard for miles.

As the season wears on and the whaler’s hold slowly fills with the
cargo of the Arctic hunt, from time to time she puts into the sparse
harbours of the northern coasts, to refit, or to meet the tribes of
Eskimo gathered there to do “trade” with her. The Hudson Bay Company
have lately introduced a form of coinage for this purpose, anything of
the sort being previously quite unknown among the natives. Pieces of
metal in various shapes represent the values of a currency and are used
as money. But the prehistoric marketing of barter still holds good
throughout the greater part of the Arctic regions.

Sometimes a shipmate has to be left, perforce of accident or illness,
to sleep the long sleep that knows no earthly waking, in this drear and
far-off land.

So much then for the voyage and the voyagers to the Arctic. Now for
that frozen world itself, and for those strange people whose lot,
compared with that of all the rest of the more genially situated sons
of men, would seem to have fallen in the bleakest, harshest and most
forbidding places, where human life might scarcely exist.

When the first ship seen by an Eskimo tribe touched on the coast, what
did they think of it; what was the bewildering impression they got? An
old hunter, recounting the story of his tribe and its adventures, gave
the writer a graphic account of just such an event. An enormous boat,
he said, appeared, filled with Kabloonâtyet (strangers), speaking an
unknown tongue and having hairy faces! The tall masts were hung with
the clouds (sails), and there was a door in the roof (the companion
leading from the deck), instead of in the side of the house. At first
the tribesmen hovered round this amazing thing in their canoes, afraid
to approach too near. Presents were thrown out to them of which they
could make nothing. They just smelt at the tobacco, biscuit and sweets,
and cast them aside. There were knives, but they cut themselves with
these, not knowing how to handle steel ones. It was almost as if some
unimaginable craft from another sphere were to visit the Earth and make
incomprehensible overtures to us by means of objects which conveyed
nothing to our intelligence—something after the style of Mr. Wells’s
Martians. At last, however, looking glasses resolved the situation.
These the Eskimo received with huge delight and amazement. Eventually
they were induced to board the strange boat and open up some sort of
initial overtures with her alarming crew. His fore-fathers, said the
old hunter, had seen these things and carefully handed them down.



A landfall in the Arctics is forbidding enough. Little is to be seen
save bare rocks broken by ravines, filled with snow even so late as far
into July and August—bare rocks, rising into gaunt hills from 500 to
1,500 feet high. The coastline is broken by bays and fiords, running
deep inland. These inlets with their irregular outlines have a singular
if rather drear beauty of their own, especially in the summer-time,
when what little vegetation there may be—a spare, coarse grass and a
red and white variety of heather—adds a grateful note of relief to the
severe scene. There are miles and miles of rocky coast in places, where
not so much as a handful of soil to support the hardiest little living
thing could be found.

Baffin Land, or Baffin Island—the country with which this book has to
do—is an immense portion of the Canadian Arctic archipelago lying
between latitude 62° and 72° N. By far the greater part of it extends
north of the Arctic Circle, while its southern-most cape touches the
latitude of the Faroe Islands, ’twixt the Shetlands and Iceland, in our
own more familiar waters. The whole country lies far beyond the
northernmost limit of trees, although it is not without an Arctic flora
of its own. Baffin Sea, or Baffin Bay (that stretch of the North
Atlantic Ocean which, beyond Davis Strait, divides the west coast of
Greenland from North America), was discovered by the navigator William
Baffin in 1615. Hence the name of the country. Discredit was thrown
throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on Baffin’s work in
the north; and, after him, Arctic exploration ceased for about two
centuries. Then Sir John Ross verified Baffin’s observations in 1818,
and many of them became the bases of later expeditionary enterprise.

A glance at the map shows how the country lies. To the north of it,
beyond the whaling grounds of Lancaster Sound, Devon Island is the next
stretch of the poleward tapering continent. The Gulf of Bothnia and Fox
Channel divide it on the west from the enormously broken coasts of the
North West Territories. “The territory now known as Baffin Land was,
until about 1875, supposed to consist of different islands, known as
Cockburn Island, Cumberland Island, Baffin’s Land, Sussex Island, Fox
Land, etc. It seems to be now established that these are all connected
and that there is but one great island, comprising them all, to which
the name of Baffin Land has been given. It forms the northern side of
Hudson Strait.... It has a length of about 1,005 English statute miles,
with an average breadth of 305 miles, its greatest width being 500 and
its least 150 miles. Its area approximates 300,000 square miles, and it
therefore comprises about one tenth of the whole Dominion. It is the
third largest island in the world, being exceeded only by Australia and
Greenland” (Annual Report of Geolog. Survey of Canada, 1898.)

It is an entirely Arctic country, immediately north of which runs the
polar limit of human habitation.

Up to the actual time of writing, Baffin Land has been held to be
incapable of inland commercial development, but a Royal Commission of
the Government of the Dominion have recently examined the possibility
of establishing there a reindeer and muskox ranching industry. Their
report has not yet been published, but already some steps are being
taken to realise such a project. If this should have results, a new
means of livelihood would be opened up to the Eskimo, at present
employed exclusively by the whaling agents on the coast. But the
natives are not herders, and in all probability Lapps would be brought
over from northern Europe to initiate the industry. From this would
ensue doubtless some racial modifications—probably quite inappreciable
to any but those observers, like the present writer, used to the pure
and unmixed Eskimo stock. In the present book, little account will be
taken of those tribes which have been in contact with other races, like
those of Alaska and Labrador, whence results hybridization or
degeneration. The writer proposes to confine his attention entirely to
the people of ancient, unmixed blood, and to depict their life and
customs as uninfluenced by the forces of trade and civilisation, which
are already threatening to usher in a new era and extinguish the last
representatives of the “reindeer age.”

From another point of view, however, Baffin Land should not pass
without remark. It has certain undetermined mineral resources. At Cape
Durban, on the 67th parallel, coal is known to exist, and graphite
(plumbago) has been found abundant and pure in several islands. Again,
pyrites and mica are all to be found in its rocks.

The geology of the Arctic regions is, of course, a study in itself
beyond the scope of this book. It may be of interest, however, to note
that the two great distinctive bodies of rock to be observed in a
country like Baffin Land are the granite and the finer grained, darker,
basic rock. The ironstone from there is very similar to that brought
from India to be smelted in England. The graphite might be mistaken for
coal, but for its formation under geological conditions which could not
have given rise to the latter. The two pyrites occur in the rocks of
all ages; the one is a brassy yellow, very hard mineral, and the other
a brilliant black stone (magnetic pyrites) looking much like a mass of
loosely formed crystals. Garnets are also formed in several kinds of
rock, but are chiefly to be found in the schist. As a rule, these
little gems are far too much broken and split by the intense frost to
be worth collecting. In the winter, the hardest rock is so split by the
cold that every peculiarity of its composition can be clearly seen. The
graphite can be chipped out with an axe and utilised very conveniently
for writing.

The scenery everywhere is typical of the “Barrens,” the “Bad Lands of
the North.” In winter, a featureless waste of snow, where in that dark
season “come those wonderful nights of glittering stars and northern
lights playing far and wide upon the icy deserts; or where the moon,
here most melancholy, wanders on her silent way through scenes of
desolation and death. In these regions the heavens count for more than
elsewhere; they give colour and character, while the landscape, simple
and unvarying, has no power to draw the eye.” (Nansen.) In summer, when
the iron grip of ice is relaxed around the frozen coast, snow may
disappear from the interminable wastes of rounded granite hills which
are a feature of the interior. The effect of this endless succession of
low bare elevations is one of “appalling desolation.” The long,
high-pitched howl of the wolf, the ultimate note of the wilderness,
falls occasionally upon the ear of the twilight camper. This, and the
cry of the loon from the lakes, with the crowing bleat of the ptarmigan
in the low scrub, are the chance evening sounds (of spring and summer)
in the Barrens.

The country generally is mountainous and of a hilly and barren aspect.
In some districts comparatively level Laurentian areas occur, where
immense herds of reindeer roam in the summer. At this season the ranges
have a dark or nearly black appearance, owing to the growth of lichens
upon them, but this sombre character is often relieved in valleys and
on hill-sides by strips and patches of green, due to grasses and sedges
in the lower bottoms, and a variety of flowering plants on sheltered
slopes exposed to the sun.

The high interior of Baffin Land, lying just north of Cumberland Sound,
is apparently all covered with ice, like the interior of Greenland.
Around the margins of this ice cap the general elevation above the sea
is about 5,000 feet, and it rises to about 8,000 feet in the central
parts. Large portions of the northern interior are over 1,000 feet
above the sea, so that vast regions of the country may be said to be
truly mountainous.

There are no trees or shrubs of any kind in Baffin Land. Of Arctic
flowers, a small yellow poppy seems to be the hardiest and most
widespread. Even in those parts where desolation seems to reign
supreme, this poppy (Papaver radicatum), and a tiny purple saxifrage
(Saxifraga appositifolia) can generally be discerned. There are coarse
grasses growing in scant patches, and immense tracts of reindeer moss,
upon which the cariboo entirely subsist.

Unlike the sterile Antarctic, however, it is well known that the flora
of Arctic lands is a feature of such importance that it has been the
subject of an immense amount of expert investigation carried out by
very many eminent botanists from every country. Professor Bruce says it
is quite impossible to enter into detail regarding arctic botany,
largely on account of its sheer profusion. “No matter how far the
explorer goes, no matter how desolate a region he visits, he is sure to
come across one or more species of flowering plants.... Every arctic
traveller is thoroughly familiar with scurvy grass, the sulphur
coloured buttercup, the little bladder campion, several potentillas,
the blaeberry, many saxifrages, the rock rose, the cotton grass and the
arctic willow.” In Grinnell Land (far north of Baffin Land) the British
Arctic Expedition of 1875 met with “luxuriant vegetation.” The presence
or absence of the Arctic current along the shores of these countries
seems to have much to do with the problems of vegetation. Baffin Land,
bathed in its icy waters, is far more barren than Greenland, where it
does not touch. Possibly Grinnell Land is immune from its influence. It
is, nevertheless, quite possible for a dense plant life to
flourish—under certain conditions of climate, altitude and
situation—deep within the Arctic Circle, where even the tundra, a
wilderness of snow in the winter, becomes an impassable fever-haunted,
mosquito ridden, torrid, flower decked swamp in the summer.

But there is more than this in the botany of Baffin Land! The natural
or geological history of the Arctic regions generally is that of the
earth’s crust itself, and from this point of view the study of these
northern blossoms is more wonderful than that of its rocks.

The fossil plants of these ice-bound countries belong to the Miocene
period, an epoch warmer than the present, which preceded the glacial
age now triumphant there. The latitudes of Baffin Land were once
covered by extensive forests representing fifty or sixty different
species of arborescent trees, most of them with deciduous leaves, some
three or four inches in diameter, the elm, pine, oak, maple, plane, and
even some evergreens, showing an entirely different condition of
seasons to that which now holds sway in the far, far north. The modern
botany of the Arctics, comprising some 300 kinds of flowering plants,
besides mosses, algae, lichens, fungi, is characteristic of the
Scandinavian peninsula. Now, the Scandinavian flora is one of the
oldest on the globe. It represents unique problems in distribution,
from which the most tremendous scientific deductions have been drawn,
such as those concerning a former disposition of terrestrial continents
and oceans, and some concerning changes in the direction of the earth’s
axis itself! All this is very far beyond the scope of any such account
of Baffin Land as the present. Suffice it, nevertheless, to indicate
the deep vistas of interest that lie behind the “appalling desolation”
of its appearance to-day, and the limitations of its hyperborean native

The reindeer moss is a very important asset of the country. It is a
delicate grey-green in colour and beautiful in form as well. It grows
luxuriantly to about the height of six inches. When dry, it is brittle,
and may be crumbled to powder in the hands; but when wet it is very
much of the consistency of jelly, and very slippery. The reindeer live
entirely upon it all the year round. In the winter, when it lies under
a deep blanket of snow, to get at it the deer have to scrape their way
down with their great splay hoofs. It sometimes happens that a season
comes when a thaw may be followed by a sharp frost. In this case the
surface of the snow is first melted and then quickly frozen, making a
coating of ice over all the surface of the ground. To scrape this would
cut the deers’ legs, so there is an exodus of the herd to other feeding
places, and hunger even to famine and starvation may reign in the
district they have deserted. Generally speaking, the herds keep to the
high grounds and hills in the winter, because there the moss is more
exposed and easier to come at. They move down to the coast at
intervals, to lick the salt which comes up through the “sigjak,” i.e.,
ground ice, along the shore, when the tides rises and the water leaves
pools behind it.

The deer feed in a peculiar manner. Once a pit has been sunk in the
snow and the moss at the bottom is browsed down, the creatures do not
attempt to enlarge the place, but scramble out again, only to dig a
fresh hole and sink shoulder high in it at a little distance, and begin
feeding afresh. The herd is always dogged by a pack of watchful wolves,
ever on the qui vive to attack; but the leaders’ vigilance never
slackens, and battle breaks out in the wild at the first movement of

There are one or two particularly interesting facts, astronomical and
otherwise, which account for the extraordinary physical phenomena and
conditions of life in the polar regions. To begin with the seasons. The
“Arctic” properly so called is geographically defined by that circle of
latitude where the sun on midwinter day does not rise, and where on
midsummer day it does not set. In Arctic countries the sun is never
more than 23½ degrees above the horizon, and their intense cold is due,
in summer, to the sharp obliquity of his rays, and in winter, to his
entire absence. In the latitude of Blacklead Island, on December 25th,
the whole orb of the sun is not visible, only the upper section shows
above the horizon (unless mist or snow overcast the heavens) for a
brief ten minutes at midday. On May 18th, conversely, the sun has been
noted as shining for eighteen hours, the remaining six out of the
twenty-four being a bright twilight, scarcely distinguishable from day.

The whole year round there is little to be seen but rocks and snow. No
tilling, sowing, harvesting, mark the progress of the seasons or call
man to the pursuits which have brought all civilisation in their train
in milder climes. These seasons (which depend, of course, upon the
position of the earth in its orbit round the sun, and upon the
inclination of the polar axis to the plane of the ecliptic giving a six
month’s day and six month’s night at the poles), are markedly defined
in Baffin Land. But far more distinctly so on shore than at sea, where
unbroken ice may reign supreme throughout the greater part of the
twelve-month. Winter sets in on the southern coast about the end of
September; farther north a week or two earlier. By this date the hills
are getting their snow caps, which extend downwards every day, and a
thin sheet of ice appears upon the sea at night. A rim of ice along the
shore marks the rise and fall of the tide. Frequent snowstorms now set
in, and the ice at sea thickens and strengthens, until by November it
extends as far as the eye can rove. This ice, however, is not stout or
welded enough to bear sleds, except in the fiords and smaller bays,
until nearly Christmas time. The sea freezes when the temperature of
the air falls to about 15° F., and the whole surface of the water
becomes covered with a mass of ice spicules known to polar sailors as
Bay Ice, from its forming first in the bays of the coast. Presently
this solidifies and thickens, growing ever whiter and more translucent
in the process, and is broken, even in calm weather, by the action of
gentle swell or the currents beneath into thousands of discs, large and
small, like pans of ice. Sea ice is formed at a temperature of 3° F.
below the freezing point of fresh water. There are many remarkable and
interesting physical distinctions between ice formed on land and ice
formed at sea. The latter when melted is quite drinkable, being not
nearly so salt as salt water. The intense cold, though, of drinking
water so obtained tends to inflame the mucous membrane of the mouth and
throat, and its slight salinity still further augments thirst; so it is
never resorted to except of necessity. These pans eventually freeze
together into one great solid floor of “pancake ice,” and the Eskimo,
away hunting in the winter for seal, may camp and live for weeks, miles
out from land on the frozen sea.

The days grow ever shorter and shorter until, in midwinter, there may
be only a few hours or even minutes of daylight left. The long Arctic
night lasts from September to March.

By the end of March, however, the sun is once more high in the heavens;
the sudden spring has begun, and the sound is everywhere heard of water
trickling under the snow. Readers of Alaskan romance will recall many a
fine passage about the ice “going out” on the Yukon, and realise the
terrific transformation undergone by the whole still, silent, rigid,
frozen landscape when the iron bonds of winter at length give way.
Springtime in the Arctics is a wonderful time. The thaw comes from
below. The rocks take the heat, and the snow sinks down, baring more
and more of them every day. It grows quite warm; bird sounds (ptarmigan
and snow bunting) enliven all the day; ducks quack at the floe edge.
Sunrise beams upon the Arctic hills until they lie smiling in the full
beauty of sunshine on their mantles of untrodden snow.

At the end of June, summer is come; the sun is really hot, and the
long-covered earth, bared at last to its benign influence, puts forth
heather and grass and flowers. For six months there is no more night.
Its place is taken by the pale light that offers so strange a
phenomenon to the dweller from the south. If the sky be unclouded,
shadows will be seen pointing to the south. If clouds cover the
heavens, the landscape stands out without shadow at all, clear and
sharp under this strange illumination. There is no one point from which
the light can come; it comes from everywhere. Owing to the length of
this Arctic “day,” the ground has no time to radiate away the welcome
warmth, hence the rapid growth of what vegetation the region may show.
Again, as Nansen says so poetically: “In these regions the heavens
count for more than elsewhere: they give colour and character ... to
the landscape ... it is flooded with that melancholy light which
soothes the soul so fondly and is so characteristic of the northern

The stars are an open book to the Eskimo. They know all the principal
groups, and use them for the directing of their journeys. They can make
a very creditable chart of the northern heavens. They recognise the
Plough, and the Bear (which is indeed called “Nanook”—the Bear), and
they recognise the constellation of three stars in a straight line and
at equal distances from each other, which they call the “Runners,” and
describe as the spirits of three brothers in pursuit. The arctic
hunters are marvellous students of nature generally. They have the lore
of the wild at their finger tips, and all the wisdom of the seasons. It
is probable that this primitive people have preserved nearly all the
original instincts—as to the presence of danger, right direction, etc.,
etc.—of primaeval man, which are all but extinct in the
over-civilisation of the modern European.

In August autumn begins. Last year’s ice has been broken up and carried
far out to sea. There are frequent showers of rain, and the nights
begin again to encroach more and more on the day. It is about this time
that the trading ships generally arrive and put in at various points
along the coast to do business and refit. They pick up the annual
intelligence of the whaling stations, and leave for home as soon as the
new ice begins to form.

Then winter comes down upon the land once more. The sky, like velvet,
is bespangled with stars of incomparable brilliance, burning like
opals. The Northern Lights, like lambent curtains of amazing
illumination, swing weirdly through the sky; the blanched hills and the
frozen fiords stand out in ghostly black and white under the startling
moonlight. There is no sound save the sharp cracking of rock or ice
under the strain of the intense frost, the uneasy growl of dogs, the
distant howl of a wolf.

Suddenly, however, there may be a chorus of barking in the night, as a
strange team of dogs sweeps into view up the fiord, or the harbour, and
visitors descend upon the camp. Except for the noise, one could imagine
the newcomers to be the ghosts of ancient hunters haunting their old
grounds. But cheery cries, the crack of whips and the howls of the
dogs, dispel any such idea as the group comes up. They are stalwart and
sturdy individuals enough, clad from head to foot in deerskin, and
covered with rime and frost. They are seeking hospitality here, and at
once friendly doors are open to them, invitations are readily extended
and accepted, and soon everyone of the strangers is comfortably
bestowed (after Eskimo notions of comfort) in one or another of the
various dwellings, the dogs are unharnessed and fed, and peace resumes
her tranquil sway.

The natives thus name the four seasons: Opingrak, spring; Auyak,
summer; Okeoksak, autumn (i.e., material for winter), and Okeok,
winter. The months are named by the sequence of events—the coming of
the ducks, the birth of the reindeer fawns, the coming of the fish (sea
trout), etc., as “the duck month,” “the fawn month,” “the fish month,”
etc. And the days are distinguished as “oblo,” to-day; “koukpât,”
to-morrow; “ikpuksâk,” yesterday; “ikpuksâne,” the day before
yesterday, and so forth. “Akkâgo” means next year, and “akkâne” is last



Another striking feature of the Arctics is the effect upon the
appearance and character of those shores touched by the Gulf Stream, as
compared with those where its waters never pass. Thus the coast of
Greenland is comparatively luxuriant in vegetation and its seas teem
with fish, while Baffin Land, opposite, washed by arctic currents, is
desolate and barren, with no fishing off its shores. The same contrast
holds good with respect to the north and south coasts of Hudson Strait.
There are no cod off Baffin Land, but the Labrador fishermen ply their
trade right into Hudson Bay.

Baffin “Island” is a trackless, mysterious continent where, high up on
the summits of some of the mountains, there are vast lakes fed from
hidden springs—or from streams from still higher ranges—wherein salmon
trout abound! At least, these fish are exactly like the sea trout which
come up the rivers every year to spawn, save that the hue of the belly
is bright red. The Eskimo point to this as proof that they never go
down to the sea, and call them the “dirty fish,” since they never quit
the lakes. How they ever got into them is a mystery the arctic
zoölogist must be left to solve, since neither hunter nor fisherman can
offer a suggestion. The trout could not have attained any such level
upstream. It would almost appear—if one might hazard a guess—that at
some remote geologic epoch this part of the N. American continent was
submerged, for the Eskimo of Baffin Land speak of an inland sea, now
dry, where fossil remains are to be found of large creatures such as
the whale and walrus. They come across fossil fish, indeed, in their
more extended wanderings, also shells, and bring them back to camp as

The Eskimo are properly a seaboard people and seldom penetrate farther
inland than thirty miles from the coast, unless during the annual deer
hunt, when they may be away for a couple of months, according to the
distance the quest may take them.

Possibly these unaccountable trout are the descendants of fish cut off
from access to the sea, when the gradual rise of the continental level
left lakes of originally salt water among the ranges. Where they are
not without marine life (excepting those wonderful seaweeds which are
found at the tropics as well as in the arctic), the waters round these
shores contain many species of fish commonly known elsewhere, only in a
much less developed state. Such creatures as sea anemones, shrimps, sea
snails, small squid, and salt water centipedes, are to be found on the
arctic beach. Naturalists enumerate a formidable list of the sort,
bristling with scientific nomenclature. Then there are the mosquitoes,
of which more anon, and small yellow, white and brown butterflies. It
is indeed due to the comparatively rich fauna and flora of the arctic
regions, both east and west, that arctic exploration has been carried
out so frequently. The utter absence of plant or animal or human life
in the dead antarctic has greatly militated against the success of
southbound expeditions.

To deal with the mosquitoes! These insects abound in the summer-time,
and are a terrible pest. It is a puzzle how they survive the winter,
when everything is frozen solid, and the very spots which thaw under
the sudden warmth of an arctic spring and allow them to swarm out in
their malignant millions are iron-bound as the rocks themselves for the
greater part of the year. So formidable are these insects that man
himself has sometimes fallen a victim to their onslaught. On one
occasion, a polar bear was crossing a swamp on the prowl, when he was
attacked by mosquitoes. They stung his eyes, the inside of his ears,
penetrated his nostrils and stung them. As the nasal passages became
inflamed and swollen, the bear was forced to open his mouth to breathe,
when his enemies swarmed in, fastened on to tongue, palate and throat,
causing them also to swell, until the tormented brute succumbed to
suffocation. His howls attracted the attention of some Eskimo hunters,
who afterwards told the tale.

Another time, some women in a summer camp noticed a kyak (skin canoe)
drifting about at sea in a curious way, and a man went off to
investigate. On arriving within hail he found a body in the canoe,
leaning back stone dead; done to death in precisely the same way by

Arctic birds are numerous. Most of them are migratory, but an eagle, a
hawk, some owls and a raven, remain the year round. The most typical of
all Arctic birds, the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), is the
first to arrive and bring news of the spring. He comes about the same
time as the Ptarmigan. Lastly comes the bird that always seems to greet
the explorer on landing, the Purple Sandpiper (Tringa striata). He
comes soon after the ducks—the Eider, the King Eider, the Pintail and
the Harlequin. Between the two, there is a rapid vernal succession of
birds, including sea pigeons and geese.

Eskimo hunters speak of the wild swan, on the south coast and in the
vicinity of Frobisher Bay. The raven is the only arctic bird which does
not change its plumage to match the surroundings. He is always
aggressively, blatantly black. Possibly, being so able a match for any
ordinary foe, this bird has no need to adopt the “protective
resemblance” of white. The writer has watched a raven alight to secure
some tit-bit of offal, and keep even the wolfish Eskimo dog at a
respectful distance, with its huge beak. The bird is cunning to a
degree. It will follow a trapper, note the position of his traps, and
return to visit and despoil them of their bait as soon as the coast is
clear. Then it takes up its stand on some convenient rock just out of
gunshot range, and watches the trapper on his return, just for all the
world as if it relished his comments!

So much for the land birds. At sea there are petrels, gulls, and skuas.
The natives do not recognise pictures of puffins or penguins, as these
birds are not known on their coasts.

Again, the animals of the frozen north form quite a formidable list.
There are three large lakes in Baffin Land (shown on the map at the
end), linked together by rivers and making connection with the sea by

The southern lake is called “Angmakjuak” (“the great one”). The length
of this sea may indeed exceed 120 miles by 40 in breadth in its central
part. The central lake, “Tesseyuakjuak,” is possibly 140 miles long by
60 broad, and the northern lake “Netselik” (the place of seals) is at
least 15 miles across. The difference in level between these great
sheets of water is so inconsiderable that the natives can paddle with
ease either up or down the waterways connecting them; perhaps none of
them lie much higher than 300 feet above the sea. They teem with seal
coming up from the coasts, and on the shores of Netselik old hunters
will tell you they have seen the Red Fox, as well as white and smoky.
This may well be so, as the fox is a denizen of Labrador, and might
easily cross Hudson Strait on the ice during a hard winter. The seal of
these lakes and of the coast (much hunted for food and for their skins
by the natives), are the grey haired seals of wide-spread commerce, but
not the fine, fur-bearing animals whose pelts are of the first beauty
and value. This latter is a different species and is protected by
Government, only a certain number being allowed to be killed each year.

Bears, of course, abound. The female is the only arctic land creature
which hibernates. Then there is the wolf, the white and blue fox, [1]
the ermine, the arctic hare, a tailless snow mouse, or lemming, the
musk ox, and—the most widely distributed of all—the cariboo or reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus). It would be impossible to over-estimate the value
of the last named beautiful creature, alive or dead, to all the peoples
of the arctic countries, east or west. It would be superfluous here to
remark much about it, except to note one interesting peculiarity. The
reindeer differs from all other deer in that both sexes bear antlers.

The wolves, of course, are the inveterate enemies of the deer. In the
winter, when the latter herds leave the lowlands and go up to pasture
among the hills, where the snow lies less deep and can be more easily
scratched away, they are dogged by the wolves. These hungry and
voracious creatures know well enough that the deer are sentinelled
while feeding by their fighting males, and make no movement of
aggression until one of them chances to stray from the herd. When this
happens, the luckless animal is immediately headed off towards the
shore and hunted down. The wolfish pack concentrates behind it and
draws in on either side, so as to leave but one avenue of apparent
escape. The quarry dashes down and away, out on towards the ice; but
its weight is so great and its hoofs so sharp that the frozen crust of
snow gives way beneath it and sorely cuts it about the legs. The deer
loses blood and slackens in speed, so that the wolves, skimming easily
over the treacherous surface, close in and soon drag it down.

It is a fact well known to the Eskimo hunter that the actual chase is
put up by the female wolf, the male only coming in at the last, for the
kill. The former do the hustling and placing of the victim, as it were,
and the latter do the fighting and killing at the end.

The Lemming (Cuniculus torquatus) is a queer typical little arctic
animal. It has a chubby build, a rudimentary tail, and no external
ears. The first toe of the forepaw is almost nil, but the third and
fourth have very strong claws, which grow longer and still more
powerful in winter. It is grey in summer and white for the rest of the
year. It lives upon the grubs to be found amid the moss under the snow,
and burrows its way along as it searches for food. It is quite a
familiar sound to hear the scratch, scratch, scratch of a lemming’s
claws beneath, as one lies on the snow sleeping bench of an Eskimo’s
igloo. The creature’s skin when dried is used by the natives for
sticking over cuts or boils. It is hunted in the spring by the women
and children, who are guided by the sound of its burrowings. They arm
themselves with a stick having a long barbed wire attached, and spear
the animal with this through the snow.

Around the coasts there are various species of whales. The Grampus
(Orca gladiator) or killer, as it is called by the whalers, is a fierce
member of the dolphin group, sometimes attaining a length of thirty
feet, with large powerful teeth, from ten to thirteen in number, on
each side of the jaw. It has a high, upstanding fin on the back, like a
shark. It is very swift in the water and can easily overtake and kill
one of these latter creature. It is shunned and feared by all the
denizens of the arctic seas except the Walrus and the great Sperm
Whale. The Grampus is incredibly voracious, and has been known to
devour thirteen porpoises and fourteen seals at one meal.

All the smaller animals take refuge in shallow water inshore at the
approach of a Killer, only to fall a prey there to the native. The
Killers hunt the whalebone whale, which, fast though it is, cannot make
good its escape. The pursuers will leap right out of the water and
crash down upon the head of their victim; or rush upon it and ram it,
until terrified, stunned and exhausted, the whale drops its jaw, when
the Killers tear out huge pieces of the tongue. (The tongue of a whale
is a vast mass of fat, weighing in a full sized animal as much as a
ton.) Finally, the unwieldly carcase is also despatched, and the
Grampuses take themselves off, replete. The male Walrus is too active
and fierce to be beset in this manner, but a female encumbered with a
calf will often be pursued by the Killer. She takes the young one under
her flipper and tries to escape; but the aggressor rushes in and butts
at her. Sometimes he succeeds in claiming this tender mouthful;
sometimes he is killed by the infuriated mother.

The Sea Unicorn or Narwhal (Monodon monoceros), is a purely arctic
animal. The curious “horn” is really the left tooth grown to the length
of six or seven feet. It is only hollow for a certain distance.
Exteriorly this horn is spirally grooved, to allow presumably for quick
thrust and withdrawal. The Narwhal often engage in a mock combat among
themselves with these horns, but use them with fierce and deadly
precision when engaged in actual warfare.

It were too long to linger here with the creatures of the North, since
we shall meet them all, and many more, in dealing with the human
inhabitants of the country. Arctic animals have a fascination all their
own, and of late years a wonderfully sympathetic and intuitive
literature has grown up having them almost exclusively for its
protagonists. Jack London has endeared the powerful, savage, husky dog
to us for all time, in his “White Fang.”



The inhabitants of the Arctic are the Eskimo, also written Esquimaux,
Usquemows, called by themselves Innuit (Innuk s. Innooeet p.) or the
“people.” The word Usquemow is Indian, meaning raw flesh eaters. The
English and Scotch anglicised it to Eskimo. The name “Husky” as applied
to the native is merely slang, a corruption of Eskimo perpetrated by
men whose ears and tongues were untrained to the language—whalers who
sometimes employed the tribesmen in their hunting, and dubbed them with
the first jargon name that came handy. It is still used in this sense
in localities where Europeans are numerous, such as Alaska, and Hudson

Pure blood Indians do not penetrate so far north as the Eskimo
territories, being denizens of the forest but not of the barrens. The
Eskimo are a kindly, intelligent people, hardy to a degree. They follow
the manner of life and the pursuits of primitive man; but when brought
into contact with the whites and with civilisation, show themselves by
no means incapable of assimilating a good deal of instruction. They
have qualities of amiability, hospitality, ingenuity and endurance,
which all travellers have agreed in extolling; although here and there
in the records of the voyages of exploration in the nineteenth century
we also find unfavourable comments passed upon them. They exist in
small, scattered tribes along the sea coasts, whence they derive the
bulk of their subsistence. Owing to the establishment of whaling and
other stations, the geographical areas of the tribes are now more
circumscribed and confined than they used to be, as each station is a
centre of trade where most of the necessaries of life can be obtained.

The origin of the Eskimo is a matter of ethnographical conjecture. They
themselves had no written language until comparatively few years ago,
and depended upon oral tradition for their history. And even to-day it
is only the few who have been taught to read and write, so that legend
still holds sway throughout the greater part of Baffin Land, Cockburn
Land, and the rest. Their past is lost in obscurity. In the obscurity
perhaps of that neolithic or “reindeer age” of which their life, even
now, has so often been cited as a close replica.

That immense span of time in the history of the human race known as the
Stone Age, falls into five divisions. There is the Palaeolithic period
(Early, Middle and Late), and the Neolithic period (Transitional and
Typical). During the last throes of the glacial epoch in Europe, the
type of human being was that represented by the relic which has come
down to us known as the Neanderthal skull. But the later Pleistocene
period saw a greater diversity in the matter of types, and one race in
particular is represented by a fair number of specimens. They denote a
good-looking, purely human being. Another race of the same period is
represented by a single specimen only. It is known as the Chancelade
Race, and “the skeleton, of comparatively low stature, is deemed to
show close affinities to the type of the modern Eskimo.” (Dr. Marett.)
This is exceedingly interesting as giving us some idea of the antiquity
of the stock, and as showing how glacial conditions in prehistoric
times in Europe produced a type which lingers on amid the races of the
modern world in the still existing glacial epoch of the Arctic.

The “Reindeer men” of prehistoric times lived lives no harder in the
bleak climate and unprogressive conditions of glaciated Europe than
those of the Eskimo in glaciated America to-day. “The races of Reindeer
men were in undisturbed possession of western Europe for a period of at
least ten times as long as the interval between ourselves and the
beginning of the Christian era.” (H. G. Wells.) If we add these periods
of time together we may form some estimate of the age of a civilisation
such as the climatic conditions have produced and proscribed in the
modern Arctics.

Perhaps it may be said that in one sense the Eskimo have no history.
They are living the same life, under the same rigorous conditions, in
the same way now, as their forefathers lived it before them, and as far
back as human life could be traced in the Arctic earth. It is wonderful
how faithfully this oral tradition of theirs has been handed down
through the generations, for the same adventures and incidents and
stories will be told with little or no alteration by various people of
widely different tribes, and events that took place centuries ago will
still be invariably related with circumstantial precision.

The writer well remembers an account given to him one winter’s night by
an aged hunter, of some stores left by a party of the early explorers.
It was during a journey along the south coast of Baffin Land, and
shelter had been sought in the snow house of an ancient Eskimo couple.
The old man was grandfather of the tribe, and had been a noted hunter
in his day, and had fought many a battle with the savage elements and
more savage beasts of the wild. It was after the evening meal. The old
fellow and his equally old wife had been warmed with some steaming
coffee liberally sweetened with molasses, and regaled with ship’s
biscuit. The pipes of both had been filled, and were drawing well.
Their bronzed, lined faces, lined like the shell of a walnut, shone
with contentment, they huddled on their sleeping bench and smoked and
dreamed of the strenuous past. A question or two soon elicited a flood
of guttural reminiscences. The old hunter pictured himself as a youth
again, and went over the exploits of his prime, prompted now and again
by the crone at his side, in a shrewd expectation of further acceptable
items. Among other things, he told of the various “dumps” or “caches”
of stores made by the white men who came long ago, remembering exactly
the localities and the contents of every one. Some had been broken into
long since by wandering Eskimo; some had been destroyed by bears; some
remained intact. His memory was as exact and reliable as if he had seen
the things but a week—instead of a lifetime—before. Perhaps it was an
echo, all that time afterwards, of the Franklin tragedy.

These primitive Eskimo inhabit the great archipelago which stretches
polewards from the northern shores of the Canadian continent, from
Greenland on the east to Alaska and the Aleutian islands on the extreme
west. There is, too, a settlement of Eskimo beyond Behring Strait. Some
ethnographers hold them to be of purely American origin with no
affinities in Asia, however Mongolian they may be in appearance. Dr.
Rink believes in an Alaskan origin for the Eskimo, as opposed to an
Asian, but another authority, Dr. Boas, thinks the solution of this
racial problem might be obtained by means of an archæological research
on the coast of the Behring Sea.

The original Eskimo stock is now probably extinct. In language and
physique, many of the present day tribes exhibit traits of racial
admixture with the Red Indians. This has occurred in such junction
areas as Labrador and Alaska, and has given rise to the probably quite
fallacious idea of an Indian origin for the Arctic race. This error
could not be made in Eskimo lands proper. Those who have lived for long
years with both Indian and Eskimo, and are intimately acquainted with
the language, legends, and characteristics of both peoples, hold
strongly to the opinion that they are entirely distinct. Personally,
the writer would incline to the belief that the Innooeet are of
Mongolian stock. He has heard on good authority of a pure Eskimo sailor
being addressed by a Chinaman in Chinese, under the impression that he
was speaking to a fellow-countryman. It is conjectured that in the
remote past some Mongols may have reached the sea coast in the extreme
east, and have crossed by boat from island to island, and so to the
Arctics of North America. Increasing there in numbers, they presently
dispossessed the aboriginals—the “Tooneet”—and drove them to the “back
of the Arctic beyond.” But of this more when we come to Eskimo legends.

Undoubtedly the Eskimo are linked, if not by blood certainly by custom,
to the Arctic peoples of Siberia, to the Lapps and Finns of northern
Europe. In historic times they mixed with the Danes and Norsemen. They
are not numerically very strong. Forty thousand may possibly total the
nation, and of those 12,000 are in Greenland, and rather more in
Alaska, leaving some 13,000 souls scattered along the shores of Baffin
Land, Melville Peninsula, Boothia, Victoria Island, Banks Island and
the rest of the bleak, fragmented continent. It is in Baffin Land, in
Boothia, and Victoria that the pure Eskimo race is found. Elsewhere the
type is extremely mixed. It is to be deplored, too, that where the
people have been in contact with vicious and unscrupulous whites,
traders, sailors, and the rest, the introduction not only of alien
blood but of the diseases of “civilisation” have here and there
threatened extinction to whole tribes.

The “Central” tribes of Eskimo (i.e., those tribes exclusive of the
Greenlanders, the Alaskans, and all the Labradorians save those on the
northern shore of Hudson’s Strait) number about thirty-two. They have
been carefully classified, enumerated, and geographically located, by
the ethnologist, Dr. Boas. Three communities are found along the
northern shore of Hudson’s Strait (the southern shore of Baffin Land),
the Sikkoswelangmeoot at King Cape, the Akuliangmeoot at North Bluff,
and the Quamanangmeoot in the Middle Savage Islands. All along the
coast of Davis’ Strait are scattered another nine tribes, the chief of
which are the Nuvungmeoot, in the neighbourhood of Frobisher Bay, and
the Oqomiut (divided into four territorial groups) all about Cumberland
Sound. The Lake Netselings Eskimo are a branch of these, called the
Talikpingmeoot. In the extreme north of Baffin Land the Tunungmeoot are
found at Eclipse Sound, and the Tununirusirmeoot about Admiralty Inlet.

There is constant intercourse and intermarriage among these scattered
groups (none of which is numerically large), wherever the tracts of
land in between them are not wholly impassable. Other groups are more
or less isolated by long stretches of territory, unnegotiable by any
means of Eskimo travel. These folk are not only migratory in their
habits, but great travellers for the sake of travelling, as well. They
often engage on journeys which occupy months or even years, although
there is a strong tendency among the old people to return to their
native spot before the end, and so territorial distinctions are

Even before the advent of Europeans and the trade they brought with
them, there was a certain amount of barter going on among the Arctic
folk themselves, occasioning not a little movement. More driftwood
being found in some localities than in others (chiefly at a place
called Tudjadjuak), the tribes came from everywhere to barter for it
with those on the spot. Again, the soapstone or “potstone,” of which
their lamps and cooking utensils were made, is found in a few places
only, such as at Kautag, Kikkerton and Quarmaqdjuin; so that the
natives came long distances to dig or trade for that, too. Pyrites for
striking fire was also a valuable if local production, and flint for
arrow head making. On the whole the relationships of the various tribes
were very friendly, and open hospitality was everywhere observed
throughout all the regions where communication was fairly open and
established. Some feuds or tribal reserves obtained where the peoples
were strange to each other, and hence arose some extraordinary customs
as to greetings, which looked very much like challenges to single
combat by the chosen representatives of either group.

There seems to be some evidence that the present day Eskimo were not
the original inhabitants of these regions at all. There are definite
traces still remaining of an earlier folk called the Tooneet. Eskimo
tradition speaks repeatedly of these Tooneet as having been conquered
by the ancestors of the present race and pushed farther and farther
north, until they were lost sight of altogether. Some of their words
have been preserved by the Medicine Men (Angakooeet, the conjurors),
and the remains of their dwellings and graves were to be seen up to a
few years ago, the latter still containing skeletons and weapons.

The Tooneet were short, between four and five feet in stature, and very
broadly built. (On this subject the reader should consult Dr. Rink,
“Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo.”) The skull was oval, unlike the
present race, who are round-headed. Their weapons were fashioned of
stone, but of a different shape to those of to-day. Their skin canoes
were short and broad instead of the long, narrow kyak in use now. Of
these aboriginals little further trace or memory remains. The writer
met a very ancient Eskimo on the south coast of Baffin Land, who
related that his grandfather had seen two Tooneet on the shores of an
inland lake. They were getting into their canoes, and would not allow
the other to come near. They appeared to understand nothing of the
shouted greeting, but hastily paddled off. The Tooneets were also found
on the coast of Labrador. The present tribes of the region were
originally enslaved to them. At Nakrak, their remains are to be seen.

The unmixed Eskimo type of to-day closely resembles the Chinese, with
an average stature of five feet, lank black hair and small peaked eyes.
Nansen gives us a very life-like picture of them: “Their faces are as a
rule round, with broad, outstanding jaws, and are, in the case of the
women particularly, very fat, the cheeks being especially full. The
eyes are dark and often set a little obliquely, while the nose is flat,
narrow above and broad below. The whole face often looks as if it had
been compressed from the front and forced to make its growth from the
sides. Among the women, and more especially the children, the face is
so flat that one could almost lay a ruler across from cheek to cheek
without touching the nose; indeed, now and again one will see a child
whose nose really forms a depression in the face rather than the
reverse. It will be understood from this that many of the people show
no signs of approaching the European standard of good looks, but it is
not exactly in this direction that the Eskimo attractions usually lie.
At the same time there is something kindly, genial and complacent in
his stubby, dumpy ... features which is quite irresistible. Their hands
and feet alike are generally small and well shaped.” Elsewhere he adds:
“One cannot help being comfortable in these people’s society. Their
innocent, careless ways, their humble contentment with life as it is,
and their kindness, are very catching, and must clear one’s mind of all
dissatisfaction and restlessness.” The length of the excerpt will be
forgiven, since it gives more than a delightful pen picture—an
inimitable bit of human psychology, that touch of insight which makes
the whole world kin.

The Eskimo on the southern coasts of Baffin Land are taller than their
fellows, sometimes attaining a stature of six feet and breadth in
proportion. The majority of the men are beardless. Their hair, black
and coarse, is worn either long or short, but is cut square across the
forehead. It covers the ears, to prevent frostbite, and a band is tied
round the head to prevent it blowing about too freely in the wind. We
shall deal with the ladies’ coiffure at greater length in another

Each band of Eskimo inhabits some particular spot or tract of the
coast, and takes its name after the country, or some peculiarity it
exhibits. For instance, the land at the point of Fox Channel and Hudson
Strait is called Sikkoswelak, a term which describes the fact that the
ice just there is seldom stable, owing to the swift local tides. Thus
the tribe is known to the rest as the Sikkoswelangmeoot or
“The-People-of-the-Place-which-never-Freezes.” Again, there are the
Puisortak or the “People-who-live-where-Something-Shoots-up” (a
blow-hole in a glacier). The tribe is not a very big unit. It consists
of about ten to twenty families (generally less, and, be it noted, the
people are polygamists), but the birth-rate is a low one. The deaths
fairly balance the births, so that their numbers remain more or less
stable. Were not this the case, the regions they inhabit could never
support them, for the Eskimo are voracious eaters (naturally,
considering the climate!) and so far as land animals are concerned, the
hunting is very scanty for many months of the year.

Apropos of this peace-loving, non-belligerent quality in the Eskimo
character, some word should be offered in explanation of the fact that
these people have occasionally shown themselves dangerous to the white
men, and have murdered a few whalers and traders.

As far as any historical records of them exist at all, it would seem
that on one occasion only did the Eskimo ever go to war, or make an
active and successful stand against their enemies. This was many
centuries ago. The handful of Norsemen from Iceland who originally
colonised some spots along the coast of southern Greenland, lived
peaceably enough with the natives they discovered there. At last,
however, a quarrel broke out, blood was spilt, and the Eskimo, plucking
up a courage and spirit never since repeated, fought and killed off the
foreigners. But in America, whenever the Innuit came into contact with
the Red Indians they simply fled before them ever farther and farther
into the icy fastnesses of the north. The red men seem to have been
always particularly savage and inimical to the others. And when in the
course of time they became possessed of firearms, they pressed this
overwhelming advantage against the spear and bow-and-arrow people more
ruthlessly than ever.

The Eskimo believed that it was the white fur trader who had armed the
Adlât with these “fire-tubes” against him, hence the original hostility
of these people towards all other white folk. As a matter of fact, the
servants of the Hudson Bay Company did all they could, in those early
days, to protect the Eskimo against the Indian, and to bring about an
understanding between the native races of the great territory they
exploited. It was, however, this original fear and prejudice which must
be held accountable for any barbarity white men have met with since at
the hands of the Eskimo (unless indeed the instance has been one of
recently and immediately provoked reprisals). For the most part, it
certainly holds good that the inhabitants of the Arctic north have been
the least dangerous “savages” explorers have ever met. There are some
conflicting accounts on this subject in the annals of arctic voyagers;
but as a very general rule the Eskimo have been found to be a kindly
and harmless folk. Seldom as they wage war against others, seldom as
they can be provoked or even terrified into self-defence (except by
flight), they never fight, in a collective sense, among themselves.
This is not due to effeminacy or cowardice, for no one could connect
any such suspicion with the hardy intrepid natives of the most pitiless
regions of the earth. It is simply that the Eskimo are not made in the
mould too common to all the other races of mankind—they are not
fighters. Most people, it has been said, regard war as a reversion to
primitive instincts. But some historians hold that war—organised war,
as we understand the term to-day—was not primaeval in its origin. It
was unknown to early man, and it is unknown to early man’s last
representatives, such as the Black Fellows of Australia and the Eskimo
of the Arctics, at the present time. The Eskimo can be doughty enough
in single combat when necessity or custom require it of him; but
generally speaking he is the most pacific being on earth.

Where these people come within the sphere of practical British
influence, they are treated somewhat on the same lines as the North
American Indians, but without being gathered into Reservations. There
is a Government Agent in charge of the tribe, and its material needs
are provided for by the annual supply ship sent along the coast. It is
generally the Agent, trading or Departmental, who extends the first
handclasp of welcome to medical man or evangelist who betakes himself
to the peoples of the Arctic.

There have been, however, few travellers in Baffin Land, excepting, of
course, the seamen who use its coast. Much of the country is
unexplored. Probably the only whites who have penetrated it at all have
been missionaries and explorers.

Thus the very modern and limited story of Baffin Land trade, etc., is
the only civilised history it has. As for its native history, we might
refer almost without qualification to any archæological account of the
fur-clad men of the stone age. The similarity of the Eskimo’s
implements, their ways of life, their primitive pursuits, their
domestic and tribal management, to those of the neolithic age, has
often been pointed out. The only other notices of the Baffin Islanders
to be found are those which occur in the journals of explorers’
voyages, such as Captain Parry’s second expedition of 1821, in which we
get a lively account of the junketings on the ice between the “savages”
and the crews of the “Fury” and the “Hecla.”

It was during this voyage that the leader fell in with an Eskimo girl
whose name should be rescued from oblivion. Igloolik added to many
native graces and accomplishments a bright intelligence and so good an
idea of hydrography and of the seacoasts in the neighbourhood of the
“Fury’s” moorings, that the Captain utilised the charts and drawings
she made for him in the further prosecution of his expedition, finding
them always reliable and mainly correct. He afterwards called an island
by her name.

Ten years later, Captain John Ross received the same sort of assistance
during his second Arctic voyage, from another Eskimo woman named
Teriksin. She revised and corrected for him the sketches of the
surrounding coasts furnished by some of the men of the tribe.

The chart which illustrates Chapter XII is just such another as
Igloolik and Teriksin might have drawn. It was furnished from memory by
a man called Pitsoolak, and is very fairly correct. The hunters and
fishers of the Arctic are taught as children to memorise the contours
of the coast, all landmarks, and every “blaze” of any sort a trail
might afford. They have no unit of measurement, except the “sleep,”
i.e., the length of a day’s march and its interval of rest.



The Eskimo are a wandering folk, thus their dwellings must of necessity
be capable of quick erection, demolition and easy transport. The tribe
lives in tents in the summer, moving from one camp to another as the
hunters decide; but winter quarters are more permanent, and the snow
built house—the igloo—takes the place of the sealskin tupik on a more
lasting foundation. The Eskimo tent is a wholly different affair from
the Indian wigwam or lodge. It consists of a penthouse shaped framework
of poles, semi-circular at the back, with overlapping strips or
curtains of dressed skin for the entrance in front. The whole thing
carries a covering of skins, firmly and beautifully stitched together.
The back part of the tent, used as the family sleeping place, is
covered with skins of the large ground seal—ogjuk—or of the ordinary
grey seal, with the hair left on in order to ensure some darkness
during the long, unbroken day of the arctic summer. The heavy hair also
serves to throw off the rain in wet weather. But the front portion of
the dwelling has a roofing of the inner membranes of the sealskins,
pared from the entire pelt when fresh and moist. These membranes are
first stretched upon frames and dried, prior to being sewn together,
when they become almost transparent, so that there is plenty of light
in the rest of the tent. They are so beautifully and so neatly stitched
as to be practically waterproof, like the fine fishing jackets made of
dried and split seal gut for the kyakers. The finish of Eskimo
clothing, fur “blankets” and tent coverings, is always neat and
workmanlike and gives no ragged, tatterdemalion impression of nomad
savagery such as might be derived from some Indian’s belongings.

Towards the back of the tent, inside, a board is fixed from side to
side, and the whole space between this and the walls is filled with a
deep bed of heather, spread on top with deerskins. This is the sleeping
place of the family, in the dark half of the dwelling. Additional
deerskins serve as blankets, and lie about the bed, rolled up, during
the day. The rest of the furnishing is very simple.

Inside the entrance hang the bags of seal oil used for lighting or
cooking purposes. Then there are the cooking pots (“kettles,” as they
are called), deep, oblong boxes of soapstone without a lid. And the
lamps, also of soapstone, and in shape not unlike a crumb tray, with a
raised lip and a little shelf at the back for refuse bits of wick.
These “lamps” are fed with seal oil. The wick consists of dried moss
and gossypium. This is moulded into pellets; a row of wick balls is set
on the rim of the lamp and then kneaded down into a line upon it and
kept carefully trimmed, so that the edge of flame remains clear and
bright. All the cooking is done over a “lamp” of this description,
unless over a fire of heather and driftwood out in the open. The Eskimo
housewife uses a blubber hammer (a stone, or mallet of ivory tusk set
in a wooden handle), to beat down the seal or whale fat into oil for
her lamps. Her furs, and her cooking pots, together with her needles,
and knives and implements for dressing skins, constitute the Eskimo
woman’s domestic outfit; a training in the clever use of them is the
Eskimo girl’s education, and the dowry of the Eskimo bride. The tent
and these impedimenta are portable enough for the wanderings of the
arctic summer, and it is remarkable what an amazing host and medley of
belongings can be stowed in the family travelling boat, and unloaded
from it—a veritable Pandora’s box—at the next bit of summer beach.

The winter locale and the winter dwelling is altogether another story.
The tribe having chosen the site of a village in some sheltered bay,
near a frozen lake or stream (or, at any rate, where ice or water can
be obtained), will return to it year after year, and remain there
throughout the long dark season, until the time comes round again for
the summer-exodus. An occasional excursion is undertaken by both men
and women in search of supplies, but the old folk are left on guard.

The building of this village is quite a work of art, and is begun as
soon as the snow lies deep enough. Before this happens, the tents have
been getting very cold to live in, despite the stitching on of several
layers of dried heather to break the force of the wind and keep all
snug inside. At last a day comes when by common consent the hunters all
remain in camp, and join forces with the old men and the boys to build
the winter dwellings.

Each man plans and builds his own house according to the size of his
family; but only in his turn, and assisted by the rest of the
community, to whom he has already given, or is prepared to give, his
services. The first houses to be erected are those of the Angakooeet,
the Medicine Men; the chief hunters are the next to be considered, and
everyone else comes in the order of his estimation in the tribe.

The main considerations the Eskimo has to bear in mind in building his
snow house are that it will have to be kept in repair, and that it must
be adequately lighted and warmed. This means labour and oil, so for his
own sake the dwelling is planned on as small a scale as possible. It
varies in nothing but in this point of size from all the rest of the

The hunter having chosen his site, next takes a sealing spear, a long
twelve-inch knife and a saw, and begins piercing the snow in every
direction, his object being to find a spot where it is deep, and so
closely packed and hardened by the wind that it can be cut out into
great blocks for building. Otherwise his “bricks” would be too brittle
or too friable for the purpose. Should no such patch lie near at hand,
the builder calls all hands, and together they start trampling and
packing down the snow with their feet, while the old men, the women and
boys constantly bring up fresh supplies and throw it in to be stamped
firm. Having thus prepared what he considers sufficient material for
his purpose, the good man commences to saw out huge rectangular blocks
of this solidified snow mass, each one of which taxes his utmost
strength to lift. He begins his house by building a ring of them, a
larger or smaller ring as the case may be, fitted and jointed together
with the utmost nicety by means of his knife. A second tier is added to
this ring, the builder working from the inside and the blocks being
brought up by his assistants. As soon as this is “well and truly laid,”
he trims the upper surface to a slope, and continues building, but in a
spiral now and slightly sloping inwards, until he has reached the top
of what has grown to be a dome roof. A key block is deftly fitted in to
complete and close it, and the shell of the dwelling is complete.

A semicircular opening in the side is next cut out for the doorway, and
then the builder turns his attention to the sleeping bench—the
principal feature of the Eskimo igloo. He builds a line of blocks from
side to side, facing the opening, up to the height of a man’s legs. The
space between this and the walls is filled with broken snow like
rubble, which is trampled down until brought to the necessary level, so
as to form a solid bench of snow right across the building.

Then side pieces are built out, to form solid shelves for the lamps and
family utensils and to serve generally as a larder and storage place
for oil and blubber; so that, by the time all is done there is little
of the original floor space left.

The next step is the porch or sukso, another little domed erection much
like the main igloo, built in front of the entrance and intended, first
to break the force of the wind and to keep the larger place warm, and
secondly as a store house for surplus meat and blubber, for the dogs’
harness, whips, sealing lines, and anything the latter and the wolves
might find eatable. (Eskimo dogs, be it remarked, find nothing
uneatable save sticks and stones). As an entrance or exit for the
sukso, a further passage is built, like a little tunnel; again as
protection from the arctic wind.

The finishing touch is the window. Light is a necessity, but the Eskimo
is scarcely particular about ventilation. The less he gets of that the
more successful his architecture seems to be. A square opening is cut
high up in the dome of the igloo, facing the sleeping bench. It is then
glazed after the fashion of the Arctics. The builder sets off for the
nearest sheet of fresh water ice, and with the butt end of his sealing
spear shivers out a good thick pane of it. This he places over the hole
in the roof, packing its edges round with half melted snow, and pouring
water over the packing. In two minutes, everything is frozen airtight
and solid, and a window of flawless ice lets the illumination of the
northern night into the pure and icy chamber of the newly made house.
Failing a window of ice, one is made of strips of dried seal intestine
(a thin, translucent material, not unlike oiled silk), stitched
together with fine deer sinew. The seams are parallel, and as neatly
executed as if by machine working on the smallest stitch. The fabric is
stretched over the opening and pegged down at the corners, and
congealed into its place by half melted snow. A small hole is cut in
the dome for ventilation, and a snow block provided to stop it up again
when necessary.

Finally, the interior has to be glazed. While the householder himself
has been busy more or less within the building, on the outside the old
men and the children and the women have been set the task of packing
every joint and crevice in the snow masonry with loose snow, so as to
make it absolutely wind tight. Now comes the moment when the doorways,
too, are closed and every entrance blocked. Two lamps, well trimmed and
well supplied with oil, have been carefully lit and left burning
inside, much as we in this country leave a sulphur candle in a room to
be fumigated after infectious illness, and seal up the door. As the
lamps burn slowly away, the temperature rises and all the surface of
the snow is slightly melted. As the lamps die out the temperature falls
again, and the surface freezes to glass-like smoothness. Every asperity
of the sawn blocks of snow is annealed, and the dwelling is as proof
against draught as the inside of a bottle. Water, too, is thrown on the
floor, to make it smooth as marble and as durable as cement.

The writer has dwelt thus at length upon the building of the Eskimo’s
winter quarters, since there is something almost like a fairy tale in
this fantastic yet ingenious and practical use of snow and ice. If
masters of taste have always insisted upon the principles in
architecture that design should be in keeping with site and
surroundings, and material should be indigenous to the locality, surely
the houses that these hardy children of the frozen North build for
themselves are by no means wanting in true artistry.

These snow houses do not take very long to construct. An Eskimo can
build an igloo large enough to house about six people in a few hours,
given some assistance. It would be imagined that no great degree of
comfort could be expected within a dwelling where a thaw of the roof
and walls begins as soon as the temperature rises above freezing point.
But warmth is a matter of degree in the Arctic, and shelter from the
bitterness of the wind alone is almost warmth. The stillness of the air
inside, the greatly lessened intensity of cold, and the local if foul
warmth over the lamps and cooking pots, all make for comfort as the
native understands it.

In some parts of the country the natives line the dome and walls of
their houses with cleverly stretched skins, and between them and the
snow walls the intervening space acts as a regulator against the
interior warmth, so that excessive thaw is checked, or its effects are
prevented from damping the family circle below.

Lest the foregoing account of the white and frozen village should
convey too dazzling an idea of such a settlement, it should be
remembered that the snow all round and about is trampled up, and
incredibly defiled by all the refuse of a community who have no ideas
at all about sanitation and seemly surroundings. Hence there is an
appearance of dirt and squalor wherever the Eskimo encamp, and these
little congeries of human beings contrive quite effectually to blot and
mar the pure immensity of the snow-white northern landscape.

The Igloovegak once finished, it remains to do the furnishing. This is
essentially the women’s work. Heather is lavishly spread over the
sleeping bench, and covered again with the heavy winter skins of deer.
The rolled-up fur rugs (or “blankets”) of the family are ranged round
the walls. Two of the soapstone lamps are placed on stands at each end
of the sleeping bench, and a rough framework of wood and deer thongs
arranged above them by way of a rack for drying clothes. Stone cooking
pots may be suspended over the lamps when required, and a store of
blubber and meat is kept handy on the snow benches behind the lamps.

The rest of the family belongings are stowed away in the porch, and the
house is ready for occupation.

There is another description of snow dwelling used by the Eskimo called
a Sinniktâkvik, an acquired sleeping place. This is merely a temporary
affair, a hastily built igloo sufficient to house a travelling party
for the space of a “sleep,” having no porch or window, and only
intended to be abandoned next day.

It is interesting to note that the remains of the dwellings of the
Tooneet can be distinguished by the fact of their circular floors
having been laid down with rough stones, unlike the modern igloo, which
leaves little or nothing to mark its site by the time it has all melted
away in summer. The sleeping bench in the Tooneet house was narrower
than the present day Eskimo’s, showing that the earlier people were of
shorter stature.

The family continue to inhabit the winter igloo until the spring thaw
comes, and the roof falls in. Then, for a week or two, skins are
stretched over the hole to keep the storms from beating in; but this is
only a temporary measure. By the time the milder weather really sets
in, and the trickle of water can be heard everywhere, and the
tunnelling, too, of the lemming under the sleeping bench, the tupik has
to be in readiness. It has been stored away under a heap of stones
during the winter, but with the advent of the ducks it is brought forth
and erected once more.

These Eskimo settlements are not built according to plan. Each man
chooses a site for his own igloo, generally in the shelter of some
rock, or where there is a good supply of hard packed snow. The
dwellings are not very scattered, however, but grouped fairly closely
together, for the double purpose of sociability and common defence
against attack by dogs, wolves, or bears. The true Eskimo village
boasts of no common room or general meeting house such as may be in use
among some of the tribes in Alaska and elsewhere, where few native
customs survive unchanged. Nor is the log or sod hut ever seen in the
regions where Eskimo life is still lived as it used to be before
Europeans set foot in the polar wilds.

It is noteworthy that, when an Eskimo tribe moves to another locality,
the old igloos are never destroyed. In the barrens, the law of
hospitality is universally observed, and such of these buildings as may
survive the springtime thaw, might serve for shelter at any time to
travellers on journey. Those that are fairly intact when the tribe
moves away are merely blocked up; but those which have become unsafe
have the roof knocked in. The writer has frequently come across these
deserted villages in the course of his journeys, and had occasion to
avail himself of the shelter thus offered. It is a weird and desolate
sight—a collection of derelict igloos—some gaping open, others closed;
but no smoke or steam escaping from their little domes. And, over all,
the pall of the frozen silence of the Arctic.



The day’s work in an Eskimo village (i.e., permanent winter quarters),
is full and varied, and quite regular. It is a busy life they lead,
both men and women, marked by all sorts of skilled activities; by
intervals of neighbourly recreation and gossip; by the excitement and
stir of the hunters’ return from sealing or bear hunting; and by
wonderfully cheery, cosy, hospitable orgies of eating in the evening,
when everyone is getting dry and warm and replete for the night.

The hunters start out early in the morning, after a hasty meal of raw
flesh and a drink of water, accompanied by their sons and the dogs,
four or five in number, harnessed to a light sled loaded with lines and
harpoons, or whatever implements may be needed for the proposed chase.
The team starts out in a fine tear, urged by shouting and the cracking
of whips, and off they all race, men and dogs together, to the sealing
grounds out on the frozen sea, or inland for deer. The stars serve as a
compass, or in thick weather the wind will be sufficient guide.

No food is borne on the sled, for the hunter depends upon himself for
his dinner. The duty of the boys is to watch the sled, to mind the
dogs, and see they do not fight or stampede, to study the conditions of
the ice, the signs of the weather, the habits of animals, to note their
calls and movements and how to imitate them, to take careful notice of
the topography of the country and make mental drawings of it to serve
as charts and maps, to read the stars, and, generally to endeavour to
become skilled and successful hunters themselves.

They arrive at the sealing ground as the winter day breaks, and
immediately start the search for a seal hole; for upon the finding of
this depends the comfort and sustenance of the whole family for days to
come, and the succour of the families of anybody else who may not be in
luck, but who may return home, cheery as ever, but empty handed.

All around as far as the eye can see is a vast, white expanse, utterly
featureless and monotonous save for an occasional iceberg or a ridge of
hummocky ice. Behind is the white line of the broken coast; ahead is a
dark mist, marking the floe edge and the open sea; and above all, the
twilight sky, darker than the drear white world, of the Arctic winter.
To a European, the effect of such a scene is crushing in its
melancholic immensity, its frozen immobility and silence. Not so to the
native. He remains irrepressibly cheerful, his whole soul preoccupied
with the necessities of his larder, buoyed up with the hope and the
tireless patience of the sealer. He goes searching for his blow hole.
The slight indication for which his practised eye is scanning every
foot of the ice is a faintly rounded bump with a small opening in it no
bigger than a shilling. As soon as he catches sight of one of these he
is reassured, and prepares to wait—quite indefinitely, and perfectly
still—for what must presently happen.

The seal is a warm-blooded creature, whose need of air to breathe is
urgent and frequent. As soon as the sea begins to freeze, the animal
takes precautions against being imprisoned and drowned under the ice.
It makes a series of breathing holes over the whole area of its feeding
ground below. If one or another of these freezes over again, there are
the rest; or if an enemy is encountered at one hole, it can have
recourse to another. The seal comes methodically after feeding to each
blow hole in turn, and keeps it open by scratching away any newly
formed ice threatening to close it up. It puts its nose to the opening
and breathes long, deeply, and luxuriously, before diving once more.

The hunter knows every move in the game.

Having discovered a seal hole, he provides himself with a block of snow
to sit upon, and prepares for a lengthy wait. He takes up his patient
station facing the wind (for the seal has the keenest scent, and the
Eskimo is, to say the least of it, somewhat smelly), thrusts his feet
and legs into a deerskin bag, tucks his hands into the sleeves of his
jacket, lays his spear across his knees, and watches—it may be for
hours—motionless as a rock, for sound travels under the ice and the
prey must not be warned. A sealer will wait all day and all night, if
need be, at the blow hole. If he should fall asleep, he runs the risk
of being maimed for life with frostbite.

Presently he hears the expected scratching, and the scraping of the
paws of a seal coming up to breathe. Silently he prepares for action.
Now is the critical time. First, there comes the expulsion of the foul
air long pent in the animal’s lungs; but not yet dare the watcher make
the slightest sign. The seal withdraws its head and listens intently
for a possible foe. Reassured after a few moments, it again approaches
the hole with the little dome of snow and, putting its head well up,
takes a long, reviving breath. This is the hunter’s moment. His hand
slips to his spear (his fur garments making no sound), grips it, and
poises it with unerring aim. With one swift downward thrust, the weapon
is through the blow hole and its barb buried deep in the neck of the
seal. When the eye is true and quick the stroke is seldom missed. The
animal immediately dives, taking out the barb and line. The Eskimo seal
spear has a movable head or barb, which is attached to the shaft in
such a way that it becomes detached from it the moment an animal is
struck, and remains firmly embedded in the flesh with the long line of
white whale hide attached, while the spear itself floats on the water
or falls on the ice as the case may be. The hunter instantly recovers
this shaft, and now the butt comes into play. The hole is quickly
enlarged and the prey hauled up and killed, there on the ice, with one
quick stroke.

It is but the work of a few minutes for the dog team (which had been
driven away back from the hole as soon as it was discovered), to come
racing up. A shout summons every other hunter within sight, and quicker
than it takes to tell, there is a concourse of fur-clad figures, the
seal is cut open, and a rib, dripping with the fresh, hot blood, is
presented to each by way of an invigorating snack. The carcase is soon
skewered together again by means of the long ivory pins carried by the
hunter, and loaded on to the sled, when the successful “outfit,”
bidding a cheery adieu to the others, strikes off then and there for
home, rejoicing in the thought of fresh supplies of meat and blubber,
and another skin added to the family stores.

When the sealing season fully sets in, sealing camps are formed far out
on the ice at sea, over the sealing grounds, and thither the younger
half of the entire Eskimo community resorts for a month or more. A new,
roughly fashioned, temporary village quickly springs up, and all the
usual household goods are installed in readiness for the season’s work
on the spot. The camp igloos are much smaller and less ambitious
dwellings than those on shore, their sole object being to provide a few
weeks’ shelter. There is none of the home life of the permanent
village. The men and boys are away all day long, and the women spend
all their time preparing and drying the skins and keeping the cooking
pot going. Water is obtained either from the snow lying deep on the
surface of the ice, or from ice from the nearest berg. From early
morning till late at night the camp resounds with the crack of whips,
the shouts of the dog-team drivers, the gruff voices of men and the
shrill voices of boys, as they drive hither and thither, quartering the
expanse of the sealing grounds in search of the blow holes. Every foot
of the way is closely scanned. Suddenly a deep “Ugh!” from the hunter
announces the saucer-like depression in the snow which tells him that a
seal cavern is beneath.

Here and there a solitary sportsman with but one dog on a long line
sets out on his own, over the sealing ground. He trudges observantly
along, urging the dog to ferret about and pick up the scent of the
quarry beneath the snow. “White Fang,” nothing loth, sets all his
sharp, trained wits to work, and presently starts snuffling and
scratching, like any terrier at a rat hole, and the hunter knows he has
come upon his prey.

To understand the activities of the sealing camp it is necessary to
know something of the habits of the seal in the breeding season. For
some time before the baby creature is born, for instance, the mother
has been preparing a house for it. She does not give birth in the water
nor on the surface of the snow, for the obvious reasons of the cold and
of the possible presence of enemies. She makes a hole in the sea ice
big enough for her to get through, and proceeds to scrabble out an airy
cavern in the deep layer of snow above, leaving a sort of shelf or
flooring of clear ice upon which she can lie in safety and bring her
young to birth. This place is—comparatively—warm, dry, and even cosy.
It is within immediate reach of the hole through which she can dive
back into the water at a moment’s alarm, and it is almost completely
hidden from above. The baby is left in this cavern while the mother
seeks food, and it lives there until, after a series of short
educational excursions in the water, it has learnt to hunt for itself,
and its lungs have accustomed themselves to the conditions of the adult
seal’s existence.

Frequently indeed the baby gets drowned! The mother may have heard some
noise above which has alarmed her. Fearing danger, she has thrust her
head up through the diving hole, caught hold of the young one, and
hastily retreated with it to a depth unsuitable for its tender lungs,
with a sad and fatal result.

The Eskimo sealer knows all this natural history as he knows that of
every other denizen of the Arctic, and founds upon it his methods in

Directly he has detected the locality of a seal’s nursing cavern under
his feet, either by the presence of a slight depression in the snow, or
by the pointing of the dog, he arms himself with a nixie, or hook on
the end of a long shaft, and gathering himself together makes a
tremendous jump into the air, coming down with all his weight and force
upon the spot. He jumps again and again, until at last the snow caves
in and blocks the hole below, cutting off the baby seal’s retreat into
the sea beneath. Then he prods and probes among the débris of the
cavern for the imprisoned creature, locates it, hooks it out, and kills
it with one blow on the head. After that, there is the mother to be
caught. She is probably lurking under the ice nearby. So, before he
kills the little one, the hunter ties his sealing line to one of its
flippers and pushes it through the diving hole into the water. The
mother at once tries to come to its rescue, only to encounter her own
devoted death. She, too, is hooked, dragged out, and despatched.

The seal has other enemies to contend with besides man. The bear has a
keen scent, a heavy paw, a huge appetite, and a peculiar relish for her
young. He, too, wanders out on the sealing grounds at the proper
season, and having found a cavern, sets his two huge forepaws on the
snow and, with one mighty push, breaks it all in. He easily hooks the
helpless little creature beneath, and devours it with ursine relish.

Or it may be that an arctic fox decides to spend a day seal hunting. He
glides over the snow, an almost invisible shape, like nothing so much
as a white wraith of the desolation around. His scent having guided him
to a likely spot, and being unable, like the bear, to do his
housebreaking by mere brute force, he adopts a peculiarly wicked plan
of his own. Planting all four feet together pivot-fashion, he spins
himself round and round, his claws boring a way through the snow, until
he corkscrews his unwelcome presence into the seal’s retreat. The baby,
again, falls a helpless victim.

This seal hunting of the tribesmen, far out at sea in the camp on the
ice, is not without its dangers, as the following tale will show.

For several weeks all had gone prosperously with the sealers. The
weather had been good, and the young seals plentiful. Loaded sleds had
been continually going to and fro between the winter village on shore
and the village on the ice, bearing meat and skins to the old folk at
home. Contentment and jollity reigned, for had not the Conjurors
guaranteed prosperity and good luck, and were their prophecies not
amply fulfilled?

But, one day, the sky became overcast. Hour after hour it grew more
heavily banked with forbidding cloud, whilst from seaward came a low
roar, the presage of an arctic storm. The sealers hastily retreated to
their dwellings, and blocked up their doors, and prepared to wait.
Evening drew nigh, and the tempest rose. An occasional quiver of the
icy floor told of the pounding of heavy breakers at the floe edge, and
a portentous shiver now and again spoke of masses of it being broken

With the indifference which comes of familiarity with danger, these
hardy northern folk stayed out there in camp, on the very edge as it
were of death; and as the night drew on, merely rolled themselves in
their fur blankets and went to sleep, confident that the morning would
see an abatement in the storm. Nevertheless, it went on increasing and
grew more and more violent. The shivering dogs scratched holes for
themselves in the snow on the lee side of the igloos, and buried
themselves as deeply as they could. At length the Eskimo instinct of
peril was aroused, and an intuitive sense of the full extent of the
catastrophe at hand (a sense not developed to any marked degree among
civilised peoples), roused the entire camp.

It began when a woman and her husband waked suddenly, feeling that all
was not well. They looked round the igloo, yet could detect nothing
amiss. Its other occupants slept soundly. There was the thud and the
roar of the wild hurricane without, but all seemed snug within.

And yet—what was that? Even as the goodwife watched and waited, there
came another of those strange quiverings in the ice, and the cooking
pot suspended over the lamp began to swing. The awful thing told its
own tale! The ice on which the camp was built was breaking up beneath
it, and every soul was faced with imminent and deadly peril. The sea
was fathoms deep below; the land a long distance away! Darkness and the
savage uproar without made chaos of the arctic night.

Then indeed the ice gave way, and in a moment became nothing but a
pounding, grinding mass of detatched fragments, on which the wrecked
camp tossed. The sealers, roughly awakened, smashed down their doors,
or with knife and spear cut a way out of their igloos as best they
might, and got clear of them, followed by the women and children. With
the strange but unerring instinct of primitive man, they headed, even
in that tumult and pitchy darkness, for the unseen land; and then began
a perilous race with death and the spirits of the storm.

They had to spring from floe to floe, following each other, encouraging
and helping the women, finding a way where from moment to moment there
might be none, risking everything at every leap.

Among those in the crowd was Kownak, a young hunter, and his new made
wife. The girl was only then recovering from a recent sickness, and her
strength completely failed her. The two started, indeed, on their
ghastly journey like the rest; but before half the distance to safety
was accomplished the young wife—wet, terrified, and weak—sank down
exhausted and beaten on the bitter ice with a cry of despair. Kownak
lifted her up and bore her on in his arms. But the rocking of the ice
flung them both into the sea time and again, despite his utmost
endeavour. Once he managed to grip the edge of the floe, whilst the
girl scrambled back on to it again over his shoulders. He stripped off
his coat to wrap it round her in the frantic effort to keep her from
freezing, and tried again to lift and carry her. But it was an
impossible feat on the tossing, glassy ice. She struggled to rise and
stagger on, but could endure no more and sank down again, unconscious,
to be frozen to death within another minute.

Kownak could not tear himself from the body until it had become nothing
but an indistinguishable mass, one with the ice. Only then did he
remember his own desperate plight, and make a final effort to save
himself. After incredible exertions and hairbreadth escapes, at last he
reached the shore, black with frostbite, and joined the surviving
remnant of the sealing camp. The merest handful of the people had
outlived that terrible night.



In the meantime, the women, left in the village on shore, have been far
from idle. As soon as the husband has gone off for the day the wife
sets about her domestic affairs. First, she rolls up the bedding and
tidies the sleeping bench. The next job is to sweep the hoar-frost from
the window and the cupola, to prevent the dripping of any moisture, and
then to sweep up the floor—littered, likely enough, with the remains of
a good feed overnight. These duties are performed with a brush made of
the outspread wings of a duck or raven; it might almost be called a
double-bladed brush. The backs are sewn together and the upper bones
form the handle. Such a contrivance is a very handy affair altogether,
and will last quite a long time.

The next task is to prepare a quantity of blubber for oil. This is
pulped with a bone hammer or koutak, and the fuel so obtained is
suspended over the shallow lamps in such a way as to dip into them and
keep them supplied. New wick is fashioned from dried moss and cotton
plant trimmed upon the lamps. Next comes the stew for supper. The
Eskimos have only one way of cooking meat, and that is stewing it in
the stone “kettles” already described. These are partly filled with sea
water for the sake of the salt, a quantity of seal’s blood is added,
and then comes the meat. The whole thing hangs simmering over the lamps
all day, and by the time the men come back at night a reeking hot meal
is ready, rich, nourishing, and as tender as a sharp-set hunter could

Water is the next consideration. The Eskimo housewife hauls it in skin
buckets from the nearest stream, bailing it up through a hole in the
ice; or, failing that, she brings in the ice itself, or snow, and sets
it to melt over a spare lamp. These people are thirsty souls, and water
is hard to come by in the winter. Every drop that can be obtained is
used for drinking or cooking, so that washing (except the hands and
face), is dispensed with perforce of arctic circumstance. Fresh water
ice melts more quickly than beaten snow, and it is an interesting fact
that an iron or tin pot used for melting the former will last much
longer than for melting snow. The latter process causes it to become
quickly pitted with spots of rust and perforated. Aluminium vessels
last the longest. In the old days—i.e., prior to the establishments of
trading posts—the Eskimos had no utensils of any sort except those of
native manufacture from bone, or stone, or ivory. Nowadays they have
steel-tipped spears, iron nails, and tinware for cooking purposes.

Perhaps the next most important employment of the feminine portion of
the community is the preparation of skins, the softening of leather,
and the finer animal tissues, the washing, drying, and stretching of
gut, and the manufacture of the marvellously fine sinew used for sewing
and stitchery. All this includes the making of tents and clothing. The
old women help the housewives as far as they are able, and the girls
watch and learn, with a view to rendering themselves eligible in the
eyes of the young men as accomplished brides-to-be. The women are
perpetually employed chewing the edges of skins and leathers to make
them pliable and soft for sewing. This process tends to wear down the
teeth to very unsightly stumps.

The heavy work is done by the hale and hearty, who leave only the
lighter tasks, such as the tending of the lamps and the minding of the
house, to the older folk. Womanlike all the world over, the crones love
to get together and indulge in unlimited gossip. All the women, indeed,
pay a constant round of visits, and gathering, now here, now there, sit
about smiling and gossiping, as is their wont from the tropics to the

The Eskimo are a genial, jovial, peaceable people, among whom
quarrelling is a crime, and he or she who disturbs the general peace is
a villain of the deepest dye. So, whatever else comes of all the
gossip, it is not—in an Eskimo village—malevolence, backbiting and
spite. They talk—these fur-clad, hard-working women—of their last
year’s journeyings, who and what they saw and heard, of their trials
and vexations, of their children and relations and husbands—each one’s
contribution to the conversation being punctuated by a chorus of “Ah,
Ah’s,” “Elarle! Elarle!” (Indeed! Yes!) from the rest.

Suddenly, however, just when their enjoyment may be at its height, the
children’s cry of “Kumokse! Kumokse! Netsérkpok!”—(A sled, a sled! He’s
got a seal!) breaks up the gathering in excited confusion. There is a
rush, each wife to her own home. Cries of joy and anticipation fill the
air, and the whole village is stirred with cheerful and prosperous
bustle. The hunters are returning, and fresh supplies are at hand. Very
soon the cracking of the dog whips is heard, shouts of command, barks
and howls; and the teams appear, scrambling over the sigjak (the broken
ice along the shore), with their welcome loads. Quickly the harness is
thrown off and safely bestowed, the lines and everything eatable being
carried into the sukso; the dogs are fed and quieted, and curl round
and go to sleep in the snow.

Then comes the evening meal. The stewpot is taken from the slings and
set in front of the mistress of the igloo. The sturdy men and children
crowd round her and each one is served with a generous piece of
sealmeat. They hold it in their hands to eat. Each bronzed or
wind-blackened face glows with enjoyment and contentment in the homely
lamplight, and an atmosphere of unfeigned goodwill and cheer dominates
the little group. The hungry folk whose husbands and fathers have not
been successful all day simply distribute themselves through the
village, and share the food of the lucky. The captor of to-day may
return empty handed to-morrow, when he may look for hospitality to his
guests of to-night.

As soon as the meal in the pot is finished, the soup is poured out into
a drinking bowl and handed round, each one taking a good pull in turn.
The air soon reeks—the tight-packed assemblage of unwashed humanity,
the stench of seal oil and blubber, the strong odours from the pot and
the exhalations of garments spread out on the racks to dry, all
contribute to the malodorous atmosphere. But what of that to those
accustomed to nothing else, to whom the whole means warmth and plenty
and the nearness of his own, in the frozen immensity of the awful
arctic world without?

As soon as the meal is done the day’s catch of seals is cut up. Each
animal is placed on its back on the floor, opened and dismembered, and
pieces of the meat and blubber are given to the needy. Open hospitality
is the law of the land in the Arctics. Travellers, whether native or
European, are always sure of welcome and shelter on reaching an Eskimo
village. On these occasions the stranger is always the first to be
served from the generous family stew.

This sanguinary and odoriferous business being despatched, and the
neighbours having taken themselves off, the door is fixed for the
night—the door being a slab of snow cut to fit the main entrance to the
igloo, and set on one side during the day. The lamps are trimmed to a
low flame, wet clothes are spread on the drying frames above them, and
each member of the family rolls up in a fur blanket on the sleeping
bench and so goes to bed. Occasionally the mother wakes up, to trim the
lamps and turn the clothes during the night. She will be the first to
wake and rise in the morning, since it is part of the woman’s work
“which is never done,” to rub and soften the leathern clothing of her
good man and the boys, which had hardened in drying while they slept.

Before the advent of the white man and his methods, the Eskimo used to
start a fire by means of “firesticks.” The writer has seen this done
repeatedly at the present day. An oblong piece of wood with a
depression made in it to hold the tinder (a mixture of dried moss and
cotton plant), receives the spindle. Another small piece of wood,
placed on top of the latter, is held in position by the teeth and
pressed down firmly upon it. The spindle is made to rotate rapidly by
means of a rough bow until a spark, caused by the friction, starts up
in the tinder. This is gently blown to a flame, and the fire is
kindled. Nowadays, steel, or pieces of iron, are used in place of the
driftwood board and spindle, especially on hunting expeditions; for
although matches have found their way into the Eskimo igloo, they are
costly, and apt to get damp.

There seems to be a happy sort of sex equality among these people, or
perhaps it should rather be said that a mutually agreeable division of
equally essential labours cause the men and women to live more on a
common footing than they seem to do among many other uncivilised folk.
Old women, widows, and orphan girls, never want for protection and
sustenance, so long as the rest can shelter and support them. The
Eskimo are a very improvident people, never taking thought for the
hungry morrow when they can feast to-day; but so long as the good
things last, so long as they are to be had, the old and helpless of
both sexes are never neglected. If a time should come when there arises
a question of superfluous mouths to fill, the old people go into a sort
of voluntary retreat in their own houses, and willingly die the death
of starvation. More will be said on this subject elsewhere.

On one dreadful occasion an Eskimo woman was betrayed by force of
circumstances into an act of cannibalism. This woman was a tall,
commanding figure from the south coast, with a grave, intelligent face.
She was an excellent huntress, equally at home with gun or spear. She
could wield her needle, too, and together with her husband, was a
first-rate worker and much respected by all the tribe.

A party of women, including herself and her baby, were travelling to a
trading station. Their sled was well provisioned and their dogs in good
condition, and the route lay over mountains and valleys, and across all
the intervening fiords and bays. Soon after they started things began
to go wrong. The weather changed and a wind got up, bearing snow. Storm
after storm swept the country, through which the travellers could
scarcely force their way. The dogs sank to their shoulders in the deep
drift, and at last could make no further progress at all. The little
expedition called a halt. They built a sleeping place and prepared to
wait till the violence of the weather abated. But, as day after day
went howling by, each as impossible as the last, the stock of rations
became exhausted, and the whole party reached the verge of starvation.

The Eskimo woman from the south fell ill, in consequence of the
hardships and privations, and lost consciousness. While she happened to
be in this state, a council was held by the others of the party, who
decided to keep life going by killing and eating the child. This was
accordingly done, and as soon as she could be partially roused, a
portion was given to the famished mother. Not knowing what it was she
did, she ate the meat—and survived. Some time afterwards the forlorn
band was rescued by some hunters and taken to their camp, and only then
the woman learnt the truth about her supposedly dead baby. Years after
the horrible thing occurred the writer met her and had the story from
her own lips.

Women and their adventures figure largely in Eskimo folk tales. One of
them might almost point to a feminist movement in the Arctics! Two
brides, it is narrated, ran away from their homes before their very
first children ever saw the light. After awhile the fathers went in
search of their lost daughters. When the girls found they were
discovered they wept bitterly, and declared themselves most unwilling
to return to their husbands. The fathers, however, were quite relieved
to find them comfortably off where they were, and having stayed a
couple of “sleeps” in their daughters’ house, returned home without the
brides. When they got back to the tribe they had this amazing thing to
tell—that two women without the company of any men, lived happily all
by themselves, and were never in want!

There is a charming little story of a lonely woman who owned a bear
cub, and loved it and brought it up like a child and called it her son.
The bear repaid her devotion, and supported her by his prowess in
hunting so well that the rest of the villagers grew jealous and planned
to kill him. So, conscious of their evil designs, he departed, almost
as much to the grief of the children of the village as to that of his
“mother.” He never ceased, however, to repay her love, and continued
out on the ice floes to catch seals for her support.

The gruesome story of the murderess Toodlânak has never hitherto—so far
as the writer can ascertain—been included in any ethnologist’s
collection of the Eskimo legends.

It is narrated by the Ancient Ones that there lived this Toodlânak, who
was an evil spirit in female disguise. She had a large house
(igloovegak) built by the side of the route used by hunters going
inland after deer. It was far up country, many days’ journey either
from the sea or from the pastures of the interior. The house was large
and comfortable, and Toodlânak had a reputation for hospitality. She
loved to entertain any who passed that way and to give them food and
shelter for the night. She allotted to them the best rugs and the most
comfortable part of the sleeping bench. Presently, however, it began to
be noticed that few if any of these hunters returned. At last the
brother of one of these inexplicably missing men determined to look
into things. He started out with a companion, and in due course both
reached the half-way house. Out came Toodlânak, as usual, all smiles
and amiability, inviting them to enter and refresh and rest themselves
there for the night. They did so, but the suspicious young man kept his
wits about him, and never relaxed a sharp look-out on his hostess. He
had a notion that she knifed her guests in their slumber.

Unknown to Toodlânak, he secreted a flat stone within the bosom of his
tunic (the netseak), and, rolling himself in his blanket, lay flat on
his back apparently in deep sleep. His hostess had also retired to
rest, and seemed also quite dead to the world. But, about midnight, he
saw her rise by the dim light of the lamp, and creep over to his
companion where he also lay asleep on the bench. The movement betrayed
the fact that the awful creature had a knife-like tail with which she
struck her victim through the chest and killed him. She then crept
stealthily towards the watcher, and would have served him the same way
but that he was ready for her. The vicious tail struck, indeed, at his
chest, but shivered on the hidden stone, broke off, and left Toodlânak
defenceless. The hunter sprang up and killed her on the spot. He
searched all over the place, and found the remains of innumerable
victims, and their property hoarded away. He broke down the house,
buried his luckless companion, and returned home with the news that at
last the country was ridded of its pest and might be safely travelled.



In the preceding chapters little but an outline has been given of the
activities of the day in an Eskimo encampment. Boat building is one of
the occupations in which men and women jointly engage; but before this
is described at the length it requires, there is much to be said about
the dressing and fashioning of the various skins which form the most
important item of Eskimo economy.

The Eskimo woman values none of her possessions more than the ooloo, a
short-handled knife shaped like a small half-moon turf cutter, chiefly
used for paring off the inner membrane of the stout sealskin for the
lighter hangings of the summer tent, but of universal utility. With it
she cuts out her garments or dismembers a seal. In addition to this she
has steel or ivory needles and a thimble.

The Eskimo have no woven fabrics or European clothes until they come in
contact with the whites, and—perhaps unfortunately—acquire the
beginnings of a civilisation alien to the natural evolution and
necessities of their lives.

Their own native dress consists entirely of deerskins for winter use
and sealskins for the summer. Both sets are warmly lined with fur. The
deerskins employed as clothing are the summer and autumn hides; those
flayed in the winter are reserved for the kaksak or sleeping blankets.
The men’s and women’s tunics are lined either with fawn skins or the
summer skins with the hair on. No underclothing is required, fur always
being worn next to the skin. The man’s jacket is looser in shape than
the woman’s, and the hood (nessak) fits closely round the face. The
woman’s garment is quite different. It has shorter, baggy sleeves, is
large and roomy at the back, fitting, however, tightly to the waist; it
has a hood (amout) big enough for two heads, a short stomacher-like
apron about twelve inches long in front, and a lengthy tail reaching to
the heels behind. The Eskimo women carry their babies on their backs in
this queer jacket. The child has no clothing on it, but it keeps
admirably warm next the fur-clad mother. Its feet rest on her waist
line and its head peers from out of the capacious hood over her

Both sexes wear short, wide trousers. For footgear they have long
deerskin stockings like Lifeguardsmen’s boots, with the hair turned
next the skin, reaching well up over the knees under the pants. Over
these is worn a sock like a Turkish slipper, made from the skin of the
Large Glaucus Gull, the feathers being inside; and over this again goes
a short sock of deerskin, with the hair turned outwards and upwards so
as to enable the long boot, or kummik, to pull on easily. This boot is
tied on below the knee and round the ankle. The sole is made of the
leather of the large ground seal, with the hair shaved off, and the leg
is the skin of deer’s legs stoutly stitched together.

The women take immense pride in the cut, fit, workmanship and
ornamentation of their dresses, showing no little taste and
discrimination in the management of design and ornament. The various
furs are introduced in lines, panels and patterns, with an eye to
colour and texture a skilled furrier might envy.

Prior to the advent of Europeans to the Arctics, fringes of deerskin
were the most popular form of ornament for clothing; but to-day the
Eskimo women are passionately fond of elaborate beadwork. The beads are
of European manufacture, but the design in which they are applied is
native. The favourite beads are small and brightly coloured. The native
sempstress will also sew two or three coins down the front of the
inside jacket and down the tail of the dress, or even the bowls of a
few spoons. These clink as they walk, and greatly delight their

The Eskimo tailor has a wonderfully correct eye, and can so scrutinise
a figure as to be able to turn out a well-fitting suit of skins without
taking a single measurement, or “trying on.”

The men’s clothes are plain, without ornamentation, and the fashion of
them does not vary with the season. In summer they are lined with the
white skins of the baby seal, which are as soft and fleecy as lambs’
wool; in winter, with the skins of the fawn, which are very soft and

The Eskimo housewife prides herself greatly upon her store of skins.
These, and the soapstone cooking utensils, and the carefully housed
poles for the summer tupik, dogs, sled, and kyak, constitute the wealth
of a native family. Fine sewing thread is made from the sinew of deer’s
legs, scraped and dried. For stouter purposes, seal sinew is used.
Eskimo stitching requires to be seen to be appreciated. It is amusing
to note that the age of a child can be told at a glance by the length
of the tail of its little jacket.

Apropos generally of domestic tastes, a word must be added on the
women’s hairdressing. The hair is generally parted down the centre and
plaited on either side of the face, the two plaits being looped under
the ears (reminiscent of the early Victorian style!) and tied in a knot
at the back. In some tribes the women gather their hair up and bind it
all into a stiff vertical cone on the top of the head. They weave into
this stubborn erection every hair which comes out, so that in time a
woman’s age may be guessed by the size of her topknot. It used to be
the fashion in bygone days to tattoo the face with linear designs, but
this has now practically died out.

It is a common error of writers upon the Eskimo folk to assert that
they oil themselves to keep out the cold, that they drink oil as a
food, and revel in grease generally. Nothing of this is correct. The
dirtier and the greasier a man is, the colder he is; so every effort is
made—not after cleanliness exactly, as that is an impracticable
standard—to keep grease from the clothes and the person. When engaged
in preparing or cleaning anything very oily, the women remove part of
their dress to save it, and afterwards rub away as much of the grease
as possible from their hands and arms. Seal oil and melted blubber act
as strong purgatives, hence it would be impossible to use them as
drink, besides they are required for the lamps.

Perhaps the next most important business of the Eskimo women, after
cooking and making the clothes, is the preparation of skins for the two
types of boat in use on the coast. This entails considerable labour and
skill. The men are responsible for the framework.

The kyak—a creation as truly national to these intrepid coasters as the
snowshoe may be to the Indian, the ski to the Norwegian, and the
alpenstock to the Swiss mountaineer—is a covered canoe, graceful as a
fish, for use at sea. It can be handled in the roughest weather. It
consists of a light framework, formerly of whalebone, but now generally
of driftwood, fastened together with thongs of sealskin. It is from
eighteen to twenty feet in length, strong and elastic to a degree, and
entirely covered with skins, almost resembling a torpedo in shape, with
long, tapering extremities. There is a small circular opening
amid-ships, where the kyaker sits, fitting closely round his body. In
rough weather he wears a waterproof jacket (of seal gut), the hood
fitting tightly round his face and the sleeves to his wrists. The lower
edge of this comes over the opening in the canoe and is laced round it,
so that man and craft are fairly one.

The Rev. A. L. Fleming, formerly a naval architect, informed the writer
that the lines of the kyak are perfect, and from the point of view of
sea-going architecture could not be improved. The Baffin Land kyak is
broader than the Greenland type. The latter is much narrower, and
requires great skill to handle. Readers of Arctic literature will
recall Nansen’s account of the extraordinary feats performed by the
Eskimo on the west coast of Greenland in manœuvring these canoes. The
Baffin Islanders are also very skilful. They can right themselves, if
completely overturned, by a peculiar quick jerk of the paddle. The kyak
cannot fill, should the waves wash right over it. It probably comes
nearer the ideal of an unsinkable boat than many a more ambitious
construction. It would be hard to say, as between hunting and fishing
(the staple business of their lives), which is the characteristic
national “sport” of the Eskimo; but certainly no one not born and bred
to the handling of the kyak could acquire the native degree of ease and

The sealskins for these canoes are bleached. Either they are scalded,
or tied in bundles and hung up in a warm atmosphere to ferment. This
process is allowed to go on for a week or two, until the stench becomes
unbearable. When taken down and shaved with the ooloo, the black
epidermis comes away with the hair, leaving the skins beautifully
white. The inner membranes are left intact. The next step is to stitch
the skins together. Bleached hides may be made to alternate with
unbleaced ones, by way of ornament; or the entire covering may be
merely black or brown.

The thread is sinew from seal flesh, since it must be derived from the
same source as the skins, to ensure the same degree of shrinking and
stretching. The seams are double stitched, first through the skin only,
leaving the membrane untouched, and then oversewing the latter, so as
to make them perfectly watertight. The moistened skins are then loosely
applied to the framework; as they shrink and dry they fit to it
exactly, and form a light, drum-tight covering over the whole. It is
part of the man’s job to fit the wooden rim to the opening on top, and
to make the loops which serve to secure his weapons.

He carries a three-pronged bird spear on the left hand side in front of
him; on the right is his sealing spear, and between the two is a small
round tray for the coiled seal line fixed to the detachable spearhead.
Behind him on the left is his nixie or hook, on the right a heavy
harpoon for striking walrus or the larger creatures he may encounter,
between the two and immediately behind him an inflated sealskin with
the end of his sealing line attached. Thus equipped, the canoe is
complete, a thing of pride to its owner, which will last all his life
and be handed down to his sons and their sons after him.

The sealing spear has an ivory (or nowadays a steel) butt for breaking
ice, and acts as an ice chisel. Its shaft consists of a piece of
driftwood, its long keen point is made from part of the jawbone or rib
of the whale, and its detachable barbed head is of steel or ivory. The
long line attached to this is a stout strip of white whale hide. The
harpoon, too, is of wood and ivory, as also is the long hunting knife
and the small kit of lesser tools without which the hunter seldom
moves. All these things are made during the endless winter evenings,
while sitting round the seal oil lamps in the igloo, or on stormy days
when the Arctic blizzard obliterates the world without. (There is an
interesting collection of Eskimo dresses and implements and utensils to
be seen in the Ethnological Gallery at the British Museum; but perhaps
even more representative a one is that in the Natural History Museum in
New York.)

The paddle of the kyak is made from a long piece of driftwood. Its
proper length is the span of the owner (the full extent of the two
extended arms), and half a span again. The blades are narrow, since
they are for use at sea, and engage the most skilful attention of the
craftsman. Both are tipped with ivory. This pouteek, as it is called,
can be used as an outrigger. On top of the kyak, in front of the man,
there are four strongly made loops of hide, the exact width of the
blade of the paddle. If the rower wishes to stand up or give play to
free movement, to cut up and store away a seal either upon the craft or
inside it, he cannot do so without an outrigger or he would simply
capsize. To prevent this, he pushes one end of the paddle into the
loops, which hold it fast. The other end, outboard, acts as a
counter-weight and exactly balances the canoe. It is then perfectly
stable and almost impossible to upset. The dexterity of the kyaker has
already been alluded to. He can do anything with this boat. His
confidence is so complete that not infrequently, when a heavy wave is
atop of him, he will deliberately turn turtle, receive the weight of
the water on the bottom, and right himself when the moment is passed.

The Umiak is a very different craft, and serves the Eskimo family as a
sort of general pantechnicon and removing van. It consists of a large,
clumsy framework of wood, covered with the skins of the big ground
seal, which are dressed into a thick tough leather. It is really an
open sailing boat, capable of carrying perhaps six families and a huge
and miscellaneous cargo. It has a square stem and stern and a stumpy
mast set well forward in the bows. The large square sail used to be
made in earlier days of skin stitched together, or of the intestines of
seals blown out and dried, then split open, the long, broad strips
alternating with narrow strips of the same material, to ensure equal
stretching and shrinking. Nowadays, the natives provide themselves with
sail-cloth from the trading posts. The Umiak is an unhandy thing to
manage, but a good enough boat in a heavy sea way. When on a long
voyage up or down the coast or across the bays, in former times, the
Umiak had a double skin; the outer covering becomes so waterlogged and
the movement so sluggish that the whole thing is cast off, and the
journey proceeds in the inner, lighter and drier shell. The gut sail
requires constant wetting to prevent it splitting into ribbons. This
primitive concern is paddled by women when the paddles become
necessary, but a man has the steering in his charge.

The oars for the Umiak are clumsy things compared to the kyak paddle.
The blades are rough oblongs of wood, almost like spades, fitted to
poles of wood by no means necessarily straight, and bound on by thongs
of hide. Sometimes the oar is quite a crooked branch, and a collection
of these in the hide hung boat looks about as prehistoric an outfit as
Mr. E. T. Reed’s most comic imagination might depict among his
inimitable parodies of life in the neolithic period.

The Kyak and the Umiak are the two purely native types of boat used on
the Arctic coast. The people, however, are familiar and handy enough
nowadays with rowing and sailing boats of European model, wherever they
have had the opportunity of using and knowing them. They have other
ingenious means of getting about on the water when boats of any
description are not to be had at all. The hunter at the edge of the
floe can stand and paddle himself away out to sea on a raft or slab of
ice detached from the mass; and the deerstalker inland, anxious to
cross a sheet of water or a river, will utilise a skin stuffed with
dried heather, stoutly bound about with thongs of hide. He sits on this
and skims off as happily as a water-beetle.

The possession of a couple of boats like the foregoing, of a good store
of hunting weapons, plenty of skins, a team of well-trained dogs, and
two sleds—one, a short, light, travelling affair for hunting, and the
other a heavy, long-distance thing for the migrations of the
family—constitute the Eskimo house-holder’s wealth, and determine his
social precedence and standing in the tribe.



The value to the Eskimo of a good team of about five dogs is equivalent
to that of a kyak or a sled, or a reliable gun. To assess it in terms
of money would have no significance in a land where utility and
necessity alone determine the scale.

The breed is part, or half, wolf. In build, the true Eskimo dog is well
formed, almost slim about the hindquarters compared with the rest of
his body, the broad and sturdy chest, the strong neck and heavy jaws.
His hair is very thick, grey or tawny in colour, and his tail immensely
bushy, always carried erectly, curving over the back. He is a different
creature to the Samoyede and the Kentucky wolf hound; but probably
there is very little to distinguish him from the famous Alaskan “husky”
dog of so much literary fame, and the dog of the Labrador.

The dogs in Baffin Land are fed solely on seal flesh, unlike those of
the trappers and mail carriers in Alaska and elsewhere, who subsist on
a spare and spartan ration of frozen fish. Sacks of chopped seal are
always carried on the sleds for the dogs on a winter journey, skin and
hair included. They are wonderful travellers, although the speed with
which a trip may be accomplished depends on a good many other factors
than dog power alone. In the winter a team may average thirty miles a
day; or when conditions of ice and wind are particularly favourable
this figure may be doubled.

The Eskimo dogs begin their lives in quite pleasant domestic comfort.
They breed in the spring and autumn, and the puppies when born are kept
on the sleeping place in the tent or igloo, and played with by the
women and children in order to accustom them to being handled, and to
the scent of human beings. Otherwise they would grow up wild and
savage, and a trouble to their owners; and, moreover, might too easily
fall a fat and toothsome morsel to any particularly hungry parent or
stray wolf about the camp. They are pretty, playful puppies, full of
puppy imbecility and fun. When about six weeks old this halcyon period
of irresponsibility and shelter comes to an abrupt end. Out go the lot
into the hard world, to eat and sleep with the grown-up dogs of the
village. And immediately the puppy’s training begins. He has a
miniature harness made for him and a little sled. The small boys take
him in hand. They harness him and drive him about, to his unfathomable
disgust and their own diversion, until he becomes used to the process
and the various words of command.

As time goes on and he gets a little older his serious education
engages the attention of the men. Puppy is harnessed to the real sled
with the older dogs and has to help to drag it to the hunting grounds.
He objects strongly to leaving the village and what it has of
possibilities in the way of tit-bits; but the accustomed orders break
over his head in a fearful roar he has never heard before, and he
scares up a new obedience. Soon, however, he tries the effect of
rebellion, and bolts back on the trail, only to be brought up with a
jerk as he reaches the end of his line. He is unceremoniously dragged
along on his back, bumping over the rough ice, hating everything and
everybody, thinking life not a bit worth living and that the bottom of
his world has fallen out. He is rudely brought to! The leader of the
team knows what to do. Like a parent spanking a naughty child, the
leader sails in, and with many a forceful shake and many a shrewd nip
at every tender point, he forces Puppy to take his rightful station in
the team and do his best to pull. As he goes back to his own position
at the head the Leader just passes word along to the rest to follow his
example. They make quite a point of it. As often as the recruit shows a
tendency to slack off again, or so much as rolls an eye towards the
back trail, they give him a shake up or a nip on the leg to encourage
him to proceed, rather, in the right direction. He receives further
assistance towards this desirable fixity of purpose by an occasional
and painfully adroit flick of the hunter’s long driving lash.

A few days of this sort of thing, and the youngster registers the
lesson that discretion is the better part of valour. He learns to keep
his objections to himself.

The next thing to dawn upon his expanding mind is that dragging heavy
weights over the snow makes one’s feet uncommonly sore. The older dogs
knew that long ago, and lay down before starting in the morning, quite
willing to have their boots put on. The dog “boot” is merely an oblong
strip of seal leather with two holes for the nails to go through and a
couple of thongs to secure the ends round the leg. Everywhere in the
Arctics the freight dogs are obliged to have protection for their feet.
But Youngster, whose turn for practical investigation has ere this
convinced him that nothing is inedible except sticks and stones,
retires promptly to the back of the sled or behind the nearest cover,
and eats his boots there and then, with early morning relish. The team,
to a dog, say nothing, but start off as usual. Youngster licks his
lips, curls his tail, and feels good. But after a few miles something
of the curl goes out of his tail, his feet become tender and he droops
a little. The others plod on; he lags. Instantly comes the sting of the
whip or a nip of teeth like a vice. Youngster sprints ahead, only to
flag more and more, to limp and crawl at last with the pain in his
unprotected, wayworn feet. At the end of the day he simply staggers
home, a very sad and sobered Puppy. Leader strolls over, when he thinks
he will, looks at him en passant, and grins. The culprit adds another
mental note to his list of things not good for the digestion. No more

Comes another milestone on the hard path of learning and

Young dogs have to learn that everything on the sled is rigorously
taboo—for them. Not to be touched, or so much as sniffed at, on any
account whatever. This lesson can only be enforced by many a whipping.
For Youngster does so love to stroll past the sled with a preoccupied
air, hands in pocket as it were. If he were a human being he would hum
a hymn tune. Then, just in that flick of time when no one seems to be
looking, he steals a mouthful of seal-meat or blubber. Instantly
retribution envelops him. He is severely thrashed. If an experience of
this sort repeated once or twice does not cure him his master becomes
harsh indeed. The hunter must at all costs gain and keep the ascendancy
over his dogs. The thief has his head forced hard back with the mouth
wide open, and the man smashes out the two long upper fangs with the
back of his hunting knife. That bit of violence completes this part of
Youngster’s spartan education.

He graduates by learning how to smell for seal holes in the ice, how to
tackle a bear, how to defend himself, how to guard the tent or igloo,
how to brave every extreme of bitter weather. When an Eskimo dog knows
all this he becomes a valuable asset to his master.

The Eskimo drives his sled team spread out fanwise. In this formation
they are less likely to break through the snow crust than if driven
Indian fashion, one ahead of the other. The tandem style is suitable
for wooded country, where there is no room to expand and where it is
imperative to keep to a narrow, perhaps ill-defined trail; but in the
Arctics one of the greatest dangers of travelling is to fall into deep
snow. Men and dogs alike can be smothered if the crust gives way, for
their struggles only cause them to sink the deeper. The dogs are driven
by word of command only (i.e., orders to get up, start, straight ahead,
right or left, lie down), and by the whip, a tremendously long thong of
white whale hide attached to a short stock. Half the art of dog driving
consists in the right management of this difficult whip. It has to sail
out to touch just the right dog in just the right place, and should
crack sharply at the tip. The Leader is the most important, reliable
and experienced dog in the team. He is attached to the sled by a longer
trace than the others, so that he runs ahead of them, and his position
is in the centre. It goes without saying that he is very conscious of
his eminence, and gives himself insufferable airs.

In camp the team always sleep curled round in the snow, if not in the
porch at least near their master’s dwelling, ready for any scraps that
may be flung out; and woe betide any other dog who dares to come near,
or even essays to pass by! There is a rush and the outsider is severely
mauled. Another time, he makes a wide détour. The people never leave
the tents without a guard if they can possibly help it. If the man and
woman are both away a child is left. The dogs can tell the place is
inhabited and refrain from a raid, which would only bring a storm about
their ears if once the alarm were raised. But should the dwelling be
empty even for a short time, the dogs at once get to know it—and they
know about the stores of meat and oil and blubber inside! Now, the
Leader of the team belonging to the establishment is there also as a
“guard,” but his argument seems to be that this obligation applies only
to outsiders. Having driven off any strange visitants who may venture
around, he has no further scruples about helping himself. Moreover, he
has a remarkable business head. He believes, in letting the others
down—for his own advantage and prestige.

As soon, then, as he decides the tupik is really empty, he gives one
short, deep note, well understood by the others dogs, signifying that
the coast is clear. Then he bounces at the tent wall, bursts through
it, and snatching the first big mouthful of meat he can get, beats a
discreet retreat, leaving the others like thoughtless children to do
the work and get themselves into the required mess. They rush in, of
course, make hay of the tent, and kick up a tremendous uproar, giving
themselves away to the whole village. It does not take long for the
natives to cope with the situation. Armed with sticks, they hurry to
the spot, and while some penetrate the tent to lay about and drive the
dogs outside, others stand ready for the culprits when they come out,
to give them such hard blows as will last them well—until next time!
Out comes number one, a lump of provender in his teeth. He gets his
blows right enough, but sticks to the meat ... only to be met, further
on by the Leader, a surprised and indignant look on his face, as who
should say “What! You at it again! Stealing, when you ought to be on
guard! And having the effrontery to try to pass Me with your plunder!
Put that meat down instantly and I’ll take charge of it! If you want
any more, go back and get it.”

There is no getting past this. The delinquent is bowled out, rolled
over, bullied until he loses his head and his booty into the bargain.
He is glad to escape alive. He breaks away at last, frantically licking
his wounds. Whereupon Leader absent-mindedly eats the meat and sits
down to await another scrap from the next offender. He calls this
keeping his end up with the mob.

On one lurid occasion of this sort, all the canine raiders had escaped
from the tent but one, a small fat puppy. He happened to be in the
place at the time and quite enjoyed entering into the spirit of the
thing—meant to do his best like the others. So he climbed into the
lamp, freshly replenished with oil, and fitted it so exactly,
lubricating himself from head to foot, that he stuck in situ to be
caught, but looking quite proud of his position and feeling altogether
grown up. He was soaked in oil and grime; oil dripped from his mouth,
and the laugh on his face plainly said, “My! This is good! Why didn’t I
think of it before?” He was summarily pulled both out of the lamp and
out of his complacency. Infantile yells outside told of early
correction being administered and a lesson in honesty enforced. After
that his mother took him in hand and licked him clean.

It is sometimes asserted that the Eskimo dog does not bark. This is a
mistake, as he certainly has a snappy bark of his own, however little
it may resemble the recognised barks of all other sorts of dogs. For
the most part he howls.

The dogs, one and all, are up to every sort of trick. Moreover, their
stomachs are for ever empty and always keen for any sort of food. They
are fed at night whilst on the trail, in order that the meal should
have time to digest and strengthen them. Incidentally, they sleep
soundly buried in the snow, and neither attempt to stray nor to break
into the hunter’s sleeping place. In the morning they are nowhere to be
seen. The white expanse remains unbroken. They are all under the snow,
and in no way inclined to rouse up and be harnessed. Nobody wastes time
looking for them. Someone takes a lamp outside the shelter and empties
the oil on the ground. Immediately black noses emerge from here and
there, tempted by the smell, and the rest is easy.

Once upon a time Nannook (the bear) the Bad Hat of the team, had a
brilliant idea. He had often considered the weighty problem of the
driving lash it seemed so impossible for his master ever to forget. The
point was, how to get rid of it. So long as that whip cracked forever
about them there was no chance of making the other dogs do his share of
the work, no opportunity to slack off or snatch a rest. The only scheme
seemed to be to eat it. Nothing loth, Nannook waited for the usual
midday halt. The hunter chopped off some frozen pieces of meat, sat
down in the lee of the sled and ate and smoked. The whip lay unheeded
on the snow behind his shoulder.

Nannook sneaked up, caught hold of the end of the lash, and steadily
began to chew. He chewed yard after yard, his stomach feeling better
with every foot of the way. He chewed up to the very stock, undetected;
and having packed away at least eighteen feet of seasoned whalehide,
crept back to the team. Presently the hunter bestirred himself for a
start. Picking up his whip—he just gazed round. It was a dog, without a
doubt; but which one? Who on earth could tell! All were innocently
dozing, every one in his place, the picture of virtuous decorum. No one
could tell. No one, therefore, could be punished. The rest of the
journey was accomplished perforce of shouting only. For once in a way
the dogs had the best of the joke.

It sometimes happens on a long trail with a heavy sled that a blizzard,
or some other untoward circumstance, may delay a traveller for a longer
or shorter time; sometimes for days. His food supply gives out and the
dogs come to an end of their rations. The team gets ever more weary and
more weak. The hunter goes on ahead, breaking the trail for them on
snowshoes; the dogs stagger along after him, often lying down and
refusing to get up. But the trouble has not been unforeseen. The master
has prepared for this sort of emergency by carefully bringing along
some particularly bad bits of refuse seal meat. The stench of them
would imbue a skunk with self-respect, in comparison. Taking one of
these, he forges ahead, calling the dogs and leaving behind him a lure
like poison gas. He drops the meat, and the Leader, picking up the
scent, with a new cock in his dispirited ears, bustles round, spurring
up the team with the information. “Come on!” he says. “Can’t you see
he’s dropped that bit? My, can’t you smell it? Hurry up, and let’s get
it!” They do get up, poor dupes; but the Leader, in virtue of his
longer trace gets there first, and doesn’t wait to argue. Over and over
again this manœuvre is repeated, both on the hunter’s part and on the
Leader’s. The rest of the team make all the effort they can to get
equal with such duplicity, and sometimes even succeed in snatching
first at the bait. Anyway, it is a fine way of getting the sled along
and taking their minds off their troubles. A trail of loathsome scraps,
each one encouraging a spurt on the part of the dogs, helps over the
distance. Often an exhausted team has been enabled to cover the last
few miles by this method, when otherwise they must have dropped.

In spite of the rigour of his life and the necessary hardness of his
owner, the Eskimo dog is not without that glorious power of faithful
canine devotion which is one of the most beautiful forms of love on
earth. The writer knows of at least two instances where a dog has
wasted away and died of grief in his master’s absence or after his
death. But such a true canine trait is very rare. For the most part,
these animals readily transfer their affections to the hand that feeds

They are savage to all strangers. The team guards its master’s tent or
igloo because he is the one who provides for it. The dogs sleep in the
porch as a rule; and before entering a dwelling the visitor is well
advised to call to one of the inmates to quiet them, otherwise he will
be severely bitten. In winter, when hungry, the dogs are more dangerous
than ever. It happened, once, that two Eskimo had died, and been sewn
up in their blankets and buried beneath a cairn of huge stones in a
neighbouring valley. One of the bodies was even enclosed in a light
barrel. During the night the dogs raided the place, tore down the
stones, and ate the dead. In the summer time they forage for themselves
on the seashore, picking up small fish left by the tide, and anything
edible they can find.

The Eskimo dog has a great deal that is wolfish and dangerous in him.
The strain, indeed, is very little differentiated from the wolf.
Sometimes a dog will leave camp, go back to the wild, and join a pack
of wolves as one of themselves. Those who do this seldom return; but
when they do, puppies of the direct resulting strain are greatly
valued. It has been remarked that, whereas wolves in the Arctic seldom
attack a human being, dogs will not uncommonly do so. The extraordinary
thing about this is that hydrophobia is practically unknown. It would
be difficult to say exactly what may be the natural span of life of the
Eskimo dogs, but they seem to be at least as long lived as the larger
breeds of European dogs.

The Eskimo names his dog ‘The Lively One,’ the ‘Bear,’ the ‘North
Star,’ and in similar fashion. The animals possess much humour of their
own; one belonging to the writer, of whom he was extremely fond,
certainly enjoyed fun, and could very nearly speak!

Lest, while on the subject of these creatures too much space should be
devoted to them, this chapter cannot be concluded without a brief
description of the sleds to which their toilsome lives are vowed.

The small, light-going sled used for hunting is only about six feet in
length. The cross bars are fastened to the runners by sealskin thongs,
to ensure a certain degree of pliability in travelling over rough ice.
A pair of reindeer horns with part of the skull attached are fastened
by thongs to the back of the sled, forming a sort of erect triangle.
This serves as a rack upon which to hang coils of sealing line and
various implements, and also as a rest to lean against for anyone
sitting on the sled. The runners are shod with strips of bone sawn from
the ribs or jaw of the whale, and fastened on either by wooden pegs or
by thongs sunk into grooves to prevent them wearing through. These
runners are the object of very special care and constant daily
attention on the part of the owner. They are covered with a thick
coating of seal’s blood, for the sake of a fine surface. The craftsman
takes a mouthful of this material and squirts it upon the runners,
moulding it at the same time with his fingers. It freezes even as he
smooths it down, and with a final squirting of water takes a high, hard
glaze which ensures smooth and swift running for the sled. If seal’s
blood happens to be scarce the maker uses a mixture of moss roots and
water, which gives an almost equally good surface when applied in the
same way, and looks like nothing so much as a first-class cork lino.

The Kummotik, or long travelling sled, is double the length of the
foregoing and heavier in proportion. Otherwise its construction is the
same. It requires a team of from twelve to eighteen dogs, whereas five
are sufficient for the hunting sled. The loading of a Kummotik is a
work of art. There is a place for everything, and everything has to go,
just so, into its place. The spears and weapons are stowed in the
bottom of the sled in front, by the driver. At the far end, a piece of
skin is laid down and upon this slab upon slab of blubber for the lamp
is piled up, and the lamp set atop of the lot, bottom up, because of
the grease and dirt. Then the meat for the journey is put aboard—frozen
deer hams, and frozen seals entire, enough for the whole party until
they fetch up at the next tribe’s camping ground. The meat is, of
course, uncooked, since a minimum of raw meat gives a maximum of heat
and strength. (Hence the Eskimo prefer their rations raw when there is
work to be done. The cooked stew of an evening is a mere luxury meal.)
A skin is thrown over the heap of provisions to prevent the travellers’
clothing being soiled by it. Over it all are piled the rolled-up
sleeping blankets and the karsâte or deerskin rugs for mattresses.
Knives, axes and lines hang upon the horns behind. The driver’s seat in
front is a box containing small tools, flint and steel. The whole load
is securely lashed down to the cross bars of the sled. The man’s spear
is slipped into the lashings on one side, so as to be handy for use at
a moment’s notice. The women and children perch on top of the load, or
make their way alongside on foot, as they prefer. The dogs’ lines are
all gathered to a point (like the sticks of a fan) just in front of the
runners, when they are tied and then divided into the two short traces
which, fastened to right and left on the runners, draw the sled.

A still more ancient form of sled was in use among the Eskimo before
the advent of the whites, but the elders of the villages remember it
well and describe it to-day. In those times wood was very scarce, tools
very rude, and whales more abundant than at present. So strips of
whalebone taken from the mouth (before this valuable material came into
the markets of the world at all) were stitched together by whale or
hide thongs, until a sled could be fashioned out of them, something
like a huge, long, black shovel, very hard, durable and strong. Dogs
harnessed to this contrivance made good speed with it, even with the
driver squatting upon it. In one respect it was more serviceable than
the modern form with runners, since unlike these it did not sink in
snow or easily break through a rotten crust. It should be noted that a
full-grown whale has about a ton of this black whalebone fringe hanging
from his jaw, the longest part of it attaining six or seven feet when
the mouth is open; so that a fair sized sled could easily be made out
of such a great supply.

The struggle for existence in the Arctic has taught the Eskimo to
utilise in the most ingenious ways resources at their disposal so
limited that the marvel is so self-sufficing, so healthy, hearty and
happy a civilisation, of its kind, could ever have been evolved.

Where these tribes have come so much in contact with other peoples, and
even with well-meaning white enterprise on their behalf, that they have
attempted to substitute for their old ways a method and mode of living
indigenous neither to the climate nor to their own physique, they have
invariably degenerated. The Eskimo of Labrador and Alaska have largely
abandoned the snow house for the log shack or sod hut, and have in
consequence been decimated by tuberculosis. Everywhere, contact with
“civilisation” has tended so to divorce these children of the North
from their natural environment as to initiate their wholesale decline.
It is only now, in “the last North of all”—in Baffin Land, Boothia
Island, Victoria Land, and the rest—that the Eskimo retain their old
ways and their old vigour. Their life and their type everywhere else
has become mongrel and nondescript. While there can never, of course,
be any question in believing and thinking man’s mind about the
inestimable boon of Christianity and educating these people along the
lines suggested by a sympathetic study of them on the spot, it seems to
be very inadvisable to interfere with them, to “civilise” them too much
after the unsuitable European model, to revolutionise the natural and
suitable scheme of life they have so bravely and so ingeniously worked
out for themselves during the uncivilised centuries of their existence
in the bleakest and most inhospitable regions of the earth.



In their family and tribal life the Eskimo carry out a very smooth
running sort of communism, the chief tenets of which are rigidly
enforced peaceableness, open hospitality to the stranger, and a sharing
of food and the necessaries of precarious existence among each other.
Tribal government is wholly patriarchal in character. The Angakooeet,
or chief conjurors—a class of men apart—hold the first place in public
esteem and common council. After them the village is ruled by the
successful hunters, who foregather with the former and with the aged
and experienced, when it is a question of deciding where to go and what
to do about the hunting, or change of encampment, or treatment of a

The Eskimo have no idea of authority, except that which one man may
exercise over another in virtue of his superior wisdom, experience,
skill or strength. There has recently been some question of
inaugurating a reindeer and musk ox industry on the vast moss pastures
of the hinterland of Baffin Land, and the purport of much evidence
given on this subject before a Royal Commission abundantly confirms the
experience of the present writer, and emphasises the remarks that have
been made as to the inadvisability of rushing matters with regard to
“civilising” the Eskimo, and radically changing his mode of life from
that to which the conditions of his environment have hitherto formed
him. Savage as these conditions are, the Eskimo has wrought out his own
well-being, and in his native state is as happy and contented an
individual as could be desired. He has his hard seasons of
semi-starvation, when the hunting is poor; but even these are borne
with cheerfulness and equanimity.

“They seem to have the communal idea very strongly implanted,” said D.
Jewess, Esq., one of the witnesses. “Theirs is a community in which one
man is equal to any other man. The idea of one man being a servant to
another would not seem to be native to the Eskimo; it is a foreign
idea. It would seem that they must learn the whole idea of one man
serving another before they could be counted upon as reliable

“An Eskimo will serve you faithfully on certain conditions, and will
expect his payment afterwards. He will serve you for a limited time and
perform almost any work, and will then expect his payment. The moment
that payment is made he is an absolutely free man; but for the period
of work, if he understands his contract clearly, he will serve you
faithfully. They seem to work partly through the binding force of a
promise; but a great factor in keeping them at work seems to be that of
having them understand that they will be well rewarded at the end. As
is the case with all human beings, they vary; but on the whole they may
be considered as faithful as white people found in civilised
communities. Experience seems to show that they will keep to an
agreement unless they get angry. In this event, they seem to forget
their promise. If they, in a casual manner, more or less promise to do
a thing, they are as likely as not to fail. Like most primitive people,
if they trust you they will do what they can to justify your confidence
in them.

“At the present time the Eskimo is not responsible. He would make an
excellent servant, and in time an excellent trapper, guide and hunter.
This is speaking of the Coronation Gulf Eskimo, who have known white
men only during the past four or five years. It would seem that the
Eskimo of Hudson Bay and of the east generally have other
characteristics which have been moulded through this influence. It is
not thought that this contact with white men is necessarily an
advantage, if one is trying to convert the Eskimo into a reliable,
responsible servant or working man. A great deal naturally depends upon
the kind of white men with whom the natives have had to associate.”

It must be remembered that life in an Eskimo tribe is almost a family
one. Each family is interdependent upon the others, and all have close
ties and relationships. Thus anything which interferes with the general
harmony is dangerous and, in the unwritten law, a crime.

Matte, a good hunter and a man of standing in the tribe of X——, in the
locality of Z——, had for long disturbed the peace of the rest. He had
quarrelled, had spread ill reports about the doings of the hunters, had
divulged their secrets, and been generally independent and unsociable.
For a long time Matte was a thorn in the side of his tribe. He
disregarded their customs and traditions, and became, according to
Eskimo law, altogether a first-class misdemeanant. At last he became
unbearable. His big voice and burly frame were no longer tolerable in
the settlement. A day came when, in his absence, the Angakooeet and
chief men met in council to decide what should be done. His case was
reviewed and discussed at length, and arguments were brought forward
both for and against the accused. At length the verdict was given by
the Angakut, the Chief of the Conjurors, and ratified by the Council.
Matte was to be put to death.

Five men were chosen by the Angakut, and instructed in their duties.
Two were to hold the prisoner’s arms, two his legs, and the fifth was
to strike and kill.

As the time for the man’s return approached the executioners went out
and waited for him in the path outside the village. No sooner had he
appeared than they seized upon him. Matte read his doom in their eyes.
He had but time for one ejaculation of despair when the knife struck
through his breast and justice was done. The body was thrown aside and
left for the dogs and wolves to rend and devour.

The five men returned to their homes. One of them (the one who
afterwards related the story to the writer), married Matte’s widow at
her express wish, and “lived happy ever after.” The woman indeed was
quite agreeable to the removal of her first husband, as it was
miserable to be the wife of so unpopular a member of the community.

Continued quarrelling, like that of this man Matte, is punishable by
death. So also is murder. A thief is banished from the village, but
petty pilferers are merely sent to Coventry.

Old people are held in great respect among the Eskimo, and their
counsel is always considered. They help as far as they are able in the
household work, the old men repairing weapons, harness, etc., and the
old women in sewing or tending the lamps. In times of scarcity, as in
winter, meat and oil are always shared round. Directly a deer or seal
is brought in it is cut up and pieces sent to each needy family. In
times of plenty each family is supposed to provide for itself; but old
people, widows and orphans have always the first claim upon those who
have the means.

Among these people, mutual kindliness is a general obligation. A widow
or orphan child is never left alone, but taken into the house and
family circle of the nearest relative. The widow gives her services in
return for food and lodging and clothing, and the child is cared for
exactly as the man’s own offspring.

Children have always the right of entry to any house and to partake
there of whatever food may be going. Women are seldom refused a like
privilege. In times of famine children are fed first, the women next
and the men last. The writer has known a hunter to go out four days in
succession and meet with no success. He had shared a portion of seal
with another man who had caught one and cut it up as usual, but this
had been given to his wife and family, whilst he himself, taking no
more than a drink of warm water, went off with unimpaired cheerfulness
to try his luck again.

Strangers and travellers, too, are always entertained and provided for
so far as the means of the moment may permit. A native arriving from
another tribe and having no relations in the village just puts up at
any igloo he may chose—as a rule he will select the family best able to
entertain him—and there his dogs are fed, his equipment is repaired or
the necessary material offered, and food and a sleeping place provided
for himself. Should he be on the trail alone, a temporary wife is
furnished him from the widows or spinsters of the community, and it
becomes her business to see that his clothes are dried and mended, and
that when he departs again he has sufficient food to carry him over the
next stage of his journey.

The Eskimo are aware that in some respects European customs differ from
their own, and when entertaining a white man his peculiarities are
rigidly respected. The Eskimo standard of morals is not that of the
European. It may be that in this matter of the temporary wife, as in
the annual exchange of wives during the Sedna festivities, nature is
making her own instinctive provision for the continuation of a race;
otherwise so heavily handicapped are they by arctic conditions of life
generally that without it wedlock would scarcely suffice for the
purpose. The Eskimo despite customs which look like promiscuity
according to the standards of civilisation, are not afflicted with the
diseases associated with European vice—until they come in contact with
unscrupulous whites. Either the germs of these scourges have not made
their appearance in the Eskimo communities, or the people are
particularly resistive to them. That this latter supposition is not
borne out is evidenced by the havoc that has been wrought among the
tribes in the past. The Eskimo, when left to themselves, are a moral
people according to their own ideas, and the rude health they keep
despite these strange customs, seems to vindicate them from an
unthinking criticism.

If he can, the wayfarer makes suitable offerings in return, but they
are not necessarily expected. He drops in on the family overnight, just
perhaps when the hunter has returned with a good fat seal, and the
jolly distribution of it all round is going on. There is a broad smile
on the face of the housewife as she picks out the best bits for her
friends and leaves the scraggy remnants for those of whom she cannot
profess to be so fond. The children rush hither and thither, willing
servitors of those who cannot come themselves.

The blood is carefully scooped into an ice bowl for future stew or for
the glazing of sled runners. At the hospitable shout, “Kileritse!
Kileritse!”—“Come ye! Come ye!”—everyone, friend and stranger alike,
crowds into the house and squats on the bench or the floor, or in the
porch, and is duly served out with his share. Nothing is heard for
awhile but the crunch of strong ivory teeth; the red blood stains hands
and faces; black eyes glisten with enjoyment. Then, after a time, the
hum and clatter of talk rises to the smoky roof. Everything is
devoured, even the entrails (squeezed through the fingers to flatten
and empty them). Reindeer moss, taken from the stomach of a deer may be
served up as well by way of that greatest possible luxury—a salad!

Finally, everyone goes to bed. The doorway is blocked up, blankets are
unrolled, and men and women and children, stripped to the skin, wrap
themselves up in these and lie down with their heads towards the lamps
and their feet towards the back of the snow house, and sleep the sleep
of health and good humour and repletion until the break of another
arctic winter “day.”

The children of an Eskimo community have quite a good time. Whenever
infanticide has been practised among these people, it was never through
cruelty or wanton waste of infant life, but simply because of a dearth
of provisions. As a matter of fact, the Eskimo prides himself on having
as large a family as possible. He is entitled to have as many wives as
he can support. It is not uncommon for a well-found man to have three
wives—possibly sisters—all living amicably together. The children are
named after some place or object, and many names descend from father to
son. Thus we have “Moneapik,” the little egg; “Oonapik,” the little
hunting spear; “Pitsoolak,” the sea pigeon; “Shokak,” roof of the
mouth; and other names too crude for translation.

The pastimes of the children are just like those of children all the
world over. On fine days they romp with the puppies, as described
elsewhere, or they borrow a sealskin from their mothers and, finding a
snow incline, drag it to the top and toboggan down on it in fine style
and with resounding glee. They build snow houses; play with little
improvised sledges; kick a seal bladder about by way of a ball;
discover cat’s cradles for themselves with any odd bits of thong; and
get up to all the usual mischief with bows and arrows. The girls make
dolls. The boys have an ivory top corresponding to cup and ball, and
another game called “spearing the seal,” which is played by two, with a
piece of skin for the ice, and a bit of bone that moves about
underneath it for the seal. There is a blow hole, of course, and a
miniature spear.

The education of the Eskimo boy all turns on hunting. All sorts of
curious observances wait on his first adventures in that line. When he
secures his first weasel, for instance, he gives it to the dogs, simply
to be torn in pieces; and that night has to sit up by the igloo door,
one hand on hip and in the other a lamp stick. Possibly the root idea
is to defend himself from the spirit of the little beast. When he gets
his first bird, Young Hopeful sits in the middle of the sleeping bench,
his mother on one side and his grandmother on the other. The boy is
told to take off his jacket, and the two women wrench the bird apart
between them in a sort of tug of war, to the accompaniment of cries of
congratulation. The mangled spoil is then eaten to bring good luck to
the boy.

The following tale of the voluntary suicide of the old people who feel
that they have outgrown their usefulness to the community, and have
rather become a burden to it, shows how strongly the communal feeling
dominates the Eskimo, how essential to existence each one of them finds
the social life of the tribe and village to be.

For many weeks summer has reigned in the arctics. Snow has disappeared.
The ice has broken up and drifted away to the south; only a few bergs
remain, like the remnants of a majestic fleet, wending their wandering
way after the rest. For weeks on end it has been one long, glorious
day, when the sun has scarcely set an hour. The weather is hot and the
sky is blue. Arctic flowers and arctic heather gem the short turf;
streams and cascades fill the valleys with the unwonted music of
running water. The dogs lie about, basking in the sunshine, or betake
themselves to the seashore to hunt for fish and such toothsome morsels
as may be left in the rock pools by the falling tide. The village of
sealskin tents is pitched in a sheltered spot near some handy stream,
overlooking the inlet. Contentment, ease and plenty are the order of
the day. The kyakers skim the waters of the bay, hunting as usual, and
in the evening the boys have a turn in the same light craft, to
practice with harpoon or birdspear. They vie with each other in skill
and speed, and take lessons from their elders.

The old men and women potter about, visiting each other. The crones
occupy themselves teaching the younger women how things were best done
in their day, and the granfers fight their own battles over again and
exploit their own adventures, as they listen to the talk of the younger
men—the tales of more recent feats accomplished, perils survived, and
clever captures achieved. As the bright day wanes to that short
twilight which is the arctic summer night, the men fetch their blankets
from the tents, roll themselves up in them under the shelter of some
boulder, and sleep in the open air.

The month of the eider ducks has come and gone. The women have manned
their boats and made their annual raid on the island where the birds
breed, returning with hundreds of eggs, plenty of ducks, and a goodly
store of eiderdown from the nests. The days have been one long, joyous
picnic, all the hardships, privations and dangers of the winter
forgotten. The babies, brown and mother-naked, have sprawled about in
the sun and waxed fat and jolly, with the freedom and the play and the
plenty of summer.

But now the time has come to get ready for a very big annual enterprise
indeed—the great deer hunt, upon which the fortunes of the tribe will
turn for months. If the Eskimo lay up little store of food, they
accumulate all the hides they can for winter clothing. For several
weeks before the start is made, stores of meat are prepared, slices of
seal cut and spread on the rocks, or hung on lines in the sun to dry.
Piles of moss and cotton plant are collected and dried for the winter’s
supply of lamp wick. Sealskins are cleaned and stretched and dried for
clothing, boot soles, boat coverings, and water buckets; intestines are
inflated and dried for sail cloth and material for making windows. The
dogs are outfitted with sealskin panniers for transport purposes. The
trek ahead of the tribe is a long and laborious one. They will journey
for many days by water up the rivers, and climb long ranges of hills
and cross many valleys, before they reach the interior and the pastures
of the deer. Each man, woman and child must shoulder his own pack, for
none can carry a double load. And so, it often chances, comes the
tragedy of old and enfeebled age.

Seorapik was an octogenarian. Her hair was grey and her back was bent.
She had managed, somehow, the previous year to carry her belongings on
the long, long trail, and to stumble along after the tribe. But at last
the bitter fact forced itself upon her that she could follow the
hunters no more. She must stay behind—alone. She could no longer carry
her load nor keep pace with the folk on the way, and none might carry
her. She had no alternative but to remain in the deserted village and
await the tribe’s return.

Now Seorapik, like every other Eskimo, was an intensely sociable being.
She loved nothing so much as to hear laughter and jokes about her, and
to be in the thick of all the village talk and doings. As she faced the
prospect of the long lonely weeks ahead, in the lifeless silence of the
empty camp, with the days growing ever shorter and colder, without a
soul—except perhaps a child—to bear her company, her heart quailed and
grew very heavy. There was the danger, too, of attack by wolf or bear,
and of sickness coming on—and death. Death, all alone! True, they would
leave her a plentiful store of food—the good village folk—and lots of
skins; but what comfort could these afford her in their absence?

But the law of the North is stern and immutable.

They knew it—those sons and daughters of hers, and all their sons and
daughters. They grieved for Seorapik, and remembered her many acts of
kindness to each and every one of them, and her life of cheery toil
spent wholly in their service. They had a custom to be sure—but it was
hard to endure it when it came face to face. A familiar custom,
designed to meet such as case as this; but a heartbreaking one, all the
same. Seorapik remembered it, too, and was the first to summon the
courage to announce it.

She proposed to bid the tribe goodbye rather than let it take leave of
her. Her time to go on the long, lone journey from which none ever
returned could not be far off in any case. She decided to anticipate
it. She could not face seeing her folk load up the packs, start out on
the trail, without her, and disappear over the hills. She could not
contemplate the intense loneliness that it would all mean, and miss the
laughter of the children, and even the rough and tumble among the dogs.
So the dread subject was broached to her son.

He gave his assent. Itteapik announced the decision to the villagers,
and they came to help with the preparations for Seorapik’s death.

A rough, round igloo was built, and the old woman withdrew into it,
taking her few belongings, escorted by all her kindred and friends.
They encouraged her to the last with every kindly and sympathetic thing
they could think of to say. She braved it out, and, with her cheery but
quavering goodbye still in their ears, her loved ones blocked up the
entrance to the little death chamber in such a way that no dog or wolf
might break in.

And there she sat down slowly and willingly to starve to death, quite
happy so long as her children continued to come from time to time and
call to her from outside, and tell her all that was going on, every
single little thing that happened.... She never asked for food or
drink; they never gave it.... She never wanted to come out; they never
moved a stone.... She simply had to go. Their part was to make her last
days, her last hours, as happy as they could, simply by being
there—quite close—outside.

Then the time came when the feeble voice just ceased to make one more
response. She had gone on her own long journey first, to the land where
parting would be no more, nor the fear and sadness of it. Her last
hours had been happy ones, cheered by the sounds of the village life,
the cries and gurgles of the babies, the shouts and cat-calls of the
boys and girls, the murmur of men and women talking over their
accustomed tasks. She had no loneliness to bear, after all, no
desolation, no silence. The old Eskimo died with a smile of love and
contentment on her face, with a long record behind her of woman’s good
and motherly work, of a humble, “primitive” life indeed, but lived
according to what light she had—and so into the better life beyond.

There was Nandla (the spear), too, the blind hunter, who also went to
death under the lash of arctic circumstance.

The incident took place near Davis’ Strait, and was related to the
writer by one who had witnessed it. Again, the inexorable law of the
wild left one handicapped as Nandla was no choice. The man was
comparatively young, but by reason of his blindness useless to himself
and a burden upon others. In a hungry land, where every extra mouth to
be filled represents a problem, there is no room for one who cannot
provide for himself. The severity of the code of the North is very
great. It cannot be judged by the ordinary standards of humanity.

Spring was at hand—the joyous spring of the arctics. The days were
lengthening and the seals increasing in numbers. They were coming up
from the south for the breeding season. In the village all was life and
bustle. The hunters were full of preparations, and the dogs scarcely
less so. The boys were loading the sleds and harnessing the teams. One
by one, each hunting outfit glided off over the frozen ground, out
towards the bay.

Outside his snow house sat Nandla, the blind hunter, listening to every
sound and seeing every detail in his mind’s eye. His heart was heavy as
lead. In his younger days he, too, had gone forth just like these
others, to spear the season’s catch, and come home rejoicing with a
heavy sled. But repeated attacks of snow blindness (despite his wooden
snow goggles) had destroyed his sight; and here he was, in early middle
age, a useless, hopeless, helpless man, tied to the house, dependent
upon his folk for food and clothing, and a drag upon them all.

Each night, as the hunters came home, the whole tribe gathered as usual
round the cooking pots, when the excitements and doings of the day
would be discussed with no less gusto than the food. Nandla always had
his place in the family circle, and eagerly drank in every word the
hunters had to say. He longed to hunt again, himself; to bring back the
kill, to see the children come pushing into his house for their share,
and to bid his wife give generously to the aged and the destitute! In
his mind he pictured it all: the village nestling in the bay, huge,
snow-clad cliffs rearing up at the back of it, and overhead the pure
blue of the bright sky, where the glaucus gulls wheeled and cried. He
pictured the scavenger ravens perched about everywhere, on the look-out
for bits; the vast expanse of the frozen bay, glaring white in the cold
sunlight; and beyond, a heavy black mist smoking up in the wind,
marking the water line. Out there were the hunters—mere dots—moving
about in the still immensity.

And here was he—Nandla—idle and useless, unable to occupy himself even
with such tasks as fell to the ancients of the tribe—the repairing of
lines, harness, and weapons. He could not patch up a snow house any
more, or trim a lamp! Often, during the months of severe weather and of
scarcity his relations had been hard pushed to find the wherewithal to
feed him or clothe him. Nandla was very wretched.

At length, one evening, after just such a bad spell of weather and of
luck, Nandla begged to be taken out on to the hunting grounds. Now, his
relatives had been thinking things over rather grimly, and had seen
nothing ahead for him but long years of misery and possibly of want.
The problem suggested but one solution. It was simple enough. This
request of the blind man’s to be equipped once more for the hunt and
taken along with the rest, gave them their opportunity. They fell in
with his desire and made their plan. They knew of a certain rout where
danger lay. Nandla should be taken that way.

It was neither treachery nor murder they planned, but an end for the
afflicted man of his anxieties and griefs. Nandla set out that morning
full of delight. His heart was full of unwonted excitement. He yelled
to the dogs and bumped and glided over the ice on the sled with a long
missed sense of exhilaration.

They soon reached the grounds. Nandla’s guide seized his hand and led
him towards a gaping seal hole.

“Follow me!” he said, dropping the other’s hand and lightly stepping to
one side.

“I follow!” replied the sightless man, and straightway fell into the

He went right under, then and there—under the ice—and was immediately
drowned and frozen. A handy piece of ice served to seal the death trap,
and all was over. Nandla had died on the hunt, and had entered the
Eskimo heaven like the other valiant men of his tribe, and taken his
place with the doughtiest of them, where there would be joy and plenty
for evermore.



Childhood in the arctics does not last long. There are among the Eskimo
a number of strange customs and superstitions attending not only the
transition time between girlhood and maturity, but the whole physical
life of woman, which may have their interest for the ethnologist
(especially from the point of view of the interpretation of the
mentality of primitive peoples), but in which the general reader would
scarcely find much interest. Suffice it to say that the root
reason—probably instinctive—underlying many of these observances and
rites, these taboos and indications, is very possibly a hygienic one,
since in nearly every instance some purpose of the sort seems to be
unconsciously served. It may be that herein lies one of the true
distinctions between uncivilised and civilised existence. In the
latter, most of the functional aspects of life are subordinated to the
intellectual and the spiritual, while in the former they bulk
self-consciously and far more obtrusively even than among the lower

The Eskimo community in sanitation or in sex matters has few
reticences. This may be another way of saying it has no pruderies. The
native attaches no more importance to the functions of sex than to
those of eating, drinking or sleeping. It would, of course, be easier
to attribute complete insouciance in these respects to the native mind
if, instead of trapping some of them out with rather elaborate
ceremonial, it kept them all much on a level. In most instances of
insistence, however, a hygienic motive, conscious or unconscious, lies
behind them. Although the people live under very crude conditions,
crowded together in the igloo, without privacy or special quarters for
women, they are not without a sense of the fitness of things or some
idea of personal modesty. It is the height of ill-breeding to stare,
for instance, at anyone whilst dressing or undressing.

Like the Indians, and like most other uncivilised people, the Eskimo
marry early, sometimes indeed at the age of twelve years. Unions are
arranged by the mothers and grandmothers. A woman with a marriageable
daughter is fully alive to the advantage of seeing a good hunter attach
himself to the domestic circle. She looks round in good time, and
noting some promising youth, makes overtures to his mother on the score
of the cleverness, the docility and the industry of her girl. The whole
thing at once becomes a fertile topic of discussion. Some amicable
understanding having been reached, presents are interchanged and the
young couple are informed that they are to be married. There is no
ceremony. The girl is sent to her mother-in-law’s house, and for a
month or more works there under a pair of sufficiently vigilant eyes.
This gives the boy also an opportunity of making up his mind about her.
And the prospective bride has a chance to do the same about him. As a
rule, the whole thing works out quite satisfactorily, and even happily;
but if the girl turns out lazy or careless or bad-tempered, a divorce
is declared and she returns to her parents’ igloo, to be married
elsewhere, with better luck next time.

This sending of the bride to the hunter’s mother’s house scarcely
amounts to an interval of probation. The girl certainly expects to
stay. In all probability the young folk have known each other from
childhood up, and there is no reason to suppose their marriage will be
anything but a success. It is the Eskimo way of asserting the
world-wide fact that you never know a person until you have to live
with him—or her.

Should, however, real faults of temper or character be presently
discovered on either side, it is quite open to the bride or bridegroom
to ask to have a divorce declared. The matter is arranged between the
families concerned, not necessarily by the Angakok. Should a girl be
returned on her people’s hands enceinte, after an experiment of this
sort (not a likely contingency at an early age), the child forms no
obstacle to her contracting another union later on. It is adopted into
the mother’s family and cared for as usual, without a trace of stigma
attaching to either. In the Arctics, where families are small, children
are an asset, and represent little burden to a community every member
of which is willing to help feed and support them. If a child is a boy,
he will grow up to be a hunter, and catch seals for the tribesfolk; if
a girl, she will become the wife of a hunter and the mother of more

The difference between married life and free or promiscuous unions,
even with this primitive folk, is quite clearly marked. A married
woman, i.e., a woman belonging definitely and recognisedly to such and
such a man, is faithful to him and he to her, so long as harmony reigns
between them and no “divorce” takes place. The occasional interchange
of wives, such as during the Sedna ceremony, is a recognised
institution of Eskimo life, and interrupts the even tenor of the
connubial way in no permanent sense. There is a good deal of
“immorality” (according to standards entirely inapplicable to this
people in the native state), and promiscuous intercourse with widows
and discarded wives. It is from this class that strangers staying in
camp are accommodated with their temporary partners.

Fidelity is observed between married people while they agree to remain
married. Sometimes, however, two husbands will come to an agreement
with each other, with the knowledge and consent of their respective
wives, to effect a temporary exchange. Again, fidelity is now observed
as long as the exchange endures, but reverts to the original partner
when presently dissolved. Should any children come of this interlude,
they generally remain with the mother, the permanent husband being
quite willing to adopt them.

The new-made bridegroom does not leave his parents’ home and set up his
own establishment until he is able to maintain it by hunting. If the
husband and wife belong to different tribes, the woman is adopted into
that of the man. The men sometimes maltreat their wives, if aggravated
by shrewish tempers or bad household management, but children very
seldom experience any but the kindest and most indulgent treatment. The
writer knew a boy who stabbed his mother in the arm during a fit of
temper, but was merely scolded for it. That he knew no better was the
excuse alleged in his defence, and it was his elder’s business to teach
him self-control and good behaviour. Children are devotedly loved by
the Eskimo, and maternity (never prolific in the arctics) is held in
the highest esteem. If the men occasionally beat the women it has never
been known that children are ever abused or neglected. All travellers
and observers agree in this respect.

A girl will be attended in childbirth with her first baby, but not
after that. The expectant Eskimo mother has to be alone (except on the
first occasion), in a little house set apart for her, and without
assistance. After it is born, the baby is never washed but rubbed down
with a soft fur or bird skin and put straight away, stark naked, into
the capacious hood of its mother’s tunic. The woman must, however,
never eat alone during this time, lest a Tougak with three fingers
steal her food and bring evil upon the child. She must pay no visits
until she has quite recovered in the space of a full month, and only
then if she has a new suit of clothes.

As an illustration of what has been said about some real reason
underlying such injunctions as the foregoing, it may be remarked that,
why the mother may not eat alone is probably to ensure that she does
not starve. She is in solitary confinement, and cannot procure and
prepare food for herself. To ensure her being fed she must have the
food brought to her and the messenger stays to share the meal. Again,
an expectant mother must always run out of her igloo or tupik during
the day when the dogs howl. They do not howl incessantly, as might be
imagined, since they are away with the hunters in the day, and asleep,
buried in the snow, at night. The woman has to sit up on her haunches
when she hears the dogs in the night-time, and not lie down again until
they cease. After all, there is good sense in this. The women sit about
in their houses for the most part, and get comparatively little
exercise. The two rules involved in this dog howling enactment ensure
the expectant mother a modicum of exercise and fresh air, which she
might not otherwise exert herself to obtain.

Childbirth is always attended by the women conjurors, never by the men.
The event in itself is thought little of, and not looked forward to
with any dread. The writer has known of a case of husband and wife
being on the trail together with their sled, in midwinter, when the
woman was taken in labour. The man merely stopped the team and hastily
put up a snow shelter. The wife retired to it for a little while, then
placed the new-born child in her hood, clambered back upon the sled,
and continued the journey. A long day’s journey later, they reached the
village for which they were making, and in a very short while the
mother was walking about in it, as well and strong as ever.

The would-be mother who has reason to fear her hopes of a child are
groundless, has recourse to the conjuror, the Angakok. Here again, the
interrogations, the incantations, the conjuration to which this worthy
commits himself (the while his spirit is supposed to ascend to the moon
to procure “material for a child”), the conjuror claims and is allowed
the right of cohabitation and so follow the accompaniment of a natural
sequence of events, which probably result in the woman realising her
desire. In many instances the superstitions with which Eskimo laws and
injunctions are wrapped up, serve to enforce them. Otherwise they would
either not be followed at all, or would have no weight in public
estimation. It is only possible to make head or tail of primitive
ritual by the aid of some tentative interpretation of the sort, which
must be deduced from long familiarity with the people amid their own

All was quiet in the village. The sealers had gone off early in the
morning, taking the boys with them, and the women had settled down to
their own tasks for the day. The old folks were for the most part
asleep on the sleeping benches in the dwellings. It was a cloudy day,
visibility very low, sun-dogs in the misty heavens foretold bad weather
to come.

Suddenly a tumult of sound broke upon the village, and the few old dogs
left there on guard gave vigorous tongue in turn, as somewhere from out
the murk came a chorus of yowls and yelps mingled with the shouts of
men and the sharp crack of whips.

An immediate exodus took place. Everyone sprang up and ran off to meet
the newcomers. The children scrambled up the cliff at the back of the
little settlement, sheltering it, and the elders tottered along to the
head of the pathway cut through the sijak or shore ice, to catch a
glimpse of the strangers and their sleds. Presently two large
travelling outfits with full team of dogs, and crowded with Eskimo,
swept into view. Cries of “Chimo! Chimo!” (Welcome) resounded from
every side, and there were hearty hand-shakings as the strangers
tumbled out and declared their gladness to have arrived.

It seemed they had come from Fox Channel, many “sleeps” away, and had
travelled over hills and across frozen bays and through deep snow, for
days and days, in order to visit this tribe. In a twinkling the dogs
were unharnessed and fed, the sleds unloaded, and the guests carried
off into the hospitable igloo under the cliff.

Then matters began to clear, and the object of the journey declared
itself. A head man and his wife, it seemed, had come this long distance
on behalf of their son, a lad of about fifteen, a promising young
hunter of marriageable age, who desired to find a wife. No girl in his
own tribe had taken his fancy, but the family had heard of a likely
bride in the Middle Coast tribe, and had come to see her and her
people. She had the reputation of being clever at all household duties,
docile and pleasing in manner, with eyes like sloes and hair as glossy
black as the raven’s wing. Moreover, they had heard that she had no
relatives and dependents except a widowed mother. The whole idea had
pleased them so much—mother, father and son—that here they were, to
look into the thing for themselves, to give and receive news, and to do
a bit of incidental trading. They settled down in camp for a few days,
and both hosts and visitors thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Negotiations proceeded apace, without hitch or difficulty, and at last
were brought to a pleasant conclusion. The prize secured, a day was
fixed for the departure of the bride and bridegroom and his people. Her
treasures and possessions were packed on the sleds, and with many tears
she said goodbye to the good folk of her own village.

All seemed to augur well for the wedding journey. The sky was clear and
the sun shone. The ice was perfect and the snow well packed and good
for sled travelling. The dogs, rested and well fed, flew over the
ground in high spirits. The sleeping houses built en route by the
wooer’s party, proved to have remained intact; the frozen meat and
blubber, buried beneath the floor in each of them, had not been

The first night was spent in singing. The young man gave a vocal
account of the exploits of his tribe and of his own prowess in hunting,
to an audience consisting of his admiring parents and the bride. All
went merrily, too, the second day out; but after that, disaster
overtook the party.

They came to a stretch of newly formed ice, over which they must pass
or make a long détour. They decided to risk the shorter way. The ice
was very thin, so they got off the sleds and attempted the crossing on
foot, each one at a stated distance from the other. Treading as lightly
as possible, they started the venture, but, half-way across, a scream
rang out, the ice broke, and the two women were engulfed in the icy
current beneath. Lines were flung to them and a rescue effected,
although they remained in imminent danger of being frozen. Prompt
measures had to be taken. There was no shelter at hand, and no
immediate means of making a fire. There was only the powdery snow! In
this the half-drowned women were rolled and rubbed. The snow acted
almost like blotting paper, and they were soon comparatively dry,
although still perishingly cold. A shelter was quickly built for them
and a lamp hastily lit. Their blankets were unrolled and they were
snugly wrapped up in their capacious folds and put to sleep, to recover
from the shock.

The very next day, late in the afternoon, as they drew near their next
sleeping place and were looking forward to a feast on the rations
stored there, another disaster befell this ill-fated arctic wedding
party. They actually sighted the wayside house and were driving right
up to it, when a deep growl came from inside and, before they had time
to descend or prepare for attack, a full sized polar bear rushed out
and hurled himself upon them.

The women fled and the men scattered, whilst the animal took possession
of the sleds. All the spears and guns were lashed in place, so the
refugees were unarmed and powerless. The bear, muttering and growling,
tore the bales of provisions apart and feasted on the meat and blubber.
While he was so engaged, one of the hunters, bolder than the rest,
stalked his way up to one of the sleds and managed to secure a spear.
Then he opened an attack on the highwayman, after the approved manner
of bear-fighting.

Crouching with poised weapon low on his haunches, he suddenly sprang up
and began to sing and dance about, on this side and on that, but
drawing nearer all the time to his astonished adversary. The bear
became more and more bemused by the noise and the agility of the
oncomer, until at last the latter was able to rush close in and strike
him one fatal blow with the practised spear. Although the creature had
rifled the travellers’ house and devoured their cache, it was now their
turn to skin and eat him; and so accounts were squared.

After this, the luck of the bride and bridegroom seemed to turn again,
and the rest of the journey was accomplished in comfort and safety. The
young woman settled down happily with the Fox Channel tribe into which
she had married, and became a model wife under the vigilant eye of her
husband’s mother.

Having sketched something of the education the native children receive,
and of the adult life and occupations of the tribe generally, the next
thing to deal with is death, and the elaborate ritual of an Eskimo

These people fear death, and the dying. Just before a man dies he is
dragged outside the house or tent, so that his spirit may not haunt it.
No dwelling where a death has taken place is ever re-occupied. Should
anyone chance to die inside, all the possessions are held to be
polluted and must be cast away.

A corpse is sewn up in the deceased’s accustomed sleeping blanket,
placed upon a hand sled, and hauled away to the chosen place of burial,
followed by the members of the family and the relatives. It is laid
upon the bare rock (the ground being frozen hard as iron, grave-digging
is out of the question), and huge stones are piled around and upon it,
like a cairn. In the case of a man, his weapons, drinking cup and
knife, or these things in miniature, are placed beside him, his sled or
a small model of it nearby, and he is buried with a little sort of doll
representing a woman. In the case of a female, her needles, knife, cup,
and a man doll, are laid beside her. Food is deposited on a flat rock
near the pile, and the mourners sit down to eat a farewell meal with
the spirit of the dead. Then they march in single file seven times
round the cairn, following the direction of the sun, i.e., from east to
west, chanting directions to the departed:—

    Innoserra arkiksimalarook: My life, pray let it be put right.
    Illooprakoole kissearne: Through that which is pleasant alone.
    Nakrook mallilugo: Through space following.
    Kaumâttevoot malliglo: Following that which gives light.

The idea is that the spirit must follow the course of the sun, to guide
it to the realms of bliss and light whence comes that glory, and
whither it goes.

The objects placed with the corpse under the stones are to assist and
accompany the spirit on this journey.

The word illooprakoole is a “spirit word,” used only in addressing
spirits. It means a route through pleasant ways not beset by dangers.
The same significance, in an ordinary mortal connection, is expressed
by a different word altogether. Nakrook is another “spirit word,”
meaning the Great-Air-Space-beyond-the-Earth. The ordinary word in
everyday usage is Sillarlo. This spirit language used by the conjurors
has its parallel in every case in ordinary parlance. The following are
a few instances:—

         Ordinary Word      Meaning.        Spirit word used
         in everyday use.                   in conjurations.

         Netsuk             A seal          Angmeatseak
         Angakok            A conjuror      Takreoo
         Agakka             The hand        Issarkrateeka
         Sennayo            One who works   Issarrayo
         Aput               Snow            Nungooark
         Kyak               Canoe           Agfarkjuk
         Angoot             A man           Peyaktoiyo
                                                    etc., etc.

In the case of the burial of an unpopular or badly conducted man, the
people walk round the cairn in the reverse direction, i.e., from west
to east, with a different refrain. The idea being to direct the spirit
away from the light and into outer darkness, their refrain begins with
the words to the effect:—

                “Evil will always have evil.”

All this is called the custom of the Kingarngtooktok.

The mourners at length return to their village, and apparently forget
all about the funeral, unless in the case of the deceased being of ill
repute. Should the conjuror assert that his spirit has gone to the
realms of Sedna (the Eskimo hell), gifts and offerings have to be
collected in order that the necessary conjurations may effect his
translation to some other abode (the Eskimo purgatory).

The people much dislike to have their dead bodies devoured by dogs,
lest their souls have to wander over the ice and land on vain hunting
trips; but they do not object to wolves on the same score, since the
wolves also devour the souls, and the departed, thus disposed of, will
always hunt deer successfully and live on the meat. Neither do they
object to the carrion-loving raven, as the soul in this case is also
absorbed by the bird and provided for in perpetuity. It would indeed
take a trained psychologist to determine wherein comes the distinction
as between dogs and the other scavengers!

On the anniversary of a death, the spirit of the deceased, good or bad,
is supposed to return to the grave of its body, and is there met by its
friends still in the flesh, who bring it offerings of food.

On the return from a funeral the mourners march round the dead man’s
dwelling from east to west, then entering, take a draught of water, for
luck in sealing. The chief mourners neither leave the house nor work on
any skins for three days in succession. Afterwards they throw away
their clothes and abandon the dwelling. After a death the community
should not wash or do their hair nor cut their nails for three days.
Those who transgress this injunction are called Nuggatyauyoot, the
disobedient. Nor are men allowed to have their stockings taken out of
their boots and dried, for the Tarnuk (spirit) will kill them in that

Unfathomable to the white man’s intelligence as many of these odd
observances may be, the root idea will explain the general scope of
them. The spirit of the deceased is earth-bound for three days, and if
of an evil disposition when alive, is liable to do much mischief to his
late family and friends. Earth-bound spirits are the Toopelât (pl.),
the evil spirits of the dead. Hence the custom of haling the dying well
outside the house. During the three following days, a knife edge,
placed outwards, is set at the entrance of the igloo to prevent the
spirit from returning, especially at night, and doing some
injury—causing some pain, sickness or death—to the sleepers within.

When an Eskimo community hears of a death in its midst, the husband on
his return from sealing waits for the first quiet moment in his house,
and then offers his wife the third finger of the right hand, to crook,
and they say together, “Tokkoneangelagoot” (we shall not die). This is
the custom of “Killaryo.” The children then come to the mother, and in
turn she takes the third finger of each one’s left hand between her
teeth and singes a little piece of the hair on the left temple of the
child. The child is bidden to bite the mother’s jacket on the shoulder,
and say “Sittatoot,” the mother answering with another formula of
preservation. The writer has made every effort to get at the meaning of
these doings, but they seem to have lost their original significance by
now, and even the oldest natives fail to interpret them any more. They
were probably some form of supplication against the entry into the body
of the Spirit of Death.

From much of the foregoing it will be seen that the Eskimo have a
decided belief in the soul, the innua—the spiritual, immortal essence
of man. Also that they have formed for themselves definite ideas about
the after life, either in bliss, as a reward for good living, or in
misery, as a punishment for evil—Good and Evil, of course, being
tinctured by the cast and scope of the Eskimo mind and its standards of
social life. There is little of ethical content in it all. The heaven
and hell of Eskimo conception are gross and material. Heaven is a land
of warmth and sunshine, with good hunting, absence of storms and hard
seasons, and plenty of fat seals in its ice-free sea. Hell is the dark
and bitter abode of the submarine Sedna, the enemy of man, who
engineers bad weather and times of scarcity. Descriptive legends of her
awful “house” abound among the tribes, showing a fancifulness and
imagination fantastic as nightmare.

To deal with the subject of the Eskimo religion, however, requires a
chapter to itself. Its chief priests are the Conjurors, and its chief
festival the Sedna ceremony.



The Eskimo tongue requires a chapter to itself, for although it can
boast of no literature—being until recently an unwritten language—it
should have exceptional interest for the student of comparative
philology. It is the speech of a primitive, untutored folk, yet its
vocabulary is very large, its grammar complete, methodical and perfect,
and its construction capable of expressing subtleties and combinations
by inflection, unlike those of any tongue, springing from the
well-known stocks of human speech. It is euphonic, agglutinative, and

Europeans find Eskimo difficult to acquire. The writer, like others,
had largely to construct his own grammar when studying it. He spent
many long hours, first with the young folk to get the purity of the
sounds, then with the middle-aged men to arrive at correct idiom and
fluency, then with the ancients to get at the folk lore of the tribe.
Oftentimes their speech was merely a series of long and complicated
gutturals, two hours of it being enough to make a man’s head spin for
the rest of the day. But labour and pertinacity were at length
rewarded; the language was mastered, and the minds of the arctic people

The romance of this grammar consists in the fact that it has all been
marshalled and classified, and reduced to a system which will bear
comparison with even the classic tongues. Unless the first missionaries
to the arctic had taken up this virgin and inchoate subject and handled
it by the aid of the centuries of culture to which they were heir,
Eskimo speech must have still remained a sealed book to the
philologist, and—what is of far more importance—presented a Hill of
Difficulty for years to all those who should come after them in the
same ministry. With the aid of the grammars and dictionaries so
patiently and thoughtfully compiled in the dark, unknown and bitter
North, the would-be evangelist to-day may prepare himself for work
among the Eskimo in the merest fraction of the time it took the first
Danish envoys from civilisation.

The original attempt was made by the well-known Danish pastor, Hans
Egede, who went to Greenland with his wife in 1721, and lived there
among the natives for many years. Eskimo was the mother-tongue of their
son, born in the country as one of its own people. In time, this lad
was sent to Denmark to study at the University of Copenhagen. On his
return to Greenland, young Egede applied himself to the scientific
study of the language he knew so intimately, and to the compilation of
a grammar and a dictionary. His example was followed by the teachers
who came after him, some of them being German linguists imbued with the
meticulous love of learning and of intellectual conquest the task
seemed preeminently to require. These tracked down and classified the
many meanings of Eskimo inflection and expression, and perfected their
system of interpretation. Hence, of course, the thoroughly Teutonic
mould into which the syntax of the Eskimo tongue has been thrown.

All this work has formed the basis of study for everybody who has had
occasion to learn the language since, although such an undertaking has
always entailed a new and personal effort to work out the grammar and
compile a local vocabulary. For all students of Eskimo, including the
present writer, find a variety of dialects, although generally it may
be said that the language varies so inconsiderably from one region to
another, that hunters from widely different parts of the arctics can
soon—by mutual questionings—understand each other. Those in Greenland
speak practically the same tongue as those in Alaska.

Apropos of the purely etymological aspect of this little known
language, it is interesting to recall an observation made by Dean
Farrar in a lecture before the Royal Institution, delivered in 1869. “I
hardly hesitate to prophesy,” he said, “the extreme probability that
the final answer to many high scientific problems regarding the nature
and the origin of man may come from enquiries into the languages of
nations such as these (the Chinese, Eskimo and Cherokee) rather than
from any other branch of ... palaeontological research.”

Eskimo has indeed received some measure of study and analysis, and it
is for grammarians to tell us whether or no this prophesy has been to
any extent fulfilled. A French writer, M. Hovelaque, hesitates to
answer any question as to what group of human language the
“hyperborean” tongues should be assigned. His observations should be
recorded here perhaps, by way of a commentary on the exhaustiveness
with which the Germans seem to have gone into the subject: “Au surplus
le nom d’hyperboréennes ou arctiques, sous lequel on réunit ces
differentes langues, ne doit pas donner le change sur le plus ou moins
d’affinité soit entre elles, soit avec autres idiomes. Bien des
hypothèses sont encore permises à ce sujet, mais il est vraisemblable
qu’un certain nombre de ces idiomes résisteront à toutes les tentatives
que l’on pourra faire en vue de les laisser parmi tel ou tel groupe
suffisament connu. Il serait dangereux, en tout cas, d’accorder aux
relations des missionaires sur telle ou telles de ces langues,
notamment sur celles des Esquimaux, plus de crédit qu’il ne convient.
On n’y trouve, le plus souvent, que des rapprochements de mots, des
etymologies; en somme rien de scientifique. Ajutons, d’autre part, que
certains idiomes hyperboréens ont été étudiés avec soin et par des
auteurs compétents, ainsi qu’on peut le voir dans les publications de
l’Academie de Petersbourg.” (La Linguistique. Bibliothèque des Sciences

Up to within recent times the Eskimo had no system of writing. But
another patient evangelist, inspired by the necessity of delivering the
message of Christianity in a more permanent form than by oral teaching
only, invented what is known as the Syllabic Character for the benefit
of the Indians, at a post called Norway House. This was the Rev. James
Evans, a minister of the Canadian Methodist Church. The Syllabic
Character, which is a sound (and not a letter, or alphabetical)
writing, similar to shorthand, was designed for the Cree, but proved to
be easily adaptable to represent the Eskimo speech. Without such a
method, it is difficult to imagine how restless and roving tribes, at
this post to-day and gone to-morrow, could ever have been taught to
read. By this means, however, an ordinarily intelligent individual can
learn in eight or nine weeks.

The principle of Mr Evans’ characters is phonetic. There are no silent
letters. Each character represents a syllable; hence no spelling is
required. As soon as the series of signs—about sixty in number—are
mastered, and a few additional secondary signs (some of which represent
consonants and some aspirates, and some partially change the sound of
the main character), the native scholar of eighty or of six years of
age can begin to read, and in a few days attain surprising accuracy.

Such results as these, such gifts of pure intellectual effort, are
surely among the greatest blessings civilisation has to confer on the
few primitive peoples still left in the world.

Of late years the British and Foreign Bible Society have taken charge
of the work, and now the Gospel in Cree, Syllabic and Eskimo is widely

The Syllabic Character is known far and wide to-day in the arctics. It
has not been spread solely by white men, for the people teach each
other as they travel from tribe to tribe. The Eskimo freely write
letters to their friends and hand them over for delivery to anyone
taking a journey in the desired direction. The letters always reach
their destination, because the postman at his first sleeping place
invariably reads them all through from first to last; so that if, as
often happens, one or two should get lost, the addressee receives the
missive by word of mouth; and incidentally the postman knows
everybody’s business and is altogether the most glorious gossip who
could ever drop in and enliven the circle round the igloo lamp of a
winter’s night.

Pen, ink and paper, it may be noted, are innovations of the new
civilisation. Prior to the advent of the white man the only idea and
the only means of calligraphy the Eskimo had was the etching on ivory
or bone. Many vigorous and spirited drawings exist of hunting or other
scenes, scratched on blade or handle, and sharply bitten in, black and
clear, by rubbing with soot from the lamps. It is not remarkable that a
knowledge of writing and reading should have spread among the people in
this way, for the Eskimo are avid of instruction, and eagerly avail
themselves of any opportunity of being taught. Where Christianity
itself has gained a footing it has been largely through the
instrumentality of some among them who have come in contact with
missionaries, and passed on to others all they had seen and heard.

One of the most puzzling aspects of Eskimo is its “agglutinative”
character. The words all run together. All the parts of speech may be
joined to the verbal root and then conjugated in its various moods and
tenses, so that the word finally produced by this process may be sixty
or more syllables long. Students find the principal difficulty, not so
much in building up and saying these peculiar words, but in correctly
understanding what the natives say.

The following lengthy remark will illustrate three things: first, a
characteristic mood and tense of the verb “to flee”; secondly, the
phonetic characters used; and, thirdly, the composite nature of the

    1. Kemâyomaneangelara = I shall not wish to flee from him.
    2. ᑭᒪᔪᒪᓂᐊᖏᓚᕋ
    3. Ke-mâ-yo-ma-ne-â-ng-ge-lâ-ra.

The Eskimo tongue has a full complement of the parts of speech. There
is no definite article, but the numeral adjective one, attousik, takes
its place; e.g., attousik angoot, a man, i.e., one man.

There is no form to express gender. Sex is distinguished by the word
“man” or “woman” (really male or female) added to another noun; as
kingmuk, a dog; arngnak, a woman; angoot, a man. Kingmuk arngnak, a
female dog; kingmuk angoot, a male dog.

In many cases where English admits of only one word for an animal,
Eskimo has several. A deer is a deer in English all the year round; in
Eskimo it has a different name for its growth or habits at certain
seasons, as in the fawning period, etc.

The noun plays an important part in the sentence on account of the
various affixes which may be attached. It is inflected for number, and
for no less than nine cases (rendered by prepositions in translation);
it draws possessive pronouns and some adjectives to itself as a magnet
draws iron filings; it has moreover a transitive and an emphatic form.
At the risk of writing a chapter which might be taken from an Eskimo
Primer, we venture to give examples of some of these intricacies of the
snow folks’ strange speech, since whatever else it may be, this can
scarcely be called a hackneyed subject! So the transitive form of the
noun is used when it is the subject of a transitive verb:—

Ernipta nagligevâtegoot = our son, (he) loves us.

The emphatic form:—

Angootib erninne nagligeva = the man loves his own son.

There are three numbers—singular, dual and plural:—Noonak, a land;
noonâk, two lands; noonât, lands; and each of these is declined with
different endings to express eight cases translated by the nominative
and vocative, and then “of,” “to,” “in,” “through,” “from,” and “like”
a land. We feel we are getting on to firm ground somewhere when it is
possible to note down such a rule as this: “Nouns in the singular end
either in a vowel or in the consonants k and t. The dual always ends in
k, and the plural in t.”

We must not part with the noun unceremoniously. Its possibilities are
not easily exhausted. It must have cost a good deal of thinking,
originally, to get it into grammatical harness. For nouns of different
kinds have different terminations, which add all sorts of ideas to
their isolated meaning. For instance, kut, a family; innuk, an Eskimo;
innukut, the family of an Eskimo. Vik, time or place, and kooveasook,
rejoicing; hence kooveasookvik, a place of rejoicing. Again, katte, a
companion, and nerre, to eat; hence nerrekattega, my table companion,
ga being the possessive pronoun.

The possessive pronouns, indicated by inflection, include “our two,”
“your two,” and “their two.” There is also a possessive emphatic form
of the noun, his “own” son.

The Eskimo have names for the numerals up to six, after which figure
they use a system of addition and multiplication to express number.
Seven, for instance, is six and one; nineteen is ten and eight and one.
The figure ten is arrived at as being the count of a man’s fingers on
two hands; twenty includes his toes. Eighty is translated by “Men four,
their extremities finished.” It must indeed have been a matter of some
mild philological exhilaration to the first translators when they
arrived at such a conclusion as this!

Then there are the verbs. This part of speech may be almost called the
whole of the Eskimo tongue. It annexes both subject and object, and can
express through various particles a sentence which would require in
English half a dozen or even ten words. There are two kinds of verbs,
transitive and intransitive; three Voices, active, passive, and middle;
the usual Moods, of which one—the subjunctive—lends itself to an
interesting inferential sort of meaning. When the person addressed can
form some idea of what the speaker wants or means, without the use of
the principal verb, this moods comes into play: “Because there are no
partridges,” is the sentence; “I didn’t get any,” is the inference.
“Because I am very hungry” leaves it to be inferred “therefore I want
some food.” When this is confined to the obvious, well and good; it
would scarcely be so clear, “Because the house is very warm” therefore
“you must make it cooler,” unless the conversation took place in a snow
house where conviviality was having a disastrous effect on the roof and
the walls.

The verb has participles and tenses, which have many modifications of
meaning with no equivalent except an entire sentence in English. In
narration, there is an extraordinarily graphic past, not adequately
rendered by “When So-and-So lived;” but “in So-and-So’s own time of
being in the world.” There are impersonal verbs, and irregular verbs,
and all sorts of particles; potential (I can do a thing), optative (I
wish to do it), negative (I do not do it), the proper “sorting out” of
which is half the battle of learning Eskimo. Time is expressed by time
particles placed between the verb and the verbal termination; there are
also verbal and adverbial particles which have fixed rules as to
position, always preceding the time particle. Thus, a word may be
elaborated, such as Tikkenarsuakpok, “He-endeavours-to-arrive,” or
Tikkenarsuatsinakpok, “He-endeavours-always-to-arrive;” and
“I-indeed-hear-you,” or “I-indeed-hear-only-you.”

It would be perhaps superfluous to offer further notes on the Eskimo
tongue, since the foregoing will suffice to give some idea of its scope
and complexity. The syntax falls under two headings, the formation of
compound words and the arrangement of these into sentences. The
position of words in a sentence, particularly a short one, may be
changed without altering the sense. It is no part of the present
writer’s purpose to do more, here, than to sketch the briefest outline
of one whole section of his subject. To do justice to this language
would require very considerable space. Again, there is no particular
object in adding a chart of the syllabic characters, which are purely
arbitrary, have no history beyond that already given, and belong in no
sense to the genius of the Eskimo themselves. The only recommendation
they might have—if the general reader could pronounce them—is that they
far more nearly give the sounds of what is really a flowing and not
unmusical tongue than the barbaric conglomeration of outlandish
consonants and double vowels which, as a poor expedient, represent to
the eye only, Eskimo words in our inadequate letters. It is for this
reason that we have so often given, in the foregoing pages, only the
translation and not the Eskimo words themselves. In Roman characters
they convey a hideous idea to the eye, and a still worse idea to the

It is for the future to reveal whether or no the newly found gift of
writing will lead these people on to extensive literature. The
Moravians have published some well known books, such as “Christie’s Old
Organ,” etc. If so, by the analogy of every literature in the world, it
will begin with verse, by the enshrining of the folk tales immemorially
dear to every nation, and by the composition of some sort of Eskimo
saga. The Greenland Eskimos composed long songs in honour of Fridtjof
Nansen before he took leave of them, after the first crossing of their
icy continent. It may be that these Eskimo poems, printed in his book,
together with Dr. Rink’s collection of “Tales and Traditions of the
Eskimo,” and Dr. Boas’ similar collection of the fables of this people
(“The Central Eskimo”) and the present writer’s contribution to the
same subject, constitute so far the bulk of the offering made by these
children of the arctic to the literature of mankind.



There exists among the Baffin Islanders, as among all the other tribes,
one long consecutive legend in particular, which should rank, if not
with the great Scandinavian and Icelandic Sagas beloved of William
Morris and of Wagner, at least with some of the most picturesque of
Grimm’s immortal fairy tales, and certainly with any of the strange and
monstrous legends of Kalevala, the Finnish cycle of national song.

Students of national story-telling will probably find analogies and
relationships between the Eskimo story of “Sedna” and the
characteristic folk tales of the other arctic or sub-arctic peoples
east and west. “Sedna” is beguiled into marriage by a gallant hunter
who is really not a man at all, but a sea bird. This sort of tragedy,
or disillusionment, is common in Eskimo fable. In one Alaskan-Eskimo
tale, the heroine marries the human semblance of a bear.

The Sedna legend—a religious legend around which turns a large volume
of Eskimo superstition—has its repulsive as well as its poetic aspects.
But to one who has lived intimately with these people, it would seem
that so strange and awesome a story of the wild north as the tragedy
and death of Sedna should be set, in song, to the metre of Kalevala and
Hiawatha. It is the metre of a child-like version of adventures
happening to a child-like folk.

Belief in this legend, in the existence and the power of Sedna, a
maleficent sea-goddess of the underworld, forms a large part of the
Eskimo religion, and the annual autumnal festival arising out of it is
the principal celebration in their calendar. In connection with this
phantasy, it is noteworthy that the Eskimo conception of the spirit of
evil—or at least of hostility to man—is unlike that of any other
nation. The Eskimo devil is a woman.

The Eskimos are great story-tellers, and the bulk of their fables,
handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation, has
assumed a stereotyped form. Their narration demands the exercise of an
art in which the arctic folk excel—the art of vivid narration. Many of
these tales begin as recitatives; some are almost wholly related in
verse or musical form; others are told in prose, with every sort of
appropriate gesture, modulation of the voice, and facial expression. A
number of them are onomatopoeic in character, imitating the calls and
cries of the birds and creatures of the wild. Story-telling is one of
the principal features of the social life of these people of the north,
and bulks largely in the programme of all festivities.

Many of the Eskimo legends would require a certain amount of
bowdlerising before they could be presented to the world as a book of
Eskimo tales, a contribution to the folk lore of the nations; but some
of them (notably the well dramatised story of the migration of the
Saglingmiut, with its very essence of primitive arctic life) could be
retold intact. Ethnologists have made a fairly representative
collection of these stories in the course of the past fifty years, and
most of them are to be found in the bibliography of arctic travel.
Those incidental to these pages, with the exception, of course, of the
Sedna tradition, are fresh contributions to the subject, not included,
to the best of the writer’s belief, in any other work.

An amusing tale, related to the writer, is that of the amorous youth
who made a particularly disappointing mistake.

In a certain village there lived a lovely maiden with her father. She
possessed little but a happy disposition and a ready smile. The old man
himself was so poor that his one dream of the future turned on the hope
of his daughter securing a first-class hunter for a husband, who would
provide for the two of them ever after. No young man, attracted by the
girl’s bright eyes, was made welcome over the lamp in that igloo unless
her father satisfied himself as to his credentials. But, as luck will
have it apparently all the world over, the daughter’s love was won by
the most ineligible suitor of them all—a youth poor in everything but
in courage and hope and promise. The old man rejected all his overtures
and rudely denied him his daughter. So the two were driven to form
plans of their own.

They decided to run away together, and that she should merely feign
resistance when her lover arrived to carry her off. The night came for
the attempt. The old man and the girl retired to rest as usual, rolled
up in their blankets on the sleeping bench, and the lamp burnt low.
Now, the approach to their abode was across a neck of ice spanning a
deep ravine. The youth came along, and cautiously crept over the narrow
bridge. Quickly entering the igloo, and perceiving the two sleeping
forms, he snatched up one of them, furs and all, and rushed back whence
he had come. To evade all possibility of pursuit, he smashed down the
ice bridge behind him. Then, burning to look upon the face of his
bride, he drew the blankets from about her head—only to discover with
the utmost consternation that he had carried off the father instead of
the girl! Dropping his burden none too gently, he made off at top speed
and fled into the night. The story-teller failed to draw upon his
imagination as to what happened in the domestic circle thus
disastrously broken up, after that.

To return, however, to the chief of the legends—the legend of Sedna:

There was, once upon a time, a beautiful Eskimo girl, called Sedna. She
was her widowed father’s only daughter, and they abode together by the
sea shore. As she grew up she was wooed by many a youth of her own
tribe, and of others who came from afar. But to no single one of her
lovers did her heart incline in the least. She refused altogether to
marry. She had a proud spirit and delighted in disdain. At last,
however, a day came when a very handsome young hunter appeared upon the
scene, from a far-off strange country. Neither Sedna nor Anguta, her
father, had ever heard of him before. He had beautiful skins cunningly
wrought with a stripe in the coat, and a spear of ivory. His kyak drove
inshore over the shining sea; but instead of landing on the beach, he
poised it on the edge of the surf and called to the maiden in her tent
above the strand to come off to him. He wooed her with an enticing
song: “Come to me; come into the land of the birds, where there is
never hunger, where my tent is made of the most beautiful skins. You
shall rest on soft bearskins.... Your lamp shall always be filled with
oil, your pot with meat.”

Sedna, framed in the entrance of the leathern hangings, refused. She
would not come down. Wholly won at first sight, maidenlike she must
refuse! So he began to plead and woo. He drew for her a picture of the
home where he would take her, the rich furs that he would give, and the
necklaces of ivory. Even though she vowed she wanted no husband, let
her come down with her bag, her sealskin sack of treasures, and fly
with him! Sedna made the coy boast, “Am I not the only one who does not
want a husband?” but even as she said it, her hand fell from the tent
flap and she stepped down towards the sea. “Let my bag be brought....”

He placed her aboard his kyak and paddled off on his return journey. So
Sedna went away with her lover and her father saw her no more on the
cliff by the seashore that was her home.

Came swift awakening and a bride’s tears! Sedna’s lover was no man at
all, but a phantom man whose real self was a Bird! One of those
peerless creatures of the arctic sky who, with “wide wing ...
broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road” above the crashing
floes, wheels over the bitter waters of the North. Some have it a
Fulmar, and some a Loon. It was a Spirit bird, having power to
transform itself into the semblance of a human thing. Falling in love
with the maiden, it had taken the form of the hunter and decoyed her to
its own.

Sedna was inconsolable. She had the horror of a very human girl at her
strange mate, and could by no means make his land her home and his
people hers. The legend has it that the Loon provided for her as an
ordinary hunter would have done; but she was wild and homesick, and
passed her days bewailing, as lone and desolate an exiled maiden as
ever cried, “Woe, woe!”

(Sedna’s disillusionment is a note in the story wholly coarse to
European ideas. The Eskimos are a people without prudery. A perfectly
natural incident on the journey revealed that the lover was a bird.)

But the father wearied for his daughter—the Eskimo word has the loving
possessive “his own daughter”—and at length fitted out his boat and
sailed away to that distant coast whither she had been borne. The
husband Bird was from home when he came to this land, and it was a sad
and sorry tale that greeted his ears from the wind-lashed, spray-beaten
maiden that had been his smiling, contented child. Without more ado, he
lifted her into his boat, made one swift turn, and fell to retracing
his course. The craft—a tiny mark—was soon lost to sight in the welter
of the waves.

Then the Loon, returning, enquired and said, “But where is my wife?”
The cry echoed round the naked cliffs. And answering cries, wind-borne
on the darkening air, told him that his wife had fled. Her father had
come and snatched her back, in grief and anger, to his bosom.

At once, the Bird, assuming the Phantom form again, followed in his
kyak; but when the Father saw him coming he covered up his daughter
with the furs and things he had loaded in the boat. Swiftly the kyaker
bore down upon them, and rushing alongside demanded to see his wife.

“Let me see my wife!” he cried. “Let me only see her; pray let me see

The angry father refused, and held determinedly on his way.

“Then let me see her hands only. I only ask to see her hands!” the
Kokksaut cried, to be passionately rejected again.

Then, bowing his head over the opening of his kyak in grief and
desolation, the kyaker fell behind. He had failed! His manhood had
failed; Sedna had hated and left as true a lover as ever a man could
have been to her, and he would no more of it! With one wild sweep of
his wings, he was a bird again, the kyak a mote upon the waters
beneath, and a stroke or two of his great vans brought him above the
boat of the fugitives. He hung there awhile, uttering the strange cry
of the Loon; but at last dropped away into the darkness.

Then there arose a storm—a black arctic storm—out at sea.

And Sedna’s father was stricken with fear. Terror of the bird-man
gripped his heart. Terror of the offended powers of sky and sea nerved
him to a bitter sacrifice. The raging waves demanded Sedna, and he must
give her up, and repulse her struggling, and see her drown. He bent
forward, and with one fearful thrust, cast his daughter out of the
boat—so to propitiate the offended sea!

The wild, white face rose to the surface, and despairing hands caught
at the gunwale. But the Terror was not to be defrauded, and the father,
frenzied with grief and the desperate determination of his deed,
snatched up an axe—a heavy thing of ivory and wood—and brought it down
upon those pathetic, clinging fingers. The maiden fell back into the
sea (and the first joints of her maimed and bleeding hands turned into
seals). But, coming up again, with agony in her eyes she made another
struggle to catch at the boat. Three times the drowning creature came
back; but she was the doomed victim of the sea, and the father must
consummate the sacrifice. Three times he smote and chopped at her
mangled hands. (The second joints became the ojuk, the ground seals;
the third joints made the walrus; and whales sprang of the rest.)

Apropos of this reeking legend, it must be borne in mind that the
Eskimo believe implicitly in Spirits and in their power to demand
sacrifice. The father, believing the storm to be an expression of the
anger of the Sea god (on behalf apparently of the sea-bird) and a
demand for the daughter he had reclaimed, did not hesitate to give her
up and to steel himself against her drowning agony.

At last Sedna sank, to rise no more.

And the storm sank, too. The boat presently came to land. The father
entered his tent and lay down beneath it and slept a sleep of
exhaustion and overspent grief. In the tent was fastened Sedna’s dog.
But that night there was a high tide which washed up the beach,
demolished the tupik, and drowned the two living creatures within. So
that man and dog rejoined the maiden in the depths of the sea. There
they have dwelt ever since, in some “house” or cave of Eskimo
imagination. There they preside over one whole region—called
Adlivun—where souls are imprisoned for punishment for a while or all
time, after death.

The sea creatures who owe their origin to Sedna belong to her and she
controls them. She protects them, and causes the storms which bring
wreckage and famine to the kyakers and sealers. Hence she is in Eskimo
mythology inimical to mankind, the source of the worst evils they know,
a spirit who has to be propitiated or quelled by ceremony, as the case
may be.

She is considered to be of enormous stature, with two plaits of hair,
each thick as an arm, and she has only one eye. The other was pierced
and put out in her drowning struggle.

The writer has seen an example of this sort of sacrifice in actual
life, and it redeems the story of Sedna’s father from the senseless
selfishness of which it seems to be compounded by some narrators. Two
boats containing a party of hunters were returning from sealing, when a
squall struck them. Before sail could be taken in, one boat overturned
and the men were thrown into the water. They all climbed back except
one, who was numbed with cold and dazed with shock. He did not sink
immediately, being held up by his deerskins. He even drifted close by
the boat, and easily within reach. One man, indeed, did reach out and
touch him with an oar, but when he failed to grasp it the general
decision was to let him drown. He was “material for the Tongak”
spirits, claimed by the Spirit of the sea—as was Sedna in the legend.
He simply drowned in the sight of the others, and of the women on
shore, who covered their faces with their hoods and gave the death
wails, i.e., began to shriek and howl in the frenzied manner proper to
the circumstances.

It is possible that no better story than that of Sedna (with all its
elements of phantasy, human emotion, poetry and savagery) could be
found in illustration of a good deal Dr. Marrett has to tell us in his
“Psychology and Folk Lore,” by way of reducing primitive folk-lore and
primitive procedure (religious or medical, or both, arising out of it)
to a science of primitive psychology. His masterly analysis of the
outlook of the wholly untutored mind on the phenomena of cause and
effect demonstrates quite clearly the sincerity and the obviousness of
the “savage” rites and customs which seem to us so barbaric, irrelevant
and monstrous.

The Sedna myth gives rise to the taboo, and the practices of the Sedna
ceremony. The aboriginal theory of things (the origin of the sea
creatures, the cause of storms, etc.), leads to aboriginal methods of
dealing with them  “On (close) acquaintance, such as perhaps is to be
obtained only on the field,” says Dr. Marrett, “the savage turns out to
be anything but a fool, more especially in anything that relates at all
directly to the daily struggle for existence ... common sense is no
monopoly of civilisation,” although the educated application of it to
the material and spiritual needs of life may easily be so. The interest
of the primitive theurgist is a practical one, and the elements in his
problem are only two, namely, a supernormal power to be moved and a
traditional rite that promises to move it. The special function of the
conjuror or the medicine man among aboriginal peoples is to grapple
with the abnormal, and “this ever tends to constitute for the savage a
distinct dispensation, a world of its own.” There is in such a story as
the Sedna legend some groundwork of common sense and verifiable
experience; and in the practices which arise out of it, this has to be
taken into account, together with some very real occult content
(whether of suggestion or hypnotism, the most modern of sciences alone
could say), and some conscious fraud no doubt on the part of the

Prior, however, to an account of this ceremony, it will be as well
perhaps to devote some space to the conjurors themselves. For, among
the Eskimo, as among other primitive peoples, the typical “medicine
man” is a specialist, trained for his vocation and initiated into an
exclusive guild. He is by no means necessarily a fraud and a charlatan.
Normally, the primitive faith healer has as much faith in himself and
his methods as his patients have, and between the two of them—when it
is a question of a mental reaction to be obtained—there is no reason
why absolute success should not crown his efforts. In the sphere of
material results these amazing methods seem to be wholly empirical, and
yet it cannot be denied that the Eskimo conjurors sometimes produce
effects comparable only to some of the well-known demonstrations of the
“magic” of the East.



The greatly esteemed profession of Conjuror is open among the Eskimo to
both men and women. Anyone is eligible to become a student in the rites
and lore of the caste, but only those who pass its tests (i.e., only
those who attain, not only a really high degree of the power of mental
concentration, of intuition and character reading; but some true occult
gift), are allowed to practise. The art has its own hierarchy of
professors according to their degree of aptitude and initiation. Only
those with some particular qualification, natural or acquired, such as
the power of throwing themselves into true trance, attain the highest
degree of dignity. Aspirants to the position of conjuror who fall short
of this, but have yet studied and schooled themselves to some purpose
in the art, are not denied its practice altogether, but hold lesser
rank and officiate on minor occasions.

The would-be conjuror is put through a fairly long and fairly severe
course of training, the whole of which, wrapped up in an immense amount
of magical circumlocution and sheer imposture, simply tends to enhance
his intellectual qualities, such as they may be, at the expense of the
grosser appetites of the Eskimo lay individual.

The candidates to the caste—youth or young woman—begins by choosing a
conjuror—male or female—under whom to study. And immediately the
neophyte enters upon his apprenticeship. The length of time this may
last rests upon his capacity to learn the rites and acquire the
psychological stock-in-trade of a conjuror. It is to the teacher’s
advantage to spin out this period of tuition as long as possible, since
for the whole term of his training the disciple is the body servant of
the master, and performs for him even the most menial offices. The
novice is a sort of articled pupil into the bargain. He pays for his

First of all, he has to acknowledge all his breaches of the communal
law and custom, and confess to the conjuror whatever of wrongdoing
there may have been in his life. The Eskimo believe in this sort of
confession, and it is frequently enjoined. He receives forgiveness, and
thereupon embarks upon a wholly new course of life.

Fasting and abstinence and the mastery of the appetites of eating and
drinking are the first trials, and the first victories he has to win.
The Eskimo are vast eaters, and so much of their diet being flesh meat
and in the raw state, their physique tends to grossness. This grossness
has to be remedied if the conjuror is to be capable of dominating other
minds by the greater force and clarity of his own. The neophyte eschews
all luxuries whilst learning, again, of course, with the idea of
self-command and of that detachment from the unnecessary things of life
which—under civilised conditions also—hang so many trammels round a
finer aspiration. In the terms of Eskimo experience, this involves
allowing the hair to grow long and hang down; to eat with the hands
covered; and to go to rest without discarding the clothes. The strict
diet, the austerities, the real course of mental training, improve the
candidate’s natural powers of mind, enhance his memory, and concentrate
his will and consolidate so solid a belief in the system and powers he
is attaining that the graduate has really, at last, something
professional and exclusive to offer the community.

To begin with, the aspirant has to become absolutely familiar with all
the ancient customs of the people, and their significance. Then he has
to study the spirit language, the tongue of the conjurors—that is to
say, the language in which spirits are to be addressed and in which
they express themselves through the initiate. He proceeds to study the
cause of sickness (this however in a superstitious and not a natural
sense), and what penalties to inflict for the wrongdoing which sickness
is supposed to indicate. He has to learn all the various incantations
for various occasions, and exactly how to set about them.

All this is merely the first stage of his apprenticeship. He begins to
show of what stuff he is made, so far as the career of conjuror is
concerned, when it comes to dealing with matters of guilt and secrecy.
The accomplished conjuror must be able to detect and affix guilt. Here
he is concerned entirely with the minds of his fellow men, and trying
to fathom and read them. The Eskimo mind is as tortuous as the Eastern.
The conjuror pursues his own method, which may have a good deal to
recommend it in the eyes of those who have made a study of the occult,
but which is not the method of direct evidence and deduction. He throws
himself into a perfectly genuine trance, and stakes everything on the
intuitions of that state and the awesome effect of it upon the
interested beholders.

To do this the conjuror sits down with his face to the wall, and
drawing his hood well over his features, rocks himself backwards and
forwards, calling the while on his familiar spirit (his Tongak) to come
to him. He continues this howling and rocking until such concentration
of mind is effected that he becomes unconscious; he foams at the mouth.
Whilst in this condition of self-induced hypnotism—or however the
spiritists may explain it—his spirit, it is believed, goes below to
Sedna, or above to the regions of beatitude, to find out what has been
the cause of the guilt in question, and discover the requisite

The interesting thing about this performance is that it is by no means
the tissue of imposture one might suppose. The Eskimo conjuror may be
no more and no less a fraud than the medium of a spiritistic séance.
The writer has been creditably assured by these practitioners that the
trance ensues in the vision of a great white light (like the light
thrown on a sheet by the magic lantern), and then in that illumination
they see the whole scene of the supposed crime re-enacted, all the
people implicated in it, and its every detail. They are told, or
inspired, what penalty to inflict. On returning to consciousness, the
vision is not forgotten, but sharply remembered. The conjuror is able
to accuse the offender, to question him, and extort a confession from
him. The penalty generally takes the form of some obnoxious task to be
performed or some fine to be paid in kind.

This power to see the white light and to project in it the thoughts,
probably, of the assistants at the conjuration—for the performance,
when genuine, amounts to nothing less—is really a remarkable psychic
feat. Probably the conjurors understand it as little as the laity; they
have only trained themselves to achieve it, and they explain it
according to the fantastic body of superstition which constitutes the
Eskimo religion. It is only after long practice and the sustained
effort after great mental concentration that the manifestation is
attained, that the light can be seen, and incidents recorded in it.
This is the final test for the honours of full conjurorship. The
candidates sit night after night with the teacher, faces to the wall,
and the lamps burning low, shutting out all extraneous objects and
distractions, in the endeavour to see the light, to pass into trance.
Those who remain for ever unable to arrive at this, fail to pass the
test, and are rejected from the class of the full-fledged. They must
content themselves with minor dignities in the order of conjurors. One
of these inferior grades is that of the Kunneyo, the one who incants
for the seal hunters. Another is the Makkosâktok, the one who goes
round with the whip during the Sedna ceremonies; and a third is the
Noonageeksaktok, another official at the great annual celebration.

On the completion of his training and on his passing the final test for
the witch-doctorate, the candidate is publicly acknowledged as a
Conjuror. He makes a visitation of all the dwellings in the settlement,
performs incantations in each, and receives in payment a number of
charms, such as small pieces of carved ivory or bits of deerskin
fringes. These things are valueless in themselves, but signify that the
tribesfolk have accepted the new conjuror.

It is easy to see how the conjurors acquire the power they undoubtedly
have over the people, and easy to imagine how much of fraud,
imposition, hypocrisy and sheer self-seeking could be practised under
the thick cloak of their rites, incantations, superstitions, and—last,
but not least—their clever trickery and legerdemain. What may be
perhaps not quite so easy is to convey to the reader an idea of the
real good faith and of some demonstrable if inexplicable occult command
underlying much of the conjuror’s art. The whole subject is too big,
either from the point of view of primitive superstitions and procedure,
or from that of occultism, to be dealt with at much length here and
now; but by way of illustrating the point that the Eskimo conjuror can
perform miracles (collective hypnotism?) as striking as the well-known
Eastern trick of the mango-tree, one of the incidents of the Sedna
ceremony may be instanced.

At a certain stage of the Sedna proceedings, the conjuror, who has the
spirit of a walrus or bear for Tongak (familiar spirit), spears himself
through the jacket, or is speared by others, deep in the breast. When
this whole performance is not merely a spectacular trick, it seems to
be quite genuinely done. A line is attached to the deeply embedded,
barbed spearhead, and the people catch hold of this and pull on it and
haul the impaled man about, to prove that he is fairly caught, as the
victim of a hunt might be. The conjuror is bathed in blood. At length,
however, he is let go, and he makes his wounded way alone to the
seashore. Here the Tongak releases him from the spear, and after a
short space of time he returns to the festival whole and well as ever,
with no sign about him except his torn clothing to indicate the rough
handling he has undergone.

The whole stock-in-trade indeed of the Eskimo conjuror is a certain
very demonstrable, acquired, occult power. Besides this, he has a good
memory, an immense amount of shrewdness and cunning, an intimate
knowledge of animals and their habits, of weather conditions and
seasons, and, above all, of course, a capacity to judge of his fellow

It is after the period of training is over that the conjuror becomes
the bestial, sensual creature, full of cupidity and trickery, he is so
often represented to be. After graduating in the guild, no further
prohibitions and denials are observed. He marries, indeed; but no woman
of the community is safe from him. Under one professional pretext or
another, he may have his way with each and every one of them, with or
without her own particular man’s consent. This, however, is seldom
withheld. On the whole, monogamy is the rule among the Eskimo, although
there are plenty of exceptions. The writer has known a conjuror with
three wives, two of whom were sisters.

When a wife is childless it is a great grief both to her and her
husband. The conjuror is called in for professional advice and to find
out why she is not favoured by the spirits. He resorts to his
incantations, but takes an obvious advantage of the situation (quite as
much for his own ends as for the satisfaction of the would-be parents),
and all is satisfactorily arranged. Again, when a man is very ill and
has been performed over by the conjuror, one of the things demanded by
the latter is that the patient’s coat shall be brought to his house in
the evening by the man’s wife, and not taken home again until next day.

Eskimo life is full of this sort of thing, and the crudities of
relationships entering into any of their typical folk-stories make
these a little hard to reproduce in a manner acceptable to better
taste. But there is certainly some distinction to be drawn between the
primitive doings of a people struggling numerically against the
cruellest conditions of life nature can impose, (who moreover have no
conception of the ethical idea of morality), and mere promiscuity and
vice as practised for their own sakes by the “civilised” peoples of far
more favoured lands.

One of the commonest occasions of calling in the aid of the conjuror is
during bad weather. The days have been dark and stormy, with bitter
gales and snowstorms, so that the hunters have been unable to go
afield. The witch doctor arms himself with a whip—either an ordinary
dog whip or one made from sea-weed—and a knife, and rushes out to join
the howling elements. He slashes the wind and shouts down the gale.
“Taba! Taba! Namuktok!” (Stop! Stop! It is enough!).

And presently the wind drops, and the accustomed death-like stillness
of the frozen world supervenes upon the uproar.

The conjuror of course could read the signs of the weather even more
astutely than the practised hunters, and awaited the moment when the
gale had spent itself for the exhibition of his influence.

After the death of anyone looked upon as more or less of a criminal,
the conjuror is called upon to drive the evil-intentioned spirit of the
departed away from his old home. He does this by shading his eyes
carefully in the effort to perceive the spirit. Then, with a knife or
spear he rushes about, yelling and shouting, and stabbing as if at his
invisible foe, calling upon it to depart and go to its own place below.
At length he vanquishes the spirit, and announces that it is to be
dreaded no more; by their belief in him he removes their fears and
restores tranquility of mind and body; whereupon he receives his dues
and the perturbed and anxious relatives recover their poise and

In order to grasp how seriously the Eskimo believe their lives, and
every adventure of their lives, to be beset by unseen influences, it
must be remarked that the main idea of their uncouth religion is that,
not only man, but all things, animate or inanimate, have souls. Rocks,
wood, earth, water, sun, moon, stars, fire, fog, icebergs, plants, all
animals, all creeping things, and even hunting implements, have spirits
which never die. The Tarnuk, or soul of a man, has the shape of a man,
but is about one inch in height, and is to be discovered in the hand of
a conjuror or in that of a new-born babe. The soul of a bear is like a
bear; that of a walrus like a walrus; but the soul of a deer resembles
a spider, and that of a salmon, a man! The souls of rocks are like
sturdy, thickset men; the soul of the earth looks like a piece of
liver. Animals’ souls are black and hairless, but those of some
inanimate objects are clothed in deerskin. It would indeed take a great
deal of study to determine how and why the people should have arrived
at these fantastic notions and distinctions. Perhaps it would never be
given to the mind of the modern white man to fathom the workings of
such primitive intelligence, building up for itself a monstrous,
nightmare scheme of things, on foundations of the blackest ignorance.

For sheer phantasy, the writer is aware of course that the beliefs of
the Eskimos are paralleled by those of many other uncivilised peoples.
It may be that along lines of comparative savage mythology some
generalisations might emerge which would throw light upon the whole
subject. Here, however, would lie the study of a lifetime.

Briefly put, the Eskimo religion consists in the belief in a
multiplicity of spirits, good and bad, and in one Supreme Spirit, of
whom no fear is felt because he has no evil intention towards man. The
conjuration and propitiation of the evil spirits is the constant
business of the conjuring class, although everyone has some degree of
power to deal with them. Man was made, indeed, by the Great Supreme
Spirit, and his name was given, Âkkolukju; and woman, Omaneetok, was
fashioned from his left-hand floating rib.

The Eskimo very highly esteem their own race, but hold Europeans in
considerable contempt. They have an unpleasant legend of a woman and a
dog being cast away together in a boat or on a floe, by way of
accounting for the origin of the whites.

Man’s spirit, like the spirit of everything else, is immortal, and
destined to a future life in bliss, in the region where the Great
Spirit presides over a happy community of very prosperous Eskimo, such
as has already been described. Those who die on the hunt go to this
heaven, also women in childbirth, and those who die a violent death by
any sort of accident. The road to this Eskimo heaven is beset by many
obstacles and pitfalls. It is haunted by savage animals, who lie in
wait to attack, maim, and kill the wayfarers upon it. Legend has it
that at the end of this road, at the rim of this world which is the
gate to the next, two huge rocks are set, confronting each other across
the narrow path. They sway ominously and often crash together, so that
the soul seeking heaven has to run the risk of being caught and crushed
between them as he endeavours to get through.

All illness other than that derived from these causes is looked upon as
a consequence of sin, i.e., the failure to be a good member of the
community, the having been of a quarrelsome turn, bad-tempered, mean or
ungenerous, and the having failed to own up to these things when
exhorted by the conjuror. When a sick person, having confessed yet
dies, it is believed that he had some mental reservation and was not
quite honest about his confession. These bad folk go to the Eskimo
hell, to the awful realms of Sedna. But a third idea of a sort of
purgatory comes in, a place to which the damned can escape before they
are finally admitted to bliss. The spirit of the conjuror is able to go
below and fight the evil one, and liberate the soul in question. The
whole transaction is generally a somewhat expensive one for the

All animals have their guardian spirits (Tongak) who have power over
their souls (Innua). The bear, walrus, killer, ground seal, etc., have
the best and strongest familiars. It is the custom for each conjuror to
adopt one of these spirits as his own, in order to avail himself of its
attributes and powers. The bear is a special favourite, since his
Tongak is possessed of cunning and intelligence above the ordinary.
Sedna, the goddess or protectress of the sea creatures in her briny
underworld, controls and safeguards their bodies only; each one’s
particular Tongak controls its soul. The conjuror, in turn, controls
the Tongak; so this important personage can counteract Sedna’s
machinations against successful hunting. The hunter invokes the aid of
the conjuror, who thereupon causes the Tongak of the seals to enter
into the man and lead him to success. This familiar companionship is
forfeited if the hunter commit some breach of the law and does not
confess as much to the witch doctor, or if he fail to pay for the
services rendered.

Eskimo mythology is almost an inexhaustible subject. In addition to the
active, informing spirit called the Tongak, which everyone possesses
and which can be invoked for guidance or assistance by every man at his
need, all other beings, animate and inanimate, possess an indwelling
spirit peculiar to themselves alone. This individual, permanent,
presiding spirit is the Innua, something distinct from the patron
spirit, the Tongak.

The writer has collected an immense mass of notes on the Eskimo
deities, as they were described to him by the most creditable of the
conjurors. He believes that his list is unique, and offers the student
of such matters entirely original material. In it are enumerated no
less than fifty of these tutelary spirits, with their personal
descriptions (generally uncouth and imaginative to a degree), their
supposed habitat—earth, air, or water—and their characteristic
activities or patronages.

There is Keekut, for instance, a being who lives on the land, in
appearance is like a dog without hair, and who works in a more or less
maleficent manner. There is Segook, a spirit with a head like a crow, a
body like that of a human being, and who is black. It has wings. It is
a benefactor to the tribesfolk, and brings them meat in its beak. It is
fabled to exist upon the eyes of deer and seals. The list is
monotonously fabulous, and could only be wearisome to the general

Ataksok lives in the sky. He is like a ball, and has the means of
bringing joy to his beholders as often as he may be invoked by the
conjurors. Akseloak is the spirit of rocking stones. When called upon,
he arrives rolling, and falls flat upon his face at the witch doctor’s
feet. Ooyarraksakju is a female spirit, and lives in the rocks and
boulders; is beneficent in her activities.

So the list goes on. It would doubtless have a value all its own for
the student of primitive imagery or fable, and form an addition to
ethnographical researches on the Eskimo; but to give it here in extenso
would perhaps serve little or no purpose.



At the end of the arctic summer, before the young ice begins to form
again along the shores, there comes a spell of tempestuous weather,
with frequent storms and high, rough tides. Food grows more and more
scarce as sealing increases in risk and difficulty. Those intrepid
hunters who do venture out, return empty-handed day after day, and it
grows high time for something to be done. The goddess Sedna is supposed
to be causing these storms and all this dirty weather at sea, to
prevent her animals being killed. And so a conjuration has to be
performed to liberate the seals.

This is the occasion of the most elaborate festival in the Eskimo

It begins by the conjurors, in full dress, calling the people
altogether to dispense them for a short space from their marriage ties.
Each witch doctor is masked, and clad in women’s clothing. The idea of
his amazing get-up, apart from the usual intention to awe the people by
grotesqueness or hideousness, is to disguise the face and body, to
efface as it were the well-known individual, to make the people lose
sight of the conjuror in the representation of a great power at work
among them. His dress is partly that of a man and partly that of a
woman, and he carries the usual implements used by both sexes. This is
to bring the needs of either before the great power, and to intercede
for their respective needs.

To begin with, the Angakok wears several pairs of nether garments and
boots, until he looks very big and out of his usual proportions. He has
a woman’s pointed tunic, whose sleeves are elaborately trimmed with
fringes and charms. The hood is pulled down over his head, and he wears
a mask of black skin tattooed all over. On his shoulders he carries an
inflated sealskin float, and over his arm a coil of walrus hide. In his
left hand he bears a woman’s skin scraper, and in his right a spear.
Thus caparisoned, he emerges from his tent and begins by pairing off
the couples.

The tribesfolk are ranged in two long lines, the men and women facing
each other, and a lane between. Then the “Kailuktetak” (a minor order
among the initiate) open the ceremonies. Each conjuror is furnished
with a deer-horn scraper like a long curved knife (used in the ordinary
course of things for scraping the newly formed ice from the kyaks as
they are drawn out of the water), to which is attached a small piece of
bearskin. He starts off down the living lane, dancing and shouting in
glee, touching first a man and then a woman with the wand as he goes.
The two thus indicated pair off, and are man and wife for the next
twenty-four hours, or perhaps a little longer. The fun is fast and
furious. Much of the whole thing has been prearranged, and the element
of surprise is rather subordinate to that of anticipation. The
conjurors choose among the women for themselves first, and next for
those hunters who have had sufficient eye for beauty and sufficient of
this world’s goods to mention the fact privately and persuasively

There has been quite a stream of visitors to the conjuror’s house of
late, and quite a number of presents made, which forgetfulness on the
part of that worthy has failed to return. So that the pairing off on
this auspicious day is largely a prearranged affair. However, it
occasions plenty of Eskimo laughter and delight. The enceinte (and the
old folks) are not included in this adventure. They play the part of
spectators only, but applaud or deride as heartily as the rest over
each mating. These women are Kooveayootiksatyonerktoot, i.e.,
“no-longer-the-material-for-a-rejoicing,” having apparently given
hostages to fortune already, or having sufficiently fulfilled the hopes
of the community. Children are paired off first—boys and girls of no
more than twelve years—and then the adults.

Each couple, as they are selected, join hands and walk away towards the
man’s dwelling, attended for a little distance by the Kiluktetak who
has picked them out, dancing all round them and about them like a mad
thing. If they chance to touch him, they too begin to dance, and to
voice their excitement in no uncertain manner. On entering the
dwelling, each drinks a little water and mentions the place of his or
her birth.

The conjuror has an âvetak slung upon his breast, that is, the entire
skin of a seal which, inflated, is generally used as a float on the
kyak. On this day, however, it serves another purpose. As the couple
presently return to the Kilukletak, they pour water into this, and each
individual, drinking from it again and again, mentions the place of his
or her birth a second time. The rite is official, and sets the
conjuror’s seal upon the proceedings and its consequences.

The root idea of this pairing off is to strengthen a race that might
easily be weakened by too much inter-marriage, and to increase the
birth-rate. The writer has elsewhere commented on the defensibility of
such a custom—from the Eskimo point of view—but it remains to be added
here that, as regards parentage, the father of a child is always known
and acknowledged, be he the woman’s husband or her temporary Sedna
mate. The Sedna offspring is cared for by the regular husband, or by
the community.

Next comes the extraordinary performance already described, when the
conjuror is speared through the chest.

After this, the principal Angakok prepares to give battle to Sedna. The
goddess can be killed; but as she subsequently comes to life again,
this killing has to take place every year. The whole performance is a
representation of seal-spearing on the ice. The conjuror coils a rope
on the floor of a large hut, and leaves a little opening at the top to
represent the blow hole. Two assistants stand on either side, armed
respectively with harpoon and spear. A third chants incantations at the
back of the dwelling. Sedna is supposed to be lured from the
underworld, and when she comes to the hole, is transfixed at once. She
sinks away again, dragging the harpoon with her, wounded and incensed.
The conjurors haul on the line for all they are worth, and recover the

Then the chief Angakut squats upon the floor, with his arms and legs
bound by a length of light hide line. The lamps are pressed down to
burn so dimly that it is all but dark. The rest of the folk also sit
about the floor with their heads bowed, so that none may stare at the
conjuror’s face. He begins his incantations, rocking to and fro and
uttering sounds that seem incredible for a human throat to compass. He
works himself into a state of insensibility (but not before his
familiar spirit has undone the knots and released him from his bonds.)
It is this trance which makes such an impression on the tribesfolk.
They believe that the witch doctor’s spirit has left his body and their
midst, and has really gone to meet and despatch the powerful figment of
their myth, to kill her and liberate the seals.

The hardening of the weather soon after this ceremony, when the
prospects of the sealers naturally improve, seems to the Eskimo mind a
clear demonstration of cause and effect. Probably the conjuror quite
believes it, too, and although he has done nothing but hypnotise
himself and strike awe thereby into the onlookers, this assumption of
all that he accomplishes in the meantime is as real to him as to the

After the Kiluktetak—the chief of the whole conjuring band—has
concluded this séance, he proceeds to make good hunters. Those who are
ambitious to make a name for themselves in this respect, and greatly
desire the skins and trappings that come of abundant catches, pay the
conjuror a walrus hide line; whereupon he resorts again to his
incantations, and his Tougak causes the soul of a seal to enter the
body or mind of the young man in question. The whole business may
perhaps have some result, perforce of suggestion, and the sealer who
had hitherto doubted his own judgment or prowess, who had felt
discouraged by ill success, or who had failed perhaps in skill or
patience, picks up a fortuitous confidence in himself and really has
better luck afterwards.

It is impossible to believe that these beliefs and ceremonies would be
so widespread among the people and carry so much weight, were no sort
of explanation to be sought for them. These folk are trained and
accomplished hunters; they attribute their success to junketings of
this description, and by no means wholly to the obvious care they take
to ensure it. If the ceremonies had no value and proved by experience
to have no bearing on all these vital matters, even the primitive mind
would scarcely perpetuate them for their own sakes pure and simple.

In the meantime, while the Kiluktetak has his hands full in the
underworld, all sorts of other things are taking place, all sorts of
games going on, in the village above.

There is a tug of war with a rope of walrus hide or white whale hide, a
contest provocative of uproarious fun, watched by a keen, delighted
crowd. One end of the rope is manned by the “Ptarmigans” (those born in
the winter time) and the other by the “Ducks” (those born in summer.)
If the former yield to the latter, it is taken as an augury of good
weather for the ensuing season.

After this a curious game is played. One of the lesser conjurors is
fantastically got up in a number of garments, and in a pair of trousers
with very narrow legs. The trousers seem to tickle the Eskimo sense of
the ludicrous in exactly the same way as Charlie Chaplin’s baggy ones
and his “caterpillar” boots tickle ours. He takes a piece of wood in
one hand, a skin scraper in the other, and starts capering off, calling
on all and sundry to follow him and assemble in the “Kagge,” or singing

The ceremony in the Kagge was performed in the past but now only the
Sedna ceremony is performed, minus the Kagge.

The Eskimo build larger houses than those they usually occupy, for
feasting, singing and dancing on particular occasions. The singing
house is dedicated to a particular spirit which has the shape of a
bow-legged, hairless man. It is generally built upon the usual round
plan of the igloo, sometimes three being grouped together, apse and
transept fashion, with a common entrance (nave). The company disposes
itself in concentric rings round the house, married women by the wall,
spinsters in front of them, and a ring of men to the front. Children
are grouped on either side of the door, and the singer or dancer,
stripped to the waist, takes his stand amid them and remains on the one
spot all the time. A pillar of snow in the middle of the house supports
as many lamps as it requires to illuminate the proceedings and to warm
the air. Singing festivals and competitions in the Kagge especially
mark the great occasion of the tribal deer hunting in the spring, so
that it will be described at somewhat greater length in that

As soon as everyone has crowded in, all the new made (temporary)
couples are bidden to join hands and guide each other out. Everyone is
laughing, but the pair in question have to preserve the gravity of
owls. If they yield to the infectious merriment and badinage going on,
and fail to keep absolutely solemn faces, some grievous sickness will
befall them. The conjuror touches their feet as they cross the
threshold, and when he himself follows out the last pair, blows off
hard, like a seal.

At the risk of wearying the reader with the apparent uncouthness of all
this (an alien humour is always hard to perceive), one more incident of
the festival must be given.

The Mukkosaktok possesses himself of a whip with a particularly short
handle, and starts on a tour of the village on his own account. He
enters the first house he comes to, and starts to lay about him in
play. He fillips one of the inmates with the end of his lash, and
orders him to sing a song—an extempore song of his own composition. If
the victim fails, another one has to take his place, and so in turn
until the circle is exhausted. This goes on in every household, all
sorts of weird howls and chants and guttural distiches being elicited
by force majeure, until at last the Mukkosaktok is playfully hustled to
the door and pushed outside.

The underlying idea of much of all this is doubtless that of promoting
sociability and good feeling all round. The Eskimo are an intensely
sociable people, and, to the very limited extent of their powers and
opportunities, delight in entertainment. These festival songs, for
instance, have required a certain amount of preparation. They are
composed about some event that has taken place and caught the singer’s
attention. They have been rehearsed and, if successful, will be
repeated all through the long winter nights, when the folk spend so
much weather-bound time in visiting each other and exchanging tales and
gossip round the igloo lamps. No tribesman likes to be laughed at, so
he really does his best over his song.

There is a real groundwork of sense about the ceremony of visiting each
house in turn, and the scramble for presents. In the first place, it is
a symbol of goodwill and plenty. Each householder is expected to keep
up appearances by doing this sort of thing, and he uses every effort to
gain the wherewithal to meet the obligation. This militates against
laziness and any tendency to hoard—great crimes in the Eskimo
estimation of things. The hunter strains every nerve to provide the
things his neighbours scramble for, and the women of the village do
their utmost, so far as attractiveness and domesticity go, to attach
such men as husbands. Again, by a general scramble, the poorer and less
lucky folk get a good many windfalls otherwise unobtainable.

The roysterers flock off in a body, to make the round of the
encampment, stopping at every man’s house in turn. The owner goes
inside, makes a selection of all sorts of unconsidered
trifles—generally bits of sealskin used for the legs of boots, with
different kinds of sewing sinew attached—and, returning to the
vociferous crowd waiting outside, scatters these things broadcast.
There is a grand commotion and no end of noise, as the oddments are
battled for. As this performance is repeated at every house in the
village it necessarily takes some time.

Little information is obtainable as to the significance of these games
or ceremonies, or whatever the Eskimo themselves may consider them. The
annual pairing off doubtless serves to keep up the numbers of the
tribe. Women are always in excess of men, owing to hunting fatalities
among the latter, and other causes; and some of these, although
married, may be childless. The Sedna proceedings tend to remedy this
state of things to a satisfactory extent. The writer’s own idea is
that, in addition to the main responsibilities of the festival, which
rest on the shoulders of the Kiluktetok, the doings of the lesser
lights of the order of conjurors are designed more or less to keep
things going merrily and to establish themselves firmly in the
good-will of the community.

The main idea of the frequent acknowledgment of breaches of village law
is undoubtedly to keep the social life intact, to ensure that no
secrecies and plottings shall break it up, and no hoarding of supplies
lead to quarrels and injustices. Another feature of the Sedna day is a
general “confessing” of all these “sins.” Another lesser luminary,
called a Noonageeksaktoot, dresses himself up in a medley of garments
and dons a close-fitting cap made from the skull of a ground seal. This
cap has a peak, to represent a bird’s bill. He binds upon his feet some
of the sticks used for beating snow from clothes, so that they resemble
a raven’s, and hops about in imitation of that bird. As often as the
people come up and accuse themselves of wrongdoing, he betakes himself
to the beach, to tell Sedna, and returns with forgiveness.

It will be readily understood that it is of great value in the hard
fight for existence in the arctic that a spirit of hope and
cheerfulness should be maintained. No one knows this better than the
commander of an arctic or antarctic expedition, or than the head of a
trading station! It is quite essential that the Eskimo village should
make itself a centre of jollity and comfort to the returning hunters,
and to travellers on the trail. There are sound economic principles
underneath the queer trappings of some of all this barbaric custom, and
even sound hygienic laws governing some of the regulations and taboos
of daily life. That one, for instance, which forbids a woman in
childbirth to eat any food not provided by her husband, probably acts
quite beneficially. Eskimo food is very rich and often consumed in the
raw state, so that a glut of it, as would result from a shower of
benefactions, would upset the new-made mother.

The Sedna ceremony has been carefully studied by the best ethnologists,
like Dr. Boas, who have travelled for the sake of science among the
arctic tribes; but it may be hazarded that the raison d’être of much of
it could only dawn on an observer who had actually lived for a very
considerable time in close personal and linguistic touch with the

The writer offers his interpretations with all diffidence, but believes
they constitute something original to the descriptions of other
writers. Those who easily dismiss the whole subject as fantastic
savagery, much of which is unfit for publication, seem singularly to
have failed in any real grasp of the character of these benighted, but
in many ways cheery and genuine, children of the sternest wild in the



One of the principal offices of the native conjuror is to find out the
reason of sickness and death, or of any misfortune or disaster
happening to the tribesfolk. But in this matter of primitive medicine,
the Eskimo are probably far behind the untutored folk of other
uncivilised peoples, for the simple reason that, unlike the dwellers in
temperate or tropical and therefore vegetated regions of the world,
they have nothing with which to experiment, in sickness, by way of
herbs and simples. An absolutely barren land, covered for the most part
of the year with snow, provides no material for the empirical
pharmacist. Eskimo medical practice consists entirely in incantation,
in dealings with the spirit world, and in the exercise of an amazing
and complicated system of fetish and taboo, i.e., the doing or
refraining from doing all sorts of unreasonable things to attain or
produce some desired end. In surgery, the conjuror is no less intrepid,
if considerably more lucky (thanks to an air so pure as to be almost
sterile) than the ghastly practitioners of West Africa, whose appalling
anatomical ventures are described in Mary Kingsley’s unrivalled book of
travel in the Cameroons.

The arctic folk seem to have no glimmering of an idea as to natural
cause and effect in sickness. Bodily ills and death, to them, admit of
only one explanation. The sufferer has in some way or other in some
particular transgressed the communal law. The disorders of women are
considered as a punishment for the infringement of some of the
meticulous regulations laid down for their observance at certain times.
Hence the first business of the conjuror on being summoned to a sick
bed, is to scare or worry the invalid into the remembrance and
acknowledgment of whatever he or she may have done contrary to the
general well-being of the village. He does this after his usual
fashion, by crawling into the igloo in some particularly horrid guise,
and sitting down in the darkened place with his face to the wall and
his features well concealed by his hood, giving vent to the most
horrific howls, mutterings, ventriloquisms and unhuman-sounding noises,
at his ingenious command. Then he proceeds to interrogate the sick
person, and of course wrings some acknowledgment from him or her.
Treatment—of sorts—may ensue; but as a rule the issue of commands as to
atonement or compensation is the wind-up of what the Americans would
aptly describe as the whole “stunt.” Occasionally a piece of flaming
moss wick from one of the lamps is laid upon the painful part of the
sufferer’s body and fanned with the conjuror’s breath, or merely blown
up into the air. All real attempt at cure is left to nature, and it
must be added that the recuperative powers of a hearty-eating, hardy,
healthy-blooded people like the tribes of Eskimo, are quite remarkable.

Eskimo flesh has wonderful healing power. The writer has seen the most
fearful gashes quickly close and heal up without any precautions or
dressing whatever. One case he certainly thought would have a fatal
termination. A hunter was repairing his implements, a small box of
tools lying on the ground beside him. A large file without a handle
happened to be sticking straight up out of the box. The man’s foot
slipped on the ice and he fell, in a sitting posture, straight upon the
file. He sustained a deep punctured wound. It was merely bandaged with
some very dirty strips of soiled skin underclothing, and inflammation
and intense suppuration presently set in. At no time did the wound
receive any further attention, but in due course the hunter was about
again, as though nothing had happened.

Something, however, must be said for the conjuror as an anatomist. By
virtue of his calling and of his continual dealing with animals of all
kinds, he knows the positions of joints, muscles, ligaments, veins and
arteries, and can find any one of them. Some men have more aptitude in
this respect than others, and these occasionally act as surgeons. A
young woman, who may be called Omanetok, the daughter of one of the
minor conjurors, developed a large mysterious swelling in the groin.
There was acute inflammation, pointing to deep-seated pus in
accumulation. A native surgeon was called in, and after examination he
pronounced for an immediate operation. He decided to lance the
swelling. A time was arranged, and by special request the writer was
allowed to be present.

The surgeon arrived, accompanied by two hefty fellows as assistants
(his “dressers,” probably, in an enhanced state of things!) His lancet
consisted of a rough piece of all-round, useful steel, inserted into a
piece of ivory by way of a handle. The blade was about two inches long
and had a rounded end instead of anything so convenient as a sharp
point. This blade had, however, been filed, in an attempt at an edge.
In addition, there was a small oilstone. Both stone and instrument were
very dirty. The operator began by spitting on the oilstone and
sharpening the lancet upon it, afterwards wiping the latter with a
soiled piece of birdskin previously used for scouring out the cooking

The patient was then “prepared” by her mother. She was laid flat upon
the bed bench, and the part to be operated upon was exposed. The
surgeon, wetting his fingers in his mouth, proceeded to moisten and
slightly cleanse (!) the skin. Then the two assistants grasped Omanetok
by the legs, her mother held her head, and two more helpers held her
well down by the shoulders. The conjuror inserted the lancet simply by
pressing on it and sawing it in, backwards and forwards, until it had
gone deep enough to reach the pus. Omanetok squirmed considerably, but
her nurses had her well in hand. The contents of the swelling were
expelled by repeated pressure, and wiped away from time to time with a
little bit of dirty mouse or lemming skin. When this was finished, the
wound was covered by a piece of lemming skin, licked by the operator’s
tongue and stuck on over the place.

Two days afterwards the patient was walking about, well and jolly as
ever she had been in her life.

Apropos of the extraordinary command the conjurors universally exercise
over the people, and of the paramount psychic influence they establish
in the community, it is not too much to say that they hold every man’s
life in their hands. We know how the fatalistic-minded Asiatic can die
by auto-suggestion. The Eskimo, too, dies by suggestion, even when
strongly against his will.

A fully qualified practitioner, well known for a sensual and
self-indulgent man, was particularly tenacious of his purposes and able
to bide him time. He had long desired the good-looking half-breed wife
of a certain hunter, and had frequently approached the man on the
question. Contrary to the general rule, in this instance he was
consistently refused. Now, Moneapik, the hunter, was a skilful fellow,
well able to provide himself and his wife with food and clothing. He
was careful, too, and rather exclusive, not liking to squander his
gains upon the lazy folk of the village, after the generally accepted
fashion. For this reason he was unpopular. He had his own circle of
friends, however, and was content not to enlarge it. The conjuror had
nothing to work upon so far as Moneapik was concerned, except the
latter’s superstition. The man was neither poor, nor feckless, nor

At length a long spell of bad weather set it, bringing in its train a
season of sickness and semi-starvation. The conjuror was expected to
set matters right by his arts and incantations; but on this occasion he
had only a signal failure to register. He loudly excused himself for it
on the ground that the spirits were profoundly offended by the
unsociable practices of Moneapik. He had committed the heinous offence
of keeping largely to himself; he had not given freely to the
tribesfolk. Only by his death could the powers be propitiated and the
famine ended. The majority of the villagers were prone enough to agree
with this, for over and over again the hunter had set their greed at
nought. Whereupon the conjuror boldly faced the man, stated the
incontrovertible facts, pronounced his death sentence, and departed
saying: “I command you to die!”

Moneapik was a strong, healthy man, in the prime of life and the pink
of condition. Normally, he should have lived to a ripe old age. But so
ingrained was his belief in the conjuror, in his power to get into
communication with the spirit world, that this command was virtually
fatal. He said: “I am commanded to die!” He gave up his active
occupations, withdrew into his tent, ate and drank very sparingly, and
within four days was dead. They sewed up the body in skin blankets and
left it on the rocks of a neighbouring island, to be devoured by foxes.
The writer visited the spot a few days later—but only bones remained.

Friends had indeed visited Moneapik in his tent before the end, and
argued with him, laughed at him, tried by every possible means to
disabuse the man’s mind of its obsession. But all in vain. The victim’s
sole response was, “I am commanded to die!” And die he did, although it
was by no means a death from starvation. It was death by suggestion.

The conjuror, of course, obtained his own ends.

An account has already been given of the conjuror spearing himself in
the breast during the Sedna ceremony, and appearing no whit the worse
for it shortly afterwards. Although this extraordinary action may often
perhaps be simulated by a trick, (the performer concealing a bladder of
blood under his tunic and merely stabbing that), there seems to be
sufficient evidence that such feats are within the compass of the
genuine practitioner. No less authority than Dr. Boas gives an instance
of an Angatok, on the island of Utussivik, who thrust a harpoon through
his body and was led through the village by twenty-five men. Another
conjuror, at a place called Umanaqtuaq, on finishing his incantations,
“jumped up and rushed out of the hut, to where a mounted harpoon was
standing. He threw himself upon the harpoon, which penetrated his
breast and came out at the back. Three men followed him, and holding
the harpoon line led the Angatok, bleeding profusely, to all the huts
in the village. When they arrived again at the first hut, he pulled out
the harpoon, lay down on the bed, and was put to sleep by the song of
another Angatok. When he awoke after a while he showed the people he
was not hurt, although his clothes were torn and they had seen him
bleeding.” (Monograph on the Central Eskimo, by Dr. Boas.)

The underlying idea in the treatment of all sickness (as distinguished
from accident) being that some spirit is offended and is punishing the
delinquent, it becomes necessary to discover what custom has not been
complied with or what observance has been omitted, or what prohibition
has been neglected. The science of divining what spirit, too, is
antagonised, comprises perhaps the whole volume of Eskimo fetish and
superstition. The conjuror knows beforehand, of course, the character
and the failings of any individual he may be called upon to attend. He
makes a shrewd guess from hearsay what the man may have been doing, and
by skilful questions and half accusations, manages pretty generally to
get at the core of the matter and extort more or less genuine (if
wholly irrelevant) confession.

There are some crimes for which there is no forgiveness, such as having
communion with the dead, especially the Toopelat, i.e., the earth-bound
spirits of indifferent folk. If the sick man confesses to this, there
is no hope of cure for him. Adown the long interrogatory we come upon a
few questions which illumine the apparent nonsense of all the rest with
gleams of good human sense and logic: Have you stolen from the sick?
Have you greatly lied about your neighbours or your race? Have you been
abusive to the old folk? And—for a woman—have you concealed a

Otherwise the questions turn upon whether the patient (if a woman) has
worked upon forbidden sorts of skins, i.e., heavy and arduous work
likely to upset her (if she is enceinte), at certain seasons; whether
the meat of land and sea creatures has been eaten at the same meal;
whether shell fish were gathered when seal should have been hunted;
whether lamps were cleaned during a time of taboo, etc., etc. The
underlying idea of half these prohibitions is lost in the obscurity of
time immemorial, and the Eskimo to-day can account for them no better
than by saying, “As our fathers did, so do we.”

The invalid thoroughly believes in the authority and omniscience of the
conjuror. He racks his brains for the remembrance of some breach of the
unwritten social law, and generally succeeds in the effort, and so
complies with what is required of him. Should he be so grievously ill,
however, that the conjuror can elicit no sort of response, should the
sickness be obviously leading to death, the failure of all these
proceedings is taken as proof positive that a crime has been committed
beyond the power of the witch doctor’s machinations to palliate,
because beyond the power of the spirits to forgive.

In any less serious case the practitioner has a peculiar method whereby
to determine the probable duration of the sickness, and also its
gravity. He has among his assistants minor conjurors called the head or
leg lifter, as the case may be; and an incantor whose business it now
becomes to squat upon the floor with covered head and improvise a chant
for the occasion. He is called the Kunneyo.

As soon as this wail begins the others assistants bind a piece of wood
upon the sick man’s head with a length of thong, and lift it
tentatively as if in the act of weighing it, asking the spirit
meanwhile wherein the patient has offended. If the head is inert and
heavy feeling, he is judged to be guilty; if it feels light, he is
innocent. Sometimes the wood is bound upon the leg, and this is lifted
instead of the head. When this examination is over and the patient has
promised to comply with any orders given him, the conjuror commands,
“Let the bindings be cast off.” This is done, and he pursues, “Let the
cause of guilt be cast away, and let him recover.”

The penalty imposed often takes the form of some abstinence to be
observed for a time. When the illness has been brought about by
gluttony or exposure, this injunction, joined to a period of rest and
quietness, may prove quite enough to restore the patient to his
accustomed health. Nature does her own work. Should there have been
some real fear or disquiet of mind, the whole thing simply resolves
itself into a faith cure. Incidentally, the Angatok maintains his
inflated authority, and earns a fat livelihood. He exacts payment, of
course—a dog, a sled, a skin, a length of line, and the favours of the
patient’s wife; and prescribes the use of various charms. These charms
may be a fringe of deer or bearskin, a spider or beetle sewn up in a
piece of skin, worn on boot or breast or back, as directed. Most potent
of all is a scrap of the garment worn during the first year of life,
and this is always affixed to the cap or hood. Then, of course, a
present has to be given to the spirit. Some small article is placed
among the rocks and dedicated.



A whole book could be written on Eskimo sport and on the Eskimo methods
of hunting generally. These methods are based, of course, on an
intimate knowledge and experience of the habits and characters of the
arctic birds and animals. Something has already been said in this
connection about seals and seal hunting. But a little space must now be
devoted to some account of a few more of these methods and adventures.

With the coming of March, the sealing season has set in. The days begin
to draw out, the sun climbs higher in the heavens, and even sheds a
faint warmth now on the lee side of shelter, if there be no movement in
the air. The seals are arriving in droves, and their young are being
born in their caves under the snow, all over the wide expanse of the
ice off shore.

A spirit of restlessness seizes upon the tribesfolk. The hunting
weapons are gladly brought out for examination and getting in
readiness; the small hunting sleds are put in order; the heavy winter
deerskin clothing is laid aside and the lighter garments of summer
sealskin put in thorough repair, to don as soon as the tribe shall be
ready to move off en masse to the sealing grounds. Mysterious meetings
take place between the Angakooeet and the chiefs, when the spring
campings are fully discussed and arranged among them.

At last the great day arrives when, with much shouting and bustle, the
sleds are loaded and the dogs harnessed. Each hunter and his wife
assemble and pack their belongings—the lamp, the cooking pot, the box
of small tools, the large knife for building (i.e., for cutting out
blocks of snow), spears, lines, spare skins for clothing, etc., etc.,
etc. The baby is popped into the mother’s hood; the boy takes up his
station by the team, to learn to drive and manage it, and with many a
shout, much touching of noses in farewell, cracking of whips, laughter
and joking, each outfit pulls out and drives away, off into the frozen

The old folk are left behind in the village, to await the end of the
season, to dress the skins brought in to them every now and again by
boys returning from the camps. Sealmeat abounds; everyone gorges to
Eskimo repletion and lives in luxury. The ground is covered with skins,
pegged out to dry in the sun, prior to being scraped, washed, and
prepared for making up.

The newly flensed hide is first freed from its inner layer of fat and
blubber, and this is rendered down for oil for the lamps. The fur is
then washed with warm water to remove the grease. Then small holes are
pierced all round the edge of the skin, and the whole is pegged out to
its full extent on a frame, or merely on the ground, to dry and sweeten
and bleach in the genial brightness of the arctic spring day. After
this process, the inner membrane is first pared off, and the skin is
ready to be tailored. Everyone left behind in the village on shore is
kept busy at this sort of work.

As the spring sealing season wears on towards the arctic summer, an
entire change comes over the activities of the tribesfolk. They have,
now, to prepare for the long trail inland to the feeding ground of the
deer. Stacks of provisions are accumulated, and the boats and kyaks got
ready for the trip to the head of the fiord, whence the expedition will
make its start. The framework of the umiaks is carefully examined, and
new pieces put in where required. All thongs and lashings are
strengthened or renewed; secondary skins in former times were prepared
as boat coverings, to be discarded when they became so waterlogged as
to check the pace. As a rule, one of these large travelling boats is
owned and shared by several families, and will contain the whole of
their effects.

At length these preparations are complete. The day comes when a general
packing up absorbs all the energies of the tribe. Tents are struck and
folded away at the bottom of the boat, together with big consignments
of sealskin buckets and hunting weapons. The women ship the ponderous
and unhandy oars, children and dogs pile in on top of everything, and
the men take up their travelling stations fore and aft, in readiness to
defend the transport from any sort of attack, or to launch a harpoon at
any likely prey.

They pull away joyously and hilariously on the great summer trip. As
often as the wind will allow they hoist the great square sail made of
seal intestine, and one member of the crew takes up a station beside it
with a water bucket, to keep it constantly wet. Otherwise it would dry,
and split into ribbons before the breeze. At the present day canvas
sails are used.

Every now and again, as they coast along among the islands, they put in
here or there for fresh supplies of drinking water. At night they fetch
some well-known point for an encampment. The umiaks are moored, heather
and driftwood collected, fires lit, kettles slung, and the evening stew
set to simmer, while the men forage afield for the next day’s
provender. Then, rolling themselves up in their blankets, the
travellers drop off to sleep right there on the ground, under the
shelter of whatever cover it may afford, to be up and under way again
before sunrise next morning.

The days pass very pleasantly. The scenery is grand, the weather clear
and sunny; the water, gemmed with islands dark brown and green, is
still as a mill-pond. The fleet of primitive, uncouth-looking skin
boats, filled with barbaric northern folk with tattooed faces and
guttural speech, reproduces a picture of pre-historic times. Many of
these scenes of Eskimo life and enterprise are deserving of record by
the best of artists, if only to bring before us in these effete days of
over-civilisation a vivid, still existent, picture of the very earliest
adventures of the human race.

At length the head of the inlet is reached. The boats proceed up river
at high tide to the appointed place of debarkation. Here the umiaks are
hauled well inshore, unloaded, dismantled, and turned over, to be
covered with a pile of stones against the time of the hunter’s return.
The personal treasures of the women are also hidden away in some safe
cavity among the rocks, and left there. Then the loads are carefully
apportioned all round, and made up in bundles according to the strength
of their carriers. The men bear the weapons and ammunition only and
travel light, in order to go on ahead and secure game on the trail.
Children are lightly loaded, and the old people carry nothing but their
own belongings; so that the bulk of the heavy transport falls on the
able-bodied women of the tribe. Each one toils along under tent poles
and coverings, piles of skins and meat, and the baby of the family into
the bargain. The whole staggering load is hoisted on to the woman’s
back and secured by lashings round the waist and a broad leather band
round the forehead. She is almost wholly eclipsed by the enormous

So they file off, one by one, from the point of landing, and make their
way to the uplands and the appointed general meeting place of all the
tribes engaged upon the annual hunt. Thither many such parties
converge: the people from Fox Channel, the tribe from the neighbourhood
of Kikkuktâkjuak, or Big Island, the Saddlebacks, the Noovingmeoot from
Frobisher Bay, and as many more from north, south, east and west. They
time themselves all to arrive as punctually as possible. The spot is a
high plateau among the hills, at the head of the inlet described above.

When at last all the tribes have assembled, the elders hold a general
meeting and decide upon the direction and the details of the
prospective hunt. As soon as this important business is settled the
people give themselves up en masse to a few days’ holiday-making.

It is the height of arctic summer; food abounds; and friends meet each
other once again after a year of separation. The people are care-free
and happy. No danger threatens from any direction. So that Eskimo good
spirits attain their highest pitch, and for a short time the people
abandon themselves to their every hospitable and sociable instinct, to
their love of jollity and fun, to sports all day, to singing,
entertainments, feasting and story-telling of an evening and well into
the night.

The sports are inter-tribal. There are running and wrestling matches,
too, races and competitions of all sorts. The youth are keenly aware of
being watched by the bright, sloe-eyed, laughing girls, and of being
criticised or applauded by the elders. As true a sporting spirit of
emulation, good temper and fair play obtains in this far-away arctic
festival as on the famous “playing fields of Eton,” and as many a
romance comes of it as well. For this is an immensely important social
and fashionable function among these primitive folk, and men and
maidens meet and strike many a match of their own.

There are contests with the bow and arrow. Poles are fixed in the
ground with skins suspended from them to represent deer and seals. The
vital spot, of course, is the Eskimo idea of the bull’s eye. The
spear-throwing competition calls for a high degree of skill. From the
top of a fixed, inclined pole, a line is carried to the earth, having
an ivory ring tied in it half way down. This ring is carefully
concealed by fringes of hide, and the spear throwers, stationed at a
recognised distance away, have to cast their weapons deftly through it.
The attempt demands the greatest accuracy of vision and training of the
hand. The contests are very keen, and great éclat awaits those who
distinguish themselves. Their names become household words round the
igloo lamps all during the succeeding winter, much as those of crack
footballers become familiar to the sporting manhood of this country.

In the evening come the singing contests—quite one of the most
important features of the annual festival. Ethnologists generally are
agreed that the Eskimo excel in poetry and music. Improvisation with
them is a recognised art. Every man is something of a composer, and is
called upon whenever festivities are in progress to contribute a number
of his own to the improvised concert. The form of these songs is quite
strict, and the melodies, even to unaccustomed European ears, may be
reduced to accepted notation. Travellers who have but a superficial
acquaintance with the arctic folk, distinguish little in the extempore
contests of the Kagge or of the Sedna ceremony but sheer barbaric
cacophony—yowlings, yells, and monotonous and seemingly endless
repetition. But there are some to whom Gregorian chant itself conveys
but little more!

These Eskimo songs deal with any and every subject which may occur to
the singer, those of a satirical or personal or topical character
proving the most popular. The contests give rise to untold amusement
and delight. Nothing is more appreciated in the whole round of the
programme. As a rule, the competitors are only men. The “ptarmigans”
(i.e., those born at the end of winter or beginning of spring)
challenge the “ducks” (or those born in the summer). Each side extols
its own prowess in hunting, its natal advantages, etc., etc., to the
detriment of the other. All sorts of ridicule is poured upon the
opposite party, causing the wildest merriment among the auditors, who
shriek with laughter at each successful or witty sally, clap their
hands, and vociferate over the comedian who wins the contest. The
Eskimo have a very lively sense of fun, and appreciate each home thrust
and happy skit every bit as keenly as a Cockney music-hall audience.

The Kagge, or singing house, of the summer deer-hunt is, like that of
the Sedna ceremony, a big round house, similarly tenanted by the people
in circles around the walls. The summer Kagge is built of sod and
stones. The women wear skin gloves—the backs black and the palms
white—and take their station behind everybody else, with the children.
The men come next, and the Angakooeet, as judges, sit in the front
circle. The centre of the house is left vacant for the performers.

The first part of the entertainment consists of songs describing the
exploits of the dead and gone heroes and hunters of the tribe, each
song having a refrain which is taken up by the women, who sway their
bodies from side to side as they sing, so raising and lowering their
arms as to show first a circle of waving white and then a circle of
waving black hands. Many of these songs are old-established favourites,
extemporised at first by some individual as his own contribution to
some occasion, which “caught on” and became part of the tribe’s
collective musical tradition.

After these come the extempore efforts of the current evening. Each man
contributes a song of his own, turning upon some event in his career,
or some more or less poetic fancy which has occurred to him. The songs
have probably been composed and polished, and possibly practised, in
private for some time, but the contest is the occasion of their
publication to the musical world. They are most attentively received,
and judged by the Angakooeet.

The outstanding event of the evening, to which all look forward on the
tip-toe of expectation, is the tournament of satires between the
ptarmigans and the ducks. A ball of thoroughly good-tempered musical
ridicule is tossed backwards and forwards between each pair of singers,
accompanied by roars of laughter from the auditors, who hold their
sides and roll in ecstasies of enjoyment. Tears of merriment stream
down the women’s faces.

This sort of thing goes on night after night for as long as a whole
week; and only at the end of that time does the gathering begin to
break up, and set about the prodigious business of getting on with the
summer’s work.

As soon as this interlude of festivity and recreation is concluded, the
tribes separate, each bound for its own appointed sphere of hunting
operations, independently of the others. The new camp is soon pitched
in some sheltered valley where there is a running stream, but not too
close to the selected district, for fear of alarming the shy quarry.
The men then go daily to search the hills and stalk the deer.

As soon as a herd is located, word is passed down to the camp, and the
women rally to the men’s assistance. As each arrives she receives her
instructions from the hunters. A valley is selected having but one
exit, where there seem to be plenty of boulders. The women station
themselves in a rough sort of ring all round it, hidden behind the
rocks, each one with her skin jacket off and slung over her arm.
Meanwhile, the men creep up, and, keeping also under cover, surround
the herd, and begin, by the well aimed throwing of first one stone,
then another, to drive it off in the direction of the selected ravine,
where other hunters are gathered in force with bows and arrows ready.

The deer, still suspecting nothing, move slowly to their fate.
Presently one woman, to the rear, and then another, gets up in the open
and beats her jacket on the rock behind which she had been hiding. This
scares the creatures forward in the right direction, and drives them
within the reach of the men. Directly they come within bowshot their
doom is sealed. So skilful are the hunters that no man expends more
than an arrow apiece on the deer. The whole herd is killed with the
greatest celerity.

The carcases are retrieved and skinned, and immense feasting follows.
These manœuvres are repeated day after day throughout the whole season,
until the snow begins to appear again on the higher ranges, and the
arctic summer is on the wane. Gradually the tribesfolk move off again
towards the lower grounds, the south, and the sea, transporting with
them huge bundles of invaluable skins and a great quantity of deer
hams, until one by one they reach the various points of water where
they left and stored their boats on the up-country trip.

There is no general point of assembly on the return journey. Each tribe
takes its own course and works its way back towards its own territory
unaccompanied by the others. The women and children get a brief spell
of rest when they reach the coast, while the men put in a few days seal
hunting, to provision the homeward voyage. Finally, the umiaks are
launched again and reloaded to the very gunwales; the sails are
hoisted, and the fleet draws away through the archipelagoes of the
coast to its port of registration!

Not infrequently on one of these big summer hunting expeditions, traces
are discovered of a winter deer hunting party which had been overtaken
by disaster. The evidences of some tragedy lie there for all to read:
the sled torn to pieces, weapons scattered about, small boxes lying
here and there, and bones—human, canine or vulpine—all over the place.
Hunger, perhaps, overtook the party; sickness followed. Wolves
attacked, or the hungry team of dogs got out of hand and tore down the
hunters, who were unable successfully to defend themselves. The writer
could instance many a savage incident of this description.

In a very similar district to the one described in the preceding
account of the summer hunting, there was a fiord leading up to a
landlocked bay, a favourite resort of the white whales. Regularly each
year the hunters of the tribes in the vicinity used to go to hunt these
creatures with gun and spear, taking splendid hauls of meat back to the
camp, and bales of stout hide to be made into thongs, harness, etc. So
much flesh and offal was left about on the scene of action that wolves
came to infest the entire region. In early spring the fiord afforded a
particularly good sealing ground, being so sheltered from the crashing
seas outside.

An Eskimo and his son ventured thither one day, intending to form a
camp there for awhile and put in some good hunting. Mile after mile was
covered, headland after headland passed, until they were nearing the
sealing grounds, when the dogs began to show signs of panic. They could
scarcely be got to proceed, no matter how sharply urged by voice and
whalehide whip. Nothing moving, however, caught the keen sight of the
men; no sound came to their ears. Suddenly, just as they passed another
point, a fierce howl rang out on the bitter air, followed by a chorus
of more howls, and a large pack of wolves swept out from behind it and
came into full view. They had been lying in wait until the sled came
up. Their bleached coats had rendered them invisible until they moved.

The hunters at once realised their deadly peril, and turning instantly
about, headed at top speed for home. A long fierce chase ensued. There
was no need to drive the dogs. They strained every terrified nerve in
their bodies and flew over the ice. The wolves rushed on behind. They
spread out fanwise, trying to encircle the dogs and cripple them one by
one as opportunity offered, by making brilliant forward dashes and
slashing with savage fangs at their legs.

The man thrust a sealing spear into the boy’s hands and shouted to him
to thrust it at any wolf attempting to attack at close quarters at side
or rear, while he himself, armed with the terrible dog whip, lashed out
continuously with the courage of despair, and the effectiveness of
years of practice. He roared, and swung the murderous thong over the
backs of the team, so as to protect it from the attacking wolves,
crippling any one of them who ventured within its sweep. As often as
one of the bloodthirsty brutes rushed in, it was met with a terrific
cut, and fell back howling and disabled.

Hour after hour the awful race went on; until at last, when it seemed
even to the hardy and seasoned hunter that neither he nor the wretched
dogs could sustain the strain a moment longer, they came in sight of
the last headland which hid the settlement from view. A final heroic
effort might yet bring them to safety!

With a yell of encouragement to the exhausted son, and renewed vigour
in his wielding of the whip, the hunter pressed on. The wolves,
realising that their prey was actually escaping, redoubled their
efforts to close in upon the sled. It dashed round the point only in
the nick of time. The dogs in camp beyond, scenting what was afoot,
instantly rushed out to give battle to the wolves. The pack, perceiving
that the odds were now heavily against them, snarled viciously, turned
coward tails, and vanished....

The refugees arrived in camp in a state of utter collapse. The man’s
whip arm was swollen beyond further usage, like his tongue, and his
voice had gone. He staggered to his house, and both he and the boy lay
there for days before either sufficiently recovered to rise and go
about their ordinary work again.

Many a party have been waylaid by wolves like this, and have not had
the good fortune to survive. Should there be a shortage of food,
resulting in subsequent sickness and weakness among the travellers or
hunters, they fall victims very easily to the rapacity of the savage
animal denizens of the wild. The male dogs of the teams get killed, and
the females join the marauding horde and revert to their wolfish state.


        As sung in Competition in the Kagge.

        Samane samiyeyiya, iya, neakoa koololotingoâle
        Sigoole kokiglotingoale aglokugle pooarkretingoagle
        Okagle allotingoarkinna ikkoâto kettemalotikogikgoa
        Ookeonne pissorayakattalale ipâ adyelikjolikpanma
        Iya annungmenik ipa sosooktelaneyonele annamane
        Adyegegaloâgoone kattargit nippotenekpategikkoa
                Issungatoot annenarsuarâyakto.

Free Translation of the Song of the Pintailed Duck in Competition with
the Ptarmigan.

        “His head is like a swollen thumb joint,
        His beak is like the thumb nail.
        His lower beak is like a shovel, and his tongue is like a spoon.
        They come together (the Ptarmigans) in the winter;
        They walk together, and make a soft sleeping place
        By covering the hard rocks with dung.
        But their breasts freeze hard down to this,
        They flap their wings,
        And try to fly away ...”

The singer goes through all the appropriate (if somewhat broad) actions
of this bit of burlesque, flapping his arms to ridicule the birds
caught fast on the rocks in their own frozen droppings. The Ptarmigan
is not slow to respond.


        Panneyukpayiyeyâ â sakkokalemukkoa
        Panneyuktarrekâ okeoksaktalimingmat
        Samaniyiyeyeya â sakkokalemukkoa
        Panneyuktarreka oonarramanna panneyaktarrega
        Okeaksaktalemingmat sammiyiyeyiya â
        Ipparramanna toosneksaktangmeta innarlo
        Sângane samiyiyeyeya â oonaralelidlugolemanaeyâ
        Iyuksaktareka innâlo sângane samiyiyeyiyâ â
        Kinnalena imnarlo sângane.

Free Translation of the Song of the Hunter:

        “He is preparing his hunting weapons and his ammunition.
                Mine also are being prepared,
                Because it is again autumn.
        My spear is prepared, and my seal warp.
        Because they catch the sound of my preparing,
                Of my placing my spear,
                In the front of the high cliffs
                The seals have gone away.
        Although the face of the high cliffs
                Smells of the seals”
        (Understood, yet they have gone away.)



Bear hunting, again, is pursued by the Eskimo with no less zest than
that of the seal or deer. It forms quite a subject by itself, and calls
for some description of its own customs, methods, and superstitions.

The bear is much respected by the Eskimo for his intelligence and
cunning, and his strength. Indeed, they consider him second only, among
the creatures of the wild, to man himself. It is for this reason that
they so often choose for their “tongak,” or guardian familiar, the
spirit of a bear.

One very curious belief about the animal is that the bear himself has a
tongak (quite distinct from his Tarngnil or soul), and that when this
spirit requires any new commodity, such as a new seal warp or line,
which is represented by the black skin round the mouth of its protégé,
this tongak causes the bear to fall in the hunter’s way and be killed.
The hunter spares the black skin, and refrains from cutting it when
flaying the carcase, as an offering to the spirit. A further offering
of the sort is made by transfixing various portions of the beast’s body
and entrails on a stake or spear, together with a man’s implement—such
as a knife, if the bear were a male, or a woman’s implement, such as a
needle or skin scraper, if it were a female—and exposing the gift for
three days. At the end of that time it is thrown into the sea.

In bear hunting, the rule is for the skin to go to the first hunter who
sights the prey (not necessarily the first to kill it.) The best part
of the body goes to him who deals the fatal blow.

The arctic bear is not an hibernating animal, for it is only the female
who sleeps through the winter. The pair hunt together until the
approach of winter, when the female, fat, and in the pink of condition
after the summer months of good feeding, searches for a suitable place
in which to retire and bear her cubs. She generally chooses a sheltered
spot on land, where the snow lies deeply drifted. The two partners
scratch out a comfortable cave in this, and the female then enters and
rolls herself up to sleep. The male bear blocks up the entrance, and
the next fall or drift of snow effectively completes his task, and
obliterates all traces of the animal’s activities. He takes himself
off, to roam about at his own sweet will, and attend to nobody’s
appetite but his own for the next few months, returning to the female
only in the spring, when she emerges from her hiding place, gaunt and
hungry, and accompanied by the cubs. The male is always the safer
creature to hunt at such a season, since the female is then thoroughly
out of condition and very savage.

Bears are particularly fond of and feed upon the blubber of seal and
walrus, and resort to many tricks in order to procure it. The older
generation of hunters studied the habits of the arctic creatures more
carefully than do the Eskimo of to-day, and affirm many interesting
things as to the bear’s tactics when on the prowl for food. They—the
bears—know just as much about seal hunting as the tribesmen know, i.e.,
that these creatures lie about on the ice in the frozen bays, but are
so wary of danger that they plunge out of sight in an instant through
their “agloes” or seal holes at the slightest alarm. The bear goes
nowhere near the sealing ground at first, but makes his way up any
slight hill or eminence in the neighbourhood from which he can view the
seals, and their adjacent holes. He impresses some sort of a map of it
all, and of the safest route towards it, on his mind, and then makes
the best haste he can towards the broken ice along-shore. He slides
down the snow on his haunches like a tobogganist, carefully avoiding
any rocks and obstacles projecting themselves in his path. After that,
he creeps along with extraordinary caution towards the first sleeping
seal he has marked down. He is all but invisible against the white
background, and he is absolutely silent. He just glides towards his
victim, and then at the last, when sufficiently close, he rushes
forward and kills it with a single blow of his paw.

In the latter part of the spring, when the seal holes have become so
enlarged that several of the animals may be making use of the same one,
the bear takes careful note of this fact and adopts a bolder plan of
action. He creeps up to any neighbouring hole, examines it, dives down
through it, and swims along under the ice towards the place where the
seals are congregated. He suddenly pops up through their own particular
hole, thus cutting off their retreat, kills them at his leisure, and
gorges on their fat.

When hunting walrus the bear adopts different tactics. He knows that
these creatures are at a great disadvantage on land, but that they love
to drag themselves up on to the rocks or shore ice, and lie there
asleep or basking in the sun beneath some cliff, and safely screened
from their principal enemy—man. When the bear sights a walrus in such a
position, he risks no direct attack, but takes careful note of the
situation, loads a massive piece of ice or rock upon his shaggy
shoulder, and making a cunning détour, works his way to some spot
directly behind and above his intended victim. Then he launches his
missile down upon its head. The skull of the walrus is so thick it is
almost impossible to smash it; but at least the animal is stunned, and
the bear has only to scramble down and complete his work with a blow or
two of his paw.

(This method of hunting, incredible though it seems, has been
emphatically affirmed by several ancient hunters.)

No wonder the human hunter has conceived the highest respect for the
bear, and is anxious to secure his Tongak for a familiar spirit!

In the water the walrus is a swift and formidable creature, to capture
whom taxes the kyaker’s utmost skill and courage. The man has nothing
but his spear and drag, i.e., an inflated sealskin attached to his
spearhead, by means of which the animal, when transfixed, is prevented
from diving too deeply or travelling too fast. As he approaches the
walrus, man and beast manœuvre for an opening. The kyaker, keenly on
the alert, with a touch of the paddle just keeps his frail craft moving
until the other, with a sudden grunt and roar, rushes at him through
the water, rearing right up at striking distance, a terrible vision
indeed, with huge slavering tusks, eyes bloodshot and glistening with
rage ... The coolest courage is required to face it!

The hunter pauses there for just that fraction of a second until the
creature is upon him, then slips aside, and the harpoon drives deep as
the animal surges past. It instantly dives, intending to come up and
tear the kyak from beneath. But the drag of the float upon the line
checks it and causes it to misjudge the distance, so that when it rises
the kyak is not there. Meanwhile, the hunter has easily kept track of
the beast’s rush under water, by the air bubbles (or by his highly
trained instinct), and when its savage head reappears he races up, and
strikes it in the face before it has recovered from its bewilderment.
The startled, baffled foe immediately dives again, and remains below
the surface as long as possible, only to be driven down once more the
instant it emerges for a breath of air.

At last, utterly exhausted and nearly drowned, it comes up the last
time and meets its fate at the hands of the plucky and relentless
pursuer. Should the hunter miss his stroke at the first awful attack
and fail to get clear, the kyak is instantly overturned and the man
savagely mauled in the water, the walrus driving its tusks right
through his body time and time again. Or it sometimes seizes the hunter
between its flippers and, in full view of the other kyakers, holds him
under water, coughing hoarse defiance at them all as they rush up to
the rescue; and then slowly submerges, taking its enemy with it. Such
are the casualties of arctic life.

One of the very few creatures who seems to have it all his own way in
the frozen regions of the north is the raven. He supplies an element of
sheer impishness and insouciance in Eskimo life, without which the
native might want for a good deal of fun and aggravation.

The bird abounds everywhere. Even in the most bitter and desolate spots
the raven turns up in a sufficiently glossy and well nourished
condition. His huge beak is a formidable weapon and always stands him
in good stead. He is like a spirit of mischief, able to calculate to a
hair how near to spear or gun he may with safety venture. He is the
despair of men and dogs alike. He is an expert thief, and cannot be
excelled in pilfering.

During the day, whilst the hunters are away and there is nothing much
doing, the raven sits on a crag or other convenient spot overlooking
the village, and with a melancholic and malignant eye broods in
disgust. You can almost hear him hoarsely remark:

“What a rotten show! What a poverty-stricken hole! This really is the
limit! Not a scrap to filch since daybreak!”

Should you pass by, he brightens up and cocks an eye at you in an
expectant way, as though it were the plainest duty of all bipeds to
shed scraps and bits for him to enable him to pick up an honest living.
Although, as a matter of fact, he much prefers a dishonest one.

Towards evening, there is an air of expectancy about the raven group.
They have trimmed themselves up and sharpened their beaks on any stone
or pole handy for the purpose. As the hunters begin to put in an
appearance the birds move off and entrench themselves behind such cover
as the neighbourhood may afford. They know from experience that man is
uncertain with his gun, and it may go off unexpectedly with detrimental
effects to themselves. Anyhow, they prefer to have a boulder in

Presently one bird, sharper-set than the rest, peers from his
concealment to see how things are progressing. A croak of disgust at
the leaden-footedness of events announces his observations to the rest.
But presently a hunter emerges from his house with a bowl of dainties
for the dogs (the dainties are more or less putrid), and empties it
into a tumultuous crowd of them, when each one vies with his neighbour
in catching and bolting as much as possible in the least space of time.
At this, there is an ebon rush from the surrounding crags, and a fierce
rear attack upon the dogs from the voracious birds.

A beak like cold steel driven deep into a dog’s flank just as he is
engulfing a particularly delicious morsel, tends to make him choke. He
does so in fact, and his feathered aggressor, striking hard now at his
nose, snatches the lump of meat from him in the very act of flapping
and floating off to safety in mid air. The dog, disgusted and
disappointed beyond expression, sits down and howls maledictions on
thieves in general and ravens in particular, to the remotest of their

No one loves the raven. The hunter uses every art to catch him, but
generally in vain. He will set out early of a winter’s morning with a
supply of the most cunning traps he can contrive, and of the most
tempting bait. Nothing is in sight as he leaves the camp. When he
reaches the trapping grounds he sets a line of fox traps in all the
most likely places, and carefully conceals his work with snow. But his
every movement his been ’cutely watched, and as soon as his back is
turned there comes an amused and contemptuous croak, as who should say:
“What an ass! Do you suppose I’m not equal to that?”

The croaker spreads bold wings and sails over to the trap. Inserting
his bill beneath it like a lever, he simply wrests it over and so
springs it. In a trice he tweaks out the bait and bolts it. He makes a
point of being there on the hunter’s return in the evening, just to
hear his remarks. The bird has the audacity indeed to sit there, close
by, his head upon one side and a bored expression in his eye, as though
he were reflecting on the pitiable amateurishness of the whole affair.

“What!” he seems to say. “You call that a snare? And you think you’re
eloquent about it now! Why, if it comes to that, I could make your hair
stand on end with the force and aptness of my remarks!”

With a hoarse, derisive note, he rises then and wheels off into the
arctic empyrean.

The gulls, on the other hand, come well within the category of those
creatures whom the Eskimo hunter can outwit. These birds are always
much in demand, both as food and for the sake of their skins, which
latter, turned inside out, make capital socks. The old men spend a good
deal of their time in winter, catching gulls.

The hunter builds himself a small igloo among the rough ice by the
seashore, and creeps inside. He proceeds to cut a hole in the top just
big enough for the passage of a bird’s body, and round this opening, on
the outside, he spreads attractive bits of seal meat and blubber. Then
he prepares to wait. Presently a gull, sweeping by on the endless
search for food, spies these dainties, and descrying no sign of foe or
danger, swoops ever nearer and nearer, until at last it alights on top
of the igloo for a brief second, seizes a morsel and wheels off again.
Nothing untoward having occurred, the bird grows bolder, returns, and
finally settles down to the feast outspread in that tempting spot.

Suddenly a hand comes up and grips it by the legs, and drags it
downwards through the hole. Another hand slides up its body to its
neck, so that it cannot fight or bite, and in a moment or two the life
is choked out of it. Bird after bird is caught in this way, until at
the end of the day the hunter returns to the village under a load of
white and grey feathers. He laughs delightedly to think how he has
tricked the greedy gulls, and how his cunning bird-calls have deceived
one after another.

He recounts the story of it all over the cooking pot into which the
birds are thrown as soon as skinned, and keeps his women-folk well
entertained as they sit chewing the skins to pliability in their strong
white teeth, for the rest of the arctic evening.

Such is a glimpse into the lives of these brave and hardy warriors of
the North, a country which they love. Fierce and relentless though it
be, it brings out all the best that is in them. All honour and praise
to them.



Sedna. Goddess of sea animals, but not of the sea itself.

Ooluksâk. God of the lakes. He lives by the side of the lakes, and it
is by his instrumentality that the conjurors get their light when
performing their rites.

Tekkitserktok. God of the land. He owns all deer. This god is greater
in power than all the other gods. Offerings are made to this god by
hunters before going inland for the annual deer hunt.

Kingoatseak. This god lives in the sea and is like a dog in appearance;
legs very thin like a dog’s. Is not able to come to the surface.

Sinnilktok. Lives on the land. One side of this god is like a woman,
one side like a dog. It is a benevolent spirit, gives seals to the
conjurors and cures the sick, but is very much afraid of Eskimos and

Keekut. Lives on land and is like a dog without hair. Is an evil
spirit, and does evil of various kinds.

Segook. This spirit has a head like a crow and a body like a human
being, and is black, and has wings. It does good and brings meat to the
Eskimos in its beak. It eats the eyes of deer and seals.

Tekkonatelik. A spirit living on land, with a body like a fox, fiery
eyes, red hair. Benevolent in disposition.

Eeyeekadluk. Lives on land. In appearance like a short man with fairly
large eyes, black face, very short legs, eyes frightful to look upon.
Lives in a stone igloo. Good spirit, tries to cure the sick.

Mummerreak. Lives on land. Like an Eskimo, masc. gender, but has his
hair dressed like a woman, and his skin clothes have no hair upon them.
Good spirit; is helpful by heaving rocks at the deer and killing them.
The deer are then found by the Eskimos.

Angootelooktook. Lives on land. Like a man in appearance. His thighs
are crippled and he wobbles whilst walking. Benevolent spirit; keeps
close to the conjurors and pays heed to his incantations.

Nooesarnak. Lives on land. In appearance like a woman with thin legs.
Is clothed like a woman, in deerskins. Has a deerskin mask. Benevolent
spirit; always wishes to give deerskins to the people.

Toodlanak. Lives on land. Like a woman in appearance. Is a great
walker, and walks about with bedding and tupik (tent) on her back, as
the people do when on journey inland. She has no husband. Has a nice,
pleasant face, and wears long boots. She is a good spirit and gives
deer to the Eskimo, i.e., drives them within their reach.

Aipalookvik. This spirit is malevolent and lives on the sea bottom. Has
a large head and face, human in appearance, but ugly like a cod’s. Is a
destroyer by desire, and tries to bite and eat the kyakers (canoemen).

Akktonakjuvoonga, or Akktonakjuak. Live under the sea. Are very thin in
appearance and like Eskimo. They congregate and cry to each other,
“Shevarktonakjoovoonga” the others replying, “Shevarktonakjoovtit” (I
am a rope. Reply: Thou art a rope).

Ogjunak. Lives on land. Like an Eskimo in appearance, one side black,
one side white. Has European clothes. Face covered with hair, thin
legs, arms and body. Good spirit; tries to cure sick.

Koopvilloarkju. Lives on land. Like a small Eskimo man. Has orange
coloured hair and orange coloured clothes. Good spirit; said to give
food and heal the sick.

Ooleooyenuk. Lives by the side of the sea. Like a man in appearance,
his clothes made with lapels and scallops. Eats seaweed. Good spirit.

Aulanerk. Lives in the sea. Like a stout man. Is naked, writhes about
and makes waves. Is a source of joy to the Eskimo.

Naput. Lives on land. Like an Eskimo; is very thin, cannot walk, but
jumps and stands upright. He is never angry, and classed as a good

Angemenooat. Lives on land. Is like a woman, very thin, almost like a
skeleton, and has a string round her waist like a woman who is carrying
a child. Has very large clothes and a benevolent mind.

Ookomark. On land. Like a short, thin man; very large, round face, a
stout body. Is very strong, and is dangerous if seen by mortals. Lives
in a stone house and kills animals with stones. (Not benevolent; temper
uncertain; needs careful handling.)

Oovineroolik. Those who were flesh. (These are the spirits of departed
Europeans.) Lives on land; clothed in a shirt; like a European in
appearance. Has a boat and hunts seals. Is captain of three boats, two
of which are manned by other departed Europeans. When boats are full,
meat given to the Eskimo. Very good spirits.

Isserootaitok. (Also spirit of departed European.) Lives on land; like
a European in appearance. Wears a jacket with no buttons. Always
arrives from a distance; has no boat, but tries to do good.

Nessallogainalik. Lives on land. Has no clothes, but wears a hat. Is
like a European; generally sleeps on a ship; is supposed to be the
spirit of a departed sailor.

Oyakkert. This spirit is an Innooa and not a Tongak. It lives in small
stones; in appearance like an Eskimo. Has a very red face, black body
and legs; is very thick and heavy. Only seen by conjurors. Has no

Koodjânuk. First-class spirit. When the world was made he was a very
large bird with black head and hooked beak, white body. Lived on the
boundary of the earth. Is a benevolent spirit; a trifle blasé through
age. Has the ability to give, and does so when asked by the conjurors;
also heals sick.

Poolaiyittok. Lives on land, by the side of the lakes. Like a woman in
appearance. Is accompanied by a dog like a white fox. Is a good spirit
and does good when asked.

Bokoomeerlekuluk. Lives on the sea bottom. Like a fox in appearance,
with fur, black in colour; but head and face like an Eskimo, with two
tusks, which are used for cleaning purposes and for killing seals,
which are given to the Eskimo.

Kalluktok. Lives on land and on ice. Like an Eskimo, dwarf in size. He
has dogs and a sled, and is a good hunter. Gives meat to the people. Is
very swift with his sled.

Kulaktok. Lives on land in a tupik (skin tent). Like an old woman, and
is the mother of Kalluktok. She is always cooking, because her son is a
good hunter. She constantly gives food to her Tongak friends.

Kallooetok. Lives on land. Is father to Kalluktok and husband of
Kullaktok. Is a bad hunter because his eyes are bad. He is very old and
does not go hunting, but has good intentions to the Eskimo.

Tooktooak. Lives on land. In appearance like a very tall and thin
Eskimo; hair white and clothing black, with no hair upon it. He is a
good spirit in intention.

Koodjaunuk. Lives at the bottom of the sea. Like an Eskimo. Wears no
clothes and is very thin. He is not one to be feared, as his intentions
are good, and comes to the surface when called by the conjuror.

Toonekotario. This one lives on land. It is the spirit of one of the
departed Tooneet. Carries a bone harpoon and comes as often as invoked.

Aumanil. Lives on land. Has a black face with fiery eyes. His mouth,
eyes and nostrils are very much distended when invoked by the conjuror.
He guides whales.

Nootaitok. The spirit of the Icebergs. He lives in the sea. Like an
Eskimo. Wears black skin clothes; has bright eyes. Is a good spirit and
gives seals when invoked.

Adjarkpaluk. Lives on land. Is like a European, and wears European
clothing. When invoked, will come from afar. He has a good mind and
does no harm.

Tooloreak. Lives on land. Is like an Eskimo. Has large canine teeth
like a bear; wears bearskin trousers, and the rest of his clothing of
skin without hair. Black in colour. Does not wear boots, but has feet
covered with hair. He is a good spirit and comes when called and gives
as desired.

Agloolik. He lives beneath the ice like an ogjuk (large seal). He is
the guardian spirit of the seal holes. He gives seals to the hunters
and is considered a good spirit.

Akselloak. This is the spirit of the rocking stones. When called he
arrives rolling, and when near the conjuror he falls flat upon his
face. He is considered a good spirit.

Tootegâ. Like a small woman. Lives on an island in a stone house. She
is able to walk upon the sea.

Ataksâk. Lives in the sky. He is like a ball in appearance. He has the
means of joy within himself, thus he is the joy-giver. He comes to the
Eskimo as often as he is invoked by the conjuror. He has many strings
of charms on his clothing. These charms are very bright, and as he
moves about his body is also bright. He arrives to the people as a ball
of light and causes the people to be joyful, through the conjuror. He
is considered good.

Kingmingoarkulluk. He lives on land and is like a very small Eskimo.
When seen he is always singing with joy: “Kingmingoarkulloona, aiya,
samaiya.” (He is always singing that he is Kingmingoarkulluk.) The name
is derived from a plant called Kingmingoark. He is of a good
disposition and does good generally.

Ooyarraksakju. She lives in the big stones, hence her name: the
beautiful material for stone. She is like a large woman in appearance,
lives on various things; gives various good things to the Eskimo.

Ooyarrauyamitok. Has no definite abode. Is sometimes on earth,
sometimes in Heaven. In appearance is like a middle-aged Eskimo. Is
frequently invoked by the conjurors when incanting. This god, if
invoked and respected, gives meat to the Eskimo, i.e., enables them to
get it.

Koodloorktaklik. He lives far inland and is like a man, and does not
wish to be seen by the Eskimo. He is bright and clean in appearance. He
does good to the sick, and in various other ways. He generally has the
ends of deer hoofs attached to his clothing, hence his name.

Kakkakotauyak. Lives on land. Is like a dog in appearance; whitish in
colour. His eyes and nose are black. He is not dangerous, even if seen.
Has amiable characteristics, and sends seals and deer to the Eskimo.

Sillaseak. Lives inland, and is like a man. He never goes on the ice.
He lives in a house under the earth. He gives deer to the Eskimo when

Kattakju. Lives on land and is like an old woman in appearance and is
very tall. She presides by the sick when the conjuror tests them by
head or leg lifting, and reveals their state and chances of recovery to
the conjuror.

Niksiglo. This god lives under the earth, and is like one with a hook
with a line attached. In appearance he is like a walrus tusk. Is a
Tongâk and a bad character. He steals the hunters’ deer and seals by
hooking them. He is seen only by conjurors, if seen at all. There are
many of these tongâk, and if seen stealing by a conjuror, the aid of
another conjuror is called in. The spirits of these two search for the
thief; the one watching from above, the spirit of the other goes below,
and from a small house beneath the dwelling of the tongâk he is able to
see the thief and kill him.

Angalootarlo. Is another tongâk and a bad character. He is a great
thief, and has two personalities; is like a large bearded seal when in
the sea, and like an Eskimo when on the ice. He is frightful in
appearance and works in the following manner: When an Eskimo is alone
at sea in his kyak, this tongâk, keeping the appearance of a seal,
swims away from land and is followed by the kyaker. When a long
distance from land, the tongâk gets upon a piece of ice and the kyaker,
having no gun, follows to kill him, still thinking it is a seal. Then,
when the hunter draws near, the tongâk changes his shape into that of
an Eskimo, and kills the hunter, he having no gun and being very near.

Pukkeenegak. Lives on land, and is like a small woman, with face
tattooed. She has her hair done up into a knot on the top of her head,
like the Greenlanders. She has very large boots (kummeek) made from the
deer legs, and has very nice clothes. Is quite aristocratic. She is
considered to be good, as she gives food, material for clothes, and
babies, to the Eskimo women.

Toodlayoeetok, also Pissukyongnangetok. Has his abode in Heaven. Is
like an Eskimo, but cannot walk, hence his name: he who is unable to
walk. He sits on a small sled and propels himself along by two sticks.
He is considered a good deity. He catches animals by lassooing them,
and then gives them to the Eskimo.

Orkshualik. Lives on land ice.


[1] Occasionally the black fox is taken, and the fortunate hunter may
receive as much as the equivalent of $100 to $500 for a pair of fine
skins, from the Agent.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Among unknown Eskimo" ***

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