The Eskimo

The proportions of the body of an Eskimo are of great interest. The body is well built. It shows, among other things, a bust circumference of 945 mm for the male and 863 mm for the woman. So, as one can see, from the point of view of the proportion of the medium circumference of the body, the sexual difference exceeds the difference between the bodies. The development of the individual variation is weak. It amounts to an average of 15 per thousand for men, and 30 per thousand for a woman. The abdomen is well formed. Its diameter is smaller than that of the chest. The breasts of the women are pear-shaped. The development of the limbs is remarkable. The arms have a normal length and are proportional with the built. On the contrary, the legs are short and not at all resistant. I have noticed that an Eskimo that accompanied me while climbing a mountain 500-600 meters high, climbed up the mountain with difficulty, while he was the first when we climbed down. This remark is valid for both men and women.The young Eskimo, ever since the age of 6, starts practising the use of the harpoon and of other similar instruments. Obviously, these exercises develop the arms, while the legs are crouched in the kayak as between two boards. I myself tried to get into a kayak, but I had to empty it of all the pieces of leather the Eskimo fill it with.I managed to enter only with much difficulty and only sitting straight, without moving. The Eskimo are often compelled to spend days and nights in their kayaks.I have measured the bodies of ten men and eight women. For men, the circumference around the waist is 77 cm; for women it is of 75 cm. The face is almost oval, with the inferior part relatively large; the superior facial index is of 103. The shape of the nose varies; it is straight and prominent.With the Eskimo from eastern Greenland the teeth are abnormal. The skin from the parts of the body exposed to air is brown-yellowish, while on the parts covered by clothes it is paler, that is a white-bluish colour. The eyes are brown, with not many shades. The hair is black or dark brown. The men didn't use to cut their hair until 1909. Now they have started to cut it.To sum up, the indigenous populations on the eastern coast of Greenland are well built compared to those from Siberia. They had little contact with foreign races. They hadn't seen white men before 1894, which explains why their race has been maintained pure. Ethnography The climate of Angmassalik is not so harsh as that from the regions of Siberia, situated at the same latitude. The ice pack driven by the polar current, and which dominates the whole east coast of Greenland, does not prevent communication, because it is situated usually in the south, at relatively great distance from the coast. Now and then, the ice pack draws near the shore, but not for long. It is again pushed towards the ocean, driven away by the wind or sea currents.The ice pack draws near the region of Angmassalik in November. In November the sea is the main source of food for the natives. Indeed, the approach of the ice packs coincides on the shore with that of the animals, such as the polar bear and of three kinds of seals. They also bring ashore trees, boards coming from Siberia, stones and other materials from which the Eskimo make a multitude of objects.Regarding the orographic conditions, the Angmassalik district offers a high and stony terrain, and steep mountains, forming two rows. This desert produces a recess that stretches on about 114 km. These mountains are linked to several fjords and thus appear several islands with mountains of 600 up to 800 meters high. At the end of the fjord the mountains reach 2000 meters. Glaciers cover all these mountains.The fields and the valleys are not very well defined. The natives inhabit the latter. The mountains are composed of granite, gritstone, quartz and philadelphite, minerals of little importance for the Eskimo. They use only a stone they carve to put the oil in and out of which they make pans and lamps. As soon as the glaciers and the snow melt, the cleared ground covers with a rich vegetation of black grass (Calluna vulgaris) and lichens. The area doesn't have any forests.There are a few birch trees, not well developed.The only domestic animal is the dog, which the Eskimo transformed into a traction animal. The animals that are mainly hunted are: the polar bear, the seal, represented by two very numerous species, Phoca barbada (the current name: Erignathus barbatus, the bearded seal) and Phoca foetida, which are hunted during the whole year, while the hooded seal and the Phoca hispida are hunted only in June and July. The whales are very rare. They come near the county when there isn't any polar ice. I spotted six whales 5 to 10 km away from the shore.Narwhales are numerous at the end of winter. They enter the fjords. Walruses are rare. Nevertheless, they are very numerous north of Angmassalik. The white bear appears with the arrival of the polar ice. The white and blue foxes are very numerous in all the counties. A native informed me that, a long time ago, there existed in Angmassalik the moskoxen, reindeer and rabbits, which became extinct. One can see many birds: on land – the snow hen, the raven, and the owl; at sea – the duck, the wild duck, the blue petrel and several species of sea gull.Fish are numerous. In the water of the lakes, there are salmons and trout or barbel; in the sea – cod, sharks, polar fish and a species of sardines, named by the natives Angmassit (Mollus arcticus), and that's where the name of the district comes from.The old Eskimo call the inhabitants "Inik," meaning "people." They live in three fjords: Sermelik, Sermiliga and Angmassalik, where most of the natives are.They make long journeys in their kayaks, hunting bears and seals.I have seen Eskimos who left during the winter, for several days, in their dog-drawn sledges. The Eskimo doesn't have a stable residence. He changes place every year. During the winter he lives in igloos made of stone and earth. These houses have only one room, 15 to 20 meters long and 8 to 15 meters wide. They are situated near the sea, towards which the window and the door are oriented. Ten to fifteen families live together.A small stove made of stone, which uses seal fat, heats the room. This is mixed with dried white moss. The stove is used for heating as well as lightening.With the Eskimo, social mores require you to help those you are living with and their families. They have no laws, but they have a moral code, and those who do not obey it are exposed to the contempt of their fellows. In observing this rule, they enforce upon individual freedom limits greater than those that the laws impose in our civilised society.In every place suitable for living there is only one house, inhabited by 15 or 17 families, divided into several branches. An old man is the chief of the house, but only if he was or is still a good hunter and if he has children who are, in their turn, skilful hunters. This man rules the house, it is he who decides where to build it and for how long; he has to know the people he chose to live together with, but each individual must have his own winter supplies. Only the hunters [in the French text: chasseurs, but probably the right word is chamanes – shamans, wizards] have the right to impose laws, but they don't have any role in social life. They are called "Angakoks" (necromancers).In spring, when the Eskimo change their place of residence to go to live in tents, only the closest relatives stay together and the previous way of living ends.The inhabitants of a house form a society, but when they are together none has a bigger authority than the other, because hospitality is regarded as a necessary duty.Theft is very widespread with the Eskimos. They often steal, not out of necessity, but out of revenge. The Eskimo steals things he can find no use for. He would break them and throw them away. Before religion (the Christian one) was introduced in their communities, there were also murders. The murderers were sentenced to hit a drum, while the spectators would dance and show their disapproval or discontent. Only these scenes weren't brief, but they were extended over several years.The close relatives of a family had to decide among themselves on the marriage, which was not considered a bond between families, since kinship is regarded as such only up to the third generation. The woman is considered as a mistress or as a servant. The couple may break up any time they want. Only if they have children, their union becomes permanent. The man is the head of the family, and later his sons, even if they are young, because they are considered the future hunters and because they can help their parents when they get old. The children remain with the parents all their life and contribute to their daily existence.The Eskimo don't have a fixed time for dinner. They eat at any time during the day, especially raw meat and bowels, when these start to be half-rotten and give off a smell of decay.They get married long before they reach adulthood, on condition that the young man is able to provide food for a woman. In ancient times, the cousins couldn't get married. Only after 1900 there were cases when the skilled hunters had two wives, but only if one woman was not capable of processing the skins they brought.The Eskimo never reaches a very old age. The oldest man I have seen was 55; he lived in Kulusuk. As soon as a man died, he was dressed in all his clothes and covered with a skin from his kayak. His legs were tied with a string made of a seal tendon, then he was brought out either through a corridor or through the window. If he died in his kayak, at sea, he was thrown into the water or left on the shore from where the tide took him away. The dead man's kayak remained in the same place. If he died on land, he was covered with stones and, to save the stones the body was bent and tied. All the objects the deceased had used were buried with him.The natives have different funeral customs. They say that the dead man mustn't be upset. It is forbidden to utter the name of the deceased. If another person has the same name as the dead man, the former has to change his name. In the same way, if the deceased had the name of an animal or of an object, the animal or the object was given another name. That's why the language of the Eskimo suffered considerable changes.They believe that man is made of three parts: the body, the soul and the name. The soul is considered to be as small as a needle. They say that it lives within the man. And if it is sick, the man gets sick too, and dies. He is reborn, then, either in the sea or in the sky. In the sea there are seals and narwhales. In the sky live the ravens and the hawks, but they always prefer the sea.Another part of the body, which is the name (atekata), resembles a man. It enters the son after his mouth was rubbed with water three times, uttering the name of the dead man. When the man is dead, atekata remains near him at sea or on land, where he was buried, until a child receives his name after which it takes part in his existence: stillborn babies rise to the skies where they form the northern lights.The Eskimo believed in different spirits. Some of these spirits benefit mankind, other produce all kinds of evils. A spirit who lives in the sea and has the same occupation as the man accompanies the hunters who navigate in their kayaks. The sea animals are the subjects of a woman in whose hair seals and narwhales are hung, and many other spirits that have the shape of a sea animal. All these spirits don't benefit mankind. To protect themselves against accidents and to have a longer life, the Eskimo wear on their chest, hung on a cord of sealskin, various objects they invest with the power to cast the accidents away. They use magical formulae to make their life longer. They also have necromancers who use the flesh of the dead bodies to cast away diseases.When they are ill they go through terrifying tortures. For example: the sick person is laid on the ground, his hands and legs are tied; he is not given food or water and very often an enormous rock is put on his chest and he is kept like this until he dies. Excerpted from: A Year among the Eskimos (1929), in Extraordinary Journeys, CD Press, 2001

by Constantin Dumbravă