THE POLAR ESKIMOS.*
* The People of the Polar. North a Etward. By Xtuil Reamussen. Compiled from the Danish Originals and Edited by 0. Herring. Illustrations by Count Darold Moltke, London Kogan Paul, Trench, and Co. [El Is. net.]
tint,ttsG in one of the unforgettable chapter-headings te .7,4gle Book stories has summarised the dharacter of the Polar reties. The "'People of the Elder Ice," he tells us, " beyond the white man's ken- . Their spears are made of the narwhal horn, and they are the last of the Men."
It is to the Elder Ice that Mr. Rasmussen takes us, to the race who, in the words of the old Greenland legend, live at the end of the earth and dress in bearskin and eat raw flesh.
To be exact, his hook deals with the West Greenlanders and the East Greenlanders as well; but it is mainly concerned with the Polar Eskimos, the small group of nomads who wander between Cape York and Cape Alexander (between 76° and 76° N. latitude), and are the most northerly dwelling people in the world. The expedition left Copenhagen in June, 1902, and in the March of the following year it arrived at Cape York. Ten months were spent among the Polar Eskimos, and after a Bong stay in West Greenland it returned in the autumn of 1904, Few Polar explorers have been interested in the ethno- logical side of the subject, and therefore Mr. Rasmussen's ,bopk is a novelty in Area° literature. These " People of the ,X1der Tee" are few in number and rapidly dying out. They are kin to the Eskimos of North America, but their extreme isolation gives to their manners and legends a unique interest.
lb. Rasmussen was probably the last, as he was the first, to explore their curious life. We are grateful to Mr. Herring for providing us with an admirable translation of a fascinating work. The author, the son of a Danish pastor in Greenland, not only was brought up in the country, but has Eskimo blood in his veins, so that he approaches his subject with a peculiar gift of comprehension. He is a careful and scientific inquirer, but he is also alive to the romance of this ultimate people, and he has a gift of vivid and memorable description. Count Harald Moltke, in spite of serious ill-health, and the difficulty of sketching in a temperature some thirty degrees below zero, has provided a set of drawings which seem to us remarkable for their beauty and power. All who love a glimpse into a world far removed from human knowledge will Welcome this book.
Hospitality is a characteristic of these Eskimos. The
travellers were heartily received, they were admitted into the inner life of the community, they were urged to take wives, they were taken on hunting trips, and they wore told 'endless tales. On their arrival they came in for a spirit-conjuring, an old magician, Sagdloq, being desirous of curing his wife. spring had almost come, that Polar spring when the sun, refracted from endless snowfields, is as scorching as in the tropics. In temperate 'latitudes summer is the norm, and Winter sees the temporary disorganisation of the world; but in the far North it is summer which upsets the equilibrium " The sun was already beginning to shine warm; the water was dripping down the sides of the snowfield, and running off in glistening icicles which fringed every sheer descent. Tho plains down below us were bare of snow ; the blades of grass lifted their timid length under the hot kiss of the sun. In front of the glacier white bubbles of water floated away beneath a transparent crust of ice, and at the bend of the stream you heard the ice crack. As we sat silent on the- stones, chewing at our frozen walrus meat, our dogs lay with oars pricked; one of them got on his feet and looked up to the top of the mountains. 'Do you think he can scent reindeer ?' I asked Pivaitsoq. Es shook his head and answered smilingly, with his mouth full: No, he is sniffing the earth, beginning to melt. The dog thinks it is winter still, and does not understand the smell of spring '" Ono of the finest episodes is that where the writer and his tompanion Quisunguaq are weatherbound in the cave. The Eskimo begs to be taken to the south country that he might become rich, and the other consents. Then comes a fit of home-sickness, Quisunguaq goes mad and sees the spirits of his rate, and be struggles desperately with his friend. The madness ended with convulsive weeping, but there were no more dreams of travel in Quisunguaq's head. Here is another dramatic little scene :- "On my way home I met an old heathen woman, Arnoluk. She Stopped me and pointed out over the sea. Dost thou see that?' she asked. What?' That—out there over the sea. It Is the Dark coining up, the great Dark I' she said gravely, and crept away home. The sea was calm, and the awl-like summits of the hills stood up against the sky like supports. It was twilight, but you could see a long way. A black bank of fog lay up against the horizon ; so that was the Polar night advancing. I went back to our cave and found there a score of tskimos, men and women, almost standing on one another for want of room, listening to one of the records of the phonograph orchestra; it Was Wagner's 'Tannhiinser! The light dazzled my eyes. When the phono- graph ceased, the cave rang with peals of happy laughter. No one had a thought to spare for the Dark and the Winter."
A large part of the book is taken up with the folk-lore of this Polar people, their curious beliefs and outlandish customs. Sometimes the stories are crude animal fables, of
the type familiar in all savage races, such as that of "The Man who Took a Fox to Wife." Now and then, however, they are strange little moral apologues, not without a certain beauty and a hint of old folk-wanderings. Such is the tale of " The Two Friends who Wished to Travel Round the World" on p. 102. There are multitudes of evil spirits in their
mythology, but, as in some of the sagas, these spirits are not immortal, and can be slain by a bold man. The hear bulks
largely in their life, and must be treated with great respect after be is killed. This recalls the habits of the Canadian Wood Indians of whom Mr. Stewart E. White has told in his charming book, The Pored. A curious brand of nominalism prevails, for they think that the name has an existence apart from the person who bears it. A dead man's name must at once be given again, and must not be mentioned till it has found a human abiding-place. When a child cries at birth it is because it wants its name. Some of the most interesting legends are culled from the West Greenlanders, who are
more sophisticated than the people of the North. One of the strangest is that of the Hillmen. When a Greenlander grows tired of his fellows, he goes off to the hills, and speedily becomes a species of devil, with uncanny gifts of magic. " As a rule they grow so wicked that they
cannot die, and then the Devil takes them to him alive." But once a Hillman became a Christian, and was found dead in a cave with his head turned to the East. There was a colony of East Greenlanders which the expedition visited, and some of the tales of these people in their pre-Christian days are among the most horrible records of barbarism extant. The doings of one convert, who murdered people and ate their hearts, and is now a Christian in West Greenland, should be studied as an example of the savage side of this Northern race.
We may conclude by quoting the words of farewell which an old woman of the Polar Eskimos spoke to the traveller :—
" Listen now, before you leave us, to a word from an old woman who understands only love and—food. You are like the sea-king. When the spring warms the country, it visits us, It comes from a country far, far away, which we do not know. You came here like the sea-king, with the welcome spring ; but when the summer was over and the flight began, you stayed. So that is why you are eager now to get back to your country and your people; and it is good for you to go. Do you hear ? Your dogs are whining. Never wait for the dawn when you are eager to be gone."