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Greenland is in a peculiar manner associated with Norway and with the Norwegians. Our forefathers were the first Europeans who found their way to its shores. In their open vessels the old Vikings made their daring voyages, through tempests and drift-ice, to this distant land of snows, settled there throughout several centuries, and added it to the domain of the Norwegian crown.
Eskimo Life PDF Book by Fridtjof Nansen
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After the memory of its existence had practically passed away, it was again one of our countrymen who, on behalf of a Norwegian company, founded the second European settlement of the country. It is poor, this land of the Eskimo, which we have taken from him; it has neither timber nor gold to offer us—it is naked, lonely, like no other land inhabited of man.
But in all its naked poverty, how beautiful it is! If Norway is glorious, Greenland is in truth no less so. When one has once seen it, how dear to him is its recollection! I do not know if others feel as I do, but for me it is touched with all the dream-like beauty of the fairyland of my childish imagination. It seems as though I there found our own Norwegian scenery repeated in still nobler, purer forms.
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It is strong and wild, this Nature, like a saga of antiquity carven in ice and stone, yet with moods of lyric delicacy and refinement. It is like cold steel with the shimmering colours of a sunlit cloud playing through it. When I see glaciers and ice-mountains, my thoughts fly to Greenland where the glaciers are vaster than anywhere else, where the ice-mountains jut into a sea covered with icebergs and drift-ice.
When I hear loud encomiums on the progress of our society, its great men and their great deeds, my thoughts revert to the boundless snow-fields stretching white and serene in an unbroken sweep from sea to sea, high over what have once been fruitful valleys and mountains. Some day, perhaps, a similar snow-field will cover us all.
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revenge in the fourteenth century by first (after 1341) attacking and devastating (?) the Wester-district, and later (1379) making an expedition against the Easter-district, which seems in the following century to have been entirely destroyed. It was about this time, accordingly, that the Eskimos probably effected their first permanent settlements in the southern parts of the country.
There is evidence in the Eskimo legends as well of the battles between them and the old Norsemen. But from the same legends we also learn that there was sometimes friendly intercourse between them; indeed the Norsemen are several times mentioned with esteem. This appears to show that there was no rooted hatred between the two races.
And the theory that the Eskimos carried on an actual war of extermination against the settlers seems, moreover, in total conflict with their character as we now know it. Thus it can scarcely have been such a war alone that caused the downfall of the colony. We may, perhaps, attribute it partly to natural decline due to seclusion from the world. Eskimo Life PDF Book
Partly to absorption of the race, brought about by the crossing of the two stocks; for the Europeans of that age were probably no more inaccessible than those of to-day to the seductions of Eskimo loveliness. As to the route by which the Eskimos made their way to the west coast of Greenland there has been a good deal of difference of opinion.
Dr. Rink maintains that after passing Smith’s Sound the Eskimos did not proceed southwards along the west coast, which would seem their most natural course, but turned northwards, rounded the northernmost point of the country, and came down along the east coast. In this way they must ultimately have approached the west coast from the southward, after making their way round the southern extremity of Greenland.
This opinion is mainly founded upon the belief that Thorgils Orrabeinsfostre fell in with Eskimos upon the east coast, and that this was the Norsemen’s first encounter with them. I have already, in a note on the preceding page, remarked on the untrustworthiness of this evidence; and such a theory as to the route of the Eskimo immigration stands. Eskimo Life PDF Book
As we know, in direct conflict with the accounts given in the sagas, from which it appears (as above) that the Eskimos came from the north and not from the south, the Wester-district having been destroyed before the Easter-district. It appears, moreover, that we can draw the same conclusion from an Eskimo tradition in which their first encounter with the old Norsemen is described. In former days.
We are told, when the coast was still very thinly populated, a boatful of explorers came into Godthaab-fiord and saw there a large house whose inhabitants were strange to them, not being Kaladlit—that is, Eskimo. They had suddenly come upon the old Norsemen. These, on their side, saw the Kaladlit for the first time, and treated them in the most friendly fashion.
This happened, it will be observed, in Godthaab-fiord, which was in the ancient Wester-district—that is to say, the more northern colony. There is another circumstance which, to my thinking, renders improbable the route conjectured by Dr. Rink, and that is that if they made their way around the northern extremity of the country, they must, while in these high latitudes. Eskimo Life PDF Book
Have lived as the so-called Arctic Highlanders—that is, the Eskimos of Cape York and northwards—now do; in other words, they must have subsisted chiefly by hunting upon the ice, must have travelled in dog-sledges, and, while in the far north, must have used neither kaiaks nor woman-boats, since the sea, being usually ice-bound, offers little or no opportunity for kaiak-hunting or boating of any sort.
It may not be in itself impossible that, when they came further south and reached more ice-free waters again, they may have recovered the art of building woman-boats and kaiaks, of which some tradition would in any case survive; but it seems improbable, not to say impossible, that after having lost the habit of kaiak-hunting they should be able to master it afresh, and to develop it.
And all the appliances belonging to it, to a higher point of perfection than had elsewhere been attained. From the passage, you enter the house through a little square opening, usually in the front long wall, which is closed by a door or trap-door. The purpose of this passage is to prevent the cold air from coming in and the warm light air from escaping. Eskimo Life PDF Book
It is to this end that it is made to lie lower than the house; by which means, too, a little ventilation is obtained, since the heavy bad air can, to some extent, sink down into it and escape. In Greenland houses of the old style there are no fireplaces; they are warmed, as well as lighted, by train-oil lamps, which burn day and night.
They are left burning all night through, not merely for the sake of warmth, but also because the Eskimos are exceedingly superstitious, and therefore afraid of even sleeping in darkness. You may hear them relate, as a proof of extreme poverty, that this family or that, poor things, have to sleep at night with no lamp burning. The lamps are large, flat open saucers of soapstone.
They are of semi-circular form, and along the straight side lies the wick, which is formed of dry moss, or, nowadays, of cotton. These lamps rest on a wooden stand, and are placed on a little table or raised place in front of the sleeping-bench. There is generally one of these lamp-tables to each family. If several families dwell in one house, there are many lamps. Eskimo Life PDF Book Download
For each family has at least one burning, and, as a rule, more. In former days, food used to be cooked over these lamps in soapstone pots, which hung from the roof. The preparation of food, like every other business of life, of course went on in the common room. So it is to this day on the east coast.
On the west coast, modern civilisation has effected a change, in so far that food is now generally cooked in a special room with a fireplace, built on to the side of the passage leading into the house. Peat is used as fuel in these fireplaces, and also lumps of dried seagulls’ dung. Iron saucepans, too, bought at the stores in the colonies, are now used instead of soapstone pots.
Many West Greenlanders have, moreover, become so highly sophisticated as to have bought stoves, which they use instead of the train-oil lamps for heating their houses. The fuel used is the same as that mentioned above. At the same time, however, the indispensable lamps are kept burning, for the sake of light, if for no other reason. In former days the houses were generally large, and several families lived in each. Eskimo Life PDF Book Download
By this means they were able to economise in fuel, and they lived warmly and comfortably, while in many other ways the habitation in common was found advantageous. In this point the influence of the Europeans has been unfortunate. They have encouraged the distribution of the families into separate small houses, and have even offered prizes for house-building.
It was thought to be such a grand thing that each family should have its own home for itself. The result was that the houses became poorer and colder, more material in proportion was needed for warming and lighting—material which was not always forthcoming—and the advantages of the old system of partial communism were sacrificed.
So that the separation tended to the greater discomfort of the greater number. I have again and again sought to impress upon the reader that the Eskimos are a peaceable and kindly race. There is no more striking proof of this, I think, than their primitive judicial process. It is a mistake to suppose that the heathen Eskimos had no means of submitting any wrong they had suffered to the judgment of their fellows. Eskimo Life PDF Book Download
Their judicial process, however, was of a quite peculiar nature, and consisted of a sort of duel. It was not fought with lethal weapons, as in the so-called civilised countries; in this, as in other things, the Greenlander went more mildly to work, challenging the man who had done him wrong to a contest of song or a drum-dance.
This generally took place at the great summer meetings, where many people were assembled with their tents. The litigants stood face to face with each other in the midst of a circle of on-lookers, both men and women, and, beating a tambourine or drum, each in turn sang satirical songs about the other.
In these songs, which as a rule were composed beforehand, but were sometimes improvised, they related all the misdeeds of their opponent and tried in every possible way to make him ridiculous. The one who got the audience to laugh most at his jibes or invectives was the conqueror. Eskimo Life PDF Book Free
Even such serious crimes as murder were often expiated in this way. It may appear to us a somewhat mild form of punishment, but for this people, with their marked sense of honour, it was sufficient. As an example of their talent for sculpture I here reproduce two heads, carved in wood, which a native of a village in the Godthaab district brought to me.
They seem to me to betray a marked sense of humour; and one can scarcely doubt that it is the features of his own race which the artist has immortalised. Of musical talent the Greenlanders have a good share. They pick up our music with remarkable ease, and reproduce it, sometimes vocally, for they are very fond of singing, sometimes on the violin, guitar, organ, accordion.
Or other instruments, which they quickly teach themselves to play upon. This is the more remarkable as their primitive music, which was performed at the drum-dances, is monotonous and undeveloped, like that of most primitive peoples. It employs only a few notes, as a rule not more than five; but it is nevertheless peculiar and not without interest. Eskimo Life PDF Book Free
It is believed to be in the main an imitation of the rushing of the rivers. The East Greenlanders told Holm that when they sleep beside a river they hear the singing of the dead, and this they seek to imitate. The primitive characteristics of their music have of course been more or less destroyed by their intercourse with Europeans.
They have now adopted many European airs, and it produces a quaint and surprising effect, among the mountains and the glaciers, suddenly to hear a snatch of a Copenhagen street song, as for example, ‘Gina, lovely maiden mine, … won’t you come along?’ The Greenlanders have a great wealth of fairy tales and legends, many of them very characteristic.
Nothing affords a better insight into the whole spiritual life of the people, their disposition, feelings, and moods, than the matter of these legends and the manner in which they are told. We find in them a considerable talent for narrative and gift of imagination, along with a grotesque humour, which of course often takes the form of coarseness. Eskimo Life PDF Book Free
Besides this legendary lore (see next chapter) and narratives of exploits and adventures, the Greenlanders had a poetry of their own. The songs were either lampoons, such as they used to sing at the before-mentioned drum-dances, or else descriptions of different objects and events.A.