Norseman And Skraeling
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN the year of our Lord 982 Eric the Red, outlawed from Iceland, discovered Greenland, which shortly afterward was colonized by Icelanders. Eric's son, Leif the Lucky, the first Christian of the New World, voyaging from Norway to Greenland, came upon a region to the south of Greenland where "self-sown corn" and wild vines grew, and which, accordingly, he named Vinland. This was in the year 1000, the year in which all Mediaeval Europe was looking for the Second Advent and for earth's destruction, but which brought instead the first discovery of a New World.
As yet no people had been encountered by the Scandinavians in the new-found lands. But the news of Vinland stirred the heart of Thorfinn Karlsefni and of his wife Gudrid, and with a company of men and two ships they set out for the region which Leif had found. First they came to a land which they called Helluland, "the land of flat stones," which seemed to them a place of little worth. Next they visited a wooded land full of wild beasts, and this they named Markland. Finally they came to Vinland, and there they dwelt for three winters, Gudrid giving birth to Snorri, the first white child born on the Western Continent. It was in Vinland that the Norsemen first encountered the Skraelings: "They saw a number of skin canoes, and staves were brandished from their boats with a noise like flails, and they were revolved in the same direction in which the sun moves." Thorfinn's band was small, the Skraelings were a multitude; so the colony returned to Greenland in the year 1006.
Apparently no further attempt was made to settle the mainland, though from time to time voyages were made thither for cargoes of timber. But the Greenland colony continued, unmolested and flourishing. About the middle of the thirteenth century peoples from the north, short and swart, began to appear; encounters became unfriendly, and in 1341 the northernmost Scandinavian settlement was destroyed. Meanwhile, ships were coming from Norway less and less frequently, and the colony ceased to prosper, ceased to be heard from. At the time when Columbus discovered the Antilles there was a Bishop of Greenland, holding title from the Pope, but there is no evidence that he ever saw his diocese, and when, in 1585, John Davis sailed into the strait now bearing his name all trace of the Norsemen's colony was lost.
But the people of the Far North had not forgotten, and when the white men again came among them they still pre-served legends of former Kablunait.The story of the first meeting of the two peoples still survived, and of their mutual curiosity and fear, and of how an Eskimo and a white man became fast friends, each unable to outdo the other in feats of skill and strength, until at last the Eskimo won in a contest at archery, and the white man was cast down a precipice by his fellow-countrymen. There is the story of Eskimo men lying in wait and stealing the women of the Kablunait as they came to draw water. There are stories of blood feuds between the two peoples, and of the destruction of whole villages. At Ikat the Kablunait were taken by surprise; four fathers with their children fled out upon the ice and all were drowned; sometimes they are visible at the bottom of the sea, and then, say the Eskimo, one of our people will die.
Such are the memories of the lost colony which the Greenlanders have preserved. But far and wide among the Eskimo tribes there is the tradition of their former association with the Tornit, the Inlanders, from whom they were parted by feud and war. The Tornit were taller and stronger and swifter than the Eskimo, and most of them were blear-eyed ; their dress and weapons were different, and they were not so skilful in boating and sealing or with the bow. Finally, an Eskimo youth quarrelled with one of the Tornit and slew him, boring a hole in his forehead with a drill of crystal. After that all the Tornit fled away for fear of the Eskimo and since then the Coast-People and the Inland-Dwellers have been enemies.
In the stories of the Tornit may be some vague recollections of the ancient Norsemen; more plausibly they represent the Indian neighbours of the Eskimoan tribes on the mainland, for to the Greenlanders the Indians had long become a fabulous and magical race. Sometimes, they say, the Tornit steal women who are lost in the fog, but withal are not very dangerous; they keep out of sight of men and are terribly afraid of dogs. Besides the Tornit there are in the Eskimo's uncanny Inland elves and cannibal giants, one-eyed people, shape-shifters, dog-men, and monsters, such as the Amarok, or giant wolf, or the horrid caterpillar that a woman nursed until it grew so huge that it devoured her baby — for it is a region where history and imagination mingle in nebulous marvel.