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Eskimo Mythology - The Eskimo's World

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

There is probably no people on the globe more isolated in their character and their life than are the Eskimo. Their natural home is to the greater part of mankind one of the least inviting regions of the earth, and they have held it for centuries with little rivalry from other races. It is the coastal region of the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Labrador and from Labrador to the north of Greenland: inlandward it is bounded by frozen plains, where even the continuous day of Arctic summer frees only a few inches of soil; seaward it borders upon icy waters, solid during the long months of the Arctic night.

The caribou and more essentially the seal are the two animals upon which the whole economy of Eskimo life depends, both for food and for bodily covering; the caribou is hunted in summer, the seal is the main reliance for winter. But the provision of a hunting people is never certain; the seasonal supply of game is fluctuating; and the Eskimo is no stranger to starvation. His is not a green world, but a world of whites and greys, shot with the occasional splendours of the North. Night is more open to him than the day; he is acquainted with the stars and death is his familiar.

"Our country has wide borders; there is no man born has travelled round it; and it bears secrets in its bosom of which no white man dreams. Up here we live two different lives; in the Summer, under the torch of the Warm Sun; in the Winter, under the lash of the North Wind. But it is the dark and the cold that make us think most. And when the long Darkness spreads itself over the country, many hidden things are revealed, and men's thoughts travel along devious paths " (quoted from "Blind Ambrosius," a West Greenlander, by Rasmussen, The People of the Polar North, p. 219).

The religious and mythical ideas, of the Eskimo wear the hues of their life. They are savages, easily cheered when food is plenty, and when disheartened oppressed rather by a blind helplessness than by any sense of ignorance or any depth of thought. Their social organization is loose; their law is strength; their differences are settled by blood feuds; a kind of unconscious indecency characterizes the relations of the sexes; but they have the crude virtues of a simply gregarious people ready hospitality, willingness to share, a lively if fitful affectionateness, a sense of fun. They are given to singing and dancing and tale-telling; to magic and trance and spirit-journeys. Their adventures in real life are grim enough, but these are outmatched by their flights of fancy. As their life demands, they are rapacious and ingrained huntsmen; and perhaps the strongest trait of their tales is the succession of images reflecting the intimate habits of a people whose every member is a butcher blubber and entrails and warm blood, bones and the foulness of parasites and decay: these replace the tenderer images suggested to the minds of peoples who dwell in flowered and verdured lands.

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