A straightforward and pious account of a Moravian missionary on the Labrador coast, mainly at Hopedale. Among other things, Perrett translated the entire Bible into Eskimo—see p. 272-77.
p. 138-43. Chapter 27: “An Eskimo Library.”: It is worth our while to look more closely at the little shelf from which the man took down the well-worn book which he handed to the missionary. The shelf itself is a home-made affair, a little piece of rough wood strung on strings or supported on brackets; the owner may even have tried to give it an ornamental look by sticking on it an edging of coloured paper.
On the shelf stand the books, well worn volumes, most of them. The books are not many; in some Eskimo households you might find half-a-dozen; in some, only one or two. The Bible strikes your eye the first. If it is all there, it forms an imposing row of six volumes, and the missionaries have done their best to ensure that every family owns the whole Bible. So it stands in its six volumes on the shelf; brown books and black, thick books and thin, crowded on the little shelf. Take any of the volumes down: the corners are rather stained; the pages bear the marks of oily fingers; for these books are used and read, not merely left upon the shelf. The New Testament and the Psalms seem to be the favourites; even the poorest of houses have those two books. They are the two that go in the travelling box, when space is precious; and camped at his autumn hunting place, or in the small space of the tent at the fishing season, the Eskimo has at least those books at his elbow.
“What is your favourite reading?” I asked an Eskimo.
“The stories of the Israelites,” he answered; and I imagined him poring over the stories in the Book of Moses, or in Judges and the Kings, reading of wars and of wanderings, while he himself had never seen a soldier, and he knew no more of wars than he could learn from pictures of pageantry in England. From the Genesis to Revelation he reads; to him the Bible is God’s Book; for him it tells God’s ways with men; it is the guide of his life.
There are other books upon the shelf.
First the hymn-book. It is no easy thing to translate a hymn into Eskimo; to crowd the meaning of a line or verse into strings of harsh syllables…that is a task for gifted linguists; and it is no small tribute to the early missionaries that the Eskimo Hymn Book has eight hundred hymns, all sung to the tunes that belong to the originals. Much of the poetry of our English must be lost, so great is the difficulty of fitting the words to the tune; but the sense is there.
the Eskimo version of
“Jesus still lead on,
Till our rest be won,”
Leaves the second line to the imagination and simply says
“Do thou lead on,
but that is enough; and the tunes remain, beloved of the people and sung with the utmost heartiness.
Some of the missionaries of later years—Perrett and others—have translated popular and tuneful hymns from Sankey and other books; and so on the shelf there may be a thin paper bound volume in red or yellow, “Tuksiagalautsit” (little hymns).
Next to the hymn-book stands the Pilgrim’s Progress; and surely it is translated into no stranger language than the Labrador Eskimo. The best picture that the translator could give of the pilgrim’s feet sinking in the Slough of Despond was to use the Eskimo word for “soft snow”; for in a frozen land the sinking of the feet in swamps cannot be a common experience, whereas every Eskimo knows the toilsome slowness and the danger of the deep soft snow which he meets on his winter journey, in which he and his dogs may flounder in an almost hopeless way.
Up to about the year 1904, this was the whole of the Eskimo library, excepting only the school book of general knowledge, which did not find a place on the family book-shelf, for the school-books were kept in the cupboard in school, to be given out to the scholars at the proper time by some shaggy-headed little lad, at the word of command from the school-teacher.
About the beginning of this present century, Christian Smith, a master of conversational Eskimo, introduced an Eskimo newspaper, and this folded sheet with its grey cover might be seen upon the table or the book-shelf. Up to that time Labrador had been a land without a newspaper; and now the gap was filled by Aglait Illunainortut (The Paper for Everybody), an annual production that appeared in mid-winter, and was carried up and down the coast from Smith’s hand printing machine by the winter postman with his dog-sledge.
On this occasion of our visit to a Hopedale Eskimo home in the year 1905, we might see two slim black-bound books upon the shelf. These are Perrett’s first contribution to Eskimo reading material. The volumes are new; they do not yet bear traces of much handling. There is a picture in each of these two new books: the titles have a familiar smack about them, though not fully understandable to one who knows no Eskimo. No name of translator is given, but the title page shows that the books were printed by the Religious Tract Society (as the name then was) and the titles on the covers are
“Jessikab Tuksiariorninga” and
“Kristib Nipliajorutinga Nutaungitok,”
Which make the English titles of Jessica’s First Prayer, and Christie’s Old Organ easy guessing. These are the first translations of homely stories into Eskimo, done by Perrett in some of those “long winter evenings” or stormy summer days; for after twelve years among the Eskimos he now had a sound and solid knowledge of the language, both grammatical and conversational.
p. 252ff., Chapter 50 The Reading Book: Up to the year 1929 the Eskimo children had no reading book. This does not mean that they did not learn to read; on the contrary, it was pointed out with some forgivable pride that every ordinary Eskimo child over the age of twelve years could read and write.
No, the thought that for so many years the children had no reading book brings to light a fact that is indeed charming. Through all those years, from the time a hundred and fifty years ago when the first translations were made, the Eskimos had been taught to read with the Bible as their reading book. They had no other.
[The remaining four pages of this chapter describe the first reading book for Eskimo children, a book of twenty pages devised by Walter Perrett, printed in England with a bright red binding. The title is “A-B-pat, Okautsit illiniaraksat sorrutsinut—Learnable words for the children” (p. 254-55).