Danish Greenland: Its People and Its Products

p. 168: on training of indigenous boys: The author cannot omit adding one instance to illustrate this. Once he took such a boy with him to Denmark, where he stayed only one winter as apprentice in a printing-office, and acquired a skill in book-printing, lithography, and bookbinding, of which he has afterwards given proofs by managing, all by himself, without the least assistance, a small office in Greenland, the productions of which will be mentioned by and by. This young man is by no means a rare exception; perhaps one out of ten may be found to be equally highly gifted. It cannot be denied that the half-breeds seem to surpass the original race as regards such perfectibility.

p. 213-16,Printed Literature of the Greenlanders:On passing from the folk-lore preserved merely by verbal tradition to the printed literature of Greenland, we must mention that a few old manuscripts have been found in the possession of the natives containing stories of European origin, which they had preserved in this way by copying them, such as ‘Pok: or a Greenlander’s Journey to Denmark,’ ‘Sibylle,’ ‘Oberon,’ and ‘Holger the Dane.’ The existence of these documents proves that European tales may have some attraction for the natives, but not so much that they have been able to remember them without writing them down. The details of these stories in their Greenland versions of course frequently appear very curious.

The Literature of the Greenlanders .—The literature of the Greenlanders printed in the Eskimo language amounts to about as much as might make fifty ordinary volumes. Most of it has been printed in Denmark, but, as already mentioned, a small printing-office was established at Godthaab in Greenland in 1862, from whence about 280 sheets have issued, besides many lithographic prints. As regards its contents the Greenlandish literature includes the following books, of which, however, many are very small or mere pamphlets.

The Bible, in four or five larger parts and some smaller sections as separate parts.

Three or four volumes, and several smaller books, containing psalms.

About twenty books concerning religious objects. About ten books serving for manuals in spelling, arithmetic, geography, history, &c.

About sixteen books, with stories or other contents chiefly entertaining.

About six grammars and dictionaries in the Eskimo language for Europeans.

A Journal: Atuagagdliutit, nalinginarmik tusaruminá-sassumik univkât, i.e. ‘something for reading, accounts of all sorts of entertaining subjects,’ published in Greenland since 1861. Up to 1874 it comprised 194 sheets in quarto, and about 200 leaves with illustrations.

Official reports concerning the municipal institutions, 1862 to 1872, in Danish and Greenlandish, comprising about twenty-six sheets, besides many lithographic plates containing accounts and statistical returns.

Church, and Public Instruction .—For missionary affairs, comprising church-matters as well as public instruction, the natives are divided into the Danish and the Moravian communities; the former numbered 7,703, and the latter 1,945 souls in the year 1860. We have already mentioned the native catechists or schoolmasters, and the extreme difficulty of affording regular school instruction to a poor people so widely dispersed. Under such circumstances the fact is rather surprising that the ability to read and write may be said to be as common here as in any civilised country. We can confidently assert that the greater part of the inhabitants are able to read tolerably well out of every book in their own language, and that every child learns to read at least the chief passages of their usual school-books. The art of reading is not only familiar in every house, but reading also forms a favourite occupation. As to the objects of this reading we refer to the list before given of the Eskimo literature. Of course the religious part of it is still the most popular, or until of late, we may say, the only one commonly used. The New Testament especially, and a psalm-book, are found in every house. As regards skill in writing it must be said to be at least more than half as common as in reading. Carrying on correspondence by letters has become pretty frequent between the natives of the different stations, and whenever something has to be communicated to or by a Greenlander in any station, there is scarcely ever any doubt as to the possibility of settling the affair by letter. Moreover, the natives seem to be peculiarly talented as to acquiring a good hand in writing. The Eskimo language has always been written with the common Roman letters, with addition of the letter k, signifying a very guttural k, and of accents which are of great importance. As regards orthography a great irregularity has prevailed, until of late a very ingenious and simple system has been invented by Mr. S. Kleinschmiedt, who has published a grammar and a dictionary of the language.

Religious instruction is mostly imparted through the Holy Scriptures themselves, but class-books are also used, especially with regard to the chief Christian doctrines.

We have already stated that the obstacles to public instruction, caused by the scantiness of the population and its dispersion, have only been overcome with help of the native teachers. Formerly only very few of them received any particular preparation for this task. Now all the more populous places are furnished with schoolmasters, who have been trained at the two seminaries, which in 1875 were reduced to one, established at Godthaab. At these two schools it has been the custom for from ten to sixteen young natives from different parts of the country to study for some years, and to receive instruction in the following studies. Exegesis; explanation of the leading Christian doctrines; Bible history; geography of the Holy Land: passages of the Bible learnt by heart; exercises in writing on different subjects, mostly religious; mental exercises by reading and explaining books of no religious tendency; elements of history, mostly relating to the origin and the propagation of Christianity; elements of geography, chiefly with regard to physical geography; an introduction to natural history, with a special description of the mammalia; the elements of arithmetic; caligraphy; organ-playing and singing, together with catechistical and homiletical practice. The Danish language has also been among the branches of education taught, but with little success. It has been a rule that during their stay at the seminaries the pupils should continue to practise kayaking, and for this purpose they were ordered to have their kayaks in a proper state, and certain days were devoted to going out in kayaks during the lecture ‘term,’ while they had the whole summer at their own disposal for this as well as other national occupations.

Scarcely any country exists where children are so ready to receive school instruction as Greenland; it is almost considered more a diversion than a duty. Attending divine service is not less popular, and is scrupulously observed by the population. Most likely this inclination is favoured by the holidays now offering the only opportunity for festive assemblies, and by the natives on these occasions feeling themselves equal to the Europeans. But it is a mistake to believe that they would prefer to have a clergy-man of their own nation officiating. On the contrary, at Godthaab, where the Danish and the Moravian stations are situated close to each other, it has happened that when the native ‘vicar’ had to preach in the Danish church, the members of the community repaired to the Moravians only for the purpose of hearing a European officiating. No displeasure at all is taken at the imperfect pronunciation of the Eskimo language, to which the usage of more than a hundred years has perfectly accustomed them. [There follows a long paragraph on music and the art of singing, including this passage on p. 217: In the winter houses here and there, especially in isolated places, the old monotonous songs, perhaps also accompanied with the drum, are said still to be used, but rarely when Europeans are present.]

p. 351-52, in the District of Umanak: There is a church in this place, and a small dwelling for a missionary, but none has resided there for several years. On November 7 the sun shines for the last time at Umanak, but continues to light the mountain tops at noon for 12 days longer, and after having announced its return in a similar way it again makes its first appearance on February 2. The only circumstance that tends to render these dreary months at all supportable to others than the natives is the sudden change taking place in December, by which the surrounding sea with all its numerous ramifications is transformed to one level plain, from which, with rare interruptions, an easy access can be gained to every part of its extensive shores until the first part of May. Even during the darkest period there is always sufficient daylight for taking a walk across the ice to the opposite shore of the mainland and back again with ease, making in all about 10 miles, when the weather is not too unfavourable. But in the house one is unable to read by daylight, and especially with a cloudy sky, and snow lamps have to be kept burning all day. In weather like this, when one is confined to the narrow rooms with nothing to vary the monotony of the darkness that reigns without except the howling of the dogs, in which they all join at intervals, at a sign accidentally given by one of them. Christmas time is of course exceedingly dull to European residents at Umanak, especially to single people.