Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, with a Sketch of Their Habits, Religion, Language and Other Peculiarities….

Rink’s second volume of Eskimo Tales with his introductory sketch on their culture, based not on ornaments, weapons and other remains: But the time will certainly come when any relics of spiritual life brought down to us from pre- historic mankind, which may still be found in the folk lore of the more isolated and primitive nations, will be valued as highly as those material remains. In this respect the Eskimo may be considered among the most interesting, both as having been almost entirely cut off from other nations and very little influenced by foreign intercourse, and also as representing a kind of link between the aboriginals of the New and the Old World (p. vi). It is a fascinating collection of tales, with brief introductions noting the sources of the stories. Here are a few examples:


[This somewhat trifling but still curious story is well known to every child in Greenland ; and one tale has also been got from Labrador, and is undoubtedly another reading of the same original, though much abridged and altered.]

IT was said of Igimarasugsuk that he always lost his wives in a very short time, and always as quickly married again; but nobody knew that he always killed and ate his wives, as well as his little children.


[This story, also well known in all parts of Greenland, has been derived from five copies, written in different parts of that country. Unlike the preceding tales, it exhibits a more historical appearance, apparently referring to certain occurrences which must have taken place during the stay of the primeval Eskimo on the shores of the American continent, and have been repeated until our day. It indicates the first appearances of culture in attempts to provide tools or weapons from sea-shells, stones, and metal, as well as conflicts and meetings of the Eskimo with the Indians, which in recent times have still taken place on the banks of the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers.]

p. 116: A K I G S I A K.

[Of this tale six different copies have been received. It seems in a very remarkable way to refer to certain historical facts in regard to the intercourse between the Indians and the Eskimo, and is in some measure analogous to the folk-lore of several other nations, ascribing certain great actions, especially such as the defeating of some monstrous and dreadful animal, to one special hero. The text, however, is here given in an abridged form, the story itself not being very interesting.]


[This tradition appears to rest upon an event mentioned by Crantz in his ‘Historie von Gronland,’ p. 561, as having taken place in the year 1743; but it is given here in a very much abridged form, from two manuscripts, a great portion of which was merely copied out from the New Testament, and some other religious books.]

Other Notes:

p. vii: As to the spelling of Greenland words and names, we have to draw a distinction between those which are more properly used as representing the foreign expressions themselves, and those which have been wholly embodied in the Danish or English language of the text, and thereby subject to the orthography of these languages. In the first instance, the words distinguished by a different type, are spelt in exact accordance with the orthography now adopted in the native schools of Greenland. In the preliminary sketch, where this orthography is explained, it will be seen that all the sounds may be expressed by our usual Latin characters, with the exception only of a deep guttural k, for which the character k has been formed; the other more peculiar sounds having been substituted by double consonants or expressed by accents. The other letters are pro- nounced almost identically with those of the German and Scandinavian languages.

p. 65: Art, on the contrary, we may properly consider to be separately represented by songs, already mentioned as an entertainment at the festive meetings. In being recited or intoned, it will be remembered that they combined mimicry and music with poetry. To be properly appreciated, even the tales must be heard in Greenland, related by a native raconteur in his own language; but the songs are still more unfit for rendering by writing or translation, the words themselves being rather trifling, the sentences abrupt, and the author evidently presuming the audience to be familiar with the whole subject or gist of the song, and able to guess the greater part of it. Every strophe makes such an abrupt sentence, or consists of single and even abbreviated words, followed by some interjectional words only used for songs and without any particular signification. The gesticulations and declamation, accompanied by the drum, are said to have been very expressive, while the melody itself was rather monotonous and dull. The old mode of singing is now nearly extinct in the Danish districts of Greenland.

p. 69: Lastly, it must be noticed that though the present Greenlanders appear to have a pretty fair talent for drawing and writing, scarcely any traces of the arts of drawing and sculpture belonging to earlier times remain, with the exception of a few small images cut out in wood or bone, which have probably served children as playthings. The western Eskimo, on the other hand, displayed great skill in carving bone ornaments principally on their weapons and tools.

p. 78: Two national treasures yet remain to the natives, by means of which they still maintain a kind of independence and national feeling—viz., their language and their folk-lore. Through the tales, they also still preserve a knowledge of their ancient religious opinions, combined somewhat systematically with the Christian faith. Tornarsuk, in being converted into the devil by the first missionaries, was only degraded, getting in the mean time, on the other hand, his real existence confirmed for ever. In consequence of this acknowledgment in part of tornarsuk, the whole company of inue or spirits were also considered as still existing. The ingnersuit were expressly charged by Egede as being the devil’s servants. The Christian heaven coming into collision with the upper world of their ancestors, the natives very ingeniously placed it above the latter, or, more strictly, beyond the blue sky. By making tornarsuk the principle of evil, a total revolution was caused with regard to the general notions of good and evil, the result of which was to identify the idea of good with what was conformable to European authority; but, unhappily, the rules and laws given by the Europeans often varied with the individuals who successively arrived from Europe quite ignorant of the natives.