But, as its title implies, it is first and foremost an account of the most northerly dwelling people in the world, that is to say, of the little Eskimo group of nomads who wander from settlement to settlement between Cape York, North of Melville Bay, and Cape Alexander (approximately therefore between 76˚ and 78˚ N. latitude), and who are called in this book the Polar Eskimos [Editor’s Preface].
p. 71-72: July 23 .  —Rain and wind. We sit under an uninviting dripping of blubber. When we are tired of telling tales—and by degrees we have worked through the whole of our childhood and our taste of manhood—we lie down to sleep, or Jörgen begins to read aloud to us from his Bible. I read the Revelation of St. John, which impresses me greatly in its imposing Greenlandic translation. Jörgen clings to St. Paul, and reads me the Epistle to the Romans. Now and again an illusion of comfort visits us, and as we grow absorbed in each other’s narrations we manage to forget that we are wet and hungry. It is only when silence has fallen upon us all again that we notice how we are slowly being pickled in the wet. The sleeping-bags are drenched, the reindeer hair on them is beginning to fall off in patches, and our clothes are smelling musty. Our feet are white and swollen from the damp, and we are cold.
p. 248, a West Greenland story:
"Now tell tales, like you did yesterday!" proposed Manasseh, his mouth dripping with lamp-blubber.
Now that we were once more enjoying the comforts of our tent, life began to assume a more rosy hue again, and we honestly endeavoured, both of us, to forget the disappointment of the reindeer-hunt.
Once more the conversation turned upon robbers and missionaries; Manasseh’s curiosity was insatiable. He was very anxious to become a missionary himself, and a conviction of his vocation had been produced in him by a revelation that he had had. He was ready to leave wife and home at any time to go out to the "heathen."
He narrated his revelation with great pride. On a lonely path he had met two old men with long white beards. They led him into a little house, and showed him, through the windows, a large multitude of people gathered together on a wide plain. And the older of the two, a very old man, whose beard was as long as the white locks which hung down his back, spoke to him:
"Dost thou see those people out there? There are good and bad amongst them, all mixed up together; thou shalt lead them on their way through life here."
And then the old man gave him a large book, the Bible, with the words—
"From that, thou, and afterwards others, shalt learn."
And the old man disappeared.
Then Manasseh made his way down to the people that had been pointed out to him; but the way down to them was long and arduous. Then he led his flock forward, through many trials. After long wandering they came to a long and narrow pass, through which all had to go, but only a very few of them made their way through. On the other side the old man met him, and, with joy in his face, lifted his arms high above his head, saying—
"Manasseh, thou hast accomplished a great work !" Manasseh had grown very solemn, and we drank our tea in silence.
It was not for some time that my companion got his tongue going again, and then he told me a tale about cannibals that was enough to make my hair stand on end.
When, late at night, I slipped down into my sleeping-bag, my brain had hard work to unravel all the impressions of the day—our camp for the night on Naternaq Plain, where as a rule no one ever comes in the heart of winter, the reindeer-hunt, our wild race, stories of robbers and missionaries, revelations and prophets, legends of cannibals—and I fell asleep firmly convinced that there is no country in the world where a traveller meets with such a luxuriant variety of experiences as in Greenland.
p. 259-62, Greenlanders oral history: The Greenlanders love this wandering life, and when the conversation turns on their adventures, their tales run on apace. The narrator is fired by the many eyes directed upon him; he gesticulates in illustration of his story, which is now listened to in breathless silence, now accompanied by laughter and shouts of acclamation. It is no read-up knowledge that the Greenlander spins out, but it is a fragment of his own restless life that he is retailing to his comrades; and the subject of his tale being an ever-present and actual one, his words invariably collect a lively concourse of hearers—or perhaps, too, a reverential audience.
Ojuvainath sat on one of his salmon barrels and blew out the smoke from his pipe in rings. Work was over, and the others were standing in groups round about him.
As I looked at him, a strange feeling, which I could not at once account for, came over me, an impression of being transported into long-vanished ages.
The camp behind us, and this handsome, slender man, with the powerful shoulders, sunburnt face, and sharp profile—ah! yes, I had it; he reminded me of old Homer’s muscular heroes. That was just how it seemed to me they must have looked. And the proud, hot-tempered and handsome hunter, Ojuvainath, the mighty harpooner, the swift-footed, fleet reindeer-hunter—Achilles, Achilles! After that I could not dismiss the idea from my mind.
"Tell us something about your reindeer-hunts, Ojuvainath."
"It is difficult, straight off the reel like that," he replied, gazing in front of him. "And there is nothing remarkable to tell; afterwards, it seems as though one year has been just the same as all the rest. And yet every day is different, while the hunt lasts; every day brings its own joys, disappointments, and hardships.
"I hunted for twenty summers. I was barely fourteen when I began. Then I was at the age when one is eager to compete with the best; and, as there were legends afloat concerning the North Greenlanders, I went up there with an uncle—just as a rower in his umiaq. That was as far as North Stromfjord, right up to the head. The following year I went north again, this time as master of my own umiaq. l was fifteen then. Up to my thirty-sixth year I went reindeer-hunting every summer in our own districts here, about South Stromfjord; it is only of late that I have settled down to the salmon- fishery. It pays better.
"The North Greenlanders, 1 must say, are better on their legs and more alert than we Southerners; they are almost too competitive. In kayaks, on the other hand, we are the best. The ice shuts them off from the sea, you see, in the winter."
p. 305-07, about an East Greenlander named Christian who had once murdered someone: Strangely enough, I had read about Christian before I myself met him ; in a little missionary paper I had seen a few lines that made me anxious to know him.
In a diary kept by his priest during the baptismal instruction, under the heading of a date that I no longer remember, had been written:—
"Sometimes I am seized with an incomprehensible disquiet when I have to instruct Christian. I have a feeling that it is Satan incarnate whom I have before me.
"To-day, as I was about to start out to my teaching of the heathen, I was again seized with this terror of facing Christian; and I was obliged to let them wait while I went down to the seashore to fortify myself in solitude by prayer to Almighty God."
Chance brought me in contact with this said Christian, and after living with him for some time, I managed to win his confidence. But I never could quite fathom him. His eyes always made me doubtful.
I only remember to have seen that timorous, despairing look in the eyes of a stricken reindeer.
Sometimes a twitch would shoot across his face that would give him an extraordinary resemblance to a tired and tamed wild beast.
And that was about what he was. The ruthless murderer had been appalled one day by his own deed; and now he was tamed—though whether it were the priest or the remembrance of his own deeds that had restrained him, who shall say?
p. 311-12, on East Greenlanders and their tales; Of course it is difficult to reproduce Eskimo legends in another language. The means that are resorted to in the telling of them to evoke laughter and produce effect are so utterly different from those to which we are accustomed, that, in a translation, there is great danger of being crude just where for an Eskimo the point lies.
It must be remembered, too, that what is considered brutally coarse by cultured people does not produce by any means the same impression on the Eskimo, whose natural bluntness and straightforwardness prevent him perceiving what we should call a meanness. And people may talk aloud and unabashed of things which to us are indecent.
Further, the legends are intended to be told, not to be read; and a good story-teller will put so much zest into his narration and his mimicry that it is keen enjoyment merely to watch him.