A most engaging book based on Jenness’s journals of his years on Stefansson’s 1913 Canadian/Alaskan Expedition. He luckily avoided the Karluk Disaster by being invited by Stefansson to go ashore to get sledging experience. Although he retains the colonial vocabulary of the civilized and the savages, his anthropological observations are fascinating and his essential respect for the indigenous people compelling.
p. 16, on a native couple he met: Neither Mrss. Kunarluak nor her husband spoke any language but Eskimo, yet one of their daughters had married a white trapper, Ned Erie, who was living about two hundred miles to the east near Barter Island, and the other a Japanese who owned a hotel somewhere on the Yukon River. The courtships could scarcely have been garrulous, since the two bridegrooms knew only a few words of Eskimo, but speech differences have never proved insuperable barriers to mixed unions, even in civilized lands, and in such frontier regions as Arctic Alaska they form hardly any barrier at all.
p. 31, during a blizzard on a sledging journey: The third day we lingered here, since the storm showed no sign of abating. About 10 a.m. our neighbors, who had discovered from a hand-copied calendar that it was Sunday, joined our two families in morning service; for more than an hour the adults prayed and sang hymns, one of which had the familiar tune of “Abide with Me.” They sang and prayed in Eskimo, of course, since none of them understood English; and they conducted the service very reverently, even though the four little children shuffled about a good deal and the dogs in the corridor howled mournfully in an uninvited chorus. Just how much of Christianity’s real teaching they had grasped I could not know; but I observed that whereas our host had prayed aloud for more than ten minutes on the night of our arrival, on the second night his prayer was much shorter, and on this Sunday night, when we retired to bed, he omitted to pray at all, at least audibly. Perhaps he wished to remind us that in the Arctic, as in other parts of the world, even the most appreciated guest can quickly outstay his welcome.
p. 47, on the difficulty of Eskimo who had had no contact with “civilization” to understand the tenets of Christianity: They knew no more of Christianity than the half-dozen hymns and prayers that had filtered through to them from their neighbors, together with a prohibition against performing any kind of work on Sundays, even sewing a patch on a warn mitten. It was therefore only natural that they should interpret these outward expressions of Christianity in the light of their earlier beliefs, and should look upon the prayers and hymns and prohibitions of the immigrant religion as in no way different from the incantations and taboos that had been handed down to them from their forefathers, or enjoined by some old-time medicine man….
p. 67: In all the weeks that I lodged in their cabins I did not witness a single gesture that the most sensitive European would have branded as crude. I did hear a few ribald stories, and am certain that the relations between the sexes were freer than our own code of conduct dictates; but of deliberate indecency there was never a trace, despite the lack of all privacy in their single-roomed homes.
p. 68: The most tiresome days were the Sundays, when we generally rose late, idled about the house eating, talking, and playing cards or cat’s cradles, and finally retired to bed as soon as the tedium of sitting around became no longer bearable.
p. 68-69 has passage on experiment in native map-making by a couple which had some disagreements on the direction of flow of tributaries to the main river.
p. 139-40, toward the end of his trips, relaxing at Camden Bay: Before his departure, he [Dr. Anderson] delegate the captain of the Alaska to take charge of the camp, so that I might be completely free to come and go as I wished, to pore over my notes of the previous winter, and to browse among the books of the small library that had been supplied to us before we left civilization. I found in that library a mutilated German-Eskimo grammar of the Labrador dialect which happily resolved several linguistic problems that had troubled me earlier; and I spent many profitable hours working at the Eskimo language, and interrogating three Eskimos who were then employed on our base…. [a passage on infanticide follows].