My Life with the Eskimo.

Stefansson’s account of his first trip to the North in which he begins to develope themes best shown in The Friendly Arctic.

p. 249: I have always been a great admirer of the work of David T. Hanbury. Although Franklin’s parties, Richardson’s, Dease and Simpson’s, and many others have been over ground adjacent to or overlapping that covered by Hanbury, I have always found that in all practical matters relating to means and methods of travel, distances, etc., and especially in my intercourse with the Eskimo, I have derived greater help from Hanbury’s book than all the others put together.

p. 363, at Langton Bay, Feb. 20, 1912, and meeting a family of Baillie Islands Eskimo. The man was incapable of hard work: But his wife Guninana proved to be so valuable find for my linguistic work that no matter what the rest of the family might have been, I should have been glad to keep them. Up to this time my chief informant had been Mamayauk, but I found that Guninana was far better versed; in the ancient lore of her people, spoke the Baillie Islands dialect with undoubted purity of accent, and was the most cheerful and long-suffering person I have ever encountered in answering what must necessarily be tedious questions because of the great sameness about them and their (to the Eskimo mind) complete lack of point; for naturally the Eskimo can see little importance in the laws if sound change between dialects, or in the modifications of sounds through association with other sounds within a word.

p. 407-08, on superstitious religious beliefs of Eskimos: It may seem to you that these that we have described are extraordinary and untenable views, and that it ought to be an easy thing to undeceived the men who hold them, but if you have ever tried to change the religious views of one of your own countrymen so as to make them coincide with yours, you will know that the knowledge that comes through faith is not an easy thing to shake, and if you want to appreciate such an attitude of mind as that of the Eskimo and cannot find an analogy among your own neighbors, I would recommend the reading of Mark Twain’s A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur. … Mark Twain’s Englishmen of King Arthur’s time think such thoughts as I have found the Eskimo thinking in our own generation, and justify them in the manner in which the Eskimo justify theirs. If you were to try to displace from the minds of the Eskimo such beliefs as we have described, you would find (as I have found upon occasion) that you would succeed no better than did Mark Twain’s Yankee in his crusade against Merlin. But if you concern yourself not with the unteaching of old beliefs but with the teaching of new ones, you will find an easy path before you. The Eskimo already believe many mutually contradictory things, and they will continue believing them while they gladly accept and devoutly believe everything you teach them. They will (as the Christianized Arctic Eskimo are in fact doing) continue believing all they used to believe and will believe all the new things on top of that.

The belief in the spirit flight is as strong at Point Barrow after more than ten years of Christianity as the belief in witchcraft was in England after more than ten centuries of Christianity.

p. 413: Most of the abstract and strange ideas of which the Eskimo of even the civilized north coast of Alaska have knowledge have been presented to them first by missionaries, who generally precede the school-teacher into distant fields, yet we shall draw our first case for consideration from an Alaskan public school. The winter of 1908, and for a year before that and a year after, the government school-teacher at Point Barrow was Mr. Charles W. Hawkesworth. Mr. Hawkesworth was a New Englander, a graduate of Bowdoin, a fine type of man of the sort that is rare even in New England. He said, and I agreed with him, that he thought the Eskimo boys and girls at Barrow had as much native intelligence as boys and girls of a similar age and the same grade in school in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. But I told him that, admitting all that, I did not believe they were getting from the books which they read and the lectures which he delivered to them the same ideas that pupils in a Massachusetts school would get, for their environment was so essentially different from that described in the books that many a thing which is a plain statement to a boy in Massachusetts must be to the boy of northern Alaska a riddle without a key.

p. 428-29: One day there arose in our house a discussion of the various arts and inventions possessed by the white men, and the Eskimo, in a moralizing way, said that we had to be thankful to Christ not only for the spiritual blessings which He had bestowed upon mankind and the hope of salvation He had given them, but also for teaching them useful things, and especially for teaching them to read and write, for they considered reading and writing to be the foundation of all knowledge and of all the advancement of the white men. With reference to this, I said that they had evidently misunderstood the missionary. The missionary had no intention of telling them that Christ had taught us to read and write. “Well,” they asked me, “if Christ did not teach you, how did you first learn it?” I had to reply that I did not know how we first learned, but I did know that it occurred longer ago than the date assigned as that on which Christ lived on earth, and explained to them the fact that many books of the Bible much antedated the coming of Christ. That was as it might be, about the antiquity of the books of the Bible, they said in reply, but one thing they did know was that Mr. Whittaker had told them that Christ taught mankind to read and write, and as for them, they believed it.” Stef used as his example the student assumption of the Boston Tea Party, that “the English were so mean that they put tacks in the tea they sold the Americans….” [See p. 414]