April 12, 2013

Book of the Eskimos by Peter Freuchen

The man amputated part of his own foot. Oh, and he lived in the arctic among the Inuit for a good portion of his life. And for the sake of clarity, I'm going to use the term "Eskimo" as that is what this book uses since it was written in the first half of the twentieth century. This book is Freuchen's look at the life of the Eskimos and their culture.

Peter Freuchen, author of this book, worked on ships at an early age and it took him to Greenland and other places in the arctic where he ran a trading post. He eventually married a local woman and was one of the only European men at the time to be so immersed into the Eskimo culture and accepted. He tells of the first few years and the hunts he went on, meeting his wife, and then he goes into the culture, stories, songs, and other lore of the Eskimo people. He finishes with a short history of the colonization of Greenland by Erik the Red and what it is like in the modern day (which at the time this book was written was the 1950's).

Freuchen meets a very wide array of people. And because the culture is so different, it makes them all the more exotic. It should be noted that at the time Freuchen stayed with them, there was very little outside influence and so a good many practices that we would be horrified with today, were still practiced. But more on that later. Most of the people he met were very kind and giving. Only a few tried to take advantage of him and that is merely a reflection on people as a whole and universal in culture. I found it interesting how meat and other things were considered communal property and how defacing themselves or insulting themselves was a common practice.

There are many customs practiced by the Eskimo that people at this time couldn't relate to. Cannibalism, abuse, murder of children (to keep them from starving to death), and other things are greatly described in this book. These were practices born out of need and I can't even fathom a society struggling so much as to resort to those things. They led very difficult lives. But there was a lot of good and harmony too. A lot of time and effort went into this book and Freuchen is nonjudgmental. He seems to show very little bias and that impressed me. And his writing was clear and modern sounding. If I didn't know better I would have said that this book was written recently by the language. He was approachable without being boring, although he did have a few spots that lagged.

A very interesting book and one that while old, isn't outdated. You'll learn about a very hardy group of people with a culture rich in detail.

Book of the Eskimos
Copyright 1961
441 pages

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