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Historical Event

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January 1, 1912

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Dr Hutton remarks on the aversion to mushrooms but the love for berries among the Eskimo. Interestingly a berry crop that failed in 1904 coincided with a deadly influenza epidemic.





Among the Eskimos of Labrador

Samuel King Hutton


Important Text:

I found plenty of mushrooms on the hillsides on the warm days of August, but the Eskimos would have none of them: in fact, they were hardly to be persuaded to gather them. To their minds there is something uncanny about mushrooms. "Aha" they used to say, "the food of the Evil One —piungitut (bad)." 

But though gardening is entirely foreign to the Eskimo nature, they do not entirely scorn the good things of the earth. 

The berries are a great boon, so much that after the failure of the berry crop in 1904 — because a plague of mice had eaten the young shoots in the springtime — there was an epidemic of ill-health among the people.

(Note: Apparently the flu went around in 1904, so not sure if this is a Vitamin C deficiency or an infectious disease the Eskimo can't survive: "Poor Joshua did not live to see many more aiveks; he died in the big influenza epidemic of 1904.")

 In most years the scrubby bushes that crawl upon the ground are loaded with succulent berries — a truly marvellous provision — and the people gather them not only by handfuls and bucketfuls, but by barrelfuls. In October, when the ground was already becoming powdered with snow and frost, and there was ice upon the pools among the moss and on the stones that strew the beach, I have seen the Eskimo women putting their barrels on tall rocks, with heavy stones upon the lid, or slinging them over branches of trees, and I have asked them "Why?" 

"Soon freeze," they answer, "high up— not get covered with snow — good all the winter"; and I saw that there is a certain amount of provident laying up for the future in the Eskimo life. 

I was glad to see it, for I had thought at first that these hunters, who go out after the seals, and feast high while there is plenty, would have no other idea than to live literally from hand to mouth. But I see that where Nature has taught them the need, they lay up store. They dry reindeer meat after Easter and keep it for the weeks when the ice is cracking and seals are hard to find; they dry codfish in the summer, simply hanging it in the open air unsalted, and use it for food between the going of the codfish and the coming of the seals in autumn; they store up the berries for the winter. With these exceptions, which are long-established customs, the Eskimos are not a thrifty folk. Even the promise of a ten per cent, interest on their savings does not make these hunters see the value of a bank balance: they like to handle the worth of their earnings at once, and in solid substance.

Topics: (click image to open)

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