January 1, 1913
The Eskimos' dearest pastime is visiting and it's about sharing meat such as frozen fish or meat, and then boiled walrus or seal.
Book of the Eskimos
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THE ESKIMO'S DEAREST PASTIME is visiting. More often than not, he takes his meals in somebody else's house, his family with him, or else he himself has guests, as many as his provisions can accommodate. Visiting is an important social function and is governed by a great deal of etiquette. A man's reputation is to a large extent dependent upon how often he invites, how well he serves his guests, and the perfection of his manners as a host. Consequently, the best pieces of the game that he catches are reserved for visitors. And when he has had a good catch, he is the happiest man on earth. He stands by the entrance to his house and calls out: "Come visit my house! Come visit me!"
The rest of the four or five families at the settlement—those who have seen him come home with game, and who have more or less been expecting his invitation—come running immediately. As they enter his house, they simply say: "Hereby somebody comes visiting!" The women take off their long kamiks and their outer garments and crawl up on the bunks, the men sit down on the skins that cover the floor, while the children and the youngsters either sit or stand in a flock by the entrance.
Then the man in the house says how happy he is to see while everybody just sits around talking about the hunt, the dogs, or the weather. Suddenly the host gets a bright idea.
"Do you happen to want something to eat?" he asks, and the other men then answer him that of course they didn't expect at all to get something to eat, but that if he wants to give them food, then they know that no place in the world will they get such good things as in this particular house!
"Alas no!" says the host. "You are in bad luck. It so happens that I am a bad hunter, and I have nothing to treat you to. But if you will lower yourselves to taste the poor carcass I can offer you, then let me go and fetch it in!"
Then the great hunter goes out to the meat rack and gets his best piece of meat. In order to get it in through the narrow entrance tunnel, he puts a strap around it and hands one end of the strap to the young people just inside. They pull the meat in with loud shouts about how heavy it is, how this great hunter always has big things to offer, etc., all to flatter their host.
The meat is placed in the middle of the circle, and the host takes his axe and begins to chop the frozen mass to pieces. When this is done, he takes a little piece and begins to eat, but says in a highly worried tone of voice:
"Alas I have to throw it all out again, for it tastes so awfully bad. The dogs have soiled it, all kinds of dirt is on it. I can't offer it to such excellent guests."
Upon this invitation, everybody grabs a piece, each man hands one to his wife on the bunk behind him, and soon there is noisy chewing and smacking of lips only interrupted by loud praises of the incomparable delicacy that is being consumed here. The men say only little, but the women are gabbing continuously, as women everywhere are wont to do. It is beneath the dignity of an Eskimo man to pay any attention to the women, and if the noise from them becomes too loud, he may look about him in astonishment.
"What is this!" he shouts. "Is it getting to be spring? Where am I? It sounds as if the auks on the cliffs are quacking. Are there really birds here, or is it women that are nearby?"
That quiets the ladies down a little, but then everybody laughs, and the gaiety starts up again. The host's wife is busy boiling meat from the newly caught game over her blubber lamp, and when everybody has had enough of the frozen delicacies, they start in on the steaming walrus or seal meat. The polite guests fart and belch to show how well they are digesting the treats of the house. They continue eating until they are too gorged to get another bite down. If a guest gets tired, he will simply go to sleep where he sits and start in on the meal again when he wakes up.
If it becomes apparent that the provisions of the house are about to give out, another hunter will stand up and ask to be allowed to show what his house has to offer. Thus the party goes from house to house, and the feast may last for days.