September 11, 1949
Helge describes some of the Nunamiut Eskimos, such as their superb physiques and their ages. "It is something of a marvel to find an Eskimo community in Alaska so sound and vital as this one. This is due in the first place to the people having had so little contact with civilization."
Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos
Topics: (click to open)
Paniaq is the kind of man one cannot help noticing. His eyes are brown, with a humorous gleam; his mouth is wide and sensitive. The forehead is well arched, the nose high-bridged and straight. The black-browed temples project a little; the chin bone too is clearly marked, but not strikingly so. His complexion is rather dark. He is about fifty, but his hair has no tinge of grey. He is a tall, splendidly built man, broad-chested, narrow at the hips, with sinewy limbs. His height is 5 feet 9 inches. He weighs about 175 pounds. His hands are small and well shaped. He seems as well trained as a long-distance runner and has the easy walk of the mountain dwellers.
We start talking about all kinds of things, mostly of animals, nature, and the Eskimos' life is days gone by. From time to time there is a touch of humour, and he bursts into a roar of laughter. He also a very good memory. "My good memory comes from my mother," he says. "She remembered everything, and when I was little she told me no end of things about the old times."
He has an admirable mental balance, a capacity for taking reverses calmly.
At last Paniaq's wife, Umialaq, sets before us some cooked and some raw meat, and we eat it.
Umialaq is about twenty-nine--twenty years younger than her husband. She is pretty, small, and slight, but as tought as a willow.
The youngest boy, Wiraq, crawls about the floor of willow boughs, almost naked. He is only a year old, but has already begun to suck meat.
Paniaq's father in law Kakinnaq, aged fifty, lives nearby. Kakinnaq is an individual type, a thick-set little fellow with a black mustache, as quick as a weasel and bubbling over with life.
Kakinnaq is the umialik (rich man) of the tribe. According to our ideas he does not own much, but the Eskimos tell one with profound respect that Kakinnaq has more dried fat than he can use himself and both wolf and wolverine skins from previous years.
Aguk is about seventy. A more vigorous old fellow I have never seen, active from the early morning til late in the evening. He runs over the hills like a wolf. It is a sight to see him out hunting, getting over the ground in a very pronounced forward crouch of his own. And when he fires he never misses; ten of fifteen caribou in one hunt is nothing out of the ordinary for him. He has a bright face covered with laugh wrinkles. He is a thoroughly good fellow, of the type which is always eager to help others. And he helps himself where most get stuck.
Then there is Agmalik, a capable hunter of about fifty. He is tall and thin, with a rather curved nose and protruding lips, and seems generally rather different from the others.
The most distinguised among the Killik people is Maptiraq, about seventy-five years old, a tall, upright gentleman of the old school, with a quiet manner and a warm gleam in his eye. His whole personality bears the stamp of the culture which has been created in the course of the years by a distinguised hunting people. When he was young, there were still people who hunted the caribou with bow and arrows. He has experienced a good deal that to other Eskimos is history. In spite of his age he still hunts the caribou and wolf and cuts a good figure.
Inualujaq is another veteran; he may well be about sixty-five. He is reputed to have been one of the best runners in the mountains in his younger days. He is a quiet, pleasant man and an energetic hunter.
The many children are like a fresh breeze blowing through this little community among the mountains. And these children are something out of the common. They are mountain children, these--with deep, wide chests and powerful limbs and aglow with vitality. At three years old they dash up the hillsides like goats, at seven they can run for a long time without getting tired. They are like animals in their sensitive alertness and swift reactions. And they are sharp.
It is something of a marvel to find an Eskimo community in Alaska so sound and vital as this one. This is due in the first place to the people having had so little contact with civilization. While the coast Eskimos have felt the full blast of modern culture--brandy, civilized food, disease, and a view of life based on dollars--the Nunamiuts have, on the whole, escaped it. They have their mountain world to themselves.
Venereal diseases do not exist, and I know of only one case of tuberculosis. It is also worth mentioning that there is no alcohol. Their greatest danger is the aircraft, which can introduce sicknesses which the Eskimos have little power to resist. Last year, after a plane had landed at the camp for a short time, the whole population was struck down by severe influenza. Three children and one adult died, and others only just pulled through.
There is something so good-humoured and cordial about these people that one cannot help liking them. They have an infectious humour which makes life brighter, a broad humanity with few reservations. Yet it is easy enough to put one's finger on things that jar. And there are dark spaces in their souls. Suddenly, and at times when one least expects it, some utterly primitive feeling will flash out, savage and incomprehensible. Sometimes the situation becomes such that it is better for a white man to exercise patience than to prove himself right.
But one can say unreservedly that they are easy to live with. It is a solace to be with people who are absolutely themselves, who make no effort to assert themselves, who make it their object in life not to elbow forward, but to get some brightness out of the days as they pass.
Transcribed by Travis Statham - from the physical book. Some passages/sentences are ommitted for sake of space and importance.