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Eskimo Folk-Tales   By:

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First Page:

Eskimo Folk Tales

Collected by

Knud Rasmussen

Edited and rendered into English by

W. Worster

With illustrations by native Eskimo artists

Gyldendal 11 Burleigh St., Covent Garden, London, W.C. 2 Copenhagen Christiania 1921


These stories were collected in various parts of Greenland, taken down from the lips of the Eskimo story tellers themselves, by Knud Rasmussen, the Danish explorer.

No man is better qualified to tell the story of Greenland, or the stories of its people. Knud Rasmussen is himself partly of Eskimo origin; his childhood was spent in Greenland, and to Greenland he returned again and again, studying, exploring, crossing the desert of the inland ice, making unique collections of material, tangible and otherwise, from all parts of that vast and little known land, and his achievements on these various expeditions have gained for him much honour and the appreciation of many learned societies.

But it is as an interpreter of native life, of the ways and customs of the Eskimos, that he has done his greatest work. "Kun├║nguaq" that is his native name is known throughout the country and possesses the confidence of the natives to a superlative degree, forming himself, as it were, a link between them and the rest of the world. Such work, as regards its hither side, must naturally consist to a great extent of scientific treatises, collections of facts and specimens, all requiring previous knowledge of the subject for their proper comprehension. These have their great value as additions to the sum of human knowledge, but they remain unknown to the majority of men. The present volume is designed to be essentially a popular, as distinct from a scientific work.

The original collection of stories and legends made by Knud Rasmussen under the auspices of the Carlsberg Foundation has never yet been published. In making the present selection, I have endeavoured to choose those which are most characteristic and best calculated to give an idea of the life and thought of the people. The clearest variants have been chosen, and vague or doubtful passages omitted, so as to render the narratives easily understandable for the ordinary reader. In many cases also, the extreme outspokenness of the primitive people concerned has necessitated further editing, in respect of which, I can confidently refer any inclined to protest, to the unabridged English version, lodged with the Trustees of the Carlsberg Foundation in Copenhagen, for my defence. For the rest, I have endeavoured to keep as closely as possible to the spirit and tone of the originals, working from the Eskimo text and Knud Rasmussen's Danish version side by side.

The illustrations are by native Eskimo artists. They are not drawn to illustrate the particular stories, but represent typical scenes and incidents such as are there described. In the selection of these, preference has been given to those of unusual character, as for instance those dealing with the "tupilak" theme, and matters of wizardry or superstition generally, which the reader would find more difficult to visualize for himself than ordinary scenes of daily life.

As regards their contents, the stories bring before us, more clearly, perhaps, than any objective study, the daily life of the Eskimos, their habit of thought, their conception of the universe, and the curious "spirit world" which forms their primitive religion or mythology.

In point of form they are unique. The aim of the Eskimo story teller is to pass the time during the long hours of darkness; if he can send his hearers to sleep, he achieves a triumph. Not infrequently a story teller will introduce his chef d'oeuvre with the proud declaration that "no one has ever heard this story to the end... Continue reading book >>

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