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In latitude 64° 14' stands Gothaab, a settlement, where there is a church, founded in 1721 by the famous missionary Egede. Some thousands of the natives formerly dwelt in this vicinity ; but in 1733 the ravages of the smallpox thinned their numbers, and their population has been on the decline ever since. Passing the colonies of Sukkertoppen and Holsteinburg, we come to Disko Island. From the great distance at which it first becomes visible above the horizon, this island must be more than a mile in perpendicular height. Disko Bay is 120 leagues in circuit, and has the most productive fishery of any in Greenland. There are several settlements on and about the island. Lively is the principal, and has an excellent harbor for small vessels.
The climate of Greenland is intensely cold ; and in winter, while the northeast wind blows, the thermometer is often at 48° below zero. Before the ice begins to be formed the sea
smokes, and produces a fog called frost smoke, which has the singular effect of blistering the skin. The aurora borealis sometimes appears here in great splendor. Mock suns are very frequent. From the peculiar state of the atmosphere in clear weather, the islands of the continent seem to the spectator to approach nearer to him, and to increase in size ; sometimes they assume the form of groups different from the real shape, and appear suspended in air. Lightning is sometimes observed, but thunder is rare.
The rains are generally of short duration, the air is pure, and in some places the heat in summer exceeds 80°.
It may well be supposed, that the vegetable productions of such a soil and climate are not very numerous or luxuriant. The valleys are clothed with mosses and a miserable species of
grass. A few herbs, bilberry bushes, and other shrubs vegetate on the desert isles, and on cliffs which have just soil enough for them to take root. The most common of these is the scurvy grass, of which a soup is prepared, that in many diseases is an excellent medicine. There are other plants of a dwarfish character, and trees which never rise above 18 feet. Some attempts have been made to cultivate oats and barley, but they never came to perfection.
The trade to Greenland has always been a monopoly, and it is now carried on by the Danish government. Each settlement is managed by a trader and his assistant, in their employment. The exports are feathers and eiderdown, horns of the sea-unicorn, skins of seals, foxes, bears, hares, and reindeers, whalebone, and oil of all kinds. Five or 6 vessels go out from Copenhagen to Greenland every year, about the beginning of May. Their cargoes are made up of guns and ammunition, all sorts of ironmongery, various cloths, looking-glasses, snuff-boxes, &c. The whale fisheries, are chiefly carried on by the settlers, and for the Danish government. The British whale-fishers visit Disko yearly about the end of April and leave it in June. In 1902, including the Moravian settlements and the natives, the total population of the west coast of Greenland was supposed to amount to 20,000 souls.
Greenland was first discovered to Europeans in the 8th century, by Erick Raude, an Icelander, who was driven by accident upon the coast. On his return he represented the country so favorably to his countrymen, that several families followed him thither, where they soon became a thriving colony, and bestowed upon their new habitation the name of Greenland, that is, “ green land,” on account of its verdant appearance. The Greenlanders became tributary to Denmark in A. D. 1023, which was soon after they embraced Christianity. A bishopric was erected there, and there is a long list of their bishops on record. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Martin Frobisher visited Greenland, and penetrated the strait known by his name.
Davis, Button, Hudson, Baffin, Parry, and Ross, in seeking for a northwest passage, have added much to the knowledge of arctic geography.
2. Islands. Greenland is surrounded by many thousands of islands, which are mostly barren rocks, interspersed with valleys covered with perpetual ice. They are visited by the Greenlanders, during spring, for the purpose of catching seals. In 61° 21', an uninhabited island of considerable magnitude, called from its terrific appearance, the Cape of Desolation, is always surrounded by masses of floating ice. Spitzbergen was long considered as forming a part of Old Greenland, but is now ascertained to be a cluster of islands, scattered between 769 and 80° north latitude, and 99 and 24° east longitude. The principal of these is 300 miles in length, and presents to the eye numberless peaks, precipices, and ridges, rising from 3,000 to 4,500 feet above the sea level. This country is claimed by the Russians, who maintain a colony from Archangel. West of Greenland are the North Georgian Islands, and Melville Island, where the English discovery ships wintered.
3. Inhabitants. Early in the 10th century an Icelandic colony was planted in Greenland, of which the records show a flourishing state down to the year 1408. At that time the small trade between Norway and Greenland was for a long period discontinued, and the colony has not since then been discovered, if, it can be supposed to exist. The colony had many stations and churches. The Skrællings, or dwarfs, as the Norwegians called the Greenland race of Esquimaux, made their first appearance in the colony about the year 1350, and are the present inhabitants of Greenland. The colonists are supposed to have been destroyed by them, to have perished by famine, or the pestilence called the black death, that raged in Europe in the middle of the 14th century. There are, however, some traces of the present existence of a race of people in the north, in manner of life different from that of the southern natives. In 1822 Captain Scoresby found a dead body recently enclosed in a coffin, and it is related, that in 1530 an Icelandic Bishop who was driven near the coast, saw upon the shores people with herds of cattle. The accumulation of ice has been a barrier to modern discoveries.
The inhabitants of Greenland are of the same stock with the race of Esquimaux, that extend over the whole northern coast of America ; and who resemble more the natives of the North of Europe than the tribes of American Indians. Between the Greenlanders and Esquimaux there is a similarity of figure, dress, houses, boats, weapons, manners, and languages. The
children are little more dark than a brunette. In height the Greenlanders seldom exceed 5 feet; they have flat faces with high cheek bones, and very full cheeks. From their manner of life, they are much inclined to fat. Their eyes are small and black, but with little lustre ; and their hair is long and black. They have little beard, which they carefully eradicate. A life of alternate plenty and want in a severe climate is so little favorable to longevity, that few males live to above 50 years of age; females, who endure less hardship, sometimes attain to
4. Dress. In a climate like that of Greenland, the main end of dress is defence from the cold, and when this is attained, it is not usual here to be solicitous for neatness or display. Perhaps the reverse of neatness is never carried so far as in a Greenlander's person and dress, as the skins in which he is clothed literally drip with fat. Hans Egede says of them, that “delicate noses do not find their account among them ; ” and he further affirms, that “the olfactory sensation strikes one not accustomed to it, to the very heart.” It is not here, that one would feel the wish of Catullus, to be all nose.
The materials for dress are generally skins, though a few natives wear some articles of European woolen. The outward garment is a loose frock, with a hood like the cowl of a monk ; this and the breeches are of seal or reindeer skins. The shirt is sometimes made of the skins of fowls with the feathers inward. Some people, however, wear coarse European linen. The dress of females is little different from that of the males ; though mothers have a frock so capacious, that they can carry a child at the back stowed between the body and the coat.
5. Dwellings. The houses are not, as has been sometimes stated, subterranean, but they are always placed on a little eminence, that the water may be conducted away. They are near to the sea, the element to which the Greenlander looks for all his resources. They are so low that the inhabitants can barely stand in them upright. They are generally built by the women, of large blocks of stone, in which the interstices are filled with mud and turf. They are formed in a line like barracks, and one of them contains from 2 to 10 families, of whom, however, each has a separate apartment, opening from a common entry, that runs in front of all the
There are no chimneys, as the only fire used is that of lamps, and this is so considerable that the apartments are warm. The entrance is under an arched or covered way of 20 feet, so low that, to enter it, it is necessary almost to creep. In summer these huts are deserted for tents made of seal-skins stretched upon a post of whalebone or wood, and made fast to the ground by large stones.
6. Food. Fish, which form the wealth of all the northern shores, are in great abundance about Greenland. The ordinary food of the inhabitants is the Greenland salmon, a small and delicate fish, seldom more than a foot in length, but so abundant that in the bays it darkens the waters. The flesh of the seal is more esteemed but less used, for all do not excel in sealcatching, and the flesh of the reindeer is still more rare. Though these supplies may be considered abundant, yet there are circumstances that sometimes interrupt them; and at these times, many of the inhabitants die by famine. Even when some have abundance, others are suffering from want, for few savages provide for the sick and aged.
The flesh is sometimes eaten raw, but the fish is always cooked in a large stone vessel, suspended over the lamp. The lamps, which are open, are devised for this purpose, and have sometimes a wick running round the whole circumference. They are fed from a piece of blubber suspended over it, from which there is a constant dripping. There are no set times for eating, but each one eats when he is hungry ; and this brings a more frequent recurrence of eating than is common in Europe. This abundance of oily animal food, gives the Greenlanders a great degree of obesity, and renders them so plethoric, that they often bleed at the nose. The children being unable to support as well as adults this manner of life, are not weaned till they are 3 or 4 years of age, though motherless infants are destroyed.
Unlike most savages, the Greenlanders are not fond of tobacco, which in its various forms is so much used in Iceland. Having no production from which they can make an intoxicating liquor, they have escaped one great scourge of an uncultivated people. In other climates, few nations are so rude as to have no knowledge of producing the means of intoxication, but in Greenland, the earth that denies food, denies also the materials for distillation. The inhabitants formerly would not taste ardent spirits ; but of late, those in the vicinity of factories have contracted a taste for what they used well to call the “ waters of madness.”
7. Manners, Customs, &c. In the manners of savage life, there is little to interest us; a description of them is generally but a picture of violence, ignorance, superstition, and cruelty.
In uicivilized countries, there are few artificial distinctions, but man is there honored only in proportion to his usefulness to the community. In Greenland, therefore, to be expert in killing the seal, walrus, and whale, is to have the best title to respect; and to be inexpert in these pursuits, is to be despised. The pursuit of sea animals is in Greenland a service of toil and danger. The hunter in his frail bark must fear no tempest. His light and frail boat passes over the wave or underneath it. If he is overturned, so that his head is downwards and his boat above him, a stroke of his paddle recovers his place, and he is again seen like a bird skimming the waters. If he break or lose his paddle, there is no hope for him. A crowd of idlers may see his peril from the shore, may have their boats at hand, ready to follow the slightest trace of a whale, yet, unless there were some relationship, or other circumstance stronger than general humanity, not one of them would move to rescue a drowning man.
The Greenlanders indemnify themselves for their toils at sea, by taking their ease on shore ; where all the labors, and even those of bringing the huge stones for their dwellings, are performed by females. The lot of the females is hard ; degraded to the rank of slaves, they are not permitted even to eat in the company of men. In such a state of society, marriage is hardly ever a contract made by the consent of both parties. The marriages are made with little ceremony, and the courtships are very summary. The lover, after an understanding with the parents, sends or goes for his bride, and resistance on her part is of little avail ; indeed, a certain degree of it has grown into a custom, for it is thought discreditable in a woman to be lightly or willingly won. Before marriage, the females are said to conduct themselves in a more moral way than after, and there is little evil that can be justly said of them while they are single. There are few divorces where there are children ; though this depends upon the will of the husband, whose authority is unlimited. He may beat his wife without reproach, but would subject himself to much aniinadversion were he to strike a female domestic ; for the wife to strike one, is unpardonable.
Bad as is the state of wives, it is yet enviable compared with the condition of widows. A widow has no friend; every door is closed upon her, and her relations that come to condole with her rob her of all she has. If she has the greater misfortune to be deemed a witch, she holds her life and her property by a tenure equally frail. Any one who fancies that he is injured by her in health or property, may unite the powers of judge and executioner, and take the life of the reputed witch. Yet the Angekuts or conjurors are held in veneration.
At funerals, it is common to throw out the goods of the deceased, and for the women to be dishevelled and clothed in their poorest attire. The men sometimes gash themselves, to express or represent grief. The women lament and howl over the dead body, which, after these observances, is taken from the tent or hut by a private outlet, and buried under a heap of stones. The spear, boat, &c., of the deceased are placed near the grave. The rites of sepulture are,
. however, seldom paid to one who had no friends. There are no people so poor and miserable, that they have not a national pride, and it is common with many tribes of savages to designate themselves by a word signifying men, intending thereby their superiority over the other races of mankind. It even seems, that a man is the more closely bound to his own country, the less it is a subject
That the sentiment of patriotism is the strongest in countries the least delightful, may appear from the few Greenlanders who have been forcibly removed from their home. Two of them in Denmark, who had been there some time, recovered their own boats, that could contain but one person, and put to sea to return to their country ; a storm drove them back after they had gone many leagues. They made afterwards a similar effort, and were pursued ; one was retaken, the other perished. Another Greenlander jumped from the ship that was carrying him away, in the vain attempt to reach Greenland by swimming. Of the first mentioned, one would shed tears when he beheld a child at the breast. It is probable, that it reminded him of the situation of his own family. The Greenlanders are a peaceful race, though they are revengeful, and carry for a long time the remembrance of a wilful injury. They
They are to a considerable degree social and hospitable, and so little addicted to railing or calumny, that there is hardly a term of reproach in the language.
8. Religion. The Greenlanders have some obscure conceptions of a future state, and believe in the supernatural powers of their Angekuts or jugglers. They wear amulets to defend them from disease and misfortune. There is in Greenland a mission or two, one of which is a Moravian; but the success has not been general or very encouraging. It is said, however, to be very difficult to make the natives conceive of invisible things, or to elevate their minds above the objects of the senses.
9. Amusements. The Greenlanders have two games of ball, - one resembling our football, and the other is a struggle between two parties for the possession of the ball. They have also some feats of strength, particularly of grappling, or hooking the fingers together, and pulling in that way. They also strike each other with the hand alternately on the back, and this is continued with much severity, till one party yields to the other. The women sometimes dance in a circle to the sound of a drum, and to singing. The dances of the men are rather matches for grinning and grimaces, in which the one tries to outdo the other in making hideous faces and assuming grotesque attitudes. The great season for rejoicing is on the return of the sun, and the sun feasts are held by all; at these the viands of the country are furnished in great profusion.
An amusement of a more pastoral kind is a singing match, to which one Greenlander invites or challenges another. The friends on both sides assemble and the challenger endeavors to render his adversary ridiculous ; he retorts, and the friends on each side applaud their favorite. This struggle is continued till one party is exhausted, and the victory is supposed to long to him who has the last word. They are familiar with the use of irony, which they are obliged to use from the poverty of the language in reproachful words. These singing matches are said to be managed with much ability and to abound in satire.
10. Government. There are no laws, no magistracy, no civil polity. Everything is governed by custom, and no man has authority over another except in his own family, and there the children are never chastised. Yet there is no disorder or turbulence, and in the main, the peace of society is as well preserved in Greenland, without any rule of political conduct but custom, as in many countries highly civilized and with a numerous police.
CHAPTER LII. ICELAND.
1. Situation and Extent. Iceland is situated on the verge of the polar circle, between 630
Hecla is in the southern part, a few miles distant,
ing an immensely rugged and vitrified wall around its Hecla, a volcanic mountain in Iceland.
base. The most dreadful volcanic eruption known in
Iceland was from Skaptar Yokul, an ice mountain, near the sources of several rivers, and composed of about 20 red, conical hills. It took place in 1783, and caused great devastations. Oræfa Yokul, the highest mountain in Iceland, is supposed to be an elevation of 6,240 feet. The Sulphur Mountain has been described as a “ natural cauldron of black, boiling mud;" the sulphur exhales from it in great profusion.
3. Climate. The cold is not more intense in Iceland than in the most favored parts of Denmark, and the thermometer seldom or never sinks to zero. What affects the temperature most is the arrival of floating ice from Greenland. This comes in immense masses, often so large as to run aground in 80 fathoms. When it remains for a long time on the coast, the winter snows are longer in melting, the frost remains in the ground, vegetation is checked, and the summer is very short.
4. Geology, &c. Iceland is a chain of immense rocks, in the structure of which trap and basalt predominate. Their summits are crowned with snow, though everlasting fires burn in