Imagens das páginas



landers: The animal which to us is an object of curiosity, is one of the most valuable gifts bestowed by nature on the natives of the northern regions, such as the Greenlanders, Kamtschadales, and Esquimaux. To them the seal is of the utmost utility, and supplies their chief wants. Its skin furnishes them with clothes, shoes, boots, stockings, and coverings for their tents and boats; its filesh serves them for food; its fat they burn in lamps to light their wretched huts, and at these, as they have no other fires, they likewise warm themselves and dress their victuals. The sinews they use for thread, and with the intestines they contrive to make windows, shirts, and curtains for their summer tents. The stomach answers the purpose of a pitcher or bottle, and, lastly, with the bones they make all sorts of utensils. Since the Europeans extended their commerce to those dreary regions, the inhabitants have bartered a great quantity of seals' skins and grease for cloth, iron implements, and other things necessary in the daily concerns of life.

From what I have just said you may infer, that & scarcity of seals is as great a calamity to the poor Greenlanders as a failure of our crops would be to us ; and that they are then reduced to as great distress as we should be in case of a sudden dearth of corn and other alimentary productions. Since, then, the seal is an object indispensably necessary for the existence of the Greenlanders, all their efforts must consequently tend towards procuring this primary article with facility, and in the greatest possible quantity. As with us youth early apply themselves to the sciences or arts belonging to the profession which they have adopted, so the young Greenlanders devote their whole attention to fishing and hunting; since these are the only pursuits that can furnish them with the means of securing themselves against hunger, cold, and the inclemencies of the weather. We cannot sufficiently admire the providence of nature, or rather of the God of nature, who has bestowed on these dreary regions, a creature capable of supplying the urgent necessities of their inhabitants. We must not, therefore, be astonished to find that the idea of seals mingles with all their thoughts, and prevails even in their religious notions. They conceive that the felicity of Paradise consists in the productive seal-fishery which they shall there meet with. It is therefore but natural that they should attach the utmost importance to the fishery, on which their existence, as it were, depends, and that they have invented such ingenious methods to render its success more certain.

All the preparations made by the Greenlander for this fishery prove that it required considerable reflection, time and experience, to discover the surest way of taking these animals. If you look at a Greenland fisherman you can not help admiring the ingenuity and singular contrivances, by which he arms himself beforehand against such dangers as he cannot entirely avoid. His very dress is precisely what it ought to be for this pursuit, and could not be better adapted to the purpose; it is made of seal-skins, and is fastened together with bone buttons. His canoe or boat is likewise suited to the nature of the spot to which he is confined. Rocks of ice being very frequent in the sea that washes those coasts, a large vessel would find it



very difficult to pass between them; for which reason the Greenlander makes use of a very narrow and extremely light boat, that he may be able to penetrate every where, and steer it as he pleases. The boat is composed of very thin, straight laths, joined together with whalebone, and covered on the outside with seal-skins : it will hold but one person. The Greenlanders never employ any other person; among them the women only go in larger ones, capable of holding several persons; but men think it a disgrace to sit down in one of these canoes. Theirs, which they call kayaks, are five or six yards long, and terminate at each end in a point; in the middle they are not at most a yard in width, and their depth does not exceed half a yard. The two points are protected with whalebone and strong knobs, to prevent their being broken against the ice or rocks. Having provided himself with an oar, a quantity of arrows, a harpoon fastened to a long cord, and a bladder filled with air, the fisherman carries his boat to the shore, gets into it, and sets out on his expedition. The boat, from its lightness, shoots swiftly over the turbulent waves, with which it rises and falls : sometimes a tremendous billow overwhelms it, but this accident excites no fear in the bosom of the navigator, who dexterously balances the boat by means of his oar, which he passes from one hand to the other; nay, even if he is upset by the force of the wave, he can right himself again with the aid of his oar.

As soon as he perceives a seal, he softly approaches, and suddenly throws his harpoon at the animal with one hand, while he holds a cord which is tied to it in the other.

[ocr errors]

The seal finding itself wounded, instantly dives; the cord follows, and the bladder of air floating on the surface, marks the place to which the animal retires. It is soon obliged to rise again to the surface for breath, when the fisherman dispatches it with his spear, tipped with very sharp and hooked points. When the seal is dead, the Greenlander tows his prey to the shore, turns the boat upside down on the beach, drags the seal after him and returns home. His wife cuts it up; they eat part of the flesh, and bury the rest in the earth for winter

In a climate so inclement as that of Greenland, the sea, which is at all times dangerous, presents numberless obstacles to the fisherman, how intrepid soever he may be. We are almost frightened to think, that a single individual ventures to penetrate into places rendered almost inaccessible by tremendous tempests and prodigious barriers of ice, where he cannot expect any assistance, where dreary solitude prevails, and where he has to contend alone against the elements, which seem to conspire his destruction. This situation, which to us appears so terrific, has no other effect on the Greenlander than to render him more capable of contending with success against the obstacles which nature throws in his way. He knows that it is of importance to him to keep his body supple, and to exercise all his limbs, that he may be able to extricate himself from the perilous situations in which he is liable to be involved. To this end, the Greenlanders have invented various kinds of exercises, intended to give their youth agility and address. They frequently exercise themselves in preserving, by the motions of the body, the equilibrium of a boat,


« AnteriorContinuar »