Category Archives: Arctic Cultures


#17 The Old Woman and the Cliff
     (Fridtjof Nansen, 1893)

The conceptions of good and evil in this world are exceedingly divergent. As an example, let me cite the case of the Eskimo girl who, when Niels Egede spoke to her of love of God and her neighbor, said to him: “I have given proof of love for my neighbor. Once an old woman who was ill, but could not die, offered to pay me if I would lead her to the top of the steep cliff from which our people have always thrown themselves when they are tired of living; but I, having ever loved my neighbors, led her thither without payment, and cast her over the cliff.” Egede told her that this was ill done, and that she had killed a fellow-creature. “She said no; but that she was filled with pity for her, and cried after she had fallen over.”Are we to call this a good or an evil deed?

[#17] Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life, tr. William Archer (London: Longmans, Green, 1893): 170.

Additional Sources

Fridtjof Nansen, In Northern Mists. 2 v. New York: Frederick A. Stokes. 1911; Tryggvy J. Oleson, Early Voyages and Northern Approaches, 1000-1632. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1963; Edward F. Foulks, The Arctic Hysterias of the North Alaskan Eskimo, Anthropological Studies No. 10, Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1972; Wendell H. Oswalt, Eskimos and Explorers, Novato, California: Chandler & Sharp, 1979.

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#16 Respect for the Aged
     (Ernest W. Hawkes, 1914)

The aged are treated with great respect, and the word of the old men and women is final. The Eskimo say that they have lived a long time and understand things in general better. They also feel that in the aged is embodied the wisdom of their ancestors. This does not prevent them, however, from putting the old folks out of the way, when life has become a burden to them, but the act is usually done in accordance with the wishes of the persons concerned and is thought to be a proof of devotion…

[#16] E. W. Hawkes, The Labrador Eskimo (Canada Department of Mines, Geological Survey, Memoir 91, Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1916): 117-18, 136-37.

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#15 Tribal Life
     (Julian Bilby, 1923)

 …now the time has come to get ready for a very big annual enterprise indeed—the great deer hunt, upon which the fortunes of the tribe will turn for months. If the Eskimo lay up little store of food, they accumulate all the hides they can for winter clothing. For several weeks before the start is made, stores of meat are prepared, slices of seal cut and spread on the rocks, or hung on lines in the sun to dry. Plies of moss and cotton plant are collected and dried for the winter’s supply of lamp wick. Sealskins are cleaned and stretched and dried for clothing, boot soles, boat coverings, and water buckets; intestines are inflated and dried for sail cloth and material for making windows. The dogs are outfitted with sealskin panniers for transport purposes. The trek ahead of the tribe is a long and laborious one. They will journey for days by water up the rivers, and climb long ranges of hills and cross many valleys, before they reach the interior and the pastures of the deer. Each man, woman and child must shoulder his own pack, for none can carry a double load. And so, it often chances, comes the tragedy of old and enfeebled age.

Seorapik was an octogenarian. Her hair was grey and her back was bent. She had managed, somehow, the previous year to carry her belongings on the long, long trail, and stumble along after the tribe. But at last the bitter fact forced itself upon her that she could follow the hunters no more. She must stay behind—alone. She could no longer carry her load nor keep pace with the folk on the way, and none might carry her. She had alternative but to remain in the deserted village and await the tribe’s return.

Now Seorapik, like every other Eskimo, was an intensely sociable being. She loved nothing so much as to hear laughter and jokes about her, and to be in the thick of all the village talk and doings. As she faced the prospect of the long lonely weeks ahead, in the lifeless silence of the empty camp, with the days growing ever shorter and colder, without a soul—except perhaps a child—to bear her company, her heart quailed and grew very heavy. There was the danger, too, of attack by wolf or bear, and of sickness coming on—and death. Death, all alone! True, they would leave her a plentiful store of food—the good village folk—and lots of skins; but what comfort could these afford her in their absence?

But the law of the North is stern and immutable. They knew it—those sons and daughters of hers, and all their sons daughters. They grieved for Seorapik, and remember her many acts of kindness to each and every one of them, and her life of cheery toil spent wholly in their service. They had a custom to be sure—but it was hard to endure it when it came face to face. A familiar custom, designed to meet such as case as this; but a heartbreaking one, all the same. Seorapik remembered it, too, and was the first to summon the courage to announce it.

She proposed to bid the tribe goodbye rather than let it take leave of her. Her time to go on the long, lone journey from which none ever returned could not be far off in any case. She decided to anticipate it. She could not face seeing her folk load up the packs, start out on the trail, without her, and disappear over the hills. She could not contemplate the intense loneliness that it would all mean, and miss the laughter of the children, and even the rough and tumble among the dogs. So the dread subject was broached to her son.

He gave his assent. Itteapik announced the decision to the villagers, and they came to help with the preparations for Seorapik’s death.

A rough, round igloo was built, and the old woman withdrew into it, taking her few belongings, escorted by all her kindred and friends. They encouraged her to the last with every kindly and sympathetic thing they could think of to say. She braved it out, and, with her cheery but quavering goodbye still in their ears, her loved ones blocked up the entrance to the little death chamber in such a way that no dog or wolf might break in.

And there she sat down slowly and willingly to starve to death, quite happy so long as her children continued to come from time to time and call to her from outside, and tell her all that was going on, every single little thing that happened… She never asked for food or drink; they never gave it… She never wanted to come out; they never moved a stone… She simple had to go. Their part was to make her last days, her last hours, as happy as they could, simply by being there—quite close—outside.

Then the time came when the feeble voice just ceased to make one more response. She had gone on her own long journey first, to the land where parting would be no more, nor the fear and sadness of it. Her last hour had been happy ones, cheered by the sounds of the village life, the cries and gurgles of the babies, the shouts and cat-calls of the boys and girls, the murmur of men and women talking over their accustomed tasks. She had no loneliness to bear, after all, no desolation, no silence. The old Eskimo died with a smile of love and contentment on her face, with a long record behind her of woman’s good and motherly work, of a humble, “primitive” life indeed, but lived according to what light she had—and so into the better life beyond.

There was Nandla (the spear), too, the blind hunter, who also went to death under the lash of arctic circumstance. The incident took place nearDavis’ Strait, and was related to the writer by one who had witnessed it. Again, the inexorable law of the wild left one handicapped as Nandla was no choice. The man was comparatively young, but by reason of his blindness useless to himself and a burden upon others. In a hungry land, where every extra mouth to be filled represents a problem, there is no room for one who cannot provide for himself. The severity of the code of the North is very great. It cannot be judged by the ordinary standards of humanity.

Spring was at hand—the joyous spring of the arctics. The days were lengthening and the seals increasing in numbers. They were coming up from the south for the breeding season. In the village all was life and bustle. The hunters were full of preparations, and the dogs scarcely less so. The boys were loading the sleds and harnessing the teams. One by one, each hunting outfit glided off over the frozen ground, out towards the bay.

Outside his snow house sat Nandla, the blind hunter, listening to every sound and seeing every detail in his mind’s eye. His heart was heavy as lead. In his younger days he, too, had gone forth just like these others, to spear the season’s catch, and come home rejoicing with a heavy sled. But repeated attacks of snow blindness (despite his wooden snow goggles) had destroyed his sight; and here he was, in early middle age, a useless hopeless, helpless man, tied to the house, dependent upon his folk for food and clothing, and a drag upon them all.

Each night, as the hunters came home, the whole tribe gathered as usual round the cooking pots, when the excitements and doing of the day would be discussed with no less gusto than the food. Nandla always had his place in the family circle, and eagerly drank in every word the hunter had to say. He longed to hunt again, himself; to bring back the kill, to see the children come pushing into his house for their share, and to bid his wife give generously to the aged and the destitute! In his mind he pictured it all: the village nestling in the bay, huge, snow-clad cliffs rearing up at the back of it, and overhead the pure blue of the bright sky, where the glaucus gulls wheeled and cried. He pictured the scavenger ravens perched about everywhere, on the look-out for bits; the vast expanse of the frozen bay, glaring white in the cold sunlight; and beyond, a heavy black mist smoking up in the wind, marking the water line. Out there were the hunters—mere dots—moving about in the still immensity.

And here was he—Nandla—idle and useless, unable to occupy himself even with such tasks as fell to the ancients of the tribe—the repairing of lines, harness, and weapons. He could not patch up a snow house any more, or trim a lamp! Often, during the months of severe weather and of scarcity his relations had been hard pushed to find the wherewithal to feed him or clothe him. Nandla was very wretched.

At length, one evening, after just such a bad spell of weather and of luck, Nandla begged to be taken out on to the hunting grounds. Now, his relatives had been thinking things over rather grimly, and had seen nothing ahead for him but long years of misery and possibly of want. The problem suggested but one solution. It was simple enough. This request of the blind man’s to be equipped once more for the hunt and taken along with the rest, gave them their opportunity. They fell in with his desire and made their plan. They knew of a certain rout where danger lay. Nandla should be taken that way.

It was neither treachery nor murder they planned, but an end for the afflicted man of his anxieties and griefs. Nandla set out that morning full of delight. His heart was full of unwonted excitement. He yelled to the dogs and bumped and glided over the ice on the sled with a long missed sense of exhilaration.

They soon reached the grounds. Nandla’s guide seized his hand and led him towards a gaping seal hole.

“Follow me!” he said, dropping the other’s hand and lightly stepping to one side.

“I follow!” replied the sightless man, and straightway fell into a hole.

He went right under, then and there—under the ice—and was immediately drowned and frozen. A handy piece of ice served to seal the death trap, and all was over. Nandla had died on the hunt, and had entered the Eskimo heaven like the other valiant men of his tribe, and taken his place with the doughtiest of them, where there would be joy and plenty for evermore.

[#15] Julian W. Bilby, Among Unknown Eskimo (London: Seeley Service & Co., Ltd., 1923, pp. 147-53);

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#14 Theological Questions
     (Charles Francis Hall, 1860-62)

…The Innuits believe in a heaven and a hell, though their notions as to what is to constitute their happiness or misery hereafter are varied as on meets with different communities. Tookoolito says:

“My people think this way: Kood-le-par-mi-ung (heaven) is upward. Every body happy there. All the time light; no snow, no ice, no storms; always pleasant; no trouble; never tried; sing and play all the time—all this continue with out end.

Ad-le-par-me-un (hell) is downward. Always dark there. No sun; trouble there continually; snow flying all the time; terrible storms; cold, very cold; and a great deal of ice there. All who go there must always remain.

“All Innuits who have been good go to Koodleparmiung; that is, who have been kind to the poor and hungry—all who have been happy while living on this earth. Any one who has been killed by accident, or who has committed suicide, certainly goes to the happy place.

“All Innuits who have been bad—that is, unkind one to another—all who have been unhappy while on this earth, will go to Adleparmeun. If an Innuit kill another because he is mad at him, he certainly will go to Adleparmeun.”

[#14] Captain Charles Francis Hall, Life with the Eskimaux(Expedition 1860-1862) (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1865).



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#13 The Desertion of Old Women
     (Lucian M. Turner, 1882-84)

…The dress of the Tahagmyut [Hudson Bay Inuit] differs somewhat from that of their neighbors on either side of them…

…The character of their dwellings is the same as that of the other Innuit. Their manner of living and their social customs differ, inasmuch as the Tahagmyut have had less to do with the white traders than their neighbors. They retain many of their ancient customs, long since discarded and forgotten by their eastern relatives.

They have no chiefs; the decisions and desires of the elders and wealthier men are carried out by the remainder of the people. The sentiment of the community is often disregarded, and transgressions of their unwritten law occur; but when the offender becomes notorious, there is usually some means found to stop further evil. The men are excessively jealous and passionate, though slow to avenge and insult. They will wait along time for their revenge, which is certain to result in the death of the offender; for, with these people the system of vendetta is faithfully carried out by the next of kin, who may or may not be a connection by blood of the murdered party. The females are exempt from participation, although they may be the inciting cause of revenge, and prompt the occasion of its commission. Theft, quarrelsome nature, peevishness, and fault-finding, are punished by banishment until the wanderer is expelled from tent to tent, and becomes a miserable outcast, who succumbs to starvation, and becomes food for the beasts, or else is driven to insanity, and when violent, is quietly strangled. Old persons—especially friendless old women, who have been a thankless burden upon the community—are frequently left behind, the people being suddenly impelled to remove their camp and thus desert them. If such a woman succeeds in overtaking the party, a second attempt is stopped by some of the men returning and binding her, as though ready for the grave, and then deserting her, when starvation and death shortly ensue.

…Their dead are treated with no ceremony. They simply lash the limbs of the deceased to the body and expose the corpse to the elements, removing it, however, from immediate sight of the camp. Old and infirm people are treated with severity, and when dependent upon others for their food they are summarily disposed of by strangulation or left to perish when the camp is moved.

…Aged people who have no relatives or whom they may depend for subsistence are often quietly put to death. When an old woman, for instance, becomes a burden to the community it is usual for her to be neglected until so weak from want of food that she will be unable to keep up with the people, who suddenly are seized with a desire to remove to a distant locality. If she regains the camp, well for her; otherwise, she struggles along until exhausted and soon perishes. Sometime three or four of the male retrace their steps to recover a lost whip or a forgotten ammunition bag. They rarely go farther then where they find the helpless person, and if their track be followed it will be found that the corpse has stones piled around it and is bound with thongs.

An old woman at Fort Chimo had but one eye, and this was continually sore and very annoying to the people with whom she lived. They proposed to strangle her to relieve her from her misery. The next morning the eye was much better and the proposed cure was postponed.

Cases of suicide are not rare, considering the few people of that locality. Pitching themselves off a cliff of producing strangulation are the usual methods. Sometimes a gun is used. Remorse and disappointed love are the only cause of suicide.

[#13] Lucien M. Turner, “The Indians and Eskimos of the Ungava District, Labrador,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada for the Year 1887 (Montreal: Dawson Brothers, Publishers, 1888, p. 102); also see Lucien M. Turner, “Ethnology of the Ungava District, Hudson Bay Territory,” Bureau of American Ethnology, 11th annual report, 1889-90, 1894, pp. 178, 186;

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#12 Those Who Were Left Behind
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-1924)

The communism which necessarily prevails in Eskimo society in order that all can manage to exist renders it a duty for the family to care for all helpless persons; among such are reckoned fatherless children, widows or old men and women who on account of age are no longer able to keep up with the rest on the constant hunting expeditions. In the absence of immediate relatives, the village as a whole is charged with the care of those who are unable to provide for themselves. But although such might often be inconceivably modest in their demands, they might sometimes be left to their fate. This applies more especially to old women, who could no longer render any useful service. Often pure heartlessness was the cause, but it might just as often be the severity of the struggle to make ends meet, which forced the head of a household to restrict the number of mouths to be fed, in times of scarcity, when despite all efforts he could not even procure food enough for those nearest of kin. Orphan children were blocked up in snow huts and left there, buried alive. They were called “mato˙ruƒ˙ät”: “those who have been covered up.” Old and worn out folk would be left behind on the road when unable to keep up with the rest on a journey: one day the old creature would lag behind, and be left, in the track of the sledges, no one troubling to fetch the laggard in to camp when the snow huts were built. These were called “qimatät”: “those who were left behind.” Sometimes also, the party would simply neglect to take them along when first setting out from the old site, and they might then freeze or stave to death—often a lingering death, unless they chose to hang themselves rather then suffer so long. But though the severe conditions of life were responsible for these cruel customs, it was nevertheless always reckoned a shameful thing to be guilty of such heartlessness. And the stories, which have always a moral touch, and point very clearly the difference between right and wrong, generally provide some miraculous form of rescue for such unfortunates, with a cruel and ignominious death for those who abandoned them…

[#12] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 159-60.

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#11 Death, and Life in the Land of the Dead
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-24)

…No Eskimo fears death in itself, for all are convinced that it is merely the transition to a new and better form of life. But as mentioned elsewhere, there is also this mystery connected with the soul, that as soon as death has deprived it of the body, it can turn upon the living as an evil and ruthless spirit. The soul of a good and peaceable man may suddenly turn into an evil spirit. There is therefore much intricate taboo associated with death…

…After death, there are two different places to which one may pass either up into heaven to the Udlormiut, or People of Day: their land lies in the direction of dawn, and is the same as the Land of the Moon Spirit. The other place to which the dead may come lies down under the sea. It is a narrow strip of land, with sea on either side: and the inhabitants are therefore called Qimiujârmiut: “the dwellers in the narrow land.” The immigrant Netsilingmiut call them Atlêt: “those lowest down,” for they live in a world below the world in which we live.

Here also dwells the great Sea Spirit Takánakapsâluk.

As already mentioned, persons dying by violence, whether through no fault of their own or by their own hand, pass Udlormiut: those dying a natural death, by disease. go to Qimiujârmiut. Life in the Land of the Dead is described later under Shamans. It is pleasant both in the Land of Day and in the Narrow Land. ..

Some hold that all dead persons, whatever the manner of their death, go first to Takánakapsâluk, who then alone determiners where they are to dwell; those who have lived a good life without breach of taboo are sent on at once to the Land of Day, whereas those who have failed to observe the ancient rules of life are detained in her house to expiate their misdeeds, before being allowed to proceed to the Narrow Land. The dead suffer no hardship, wherever they may go, but most prefer to nevertheless to dwell in the Land of the Day, where the pleasures appear to be without limit. ..

Anyone having relatives among the Udlormiut and wishing to join them after death, can avoid being sent to the Qimiujármiut: the survivors must then lay the body out on the ice instead of burying it on land. Blocks of snow are then set out round the body, not stones, as on land. Often indeed, a small snow hut is built up over the body as it lies. But it is not everyone who can reckon on their surviving relatives’ or neighbours’ taking all this trouble, and in order to make sure of coming to the Udlormiut, the best way is to arrange one’s death oneself. This was done not long since by an old woman named Inuguk, of Iglulik. Her son had perished while out in his kayak, and as she did not live in the same village herself, the news did not reach her until the winter was well advanced. She was old and without other relatives, and could not be certain that others would comply with her wishes when once she was dead; she therefore cut a hole for herself in the ice of a big lake and drowned herself there in order to join her son.

Another example is likewise recorded from Iglulik: an old woman was frozen to death during a severe winter with scarcity of food. When her son learned the news, he went out one cold winter’s night and lay down naked in the snow and was frozen to death himself. This he did because he was very fond of his mother, and wished to live with her in the Land of the Dead.

These suicides, however, had some special reason for taking their own lives. The Eskimos’ fearlessness of death is more powerfully illustrated in the case of the many old men and women who ended their lives by hanging themselves. This is done probably not only because the Moon Spirit says that the whole thing is but a moment’s dizziness, but possibly also because of an ancient belief that death by violence has a purifying effect.”. . .

[#11] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 92-97.

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#10 The Moon Spirit
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-24)

The Moon Spirit, Aningâp or Tarqip inua, lives with his sister Seqineq in a double house (a house with two apartments but one common entrance) up in the land of the dead in the sky, the same which is called Udlormiut or the Land of Day. Human beings who perish by drowning in the sea or in a lake, go to dwell with the moon; so also those who are killed by their fellows openly or unawares, those who take their own lives out of weariness or because they are old, and finally, all women dying in childbirth. Human beings going up into the sky enter at once into the eternal hunting grounds, and do not have to purify their minds by a year of penance, as with those who go down to the Sea Spirit. All are loth to go down to her for fear of the ill treatment meted out to them by her father Isarrataitsoq. A few of the greater shamans can also procure special admission to the Moon Spirit for the dead; this can be done in various ways, e.g. by means of amulets. It is said that the molars of a bear, consecrated by the prayers of a great shaman, are particularly effective in this direction.

The Moon Spirit is one of the great regulating powers of the universe which is not feared. Knowing the view of the East Greenlanders, who regard the Moon Spirit as the most terrible of the punitive deities watching over the deeds of men, I enquired particularly about this point, but was everywhere informed that no one feared the Moon Spirit, only the Sea Spirit was to be feared, and especially her father. The Moon Spirit, on the other hand, is the only good and well-intentioned spirit known, and when he does intervene, it is often more for guidance than for punishment.

People in danger can often hear him calling out:
“Come, come to me! It is not painful to die. It is only a brief moment of dizziness. It does not hurt to kill yourself.”

Thus the moon sometimes calls, and it is thus also regarded more particularly as the protector of those perishing by accident or suicide…

[#10] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 73-74.

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#9 Famine; On the Treatment of the Aged
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-1924)

…In seasons when hunting is bad they have to move incessantly from place to place, and the winter becomes a hard one, not only for the hunters themselves but especially for all the old people. The treatment of the aged, of course, varies with the individual. Here, as everywhere, there are helpful and sympathetic, or hardhearted sons and sons-in-law, and fate of the old people lies in their hands. A removal from one hunting place to the other is like a whole migration, on which men and woman have to carry along everything they possess. True, this is not much, but when clothing, sleeping skins and household utensils are piled up on the small, often miserable sledges, there is at any rate no room for people to sit. Then in a long procession the sledges move off over the ice to find a good camp with deep drifts for building snow huts. Men and women have to help the dogs to draw the loads, and then when they arrive at a place where good hunting may be expected, they stop and pitch camp. These removals are slow processes. Children who can walk must be able to keep up with the sledges. The only ones who sometimes have difficulty are the old. Worn-out men or women; bent with rheumatism they come plodding behind, and no matter how slowly the main body moves, they are usually unable to keep up but only arrive at the camp when the snow houses are finished.

I made exhaustive enquiries as to the treatment of the aged, and the only case of heartlessness that I came across was that of an old woman by name Kigtaq. She was the mother of a woman named Terigssaq who was married to Arfeq. When they moved from camp to camp she was often left out on the ice in midwinter, clad only in a thin inner jacket and no thick, warm outer coat. Even in bad weather she often had to sleep out on the ice as she had not caught up with the others: but, as they said to me, “she was not dead yet and life was still sweet to her”. When I passed Matty Island she was on the long journey to Lord Mayor Bay to spend the spring and summer in that region.

I took up this case of Kigtaq and asked whether it was not thought wicked that more care was not taken of an old woman. To this Samik answered: “No one here among us wishes harm to old people. We ourselves might be old some day. Perhaps there are those among us who think Arfeq might take more care of his mother-in-law, particularly by giving her better clothes. But others excuse Arfeq, in that he has been so unlucky in his hunting that he has barely been able to procure furs for his wife and his children, and people think he must first and foremost attend to them; for not only are they more closely related to him, but they have their lives before them and they may live long, whereas there is no future for an old worn-out woman. Then again there are others who think that Arfeq should allow his mother-in-law to ride on his sledge, or at any rate go back for her when he has built his snow hut, while others say that he only has two dogs and with his wife has to help to drag his sledge from place to place. And if he has to be at the breathing holes next morning at the proper time to secure food he can not travel backwards and forwards between the old and the new camp to salvage an old woman. He has the choice between helping one who is at deaths door anyhow, and allowing his wife and children to starve. This is how it is, and we see no wickedness in it. Perhaps it is more remarkable that old Kigtaq, now that she is no longer able to fend for herself, still hangs on as a burden to her children and grandchildren. For our custom up here is that all old people who can do no more, and whom death will not take, help death to take them.

And they do this not merely to be rid of a life that is no longer a pleasure, but also to relieve their nearest relations of the trouble they give them.”

…A man is fond of life as long as he is well, but as soon as life becomes a burden to him, either on account of age or sickness, they believe they have the right to seek death themselves. Hanging is the method chosen, and it is a common thing for the relatives of the old or sick person concerned to make everything ready for the suicide.

[#9] Knud Rasmussen, The Netsilik Eskimos: Social Life and Spiritual Culture (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1931): 138; 143-44; 507.

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#8 Moral Rights, Social Obligations
     (Kaj Birket-Smith, 1921-24)

Life is harsh towards the Caribou Eskimos and old people are rare…

Nor is it seldom that old people or persons suffering from a disease come to the conclusion that life is more unbearable than death and, according to Eskimo ideas, they have the moral right to commit suicide. Suicide is not rare, and it is the duty of pious children to assist their parents in committing it. As a rule the method is hanging. But there is no doubt that it also happens that a sick person is left to die, either out of fear that the other will be unable to pull through when he is a burden to the family, or simply out of fear of coming into contact with death.

The result of the natural influence of age is that the word of middle-aged or elderly men—but only so long as they still have their strength—carries most weight, although less directly, perhaps, than indirectly by force of example. Old people who are no longer in possession of all their faculties gradually lose their influence and respect. Their life is often a bitter one. Even though they are treated with kindness, they feel themselves in the way and suicide is not uncommon. On the other hand I do not think that nowadays—as undoubtedly was the case formerly—they run any risk of being killed. Although they might be deserted.

[#8] Kaj Birket-Smith, The Caribou Eskimos: Material and Social Life and the Cultural Position (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 258, 300.

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