#1 Father and Son
     (Weyer, 1932)

A hunter living on the Diomede Islands related to the writer how he killed his own father, at the latter’s request. The old Eskimo was failing, he could no longer contribute what he thought should be his share as a member of the group; so he asked his son, then a lad about twelve years old, to sharpen the big hunting knife. Then he indicated the vulnerable spot over his heart where his son should stab him. The boy plunged the knife deep, but the stroke failed to take effect. The old father suggested with dignity and resignation, “Try it a little higher, my son.” The second stab was effective, and the patriarch passed into the realm of the ancestral shades.

Women as well as men were sometimes killed. Strangling or hanging might take the place of stabbing. Always a member of the family would perform the act, in order to avoid any intimation of a blood feud.

The Eskimo has an abiding confidence that at death he will go to live in another sphere, which, although it may not be a happy hunting ground, may easily be fraught with less hardship than his earthly home. So when he commits suicide he has the composure and assurance of a civilized man who purchases a railroad ticket to another city. He meets death with sober resignation. When a crew of Diomede Islanders in a skin boat are confronted with death by drowning, the captain goes around and slashes all the men’s throats with his knife and finishes the job by cutting his own. The author, upon questioning an Eskimo hunter who was sick as to whether he wanted to die, received the reply, “Um?… Not just now; no wood in village for make coffin.”

[#1] Edward Moffat Weyer, The Eskimos: Their Environment and Folkways (Archon Books 1969, copyright Yale University Press, 1932): 138, 248-49.

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