Hand-out 2: Inuit of Pangnirtung, Baffin Island in the 1930s, according to Edward Beauclerk Maruice – Arctic Peoples

Note: Many different groups of indigenous (native) people live in the circumpolar (Arctic) region. Although their cultures share some similar traits, each region and community has its own variations. One trait, however, that seems to be shared by all indigenous Arctic peoples is adaptability and resourcefulness. These traits are part of what made it possible for these people to survive for thousands of years in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

Below is an excerpt from The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers, a book published from the diaries of Edward Beauclerk Maurice, who at the age of 16 left England to become a fur trader and live among the Inuit (formerly called Eskimos) on Baffin Island. This particular passage refers to a hunting trip Edward took with two of his Inuit friends:

That evening was pretty cold so Kilabuk decided we would put up a snowhouse instead of using the tent we had brought with us for the milder nights….

When the Inuit built snowhouses for winter homes, they were often more elaborate than these trail snowhouses. Sometimes they even had two rooms, and invariably a porch, where harnesses, dog food and hunting gear could be kept, the harpoons and spears being stuck in the snow outside the house.

The inside surface of the snow was often lined with sealskin or canvas, which was held in place by thongs (leather straps) passed through the wall and fastened to toggles. This meant that the inside temperature could be kept at a higher level, since the lining intended to hold the heat, while allowing the cool air to circulate from the vent over the surface of the snow. For living purposes, one home would last a whole winter, though by the end of the season it would be getting rather dirty and smelly. If it got too bad, all the Eskimo had to do was to collect everything together and move to a fresh spot.

When our house was complete, we unloaded the sledge, spread the deerskins over the floor and stacked our gear near the door (which consisted simply of a block removed from the wall)…our little home soon warmed up.

In fact the temperature rose rather rapidly as the cooking got under way. Without any lining, walls soon started to drip, but our companion showed us that by smoothing over a handful of loose snow the water could be conducted down far enough for the drops to fall harmlessly round the edges of the house.

(2005, Harper Perennial Publishing, pp. 107 – 109)

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