BLTC Press Titles

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The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Eskimo life

by Fridtjof Nansen


The pure-bred Eskimo would .at first glance seem to most of us Europeans anything but beautiful.

He has a round, broad face, with large, coarse features; small, dark, sometimes rather oblique eyes; a flat nose, narrow between the eyes and broad at the base; round cheeks, bursting with fat; a broad mouth ; heavy, broad jaws ; which, together with the round cheeks, give the lower part of the face a great preponderance in the physiognomy. When the mouth is drawn up in an oleaginous smile, two rows of strong white teeth reveal themselves. One receives the impression, upon the whole, of an admirable chewing apparatus, conveying pleasant suggestions of much and good eating. But, at the same time, one traces in these features, especially in those of the women, a certain touch of ingratiating petted softness.

To our way of thinking, such a face could scarcely be described as beautiful,; but how much prejudice there is in our ideas of beauty! I soon came to find these brown faces, gleaming with health and fat, really pleasing. They reflected the free life of nature, and suggested to my mind pictures of blue sea, white glaciers, and glittering sunshine.

It was, however, chiefly the young that produced this impression; and they soon grow old. The shrunken, blear-eyed, hairless old women, reminding one of frost-bitten apples, were certainly not beautiful; and yet there was a certain style in them, too. Toil had left its traces upon their wrinkled countenances, but also a life of rude plenty and a habit of good-humoured, hopeless resignation. There was nothing of that vitreous hardness or desiccated dignity which the school of life so often imprints upon aged countenances in other parts of the world.

The half-caste race which has arisen upon the west coast, of mingled European and Eskimo blood, is apt to be, according to our ideas, handsomer than the pure-bred Eskimos. They have, as a rule, a somewhat southern appearance, with their dark hair, dark eyebrows and eyes, and brown complexion. A remarkably Jewish cast of countenance sometimes appears among them. Types of real beauty are by no means rare—male as well as female. Yet there is apt to be something feeble about these half-breeds. The pure-bred Eskimos undoubtedly seem more genuine and healthy.

It is a common error among us in Europe to think of the Eskimos as a diminutive race. Though no doubt smaller than the Scandinavian peoples, they must be reckoned among the middle-sized races, and I even found among those of purest breeding men of nearly six feet in height. Their frame produces, on the whole, an impression of strength, especially the upper part of the body. The men have broad shoulders, strong, muscular arms, and a good chest; but, on the other hand, one notices that their thighs are comparatively narrow, and their legs not particularly strong. When they get up in years, therefore, they are apt to have an uncertain gait, with knees slightly bent. This defective development of the lower extremities must be ascribed, for the most part, to the daily confinement in the cramped kaiak.

A noticeable physical characteristic of the women appeared to me to be their comparatively narrow hips, which we are apt to regard as inconsistent with the type of feminine beauty. They certainly seemed to me considerably narrower than those of European women; but it is hard to say how much of this effect is to be ascribed to difference of dress. The Eskimo women, however, are remarkable for their very small and well-formed hands and feet. Their physique, as a whole, strikes one as sympathetic and pleasing.

The complexion of the pure-bred Greenlander is of a brownish or greyish yellow, and even among the half-breeds a certain tinge of brownish yellow is unmistakable. This natural darkness of the skin, however, is generally much intensified, especially in the case of men and old women, by a total lack of cleanliness. As an indication of their habits in this particular, it will be sufficient if I quote the concise description given by our very reverend countryman, Hans Egede. of the method of washing practised by the men in particular: 'They scrape the sweat off their faces with a knife.'

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