Don’t mess with the Esquimaux

I’m still reading Peter Kalm’s journal of his extended travels through colonial America and I continue to find interesting bits of information throughout.  Case in point, his treatment of the Inuits, or as he calls them, the Esquimaux.  Apparently they were not much liked by either Europeans or other Native Americans.

He says that in Esquimaux lands…

“…it is not advisable for Europeans to go on shore, unless they be numerous, for the Esquimaux are false and treacherous and cannot suffer strangers amongst them.  If they find themselves too weak, they run away at the approach of strangers; but if they think they are an over-match for them, they kill all that come in their way, without leaving a single one alive.”

“If they [Europeans] are ship-wrecked on the Esquimaux coasts, they may as well be drowned in the sea as come safe to the shore…[t]he European boats and ships which the Esquimaux get into their power are immediately cut to pieces and robbed of all their nails and other iron…”

Now, Kalm is no knee-jerk anti-Indian who believes that ‘the only good injun is a dead injun.’  He has spent numerous time discussing the positive attributes of various aspects of Native American culture (with the exception of their living quarters which he describes as overwhelmed with fleas, bed bugs and other stinging insects) and compares without prejudice, the Europeans who have adopted the Native American lifestyle and the dearth of interest among Native Americans in taking up the lifestyle and culture of Europeans.  So, I have to reject the idea that Kalm is attempting to stir up emotions in order to rally some sort of anti-Inuit pogrom.

I also find it interesting that this perception about the Inuits was also shared by many Native Americans.

“This inhuman proceeding of the Esquimaux against all strangers is the reason why none of the Indians of North America ever give quarter to the Esquimaux if they meet them, but kill them on the spot, though they frequently pardon their other enemies, and incorporate the prisoners with their nation.”

Inuit territory wasn’t particularly welcoming to Europeans so I can’t imagine that there would have been much demand to colonize their land even if they were friendly.  I wonder however, if their hostility was an additional factor in allowing them to get a better outcome than Native American populations that got decimated while being pushed across the country.  Does violence pay off when two cultures meet?


One response to “Don’t mess with the Esquimaux

  1. Huh? Antagonism was not at all what I encountered among the Inuit people, nor what Rasmussen and famous explorers did historically, either. To educate yourself, please read my novel (a fictionalized account but based on real events and historical facts). Best,

    Dana—left a voice mail message last week but have not heard from you. As your July note (below) stated, we are supposed to receive monthly compensation reports by e-mail, but I have had none since this last correspondence. Can you please fix this problem and supply me with all sales compensation reports for the year to date, and assure me we will be getting these monthly from now on? Thanks for your attention to this matter.

    Mara Feeney
    Author of Rankin Inlet: A Novel
    ISBN 978-0-9819319-5-1

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