Qaanaaq coastline, Greenland
gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%
A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization
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About the Tribe
Thule - Proto-Inuit
The Thule (US: /ˈθuːli/, /ˈtuːli/, UK: /ˈθjuːli/) or proto-Inuit were the ancestors of all modern Inuit. They developed in coastal Alaska by the year 1000 and expanded eastwards across Canada, reaching Greenland by the 13th century. In the process, they replaced people of the earlier Dorset culture that had previously inhabited the region. The appellation "Thule" originates from the location of Thule (relocated and renamed Qaanaaq in 1953) in northwest Greenland, facing Canada, where the archaeological remains of the people were first found at Comer's Midden. The links between the Thule and the Inuit are biological, cultural, and linguistic.
Evidence supports the idea that the Thule (and also the Dorset, but to a lesser degree) were in contact with the Vikings, who had reached the shores of Canada in the 11th century. In Viking sources, these peoples are called the Skrælingjar. Some Thule migrated southward, in the "Second Expansion" or "Second Phase". By the 13th or 14th century, the Thule had occupied an area inhabited until then by the Central Inuit, and by the 15th century, the Thule replaced the Dorset. Intensified contacts with Europeans began in the 18th century. Compounded by the already disruptive effects of the "Little Ice Age" (1650–1850), the Thule communities broke apart, and the people were henceforward known as the Eskimo, and later, Inuit.
Importance of Animal Products
The Classic Thule tradition relied heavily on the bowhead whale for survival because bowhead whales swim slowly and sleep near the water's surface. Bowhead whales served many purposes for the Thule people. The people could get a lot of meat for food, blubber for oil that could be used for fires for light and cooking purposes, and the bones could be used for building structures and making tools. The Thule people survived predominantly on fish, large sea mammals and caribou outside of the whaling communities. Because they had advanced transportation technology, they had access to a wider range of food sources. There is superb faunal preservation in Thule sites due to a late prehistoric date as well as an arctic environment. Most of the bowhead artifacts were harvested from live bowhead whales. The Thule developed an expertise in hunting and utilizing as many parts of an animal as possible. This knowledge combined with their growing wealth of tools and modes of transportation allowed the Thule people to thrive. They whaled together where one person would shoot the whale with the harpoon and the others would throw the floats on it and they all transferred the whale to land to butcher it together to share with the entire community. Their unity played a significant role in the length of time they thrived in the Arctic.
Importance of Plants
Transition to Industrialized Food Products
Jan 1, 1913
Book of the Eskimos
Peter Freuchen and Knud Rasmussen take part in a food orgy where fermented narwhale skin kept in a meat cache for several years is shared. This is called rotten mattack and tastes like walnuts and roquefort cheese.
I was early acquainted with the magnificent hospitality of the Polar Eskimos. Knud Rasmussen and I even skipped unloading the little ship Motor in which we went to Thule together in order to take part in a food orgy which he got started by announcing that he had been longing to taste the good things the place had to offer. We were invited to Uvdluriak's and there for the first time I tasted rotten mattak. This dish, which is a great delicacy for the Eskimos, consists of huge flakes of narwhale skin that have been kept in meat caches for several years. In the low temperature they do not become rancid, they just ferment, so that the skin tastes very much like walnuts while the blubber, turned quite green, tastes sharp—almost like roquefort cheese. Next we went to the house of Tornge, who served caribou meat with tallow. Knud let it be known that he would consider it an offense not to visit all the other tents, where people no doubt were expecting us with such specialties as they had in store. At last, we were so gorged that we both lay down on the bunk where we happened to be and fell asleep. We were awakened by a message from the irate captain of Motor, who asked us if we had any intentions of further activity in this place.
Jan 1, 1913
Book of the Eskimos
The role of women at feasts of the Hudson Bay Eskimos is described while the men share boiled meat.
Among the Hudson Bay Eskimos, the women are not allowed to take part in these feasts. It is thought that boiled meat is man's food, too good for women to have, and a man would make himself ridiculous if he ate it in the company of his family. No, he goes outside his house and announces loudly that there is boiled meat. This is an invitation for all the other men in the village to come to a feast. With serious faces, they form a single file and enter the house of their host. They have their big knives in their hands and hold them up in front of themselves like sabres. Inside the house, they take position in a circle without saying a word.
The host begins the proceedings by making a little speech that is always approximately the same: "Alas, I have waited so long before inviting you because I was embarrassed on account of my bad house. I do not know how to build houses as big and handsome as yours. Moreover, I have nothing decent to offer you. The rest of you, you are used to catching young, fresh, and good-tasting animals; I must be content with half-dead carrions that are an insult to the palate. And finally I have only the miserable wife who sits here. She is unfit for any work, and she is particularly impossible at cooking meat, so this meal is going to be a terrible scandal for my house."
Whereupon the men sit down, and the wife starts serving the meat. This is her only function at the meal. She has a kind of fork made from a caribou antler or a walrus rib, with which she lifts a lump of meat from the pot. She then licks it carefully so that soup and blood won't drip too much over her husband's fingers.
The husband takes the meat and puts it in his mouth—or at least, as much as he has room for. He then cuts off the rest and hands it to his neighbor, who cuts off a mouthful and passes it on to the next man in the circle. The lump of meat keeps circling like this until it is eaten up, and the host receives a new lump from his wife. It is desirable to have a little fat with the meat from time to time, so the host cuts off a piece of blubber and sends it around the circle in the same manner. The men rub the various pieces around on their faces so that the blood and smear often cover even the foreheads. If a piece is lost on the floor, the man who picks it up is expected to lick it clean. Water to drink with the food is provided in a basin made of walrus skin or seal skin. The water is from melted snow, but it is far from crystal clear, for it has been melted in the same pots the meat is cooked in. And these pots never get washed, only wiped off with a piece of skin at every new moon. The water is therefore brown like thin coffee, and on its surface caribou hairs, matches, and other little things are afloat. On these occasions my beard was very useful, as I let it sift the water for me. Afterward, when I wiped the beard with my hand and saw the amount of dirt and slime it contained, I was ever so happy that I had avoided using the razor.
As you may easily understand, I much preferred life with the Thule Eskimos. There, the fair sex were allowed to enliven the parties with their charm, the pots were kept fairly clean without any consideration of the position of the moon, there was always freshly melted water, and each man got his individual piece of food untouched by others except, perhaps, the hostess, who handed it to him only to press him to eat more.
Jan 1, 1917
Book of the Eskimos
Eskimos prefer to choose fat wives as it shows they are well fed
But a good hunter has additional considerations when he is choosing a bride. To an Eskimo, a wife is more or less an advertisement. The degree of ease and comfort in which she seems to be living is the measure of his ability as a hunter and provider. Although she has a thousand tasks to perform, she is never required to do any heavy or dirty chores. Her value to him lies in how neat, gentle, and loving she can be; hard work would only weaken her for lovetime, Chewing skins and sewing is the woman's job, but flensing the animal is the man's job; cooking the meat for the guests is the woman's task, but taking it down from the meat rack, chopping it up, and bringing it into the house is the man's. The wife's composure and attractiveness tell the guests of the husband's wealth. It follows that a girl who shows industry and talent, and who keeps herself neat, is much desired for a mate.
On the other hand, the busier a hunter keeps his wife sewing, entertaining guests, and bearing children, the prouder she is of him. Coquettishly, she calls him "the terrible one" because he keeps her in such slavery, and it is every girl's dream sometime to be able to shout: "Oh, a poor woman does not have the ability to prepare all the skins that a man can bring home. How I envy those women whose husbands give them only a few skins to prepare!"
With such a speech, she can make the other wives green with jealousy.
If such a neat and clever girl should also happen to be fat, then she is really the village belle. An Eskimo cannot give his wife jewelry, new hats, or other things that will demonstrate his wealth, nor can wealth be demonstrated in clothing: all the women's apparel is pretty much alike. It is therefore essential that she appear well fed! As a result, there must always be lots of food--and fattening foods, too--at his house, and his family will enjoy respect and a good reputation. A fat girl is always popular because, as a wife, she will be easier to keep in style, and stoutness is identical with beauty among the Eskimos.
This reminds me of Inuiyak who was one of my Eskimo helpers during the Fifth Thule Expedition and whom, when I was about to return to Denmark, I paid with such gear as I was not going to use any more. He got sled and dogs, axes, knives, and a gun. All of a sudden he became a tycoon among his people, and his first thought was to get a wife. In Repulse Bay he asked for a few days off, and came back with a bride. Being so rich, he had of course no difficulty in getting the fattest one in the place. When Inuiyak came driving up with her on his sled, he made a big to-do out of puffing and panting so that we all could see how hard he had to push. We gave them a real celebration, but the next day we regretted it. We had counted on Inuiyak to take a load on his sled for us on the month-long journey we still had left. But he was no longer the same man!
"My wife is so fat," he bragged. "No dogs can drag this heavy burden. She is too big to run, so others will have to take those boxes!"
This was shouted in a loud voice so everybody could hear it. The intention was to flatter the beauteous lady; being in love has strange effects on people. So Inuiyak wasn't very useful to us any more.