Historical Events

"Besides, they were really making a sacrifice here, for most of the white man's food is distasteful to the Eskimos. It is not only that they could not possibly subsist on it, low in fat as it is, but that they just don't like it. Exceptions are bread, biscuits, and cake, which are considered great delicacies, along with sugar."

Book of the Eskimos

Somehow, during my first stay at Cape York, I must have shown that I wasn't yet quite used to good Eskimo food. One evening, I had taken a walk in the darkness to look at a nearby glacier, and when I returned, I heard loud and happy voices from the house of Qulugtinguaq. It turned out that they had prepared a meal from my own travel provisions. All my cans had been taken inside, and everybody was busy breaking them open. Without any discrimination whatsoever, they were pouring the contents into a pot that was aboil over the blubber lamp.

"Look here, just look!" shouted Qulugtinguaq." Now you will be happy. You have eaten our miserable food for several days. Now you shall have a meal of your own kind from your own sled, and the rest of us will eat with you so as to show that we do not despise your food, just as you eat ours.

What else was I to do but to laugh with these innocent people? The cans were opened, and to the Eskimos it was just as much an honor and a joy to be the guest as it was for me to be their host. That a certain amount of food should be calculated to last for such and such a length of time never occurred to them. They ate for days on end when they had plenty, and starved with good cheer when they had nothing. Besides, they were really making a sacrifice here, for most of the white man's food is distasteful to the Eskimos. It is not only that they could not possibly subsist on it, low in fat as it is, but that they just don't like it. Exceptions are bread, biscuits, and cake, which are considered great delicacies, along with sugar. In southern Greenland coffee is consumed with a reverence as nowhere else in the world; a whole social life—complete, intense, and with its own etiquette—has evolved around the coffee pot. The Polar Eskimos learned to appreciate the brown drink, and they felt very rich and very proud if they could offer it as a treat of the house. Tea, however, they considered an almost necessary drink, as it pepped them up tremendously in the cold climate.

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