Historical Events

"We just ate, and I learned what was good. The diet of the Polar Eskimos is actually healthful and varied. When you have meat and meat, and meat again, you learn to distinguish between the different parts of an animal."

Book of the Eskimos

It took me three weeks to build the house, and when Knud returned, he started a series of house-raising feasts in grand style. Actually it was one single celebration, but it lasted a couple of weeks. At the time, there were eight families in the settlement, and they all seemed capable of eating at every hour of the endless day. As I have mentioned, sleep was permitted during the banquets, but expressions of satiety in the form of air explosions from every possible opening of the body seemed to be good substitutes for sleep. Knud was at the head of them all. He sang and told stories; he cooked and arranged food orgies the like of which had rarely been seen. His ability to drum up edibles was formidable. We didn't have to supply much of them, ourselves. It was Knud's special art during a meal to start reminiscing about gigantic feasts of yore. Then his eyes assumed a dreamy look while he softly mumbled something about tail of narwhale, well fermented, rotten eider ducks, or other beautiful treats.

Immediately, somebody or other jumped up and demanded to be allowed to show that also in this place such palate-caressing articles could be prepared. Knud expressed a little doubt—but no more than to make it a challenge. The result was always that the man and a couple of his friends ran off to fetch the delicacies. They might otherwise have been set aside for the visit of a dear relative or some such purpose. Now they went to Knud and his guests, almost the entire settlement. Our house seemed to have inexhaustible riches. How we procured all that was consumed I don't know; that was Knud's department. He just told somebody or other to go out and get some cooking meat. If then the poor fellow went out to obey the glorious command, and it happened that he returned to report that there was no more meat on the rack, Knud turned a little joke in his direction so that everybody present laughed at him. The man couldn't bear this loss of honor; he went out again and came back with all he could carry. There was no point asking where he got it from: meat was considered common property, so it didn't really matter.


We just ate, and I learned what was good. The diet of the Polar Eskimos is actually healthful and varied. When you have meat and meat, and meat again, you learn to distinguish between the different parts of an animal. The breast doesn't taste at all like the muscles of the hindlegs, for instance. And little by little I learned the finesse of Eskimo food preparation. One of the greatest delicacies, narwhale skin, is either served fresh and raw, or it is preserved with dried meat in big skin bags filled with blubber. Seals are used either as boiling meat or put in the meat cache to ferment, whole and unskinned. Then their meat tastes strong and sweet as sugar, and the liver is particularly desirable, tasting somewhat like preserved cranberries.

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