Historical Events

twitter-icon_edited.png
Copy Link

Hearne explains how the Eskimo are fond of high meat fermenting in seal-skin bags and how they had no preference for his food: "when I first knew them, would not eat any of our provisions, sugar, raisins, figs, or even bread"

July 17, 1771

rollo-meat-diabetes_edited.jpg

A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772

Samuel Hearne

Man The Fat Hunter
Facultative Carnivore
Pre-civilization races
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

When the Esquimaux who reside near Churchill River travel in Winter, it is always from lake to lake, or from river to river, where they have formed magazines of provisions, and heaps of moss for firing. As some of those places are at a considerable distance from each other, and some of the lakes of considerable width, they frequently pitch their tents on the ice, and instead of having a fire, which the severity of the climate so much requires, they cut holes in the ice within their tents, and there sit and angle for fish; if they meet with any success, the fish are eaten alive out of the water; and when they are thirsty, water, their usual beverage, is at hand.


When I first entered into the employment of the Hudson's Bay Company, it was as Mate of one of their sloops which was employed in trading with the Esquimaux: I had therefore frequent opportunities of observing the miserable manner in which those people live. In the course of our trade with them we frequently purchased several seal-skin bags, which we supposed were full of oil; but on opening them have sometimes found great quantities of venison, seals, and sea-horse paws, as well as salmon: and as these were of no use to us, we always returned them to the Indians, who eagerly devoured them, though some of the articles had been perhaps a whole year in that state; and they seemed to exult greatly in having so over-reached us in the way of trade, as to have sometimes one third of their bargain returned.


This method of preserving their food, though it effectually guards it from the external air, and from the flies, does not prevent putrefaction entirely, though it renders its progress very slow. Pure train oil is of such a quality that it never freezes solid in the coldest Winters; a happy circumstance for those people, who are condemned to live in the most rigorous climate without the assistance of fire. While these magazines last, they have nothing more to do when hunger assails them, but to open one of the bags, take out a side of venison, a few seals, sea-horse paws, or some half-rotten salmon, and without any preparation, sit down and make a meal; and the lake or river by which they pitch their tent, affords them water, which is their constant drink. Besides the extraordinary food already mentioned, they have several other dishes equally disgusting to an European palate; I will only mention one, as it was more frequently part of their repast when I visited their tents, than any other, except fish. The dish I allude to, is made of the raw liver of a deer, cut in small pieces of about an inch square, and mixed up with the contents of the stomach of the same animal; and the farther digestion has taken place, the better it is suited to their taste. It is impossible to describe or conceive the pleasure they seem to enjoy when eating such unaccountable food: nay, I have even seen them eat whole handfuls of maggots that were produced in meat by fly-blows; and it is their constant custom, when their noses bleed by any accident, to lick their blood into their mouths, and swallow it. Indeed, if we consider the inhospitable part of the globe they are destined to inhabit, and the great distresses to which they are frequently driven by hunger in consequence of it, we shall no longer be surprized at finding they can relish any thing in common with the meanest of the animal creation, but rather admire the wisdom and kindness of Providence in forming the palates and powers of all creatures in such a manner as is best adapted to the food, climate, and every other circumstance which may be incident to their respective situations.


It is no less true, that these people, when I first knew them, would not eat any of our provisions, sugar, raisins, figs, or even bread; for though some of them would put a bit of it into their mouths, they soon spit it out again with evident marks of dislike; so that they had no greater relish for our food than we had for theirs. At present, however, they will eat any part of our provisions, either fresh or salted; and some of them will drink a draft of porter, or a little brandy and water; and they are now so far civilized, and attached to the English, that I am persuaded any of the Company's servants who could habituate themselves to their diet and manner of life, might now live as secure under their protection, as under that of any of the tribes of Indians who border on Hudson's Bay.

They live in a state of perfect freedom; no one apparently claiming the superiority over, or acknowledging the least subordination to another, except what is due from children to their parents, or such of their kin as take care of them when they are young and incapable of providing for themselves. There is, however, reason to think that, when grown up to manhood, they pay some attention to the advice of the old men, on account of their experience.