Historical Events

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Due to the teaching of the Sabbath, Eskimo whalers waste valuable time in traveling and end up having to row instead of use the wind on a Sunday.

July 3, 1908

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 27

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Biblical Fundamentalism
Christianization
Religion
Eskimo

Our first experience with the Sunday taboo was at Shingle Point, about fifty miles east of Herschel Island, in July, 1908. Dr. Anderson and I, with our Eskimo and two whale-boats, had arrived there at the boat harbor one evening. Each Eskimo family had its own whale-boat, and we were all bound for Herschel Island and anxious to reach it, because we feared that any day the whaling fleet might arrive from the west, put into the Herschel Island harbor for a day, according to their custom, and pass on to the east, and all of us were anxious to be there to meet the ships. 


The morning after we reached Shingle Point and for several days after that it blew a steady head-wind, and we were unable to proceed. We were getting more impatient each day and more worried, for the wind that was foul to us was fair to the whaling-ships, and would bring them in and take them past without our seeing them, we feared. When our impatience to be moving had grown to a high pitch, we awoke on a Sunday morning early, to find a change of wind. It blew off the land, and the weather was therefore propitious for travel. Some of our Eskimo neighbors paid us an early morning visit, and inquired whether we were going to start for Herschel Island that day. My answer was that of course we were, at which they were evidently well pleased; and when we had eaten breakfast a good many of them had struck their tents and were loading the camp gear into the boats. After our breakfast was over I said to our Eskimo that now we would start, but they replied that they could not do so unless someone started off first, in which case we could follow. Considerably astonished, I asked them why that should be so. They replied it was Sunday, and a person who led off in Sabbath-breaking would receive punishment. Accordingly, they said, if any one was found who was willing to start, they were willing to follow; but they would not lead off, for then the sin would be on their heads, and they or their relatives would be punished. 


As many of the Eskimo boats were already loaded, I at first thought it would be a question of but a few moments until someone would start, for these people had all been heathen when I had lived with them the previous autumn, and I could not at once grasp the fact of the new sacredness of the Sabbath, which had been a neglected institution half a year before. But it turned out that of all our impatient party no one dared to start. II went went around around among them from boat to boat, inquiring whether they were not going to launch out. The answer of each boat crew was that they would not start out first, but they would follow me if I started. 


After talking over with Dr. Anderson the necessity of doing something, I suggested to our own Eskimo servants that Dr. Anderson and I alone would sail one of our whale-boats and lead off, and they could follow in their boat; to which they replied that a subterfuge of that sort would avail nothing, for they belonged to my party now, and would (so long as they were of my party) have to suffer the penalty of any wrongdoing of mine. If I insisted upon sailing that day, they would have to sever their connection with us in order to escape the penalty of our desecration of the Sabbath. So we accordingly had the choice of losing the services of our Eskimo, which for the future were indispensable to us, or of letting the fair wind blow itself out unused, which we did. 


I spoke to Ilavinirk about the fact that he and I, less than a year before, had traveled together on Sunday, to which he replied that at that time he was not a Christian, and although he had heard of heaven and hell, he had not then realized the situation or the importance of good conduct; but that now he realized both fully, as did all his countrymen, and not only did he not care to brave the Divine punishment, but also he was unwilling to become an object of the disapprobation of his countrymen. (I believe that in fact the latter reason was with Ilavinirk quite as strong as the former, for on other occasions when none of his countrymen were around he often followed my lead in breaking the Sabbath.) 


The good wind blew all day, and there we stayed, all of us eager to reach Herschel Island, and each of us unwilling to be the first to break the divine law. Toward sundown the situation was changed by the arrival from the east of a whale-boat manned by Royal North west Mounted Police, a party of whom were on their way from Fort McPherson to Herschel Island. We signaled them to come ashore, and they had tea with us. Afterward, when they set sail, all of us followed them, for by landing and taking tea with us they had joined themselves to our party, and it was therefore they and not we who broke the Sabbath when they started off, with our boats close behind. By the time we finally got off the fair wind had nearly spent itself, and most of us had a good deal of trouble in getting to Herschel Island by beating and rowing, which is a detail.