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Book Review – The Alaskan Eskimos, Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24


Alaskan Eskimos


There is a bit of background to this book that is needed to place it properly into perspective:

In the works of Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, there is a quotation from the first volumn that has had great meaning to me:

“sila ersinarsinivdlugo – Be Not Afraid of the Universe”

When I first encountered it in Campbell’s work, it had a great impact on me in ways that I am not sure as yet that I truly understand, perhaps due to the fears that ran thru me at the time. All I know for sure is that it represents great wisdom to me. For years I had the quotation written on a notecard and visible on my desk. Somewhere in the move from my last home to this one, it was misplaced.

Several months ago I decided to start rereading Campbell’s work…that just needed to be done for a number of reasons. As I have said elsewhere, I have no idea why certain books just land in my hands at the times when they do, they just do, and I take that as the intervention of God in my life. When it happens, I never question the impulse…I just follow it. It has been the source of great joy in my life, not to mention, a source of real wonder and enjoyment.

As I started into the first volumn, this quote appeared. I broke down in tears…partly joy at finding it again, partly something else from deep inside that was grateful for finding it again.

I traced the quotation to this book and went looking for a copy. Now, this was published in 1952, based upon the posthumous notes of Dr. Knud Rasmussen. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage on dogsled and led 7 expeditions into the Arctic. The book is quite rare. It is paperback of sorts and it cost me a significant amount…not going to say how much….in case my bride is reading this…:). But, I found the book and I am glad to have done so, it is a real treasure.

And yes, the quotation is in the book as expected.

The story told is extraordinary…the journey across the northern shores of North America on a dog sled. He relates many stories of the Eskimos he encountered along the way, their manners, customs and beliefs. Makes a most fascinating read. Not many persons could have done what he did, I for one would never have survived this journey.

Some gleenings:

p. 70 – Tells the story of “The Most Famous of all Myths: The young man who went out into the world to banish life’s evil and human ambuscade”. A wonderful story that contains one of the most honest and truthful statements of all times:

“Against wickedness nothing is cruel”

Have a think on that for a bit….

p 99 – “The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and it can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone can open the mind of a man to all that is hidden from others.”

Something echoed thru all the ages and great wisdom literature

p.128 – This is where the great quote “Be Not Afraid of the Universe” is found together with other wisdom sayings

p. 179 – From a Eskimo shaman – “People are not fond of thinking. Only reluctantly do we bother ourselves with what is hard to understand. Perhaps that is why we know so little about the beginnings of the sky and the earth, of man and animals.”

Henry Ford said the same thing: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

And no – I have no apologies for using the term Eskimos. If that was OK by Knud, that’s good enough for me.



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