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CHAPTER 1, Situation of Greenland; appearance of the country; mountaina and fields of ice; climate ; length of the day and night; barrenness of the soil; drift-wood; animals; productiveness of the sea; the seals, mode of catching them; the kayak and umiak; personal appearance of the Greenlanders; their dress, houses, tents; education and mode of life of male and female; Greenland government; singing combat; moral character of Greenlanders; seeming vir: tues pretended from corrupt motives ; cruelty to widows and orphans; notions of religion and a future state ; Angekoks.
GREENLAND is well known as the most northern tract of land lying between Europe and America, and, considering its vast extent, when compared with the small part as yet known to Europeans, may be justly numbered among the unexplored regions of the North. Various navigators have coasted it from the most southern point, called the Promontory of Farewell, in Lat. 599 proceeding in a north-easterly direction towards Spitzbergen, as far as Lat. 80°, and towards the north, or north-west, as far as Lat. 78o. No vessel, however, has hitherto gained its northern extremity; so that we cannot determine, with any degree of certainty, whether it be an island, or connected with a continent.
The name of Greenland was first given to the east side by its discoverers, the Norwegians and Icelanders, on account of its comparatively verdant appearance. This side, generally called "ancient or lost Greenland," is at present entirely unknown to us; for, in consequence of the prodigious quantities of floating ice, none are able to approach it.
The tales of Icelandic writers, who describe in glowing colours the fertility of ancient Greenland, with the beauty of its villages and churches, are generally considered to be completely fabulous. However, it ought to be mentioned, that traces of a superior state of cultivation have been observed on the western coast; and there are still to be seen there, ruins of dwelling-houses and churches, probably erected by the Danes and Norwegians, who, it is ascertained, had settlements there several centuries ago. The shore here is high, rugged, and barren, rising close to the water's edge, into tremendous precipices and lofty mountains, crowned with inaccessible cliffs, which may be seen from the sea at the distance of more than a hundred miles.
All the Greenland bills, except where the rocks are smooth and perpendicular, are covered with eternal ice and snow, which have also, in length of time, filled all the elevated plains, and many valleys. Besides this, there are projections or shelves on the declivities of the steepest hills, where the rain and snow-water lodge, and congeal into masses of ice, which, after a succession of many years, become of enormous magnitude. Such bodies of ice often exalt their heads far above the rocks, until at length, like the man of insatiable ambition, being overloaded at top, and unable to sustain the weight of their own acquisitions, they break loose, and tumble down the rocks with a mighty crash ; and, when they happen to hang over a precipice, they plunge into the sea with a shock resembling the roaring of thunder, and occasion such an agitation of the water, as engulphs many a poor Greenlander, coasting in his little kayak, in the depths of the ocean.
The masses, of ice, which thus tumble headlong into the sea, may be seen floating about in various forms, Some of them look like a church or castle, with
square or pointed turrets; others like a ship in full sail, and people have often given themselves fruitless toil, to go on board and pilot the imaginary ship into harbour; others appear like large islands, with plains, valleys, and hills, which often rear their heads 200 yards above the level of the sea. A Missionary, a man of veracity, informs us, that, in Disko Bay, in a part of the sea, which the whale fishers say is 300 fathoms deep, several such
SEVERITY OF THE CLIMATE.
3 ice-mountains have stood fast for many years, one of which they call the city Haarlem, and another Amsterdam. Sometimes they fasten their ships to them, and unload their train barrels on the flat ice.
There are also, in these seas, great ice-fields, composed of flat pieces of ice, three or four yards thick, with here and there some ice-mountains of various sizes among them, and extending sometimes 200 leagues in length, and from 60 to 80 in breadth. These ice-fields, at the first appearance, present a prospect resembling a country with hills and valleys, towns and villages, houses, churches, and towers. This floating ice renders the navigation of these seas peculiarly dangerous, not only for the small boats of the Greenlanders, but also for the largest vessels, which are frequently crushed to pieces between the conflicting masses.
From these accounts, the reader is prepared to expect that the climate of Greenland must be very cold ; and this is indeed the case. In those places where the inhabitants enjoy the visits of the sun, for an hour or two in the day in winter, the cold is bearable; though even there, strong liquors will freeze in the open air, and sometimes, even in rooms where fire is constantly burning. But in those situations where the sun entirely forsakes the horizon, it frequently happens, that while people are drinking tea, the emptied cup is fastened to the table by the freezing of the moisture which adheres to it. Mr. Paul Egede, in his journal of January 7, 1738, records the following amazing effects of the cold at Disko: “ The ice and hoar-frost reach through the chimney to the stove's mouth, without being thawed by the fire in the day-time. Over the chimney is an arch of frost, with little holes, through which the smoke discharges itself. The doors and walls are as if they were plastered over with frost, and, which is scarce credible, beds are often frozen to the bed-stead. The linen is frozen in the drawers. The upper eiderdown-bed and the pillows are quite stiff with frost, an inch thick from the breath. The flesh-barrels must be hewn in pieces to get out the meat: when it is thawed in snow-water, and set over the fire, the outside is boiled sufficiently before the inside can be pierced with a knife.”
We may fix the limits of the Greenland summer, from the beginning of May to the end of September ; for, during these five months, the natives encamp in tents. Yet the ground is not mellowed by a thorough tbaw till June, and then only on the surface, nor till then, can the snow-storms be said to cease. In August it begins to snow again; but it seldom lasts on the ground, for a winter-carpet, till October.
In the longest summer days, it is sometimes so warm, that the Greenlanders are obliged to throw off their garments, especially in the bays and valleys, where the sunbeams concentre, and the fogs and the winds from the sea are excluded. In serene weather and clear sunshine, it is sometimes so hot, upon the open sea, that the pitch melts on the ship's sides. Yet the inhabitants of this country can never have a perfect enjoyment of this warmth, partly on account of the chilling air emitted from the islands of ice, which is so penetrating in the evening, that they are glad to creep into their furs again, and can often bear them double; and partly on account of the fogs that prevail on the coast, almost every day, from April to August, and are frequently so thick, that at sea they cannot see a ship's length before them. Sometimes the fog is so low, that it can scarcely be distinguished from the water, but then the mountains and upper regions are seen so much the clearer. The most agreeable and settled weather is in autumn; but then its duration must be transient, and it is interrupted with sharp night-frosts.
In summer, there is no night at all in this country, for, above the 66th degree, the sun does not set in the longest days; and at Good-hope, which is in the 64th degree, it does not go down till ten minutes after ten o'clock, and 50 minutes after one it rises again ; so that it only stays three hours and 40 minutes beneath the horizon. În June and July, it is so light all night long, that a person may read and write the smallest characters in a room without a candle; and, in June, one may see the tops of the mountains painted with the rays
of the sun all the night. In this we see the kindness of the Lord to the poor Greenlanders, who, in their short summer, can hunt and fish all the night through; and also to the sailors, who would otherwise run great
5 hazard from the quantities of ice. Where the sun never sets in the midst of the summer, it however does not shine with such lustre at night as at noon, but loses its splendour, and shines like a very bright moon, which a person may look at without being dazzled. On the other hand, the winter-nights are so much the longer ; and, in Disko Creek, the face of the sun is never seen above the horizon, from November 30 to January 12. During that period, the inhabitants enjoy but a moderate twilight, which arises from the reflection of the sun-beams from the summits of the highest hills, and from the cold damps in the atmosphere. And yet the nights are never so dark in Greenland as in other countries, forthe light of the moon and the stars is so strongly reflected in the clear cold air, from the quantities of snow and ice, that people can do very well out of doors without a lantern, and can see plainly to read print of a middle size. It frequently happens too, that in the shortest days, the moon never goes down, and, even if the moon does not shine in the winter, the northern lights, with their sportive streams of variegated colours, often supply its place still better.
As to the soil of Greenland; the valleys, which contain small brooks and ponds, are overgrown with a sort of low brush-wood; but the general character of the country is, of course, barrenness. No large timber grows in Greenland; but, although God has denied this frigid, rocky region the growth of trees, he bas bid the streams of the ocean to convey to its shores a great deal of wood, which accordingly comes floating thither, part without ice, but the most part with it, and lodges itself between the islands. Were it not for this, the Europeans would have no wood to burn in this cold country, and the poor Greenlanders would be without timber to roof their houses, to erect their tents, to builu their boats, and to shaft their arrows, by which they must procure their maintenance, clothing and train-oil for warmth, light, and cooking. Among this wood are great trees, of various sorts, torn up by the roots. It is generally supposed that they come from Siberia or Asiatic Tartary, where the wild mountain-torrents, swollen by the rains and floods, carry away whole pieces of land with the large trees upon them, which are