the Inuit: "an Eskimo to the skin"
||The ethnographic diaries of Stefansson
and some of his publications demonstrate that he was a serious fieldworker,
participating in the lives of the Inuit he visited, studying their
language, living their way of life, and probing their way of thinking.
He comments with reference to his first expedition: "I was
gradually broken in to native ways; by the middle of October, I
had thrown away my nearly outworn woolen suit and was fur clad from
head to heal, an Eskimo to the skin" (22).
In his account of the second expedition, he offers the following
description of the method that later became known as participant
||They took me into their houses and
treated me hospitably and courteously, but exactly as if I were
one of them. They gave me clothes to wear and food to eat, I helped
them in their work and joined in their games, until they finally
forgot that I was not one of them, and began to live their lives
before my eyes as if I were not there. This gave me a rare opportunity
to know them as they are. (23)
||Stefansson was fond of noting that
when he arrived among the Copper Inuit he already spoke Inuktitut.
As Burch points out, "he was ... in a unique position - possibly
in the history of ethnography - of being able to speak the language
of the people he was going to study before they had ever seen a
||The notion of the "friendly Arctic"
summed up Stefansson's approach to the Arctic. Stefansson argued
that arctic explorers often made the mistake of bringing their environment
with them (food, clothes, and methods of transport, etc.). It would
be far more productive and viable in the long run, he argued, to
adopt Inuit practices and flow with the Arctic environment. Pointing
out that the Inuit saw no need to wage war with the environment
in which they lived, he challenged the orthodox, literary notion
of the Arctic as necessarily "barren, dismal and desolate"
(25). Some Of Stefansson's diary
entries, however, qualify his claims about the friendly Arctic.
After days of nauseating starvation, he comments:
work up here, I have been fond of asserting, entails few, hardships.
But just now it is pretty hard work, and has often been so these
three years. To be five or six miles from camp every morning
at daybreak and about that far from home at the last daylight,
to carry home heavy loads over rocky ground when successful
and still heavier loads of disappointment when unsuccessful
- this makes a monotonous - and a trying life. The continual
nervous strain of a hand-to-mouth existence, where there is
not even the shelter of a poorhouse in case of failure, has
a telling and cumulative effect. Without in the least relinquishing
my hopes of many more years of arctic work, I continually feel
more strongly the desire to be so well equipped in future that
I shall have at least a year's supply of food somewhere awaiting
me to tide me over a season of failure. Just knowing of such
a reserve ... would lessen by half the strain of the winter.
This is a hard country for a hungry man. (26)
||Stefansson's comments upon his interaction
with his Inuit hosts and companions are usually brief and objective
in style. Most often they focus on fairly pragmatic matters such
as camping and cooking, the division of labor in the camp, the organization
of hunting etc. Many of the entries in the diaries elaborate on
storytelling and the role of informants. Sometimes Stefansson refers
to one kind of contract or another with the Inuit, usually for the
purpose of eliciting stories. On one occasion he writes about annoying
one of his informants with too much "cross-examining":
"If I get him tired (as I have once or twice done) he becomes
careless in his answers and unreliable saying 'yes' to anything
or pretending he understands my question when he does not (27)
". There is a similar remark elsewhere:
The natives soon get tired of monotonous questioning, especially
if a difficult point comes up - of course they don't appreciate
that anything of importance can be involved. Their answers become
careless and almost misleading - they try to make me think I
understand things which I don't understand (e.g. by declaring
verbs to be synonymous which are really not so (this to get
me to quit asking questions). (28)
||Sometimes Stefansson comments upon
tension due to differences in the understanding of location and
logistics: "When I suggested we might be too far west of this
river, [the Indian] ... smiled superiously and said the people of
the country , At one point Stefansson mentions understood such things
better than strangers' (29). having
quarrelled somewhat angrily with one of his Inuit companions who
said he would leave now that I was going to start treating him as
a captain does a white , "I was forced to remind him,"
Stefansson adds, sailor, he was no dog to be starved' (30).
"that by white man's law a servant hired for a year who quit
work without good cause before his time was up, forfeited his wage";
often the Inuit, it seems, would not cooperate when he wanted to
take head measurements or to photograph. These extracts from the
diaries clearly demonstrate a conflictual and sometimes asymmetrical
relationship between Stefansson and the lnuit which does not quite
resonate with the egalitarian and sympathetic image he presented
of himself in many of his publications.