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p. 76


The natives of the Danish districts, whose numbers during last century seem to have been greatly on the decrease, were afterwards, for a long period, again increasing; while, since 1855, they have remained almost stationary between 9400 and 9700 souls. They have long been Christianised, and brought into a regular state of subjection to the Danish Government, by means of the monopolised trade, the missionaries and schools, as well as several other administrative institutions. The introduction of intoxicating liquors, as well as those acts of violence and oppression which in other countries have destroyed the primitive races, especially those who live by hunting, have been here unknown. Scarcely any other country will be found where the Europeans have shown so much consideration for, and been so careful of, the uncivilised natives as in this case. From the very beginning of the monopolised trade, it has been carried on with a view to introduce and make accessible to them such articles as were judged to be most necessary and useful to them; and not without much hesitation have such articles of luxury as bread, coffee, and sugar, besides tobacco, been sold to them. By help of native schoolmasters, instruction is given to the children in all the wintering place, except a few where the number of inhabitants is too small. Attempts have been made to provide the natives with necessary medicines, along with some medical aid, although the latter remains, of course, very insufficient and illusory, on account of the extreme distances; and finally, the Government has endeavoured to establish regular institutions for the relief of the poor, and likewise taken measures for the administration of justice and laws, as far as circumstances would admit. Still, the general destructive influence of nations at a far more advanced stage of culture upon those on a p. 77 lower stage may here be traced—poverty, combined with predisposition to certain diseases, having sensibly increased. Greenland must be considered peculiarly adapted for making closer inquiries as to the nature of this influence.

From the earliest times of the colonisation, Europeans of the working classes have intermarried with native women, and formed their household after the Greenland model, with merely a few European improvements. These marriages have generally been rich in offspring; and have probably become a concurring means of temporarily increasing the population, the children, for the most part, growing up as complete Greenlanders. This mixed offspring being now very numerous, and its individuals representing the mixture of European and native blood in almost every possible proportion, any marked distinction between the Europeans and the natives might be supposed to have gradually disappeared. But the real difference of nationality depending on education, not on physical constitution, there are still sufficiently sharp distinctions to indicate what we mean by Europeans and natives. The average number of Europeans in the country, excepting at the time of existence of some temporary establishments peculiarly European, has varied between 200 and 300.

When the natives saw the first Europeans approaching their country from the sea in great ships, furnished with things all wonderful to them, they can hardly have failed to combine the idea of something supernatural with them. The Europeans, on their part, on settling down in the country, in order to make their existence more secure, were involuntarily led to abolish all native authority, especially that of the angakut, and to suppress all kinds of national meetings. Religious zeal—here of course, as everywhere else, combined with worldly and social aims—and national prejudice tended to make them despise and indiscriminately denounce all the native p. 78 customs and institutions as heathenish; and in time, European authority more and more became the principal law among them. From this abolition of native laws and authority, and a kind of self-abasement and disheartening consequently arising among them, the real or principal source of the national evils must be considered to proceed.

Two national treasures yet remain to the natives, by means of which they still maintain a kind of independence and national feeling—viz., their language and their folk-lore. Through the tales, they also still preserve a knowledge of their ancient religious opinions, combined somewhat systematically with the Christian faith. Tornarsuk, in being converted into the devil by the first missionaries, was only degraded, getting in the meantime, on the other hand, his real existence confirmed for ever. In consequence of this acknowledgment in part of tornarsuk, the whole company of inue or spirits were also considered as still existing. The ingnersuit were expressly charged by Egede as being the devil's servants. The Christian heaven coming into collision with the upper world of their ancestors, the natives very ingeniously placed it above the latter, or, more strictly, beyond the blue sky. By making tornarsuk the principle of evil, a total revolution was caused with regard to the general notions of good and evil, the result of which was to identify the idea of good with what was conformable to European authority; but, unhappily, the rules and laws given by the Europeans often varied with the individuals who successively arrived from Europe quite ignorant of the natives. In the same way as the ancient belief in the world of spirits has been kept up, the Greenlanders also maintain their old faith respecting the aid to be got from it, and have habitually recourse to it. The kayakers, in their troublesome and hazardous occupation, still believe themselves taken care of by invisible ingnersuit. Although the natives p. 79 are aware that the aid required from the spirit-world of the angakut is opposed to Christianity, they still discern as clearly as formerly between that and witchcraft. Only in rare instances have some of the natives attempted to form a Christian community independent of the Europeans, and founded on alleged immediate revelations from heaven; but these efforts have been soon suppressed. No attempts have ever been made to re-establish the ancient authority of the angakut.

Excepting the introduction of firearms, no essential change has taken place in the hunting operations of the natives. The principal means of subsistence are still procured in the same way as they were a thousand years ago. It will also be evident that a consumption of from thirty to forty pounds of bread annually per individual, besides coffee, sugar, and tobacco, cannot have essentially contributed to change the habitual food of the population. As to the rules regarding property, and the distribution of the daily gains from hunting and fishing, some changes must of course have arisen from the settling of Europeans among the natives; besides, a great portion of the produce of the chase is now turned into articles of trade. But still, the ancient principle of mutual assistance and semi-communism, out of the feeling of clanship it may be, still predominates among the Eskimo. When, however, the lazy and the active, the skilled and the unskilled, fared the same, owing to this division of the produce of the hunt, personal energy and activity necessarily abated. As to the body of persons constituting the family, the Europeans from the first made a practice of interfering with the discipline exercised by the head member, and even with the choice of husband or wife; while, at the same time, the children were not, as before, invariably brought up to the national occupation of hunters and fishers, and accordingly a temptation to waste the proceeds of the good man's labour increased. As to the communities p. 80 comprising the inhabitants of the same house or the same hamlet, their mutual relations have also necessarily been essentially altered, partly in having members added to their band who did not contribute to the common household, and also by their being enabled to barter away their seal-oil, and even the flesh, for European articles, principally such as would serve to improve their meals. On the other hand, in cases of any particular want, public opinion still requires the neighbouring seal-hunter to proffer his aid, if he had anything left beyond his own needs for the day. In fact, the Europeans, and perhaps those who are in their service, are now considered the only persons really entitled to possess property to any extent, the native sooner or later finding too much trouble in keeping what he may have saved up. Probably, by way of lessening the demands made on a provider by his house-fellows, a growing tendency has been observed in Greenland to make the houses smaller; but still it is extraordinary how many persons are entirely supported by a single man. All this taken into consideration, the security for person and property, which ought to have been one of the first advantages of the social order introduced by the Europeans, though prospering on the whole, on closer investigation still shows itself in some respects illusory as far as concerns the natives.

Although the general economical conditions of the Greenlanders now present a somewhat disheartening picture, there remain various circumstances which leave some ground for hope that they may regain their former prosperity, and that contact with a people in a higher stage of civilisation will prove no absolute hindrance to their existence and welfare. Firstly, in many places we meet with pure natives who have been able to combine the industry of their ancestors with the advantage to be derived from the use of European articles which are now for sale, and by means of these have established a household p. 81 undoubtedly preferable to that which formed the highest stage of comfortable life among the ancient Greenlanders. Next, it must be noticed that in many families the children even of European fathers, who are more exposed than other natives to the influence of European habits, and also to the use of European articles, have often become the most able kayakers and industrious seal-hunters. Next, it must be remarked that the natives show a great aptitude for learning, and are anxious to profit by the instruction imparted at schools, regular school attendance being perhaps in no country more popular than in Greenland; and lastly, it has been proved by experience that the natives themselves are acquiring a notion of the benefit arising from suitable laws and social institutions, which are necessary for the bringing about a more regulated way of making those habits which are inseparable from their trade and mode of life conformable to their relation with the Europeans.