Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/634

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624
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF THE CENTRAL ESKIMO.[1]
By Professor FRANZ BOAS.

THE Eskimo who inhabit the coasts of Arctic America subsist mainly by the chase of sea-mammals, such as seals of various kinds, walruses and whales. Whenever this source of supply is curtailed, want and famine set in. The huts are cold and dark—for heat and light are obtained by burning the blubber of seals and whales—and soon the people succumb to hunger and to the terrors of the rigorous climate. For this reason the native does everything in his power to gain the good-will of the sea-mammals and to insure success in hunting. All his thoughts are bent upon treating them in such a manner that they may allow themselves to be caught. On this account they form one of the main subjects of his religious beliefs and customs. They play a most important part in his mythology, and a well-nigh endless series of observances regulates their treatment.

The mythological explanation of all the prevailing customs in regard to sea-mammals is contained in a tale which describes their origin:

"A girl named Avilayuk refused all her suitors, and for this reason she was also called 'She who does not want to marry.' There was a stone near the village where she lived. It was speckled white and red. The stone transformed itself into a dog and took the girl to wife.

"She had many children, some of whom became the ancestors of various fabulous tribes. The children made a great deal of noise, which annoyed Avilayuk's father, so that he finally took them across the water to a small island. Every day the dog swam across to the old man's hut to get meat for his family. His wife hung around his neck a pair of boots that were fastened to a string. The old man filled the boots with meat, and the dog took them back to the island.

"One day, while the dog was gone for meat, a man came to the island in his kayak[2] and called the young woman. 'Take your bag and come with me,' he shouted. He had the appearance of a good-looking, tall man, and the woman was well pleased with him. She took her bag, went down to the kayak, and the man paddled away with her. After they had gone some distance, they came to a cake of floating ice. The


  1. A description of the religious beliefs of the Central Eskimo, based upon observations made by the writer, was published in the Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. The following account embodies observations which Capt. James S. Mutch, of Peterhead, Scotland, following a suggestion of the writer, had the kindness to make. The material for this study was collected by Capt. Mutch during a long-continued stay in Cumberland Sound.
  2. The one-man hunting canoe of the Eskimo.