See also Heathens
Faith, superstition, ritual, myth
Again the sky was clear; several evenings had passed, and the Moon was in his first quarter. I again got an idea for a sketch. Listen to what the Moon told me.
"I followed the polar bird and the swimming whale to the eastern coast of Greenland. Bare rocks, covered with ice and mist, encircled a valley where twining willows and whortleberry bushes were in their fullest blossom, and the fragrant lychnis exhaled its sweet perfume. My rays were faint, my face pale as the leaf of a water lily torn from its stem and driven for weeks upon the water. The aurora borealis flamed; its ring was broad, and from it strange pillars of fire, changing from red to green, shot forth in whirling columns over the whole heavens.
" The inhabitants here had assembled for a dance and various kinds of merriment; but the splendor of the scene did not excite wonder in their accustomed eyes. 'Let the souls of the dead play ball with the walrus head!' they thought, according to their superstition; they had thought and eye only for the song and dance.
"A Greenlander, without his fur coat, stood in the middle of the circle, and, beating on the drum, he began a song about the seal hunt; the chorus responded with 'Eia! Eia!' and hopped around and around in a circle, dressed in their garments of white fur. Their eyes and heads moved strangely, and the whole scene was like a polar bears' ball. Now judgment and sentence began. Those who had come with a grievance stepped forward, and the injured person chanted forth, boldly and mockingly, the faults of his opponent in an extemporaneous song, accompanied by the drumbeats and dancing. Then the accused replied with equal shrewdness, while all the people laughed and finally they pronounced sentence.
"From the mountains came a thunderous sound; the glaciers above had split into pieces, and the huge masses fell in showers of dust. It was a beautiful Greenland summer night.
"A sick man lay a hundred yards away, beneath an open tent of skins. There was still life in his warm blood, but he must die, for he believed that, and all the others believed it, too. Already his wife was sewing the skin covering tightly around his limbs, so that afterwards she would not have to touch the dead body. 'Do you want to be buried on the mountain in the firm snow?' she asked him. 'I will cover your grave with your kayak and your arrows, and the angekok will dance over it. Or would you rather be buried in the sea?'
" 'In the sea,' the sick man whispered, and nodded with a sad smile.
" 'The sea is a pleasant summer pavilion!' said his wife. 'Thousands of seals play there, the walrus sleeps at your feet, and the hunt is safe and merry.'
"And then his crying children tore the stretched skin away from the window hole, so that the dying man could be carried out to sea, to the swelling ocean, which in his life had given him food and now in death was to give him rest. The floating icebergs, passing back and forth by day and night, became his tombstone. The seal slumbers on the icebergs while the storm bird flies over them."