The Labrador Boundary


Privy Council Documents


Volume V
Contents




      Improvement by         missionaries.

      Physique.

      Temperament.

      Food.

      Trade.

      Habitations.

      Boats.

      Sleds.

      Cooking utensils.

      Disease.

      Marriage.

      Children.

      Beliefs.

      Conjurors.

      Art.

      Music.

      Eskimo.

      Hudson's Bay         Company posts.

      Trade.

      Missionaries.

      Indians.


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are those used by the Eskimo of Ungava Bay. The first sub-division includes all those dwelling along the Atlantic coast and along the south shore of Hudson Strait to the mouth of the Leaf River, a few miles northward of the mouth of the Koksoak River. These people call themselves Suhinimyut, “ those who dwell at or in the sun,” or the dwellers in the east. The second sub-division embraces the Eskimo dwelling along the south shore of Hudson Strait, between Leaf River and Cape Wolstenholme, at the entrance to Hudson Bay. These people are called the Tahagmyut, “ dwellers in the shade,” or the western people. By the Hudson's Bay Company they are known as “ Northerners.” The third sub-division includes those living along the east coast of Hudson Bay, and they are designated the Itivimyut, or “ the dwellers on the other side.” A fourth division may be made of the Eskimo of the outer islands of Hudson Bay, who, according to the traders and missionaries, differ from their neighbours along the coast, both in language and customs. They are known as the Kigiktagmyut, or “ Island people.” Along the Atlantic coast, as far north as Hopedale, few or none of the Eskimo are pure blooded. To the northward the Moravian missionaries keep the natives from contact with the whites, and in consequence there are very few of mixed blood. In Ungava Bay and on Hudson Bay there are, around the Hudson's Bay posts, many half-breeds, the result of marriage between the employees and Eskimo women.
The natives along the Atlantic coast, from Hopedale to Nachvak, have long been under the direct influence of the Moravian missionaries, and, in consequence, have abandoned many of their ancient customs. Polygamy is no longer tolerated among them ; in many cases they conform with a fair standard of civilization, and are quite religious, although very superstitious.
On the coast of Hudson Bay, mainly through the endeavours of the Rev. Mr. Peck, of the Church Mission Society, most of the Eskimo have been converted to Christianity. On this coast the missionaries do not reside constantly among the natives, and in consequence these people are very liable to relapse, during their absence, into some of their former pagan habits. The Eskimo of Hudson Strait have not yet been brought under the influences of Christianity, and afford a better chance for the study of their native customs and traits.
It is customary to think of the Eskimo as considerably below the stature of the average European. This is not the case with those inhabiting the coasts of Labrador. The males, as a rule, are quite as tall as the average white man, but owing to their broad, heavy build, they appear shorter than they really are; and this appearance is enhanced by their wide garments of hairy deer or seal skins. Where seen by the writer on Hudson Bay, and at Fort Chimo, George River, Nachvak, Davis Inlet and Hamilton Inlet, several of the men at each place were six feet and upwards in height, the average height being about five feet six inches. The women, as a rule, are short and stout, and look in their native dress of deerskin coat, trousers and long seal boots, much shorter than they actually are.
The temperament of the Eskimo differs much from that of the Indian,

p. 2617

the former being jovial, good-natured and very industrious. They are good workers with tools, and on the Hudson Bay coast the blacksmiths confess that the natives, without the use of a forge, can work and temper iron better than they can. These people, living as they do on the coast, depend largely upon marine animals for food and clothing. Their principal food is seal meat, together with porpoise, whale meat and fish. They also kill many caribou, to the north of the Koksoak River. For this purpose, they travel inland from the coast, but the pursuit of this animal is chiefly for its skin, used in clothing. The hunters quickly tire of the flesh, it being not fat enough to suit their taste. During the winter, they hunt fur, to purchase what supplies they may need from the traders. The principal furs taken by them are red, cross, black, white and blue foxes, white bears, wolves and wolverines, besides deer and seals. The Eskimo have not as many civilized wants as the Indians, the principal articles of trade taken in exchange for their furs being ammunition, tobacco, knives and iron, tea, sugar and needles. They do not buy much flour or biscuit, and very little European clothing.
With the exception of the Atlantic coast Eskimo, who live about the mission stations in small log houses, the summer camp is made much like an Indian wigwam, save that it has a ridge-pole, and is covered with seal-skins. During the winter, small circular snow houses are used. For travel during the summer, two kinds of boats are used, the kaiak or men's boat is long and narrow, and formed of a wooden frame covered with seal-skins, leaving only a small circular opening large enough to admit the body of a man. The bow is long and pointed and projects above the water forward, the stern is fuller, and much lower and rounder. This craft is for one man, who propels it with a double-bladed paddle, and it is used for hunting. In these small boats the islanders of Hudson Bay frequently cross some fifty miles of open water to the mainland.
The umiak or women's boat is much larger, and like the former is made from seal-skins stretched on a wooden frame. In shape and size it resembles a deep, flat-bottomed punt, and is capable of carrying the heavy seal-skin tent and all the other belongings of a family, when moving from one place to another. In winter, dogs and sleds are used to travel with, the Eskimo not being nearly as good a walker as the Indian. The sleds are made of two runners of wood, from nine to eighteen feet long, held in position, from eighteen to twenty-four inches apart, by numerous cross pieces. The sled is shod during the cold winter months with walrus ivory or whalebone attached to the runners with wooden pegs, or else the bottom of the runner is coated with vegetable mould, which is frozen on and then shaped with a knife or plane so as to resemble the head of a large T rail, both in shape and size. This is coated with a thin skin of ice and answers admirably during the cold unbroken winter. In the spring time, runners of hoop-iron are preferred. During the winter, cooking is carried on in the snow houses over soapstone lamps in the form of a shallow triangular dish, about fifteen inches long and eight inches wide. These dishes are nearly filled with seal oil, and the wick is formed of dry moss placed round the sides. Formerly soapstone kettles were used for cooking,

p. 2618

but these are almost entirely superseded by tin or copper kettles purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company.
The habits of the uncivilized Eskimo are far from cleanly, and they appear to have a decided objection to the use of water except for drinking purposes. In consequence, the principal diseases from which they suffer arise from their filthy habits and the close vitiated atmosphere in their tightly closed houses, laden with the odours of decomposing animal food and other filth. Over half the Eskimo die of pulmonary troubles due to these causes and to exposure. Many suffer and die from scurvy, caused by devitalized blood and their excessively fatty food while remaining sedentary during the winter. As a rule, monogamy is practised, although many of the better hunters among the unchristianized natives have two and some three or four wives. The women are married early, generally at about fourteen or fifteen years and often before that age, and these early marriages result in few and weakly children. The marriage ceremony is very simple. The consent of the parents or other relatives of the girl is obtained by presents or favour, and, if the girl is favourable to the union, she goes with her husband. When the girl refuses, she is soon coerced by her relatives. The marriage tie is easily broken, and it is seldom that a man lives with a woman for a number of years. Jealousy, resulting from a laxity of morals or incompatibility of temper, dissolves the marriage without ceremony, the woman returning to her relations until taken by another man. The family is usually of two or three children, although there are sometimes eight or ten, but many die in childhood. Like the Indians, the Eskimo never inflict corporal punishment on their children, who without it early learn, however, to obey and respect their elders.
The dead are placed in a sitting position, with the knees drawn tightly up, and the whole body covered with seal-skin or deer-skin. The body is placed in this mannner on the bare rock, and is covered with stones to prevent the birds and animals getting at it.
Like the Indians, they believe in a future state, where the spiritual conditions closely resemble those of the material world. As every object is endowed with a spirit, clothing, spears, gun, kaiak and other articles, are deposited near the grave, so that the departed may use the spirits of these articles, in his new existence separated from the body. The spirits of material objects are supposed to be released as soon as they decay and if they are found removed, it is said, that the spirit of the dead has taken them for use in the spiritual world. All objects, animate or inanimate, have both a material and a spiritual existence ; and there are other spirits, mostly of a malignant character, which can be appeased by gifts.
It is easy to understand that, holding such beliefs, they highly esteem, fear and respect the conjurors, whom they suppose to have power over the various spirits, including those that cause disease and death. The conjurers also claim to influence the movements of the deer and other animals, and are supposed to control the weather. Unlike the Indian conjurer, who performs his incantations concealed in a small tent, his Eskimo confrère invokes and

p. 2619

exorcises the malignant spirits openly, or with only his head covered up. Some of the Eskimo while away the time during winter, by making rude carvings out of walrus tusk or bear teeth. The carvings represent various birds and animals, or models of their boats, sleds, or implements. Some of the carvings show considerable skill and artistic taste, especially those made under the direction of the Moravian missionaries.
The Eskimo are very fond of singing, instrumental music and dancing, and readily learn to play the violin. At Hopedale and Nain the natives have orchestral music to accompany part singing in the church services, and many of the Eskimo of the Atlantic coast play second parts on the violin, showing that they have a fair idea of harmony.
****
Hamilton Inlet is the present southern limit of the Eskimo on the Atlantic coast. There is now a little tribe of some half dozen families living in log houses on the shore of a cove called Carawalla at the head of Henrietta Island. A few more families are scattered along the shores of the lower half of the inlet. They are in a state of semi-civilization, having adopted European dress, and all talk more or less English. They are poor and dependent on the fishery and seal hunt for a livelihood. The Hudson's Bay Company have two establishments on Hamilton Inlet; the larger, called Rigolet, is situated on the north shore at the narrows, about three miles above the entrance to Double Mer. This is the head-quarters of the Labrador Coast, or Esquimaux Bay district, the officer in charge having under his care the posts of Cartwright on Sandwich Bay, of Northwest River at the mouth of that stream, as well as those of Davis Inlet, and of Nachvak, both situated on the coast to the northward.
The post at Rigolet consists of about a dozen houses and stores, and trade for fur and fish is carried on with the Eskimo and “planters.” The trade of the post at Northwest River is made with the “ planters ” living about the upper part of the inlet, and with the Indians, who hunt in the country drained by the Hamilton and Northwest rivers, as well as with those hunting to the southward in the Mealy Mountains. A Roman Catholic chapel was erected some years ago near this post, and a missionary priest from the St. Lawrence used annually to visit the Indians there, during the summer. These visits, it is understood, are no longer to be made, the Indians being advised to go instead to Mingan, or other posts on the St. Lawrence, to meet the missionaries. All the Indians of the region profess Christianity, and are very careful to keep all the observances of the church, even when far inland, but their beliefs seem to be inextricably mixed up with their older pagan ideas, and often their views on subjects of religion are very curious.
The Indians frequenting Northwest River post are probably the most miserable and ill-conditioned in Labrador. Being deer hunters, and consequently depending largely on the caribou, both for food and clothing, they have little inclination to trap fur-bearing animals and thus improve their condition by trade. As their wants are mainly confined to tea, tobacco, powder and

p. 2620

shot, and some few articles of clothing, a small amount of hunting only is necessary to provide their price, and beyond this, except for the labour of following the deer, or fishing, they do nothing, spending much of their time lounging about their tents. They will not work, even when offered very high pay, and when asked so to do, simply laugh and say they are not hungry. They are so improvident that they never lay in a stock of fish in the autumn, as the Indians to the westward do, and when during the winter, from some cause or other, they fail to find the caribou, they are soon reduced to starvation, and many die.
These Indians belong in part to both the Montagnais and Nascaupee tribes. The former tribe hunts between Hamilton Inlet and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the latter to the west and north-west of Hamilton Inlet. No great physical difference can be observed between these tribes; if there is any, the Nascaupees appear to be slightly taller and less robustly built than the Montagnais. They talk different dialects of the Cree language, but the difference is so slight, that they converse freely together, and understand one another quite readily. The name Nascaupee in the Montagnais dialect signifies “the ignorant ones ” and is given on account of their lack of knowledge in regard to the works and ways of civilization, owing to their want of communication with the outside world.

[1927lab]



 

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