By R. Bonnerjea
Review by Pam Le Gassick
Academic research has provided a body of knowledge contained in one cover which also gives unexpectedly fascinating reading. Dr Bonnerjea, a local resident, has investigated sources from such expected places as Greenland and Iceland to the less likely Apocrypha, Pliny and the Manchester Guardian to draw together for the first time a coherent study of the relationship the various Inuit races have had with Europeans.
The description of life in Europe when sailors such as Frobisher and Franklin searched for the North West Passage and found 'savages' set scenes in dramatic contrast to the lives of the Eskimos. Sometimes comparing European plenty with northern hardships, other times making it clear that the Europeans were probably spoiling a contented and efficient lifestyle. The various tribes, using different languages are spread much further than most of us realise (and a modern map would have been helpful). Descriptions of their religious beliefs, amazing expertise with Kayaks and general living conditions are taken from eye witnesses. The dedicated explorers who sailed the northern seas made detailed notes, even to writing phonetic versions of Eskimo words. The settlers imported over the centuries for religious and less altruistic reasons, such as whaling, made a difference to life styles which would probably have happened anyway but the importation of disease worked its usual decimation. Unfortunately few of the Eskimos brought to Europe, Denmark and Britain in particular, lived very long lives, again usually the result of disease. However, it would appear that most of them enjoyed the experience, and one or two profited highly by returning home with European goods which made them relatively wealthy.
Tragedy seems to have been the permanent companion of all the expeditions brought together in this volume but the author's enthusiasm for his subject shines through. The book is available from the author at £15 (including postage and packing) by writing to 175 Rosendale Road, SE21 8LW