Journal of a Seaplane Cruise Around The World
One cannot resist a certain curiosity after an experience of this sort, for these Eskimos exhibit in amazing combination both primitive and civilized characteristics. They have not lost the art of self-maintenance; their hunting and fishing instruments are everywhere in evidence, and most of the clothing has been made from materials gathered in the neighborhood. But mingled inconspicuously with their ancestral culture are many of the better features of the white man's civilization, and it is evident that there has been close contact between the races over a long period of time. It is to be wondered why such contact should have reacted favorably upon the natives, since experience has taught that the process of forced civilization is almost invariably disastrous to the culture, morale, and health of the inferior people. Particularly in the Arctic regions has the native suffered, and the Eskimo tribes of Labrador and Alaska have diminished alarmingly in recent years.
The title to Greenland rests with Denmark, based on claims of occupation which began as early as the fifteenth century. Strict supervision of the colony is maintained by a department of the government known as the "Greenland Administration", which has been established in Copenhagen. The country is divided into several provincial districts, each one under the direction of a Danish governor, who makes a permanent residence in the leading town of his province. Ships are sent out regularly during the summer months to bring supplies to the colony, and direct wireless communication is maintained the year around between Greenland stations and Copenhagen.
As in all colonial endeavors, the character of the governor is of supreme importance in obtaining a cooperative response from the people. The two leaders whom we met were particularly fine men, both having been long in Greenland. One in fact was born in Gotthaab, and his father was a practitioner of medicine along the West Coast. After completing his schooling in Europe, the son returned to the colony and has now served for 30 years as colony leader.
The success of the Danes in perpetuating the Eskimos appears to lie chiefly in two important policies: isolation of Greenland from the rest of the world, and maintenance of the basic cultural habits of the natives. Few people realize that Greenland is a "closed country" until they attempt to journey to her shores. Then they learn that there is no steamship service, and that travellers are not permitted. Private expeditions are discouraged, except those with legitimate scientific purpose, and these must make a sizeable deposit which may be used by the Administration in case rescue measures become necessary. Probably least welcome of all is the private flier, who comes without base crews, with only meager provisions, and usually with no knowledge or experience in meeting arctic weather conditions. If mishap occurs, and he becomes stranded on the ice cap or along the ice-laden eastern coast, it may require the efforts of all available rescue parties to save him and his companions from perishing.
The extraordinary beauty of the Greenland coast would attract without question a tourist trade, if such were allowed. Many people came forward to question us about Greenland as we passed through succeeding countries. To our surprise, we found particularly keen interest in Denmark, for Danish subjects are no more exempt from the restrictions against travel than are foreigners. A genuine attempt is being made to protect the Greenlander from the white man, in order that his existence may not be jeopardized by exploitation. Vessels from the Royal Navy patrol the coasts throughout the navigational season, and make occasional arrests, usually of fishing schooners which come too close inshore.
An interesting question arises concerning the use of Greenland as one of the bases for commercial transatlantic flying operations. While it seems unlikely that this long route will be opened up before the appearance of direct flights between the continents, it may be presumed that limited areas might be set aside for refuelling purposes, if the necessity arises. If one may judge by the developments now in progress in the aeronautical laboratories, another five years will find the airplane spanning all of the ocean areas without the necessity for landing at other than regular aerodromes.
Next to a state of relative isolation, the Eskimos owe their well being to the fact that the native diet has not been disturbed, nor the manner in which it is secured. A few items of foreign food have been introduced, and the planting of vegetable gardens has been encouraged in the more favored districts. The staple food is still the seal however, and it is hunted, not with motor boat and rifle, but with kayak and spear. Cod are abundant, and in certain regions the muskox is found. The administration has directed its energies toward preservation and extension of these food sources, rather than in substitution of our modern packages of scientifically sorted remnants. It is literally true that were the Greenlander suddenly to be deserted by his civilized guardian, he would be quite capable of continuing in his own way without alteration of the basic habits.
The medical services should be mentioned, because they constitute part of the duty of the Government in the care of the Eskimo. Denmark has provided excellent small hospitals at intervals along the coast, and a group of trained doctors and nurses, and in Copenhagen I was told that Eskimo girls are selected and sent to Denmark for two or three year periods of training in midwifery and nursing. They rejoin their families, and provide a well-dispersed trained personnel for the occasional medical exigency.
The greatest threat to the health of the Eskimo is tuberculosis, but for the most part this has been well controlled. One can hardly realize how susceptible these people may be to respiratory infections which the white man may bring. In so isolated a spot as Angmagsaalik, where only one or two ships call each year, the natives are certain to develop colds soon after the appearance of the ship regardless whether or not any one on board is sick.
One can appreciate something of the extraordinary charm of this magnificent country by reading the superb story written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which appeared in the National Geographical Magazine for September 1923. After seeing this one can understand why a visitor to the country is torn between the desire to return again to its shores, and a charitable wish to refrain from the visit and so leave the Greenland Administration unhampered in its splendid work.