THE LAST KINGS OF THULE: With the Polar Eskimos as They Face Their Destiny by Jean Malaurie
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THE LAST KINGS OF THULE: With the Polar Eskimos as They Face Their Destiny

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An expanded third edition, the first in English, of Malaurie's widely-translated report (in the famed Terre Humaine series) on his year with Greenland's Polar Eskimos in 195051. In a small village beyond Thule, Malaurie found hunters living much as their ancestors had--in stone and peat igloos, wearing bearskin clothing, eating whale and seal--and sharing a deeply ingrained way of life. (Eskimos, who think better in a group, never say ""I think,"" but only ""The Inuit think"" or ""The group thinks."") Because he was sensitive to their customs, because he hunted with the men and shared their raw (sometimes rotten) meat, and, not least, because he owned his own team of dogs, Malaurie came to be accepted by these harsh, unpredictable, reserved, and sometimes vengeful people. For Malaurie and four Eskimos, two men and two women, the year included an expedition to chart uninhabited regions to the north and west. Here Malaurie recalls the fate of previous Polar expeditions, much as he has filled out his account of village life with the Eskimos' myths and folk tales. His own dogsled journey was as demanding as any: we hear of crawling blindly through storm and fog; of scaling crevasse-ridden glaciers; and, during one week Malaurie spent alone in a snow igloo, of fumbling to repair a failed stove as the temperature drops and the peeling skin of his fingers sticks to the pliers. The group returns to Thule to find the transformation of the culture begun: a huge American air base is in progress and ""Inuk, the man with the harpoon, was doomed."" On a 1967 return trip, Malaurie finds the hunting and the hunting economy destroyed, a welfare system in its place, sharing discouraged by the system of exchange and capitalization, old friends complaining, teeth and spirits destroyed by the white man's diet, and a once-proud hunter from his old village now a street cleaner--the self-styled ""Big Shit."" Yet the determined Eskimo delegates at an al-Arctic conference Malaurie chaired in 1973 give him hope for the emergence of an ""Eskimo Gaullism,"" his term for a rational economic system characterized by group effort, autonomy, and ""sustaining one's historical dignity."" Insightful intimacy with a mysterious, heroic people; a telling demonstration of capitalist ""dispossession. . . of a marginal people""; compelling adventure that only the Arctic can offer: plus pictures--a significant document with immense appeal.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Dutton