More from the book “The Add-on Eskimo
Sixty miles East of Ayit’s village on the island of Sivukuk, the whaling captain stepped out of his boat onto the gravel beach of the village of Sivukuk. The Eskimos had seen his ship anchored offshore and had already gathered on the beach with ivory carvings, seal and fox skins and baleen to trade.
The Captain looked for his contact, Woolunga. In previous visits the captain had taught him some English and was now able to bargain with his help.
As the Captain pushed through the little crowd to greet Woolunga, his men unloaded some boxes and opened them, displaying knives, ax heads, cloth goods, ammunition and most importantly, the highly prized blue glass beads. Also, unfortunately, there were some bottles of whisky. The Eskimos knew and loved it, but had very little tolerance for it, quickly getting very drunk.
“Hello Captain,” said Woolunga as he shook the Captain’s hand in the way he’d learned in previous visits. “Welcome. You bring goods? We have skins.”
“Yes,” replied the captain, “come and see what we have.” They walked together to the boxes laid out on the sand, the other Eskimos crowding around.
“Look here,” said the Captain, lifting a few items out of the boxes, “I’ve brought you good and useful things.”
“Yes, useful,” said Woolunga as he held a new knife and an iron ax. “We also have useful things for you, seal skins, fox skins, baleen and some ivory work.” He pointed to the piles on the beach.
The captain’s eyes gleamed, especially when he saw the beautiful and realistically carved ivory statues of birds, seals and walrus. He thought to himself, These primitive people are so talented. Too bad they couldn’t produce more. I can sell these items at a very good profit.
“Well, Woolunga, what will you give me for that nice, sharp knife?” asked the Captain and the bargaining began. Woolunga traded with his own goods, then translated for the others. In the end the captain went away happy with his load of skins, carvings and other items. The Eskimos felt they’d gotten the better of the deal with new knives, axes, iron pipes and ammunition for their guns, as well as the blue beads and whisky. They’d also gotten some sugar, tea and salt.
But most of all, the Eskimos, like Woolunga, got a better grasp of English. Each year twenty to thirty whaling ships sailed by and some stopped. Once or twice a ship had wintered at the village, caught in the ice. That gave some of the villagers time to learn more English. And the sailors didn’t mind spending time there, as they were included in the Eskimo custom of sharing wives. The learning of English was going to prove very important for the next great change on the Island.
picture: seal carved from a walrus tusk