FAR away to the "north of us stretches a land of ice and snow of short summers, and long, long winters, where the night lasts for months. For centuries no one knew that people could live in this cold country; but after a while the Scandinavian sailors began to explore the northern coast off Europe, and even to go across the Atlantic to the north-west;” and among other places, they visited Greenland, where, we are told, they planted colonies.

Many years after this, the English became anxious to have a share in the far-famed riches of India; but, because the Pope had assigned one of the two routes to the Portugese and the other to the Spaniards, they had no way to get there; so they determined to find out if there was not a more direct passage to the north-west, around the northern coast of America. But the frail sailing vessels of those times were not strong enough to wrestle with the rough seas, the driving storms, and the ice that they were obliged to encounter in forcing a passage through to the Pacific; and the English failed in accomplishing their object. After a while other expeditions, with stronger ships and better preparations, succeeded in finding the northwest passage, but on account of the ice that filled it for the greater part of the year, it did not prove to be a practicable route to India. No expedition has yet been able to reach the north pole, (1883) though in the face of great difficulties and with much suffering, great efforts have been put forth to do so. One company sent out by the British government in 1875, came within four hundred miles of it, which is the most northern point that has yet been visited by the white man.

These explorers have left on record many interesting descriptions of the frozen North and its strange people, called the Esquimaux, who inhabit the Arctic coast of North America, extending from Greenland and Labrador to the extreme eastern point of Asia. A voyager, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, describes these people as "strange infidels, whose like was never seen, read, nor heard of before: with long black hair, broad faces and flat noses, and tawny in color, wearing seal-skins, the women marked in the face with blue streaks down the cheeks, and round about the eyes."

The Esquimaux men are a little below the average height, while the women are shorter. Owing to their constant exercise in harpooning the walrus and seal, they are strong and well developed. Their hands and feet are small and well shaped. The women plait their glossy black hair in tasteful braids, and, were it not for a decided disinclination to wash their faces, would have a warm, clear complexion, but little darker than a dark brunette's.

The dress of the men and the women is very much alike, and is made less for beauty than for comfort. It consists of two suits of fur, the inner one made of soft fur, with the fur side in; the other suit has the fur side out. The only difference in the dress of the men and women, is that the women's jacket is a little longer, and the hood, in which they often carry their children, is larger. The women are very skillful in making neat skin boots, perfectly watertight, and lined with the feathered skins of birds.

When the tribes move southward over the ice on their seal hunts, they build strange houses, never seen anywhere else in the world. They first trace a circle on the level snow; they then cut the frozen snow inside this circle into slabs to be used in building the sides of the house, the smooth level ice below forming the floor. All the crevices are closed by loose snow thrown over the house. The walls are only three or four inches thick, and admit a soft light, but a window of transparent ice is usually set in. Two men generally work together, and when the dome is completed, the man on the inside cuts a low opening, and creeps out.  A passage leading to this opening is built so as to keep out the cold air, and covered passages often lead from one hut to another. Their tables, chairs, and couches are all made of snow, and the latter are covered with skins to make them more comfortable. The heat produced by the body makes the hut sufficiently warm. A lamp of walrus bone, in which oil is burned, gives all the heat needed to dry the wet boots and clothes. It takes them no longer to build one of these houses than it would to pitch a tent. One traveler, by giving a few nails, hired two Esquimaux to build him a hut eight feet long and five and a half feet high, which was finished in an hour. Our picture gives a good view of one of these snow villages, sheltered by huge icebergs.

Not all the houses of the Esquimaux are made of snow. Many are made of stone, earth, or driftwood; and when in summer the sun becomes so hot as to melt their snow homes, they pitch sealskin tents in their stead.

The Arctic lands are not wholly destitute of vegetation; in the short summer, that is only one long day, the few plants ripen rapidly, but not enough grows to sustain life. The people depend for their living mainly on hunting and fishing, and are constantly moving from place to place, as the animals are driven by the cold from north to south. They travel by means of the sledge, a sled made of the bones of animals and covered with skin. The runners are made of the polished ivory of walrus tusks. With only his rude tools, it takes the Esquimaux a long time to make a sledge, and it is carefully repaired and handed down from generation to generation. These sleds are drawn by dogs, that, look very much like the wolf, of these polar-regions. The principal difference between them is that the dog carries his tail erect, while the wolf hangs his down. On these rude sleds the Esquimaux make long journeys over the ice and snow.

Their boats, or kayaks as they are called, have a light framework of bone, covered water tight with skins. In an opening in the center the boatman takes his seat, drawing around him a watertight skin sack in such a manner that if the boat were upset in an open sea, no water could enter it. The oomiak, or woman's boat, is made in the same manner as the kayak, but is large enough to hold ten or twelve persons. It is considered a disgrace for a man to row in such a boat. When they first saw Englishmen rowing together in a boat on the polar seas, they took them for women, and were anxious to know if all English women wore long beards.

The Esquimaux show to the infirm or aged the same lack of respect found among other savage tribes. If in their journeys any are too feeble to go with the rest, they are unfeelingly left behind to perish. Their children are, however, very docile and obedient, and the parents display a strong affection for them. To be called a thief is as much of a disgrace among them as among us, and they will never take anything from one another; yet they suffer no twinges of conscience in stealing from a white man.

This people have no laws, yet they are very orderly. If any fall into a quarrel, they settle the matter by boxing, or by taking their troubles to the priest. The head of the family rules only so long as he is able to hunt successfully. When his strength fails, he is made to stay with the women, and row in the oomiak. They are superstitious, and even in Greenland, where, through the efforts of missionaries, some of the tribes have professed Christianity, the old legends secretly hold full power over many.



W. E. L.