Skraeling Island

I was looking for something else entirely when I came upon Barry Lopez’s Horizon. Opening it at random I was on Skraeling Island. 

I had worked hard 15 years ago looking for connections between our world and Lyra’s, and thought I’d found what there was to be known of Skraelings. Either there wasn’t much on the web or I should have focused on Norse sagas.

Skraeling Island is about 660 miles nautical  north of the Pole, off the coast of Ellesmere, Canada, where there is evidence of 4000 years of human habitation, including migratory paleoEskimos or Thule habitation 800 years ago, and relics and materials found in Norse excavations. West Greenland can be seen from the East. SW Alaska is 1500 miles west.

A question that may come to unexpected consequences as the poles continue to melt is whether this is evidence of Scandinavian colonization of these remote horizons of Canada or instead of trade in neighboring Greenland.

Lopez is on this archaeological expedition because writing about living in extreme environments is his life’s work, and he speculates on what dealing with the scarcity of resources in a land of such stunning horizons could have been like, if, for example, the dreamscapes of people living through months of darkness would differ, if their shamans would guide them through. Perhaps ceremonies comparable to Navajo Beautyways helped in time of privation to reveal a high level of coherence existing everlastingly as these explorerers lived on the brink of survival in the harshest of lands.

Lopez speculates that the Skraelings’ relationship with the bears was quite complex. They needed their meat and furs, every part of them, to survive. But they respected them. In their isolation they saw the bears as the only other beings able to walk upright. Perhaps they lived in villages, too.

It opens ways of considering how Lee Scoresby of New Denmark [Greenland] fought Skraelings on Nova Zembla. Consider that the original Americans were thought to have arrived via the Bering Strait. As the Paleo-Eskimos came east through New Denmark and on into Muscovy lands, Russian archipelagos, this means peoples of the Old World came to the New, although in our world’s history, a mirror reality says that Europeans coming into New France [Canada] were inhabitants of  the Old World encountering the New.

Ruins on Skraeling Island. Nick Newberry Archive (see below).

Photo from Nick Newberry Archives. For educational purposes only.https://www.newberyphotoarchives.ca/in/photos/15-skraeling-island

Map by Mike O’Rourke. Used for educational purposes only. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-location-of-Skraeling-Island-in-the-Canadian-High-Arctic-Map-by-Mike-ORourke_fig1_264004582

Details below. The island is 7000 ft long y 4600 ft in width and is part of the Queen Elizabeth/Canadian Archipelago

Source: Barry Lopez. Horizon. Chapter “Skraling Island.” pp. 131 – 203. NY: Knopf, 2019.

 

 

Eskimos and Inuits. And Skraelings.

It’s confusing these days. When I was little, the Eskimos lived in Alaska in igloos. In Lyra’s world, it seems to be used in general terms for indigenous peoples of the North.

Now, in our world, Eskimo is widely seen as a derogatory term, since some linguists say that Eskimo means “eater of raw meat,” and I guess the offense here is that in the division of raw and cooked as uncivilized vs. civilized. To me, you may as well complain about the low rates of veganism among coastal peoples of the Far North.

But there are some peoples for whom Eskimo remains a valid term.

Inuit is the plural of inuk, which means human, and is also used to refer to the languages spoken by these indigenous peoples.

However, not all Artic indigenous peoples speak languages with a common root. Inuit works for peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, but Eskimo covers non-Inuit native Arctic speakers. In Alaska and Siberia, the languages are Inupiaq and Yupik.

Lord Asriel uses Eskimo when he tells Lyra he will bring her back a carving from the North. Later, a Nova Zembla bartender speaks of the Inuits of Beringland (Alaska).

Skraeling does seem a derogatory term. When Lord Asriel presents what he claims to be the scalped head of a once-time Jordan Scholar, the faculty is aghast at scalping patterns they associate with Tartars and “aboriginals of Siberia and Tungusk” (GL/NC 26), which they claim to have “spread into the land of the Skraelings,” but is now banned by New Denmark (presumably Greenland).

Skraelings are also said to be able to snatch demons away from children by hand, (273) and to use poisonous arrows in battle (315).

The word Skraeling is found in Norse sagas about the attempted conquest of Vinland. They were described as “short people with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads. . . .large eyes and broad cheeks” by Ari the Wise. Around 1000 AD another historian noted in Historia Norvegiae that in Northwestern Greenland Skraelings “have no iron at all; they use missiles made of walrus tusks.”

The old Norse word Skraeling means “to glide,” but is usually used with derision for “small people” who seem “scared or scruffy.”

The Magisterium’s censor at the Nova Zembla observatory is known only at “the Skraeling,”  (SK chapter 6) and one of Mrs. Coulter’s victims, Tony Makarios, a London street kid, is half-Skraeling (NL/GC chapters 3, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 21, 23; AS 19 passing).

eskimo

 

Nunivak_maskette

 

The ivory carver–Nunivak. Curtis, Edward S., Created / Published 1929.

Featured: Inupiat in a kayak, Noatak, Alaska, c. 1929 (photo by Edward S. Curtis)

LOC. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005691848/

ru.wikipedia.org