Saturday, December 19, 2015

by Stephen R. Bown

When it comes to polar exploration, Knud Rasmussen stands out from all the others. Whereas Robert Peary, Richard Bird, Robert Falcon Scott, et al, were determined to investigate the Arctic geographically, Rasmussen was more interested in learning about the native people (Inuit). (He was fluent in Kalaallisut, a dialect of Greenland due to his mother's side of the family.) For thirty years he visited every known tribe that was then existing in this part of the world.They both loved and revered him. Rasmussen lived among them helping them hunt, harnessing dog sleds, building abodes, eating what they caught and shot and by doing so eventually earned their trust. They considered him one of them. His patience, enthusiasm, charm, and intelligence worked wonders and they opened their hearts to Rasmussen telling him about their lives, legends, songs, and poetry, which he diligently recorded. Of course, then he had to translate everything which he then wrote about. Rasmussen was a born storyteller and his writings were quite lyrical. The publishers ate it up. He was in high demand between his books and the lecture circuit.
Rasmussen's reputation has never diminished nor has he been supplanted by anyone else and he is still ranked as number one in being able to explain to the general public, through his writings, the core of Inuit life.
He was many things: an ethnographer, an anthropologist, a writer, an explorer, a filmmaker, and, most importantly, a dedicated friend.
White Eskimo is a fantastic biography of an incredible man. Author Stephen Bown is a superb writer, but then, again, he should be as he has written many other books on exploration. His "Note on Sources" is fascinating enough (especially with what he went through to get the Danish language translated) and must be read to understand what he wanted to achieve with understanding the kind of man Rasmussen was.
Apparently there have been no other biographies written in English about Rasmussen. The only ones that are available are in Danish. Luckily we have Bown who did us an inestimable service by his incredible research in bringing Rasmussen to our attention.
Very highly recommended.