Food, warmth, and shelter

Kabloona” is one of the most interesting books I’ve read.

Kabloona is the Canadian Inuit name for a white person. A young Frenchman traveled to Northern Canada to spend time among the Inuit, who at that time in 1938, were still living as their ancestors had for thousands of years.

The  Frenchman, Gotran de Poncins, wrote about his year among the Inuit and it’s as absorbing now as it was when it was written.

This book is superb storytelling. You’re transported to a snow bench in an igloo, sitting in the light of a  seal oil lamp, listening to a story of conversion from European outsider to an accepted Inuit insider.

His first encounters with the Inuit are at the white man’s trading post. There, Inuit trade things they don’t value, like white fox pelts, for items of little value to the white man. Both sides feel they prevail in the trades.

Initially, Poncins perceives the Inuit who visited the trading post as dull, brooding, and beaten down. But, on venturing with them into their untamed Arctic, he marvels as they come to life.

Poncins is a diarist, not an anthropologist or scientist, and throws himself into the daily life of the Inuit. As his European cultural barriers fall away, he gains insights and an appreciation for their hard life, which on the surface seems consumed only with food, warmth, and shelter.

Of course Poncins is stunned by the cold that freezes a large freshly caught fish into a rock hard solid. And while living with them in their igloos, at first he’s put off by their hygiene, eating, and customs. The smells inside the igloo repel him. Eating raw or rotten fish and meat is shocking. And the degree of freely sharing possessions is the opposite of his world.

Comparing South Pacific islanders with the Inuit, Poncins found, “… happiness has nothing to do with climate: these Eskimos afforded me decisive proof that happiness is a disposition of the spirit… they were a cheerful people always laughing, never weary of laughter.” He came to enjoy their company and they seemed to like him too.

By embracing the Inuit and their ways, Poncins gives us an insider’s view of a world that’s now likely gone.