Burial of John Franklin. Author: me


Kabloonas is the way in which the Inuit who live in the north part of Canada call those who haven´t their same ascendency.

The first time i read this word was in the book "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan, when, as the result of the conversations between John Rae and some inuit, and trying to find any evidence of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition, some of then mentioned that they watched how some kabloonas walked to die in the proximities of the river Great Fish.

I wish to publish this blog to order and share all those anecdotes that I´ve been finding in the arctic literature about arctic expeditions. My interest began more than 15 years ago reading a little book of my brother about north and south pole expeditions. I began reading almost all the bibliography about Antarctic expeditions and the superknown expeditions of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, etc. After I was captured by the Nansen, Nobile and Engineer Andree. But the most disturbing thing in that little book, full of pictures, was the two pages dedicated to the last Franklin expedition of the S.XIX, on that moment I thought that given the time on which this and others expeditions happened, few or any additional information could be obtained about it. I couldn´t imagine that after those two pages It would be a huge iceberg full of stories, unresolved misteries, anecdotes, etc. I believe that this iceberg, on the contrary than others, would continue growing instead melting.

lunes, 4 de agosto de 2014


With the change of the decade, the mine, some reflections have arisen about how the elders are treated in the modern society. Speaking about this I have remembered something I read, not long time ago, about that incident of which Charles Francis Hall was witness during his years in the arctic while searching for the Franklin expedition.  
From: http://www.athropolis.com/arctic-facts/fact-hall.htm
This incident was no other than a case of senilicide. Particularly, an old woman was locked into an igloo in order to be left there to die from cold and starvation. Hall was so shocked and touched about this action that he re-opened the igloo and tried during long hours, if not days, to save the life of that poor old woman. It seems however that this concrete measure was a very rare practice, being prefered by the people quicker methods which were usually applied with great regret and pain and almost always under request of the elder. 

All the things I have learnt about this practice are in this paper written in 1941. It is an interesting analysis about the most shocking habits and costumes of the Inuit people:

Regents Professor Emeritus of anthropology at the University of Minnesota

E. Adamson Hoebel, Law-Ways of the Primitive Eskimos, 31 Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 663 (1940-1941)

This subject will surely resurrect among the readers the issue of the consideration as barbarism or not of some of the Inuit costumes followed by the time of the Franklin expedition, and from the reading of the lines which follow, it will resurrect the famous debate and discussions between the recently post humously awarded John Rae and the big Charles Dickens. Both, spokesmen of two antagonistict worlds. 

If you want to know my opinion, which you surely won´t, I think that those unfairly called barbarian costumes are not more than the result of long ages of evolution and survival practicing in extreme environments. We are speaking here about infanticide, senicilide, cannibalism, and others alleged monstruosities. Not the most pleasent things to speak about  during the tea time, but the things which can make the difference between living or dying during the long arctic winters at 50 or less degrees Celsius below zero and after a week or more without eating NOTHING. The same C.F.Hall was trapped in an igloo for several days with a couple of Inuit through of which they were unable to hunt or fish anything. He suffered and shared then on his own skin and bones the risks these people were assuming in their daily life. One should not judge if have not lived in that conditions and time ever.

But, it is not the senicilide which has brought me here to write this post, but the always polemic and morbid cannibalism. In the pg. 11 of this article is discussed how was legally treated this particular issue by the Inuit people. It is surely a coincidence that part of the information we can read in the article about this comes from a man from King William Island. Please, read his whole assessment in the article to understand his point of view, but his conclusion matches, I believe, the same conclusion that the great part of the people could adopt  under the necessary circunstances simply applying their common sense:

 "How can one who is in good health and well fed expect to understand the madness of starvation? We only know that every one of us has the same desire to live"

Interestingly, cannibalism, is considered, and according with the article, by the Inuit law as:

"an emergency measure, socially recognized, acceptable and regrettable"

It is socially recognized till the point you could legally kill and eat members of your own family, and that apparent horrid fact, wouldn´t be considered an homicide and it would be accepted by their law. It was, however, considered an homicide the killing of people which didn´t belong your own family.

Returning to our beloved Franklin expedition, I would like to highlight another point mentioned in the article and which is related to cannibalism. It is mentioned a case of:

" A voracious Baffin Islander who killed and ate twelve persons in time of famine, without indicating any legal consequences".

This is astonishing. I have no idea about the year on which this happened and I am pretty sure that these cases of multi-homicide were extremely rare even under the worst environmental circunstances, but, our Hollywood-affected and distorted mind could get relaxed for a while and easily imagine, as Dickens did more than a hundred of years ago, that "voracious islander" getting into the camp in Erebus bay in 1848 and killing all the men lying there. It is tempting to fall again in the mistake of accepting that theory which pointed the Inuit tribes as the perpetrators of the disappearance of the men the Franklin´s expedition

Surely the end of the men camped in King William Island was a very different one. According with the Inuit hearsay, those men in Erebus Bay were found frozen and intact inside their tents. But, with the ammount of information available by the time of Dickens, and far from having the current valuable statistics and contrasted technical and anthropological information about the costumes and habits of the Inuit societies we have now, one cannot blame Charles Dickens of reaching certain conclusions.

4 comentarios:

  1. A fascinating post! But it will perhaps be no surprise that an article from 1941 is somewhat dated and not entirely accurate. For, although the Inuit did at times allow elderly group members to die, and sometimes even practiced a more active sort of euthanasia (see Hall's account of Kok-lee-arng-nun), the idea that they had some sort of "law" that the weak and sick should be abandoned is really just a qallunaat myth (see John Steckley's White Lies About the Inuit. Accounts of Inuit canniibalism make it clear that this was as rare a practice among them as among white folks, tales of ravenous Baffin Islanders notwithstanding. There are also legends among Arctic and sub-Arctic tribes that explicitly condemn the abandonment of elders, such as Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival", which recounts the ill fortune that befel a band that abandoned two of its seniors.

  2. Thanks for the reference to the Steckley´s book, Russell. I still have a lot of things to learn about the Inuit. I am afraid that apart of the things I have learned from the reading of David Woodman´s and Loomis´s books and in some other Franklin related books I am almost a complete ignorant of their culture. I have a book written by the Danish Kaj Birkett-Smith which is called "Eskimoerne" written in 1927, even older than the article I have linked in the post so surely I won´t find there any valuable information.

    The more I am reading about the Inuit the more I am convinced that they actually were, and perhaps still are, the owners of the key of the chest which contains the fate of the Franklin expedition. The inconsistencies of their stories, manifested by Woodman in his book, only shows how badly prepared were some of the searching expeditions to obtain and discern which of the information gathered from the local Inuits could be related or not with the Franklin expedition and not how bad or reliable could be that information.

    Who knows, perhaps it is not yet late to pack and going to the Arctic to learn something from the people of Gjoa Haven.

  3. I wish there were some better books I could recommend on the Inuit! I think my friend Kenn Harper's recent book is a good starting place, but there's no really comprehensive, accurate book on Inuit culture out there, though the volume Uqalurait is a bold attempt to take it all in via oral histories.

    When I was in Gjoa Haven, I heard a lot of stories -- but alas, the most interesting ones turned out to be garbled versions of stories from books; the oral tradition up there is on its last legs ...

    1. Thank you again for the recommendations.

      Yes, I think that perhaps it is too late to make an attempt "Hall´s style". There are and there will be in the future too much interferences coming from the modern world in the shape of books, internet, Tv, radio and so on. It is easy to understand that the original stories could have been unconsciously mixed with others which have been heard or read. I always think that it is a pity that, due to the hazardous life they had, some of the eyewitneses died before given their information to the expeditions which came later to the arctic better prepared with interpreters.

      The Inuit culture is a mistery by itself worth of study and, who knows, perhaps among some of the books which analyse their culture could exist some new data about the Franklin expedition or about others arctic expeditions.