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.
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:
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.