June 7 - Happy Birthday, Knud Rasmussen

Posted on June 7, 2018

Today's famous birthday was called "the father of Eskimology." 

Which struck me as surprising, since I thought that the word Eskimo was offensive, and that the preferable word for many native people in the northern reaches of Canada and Greenland was Inuit. And I read that Knud Rasmussen is part Inuit, so I would think that he himself wouldn't favor an offensive word.

It turns out that, like many other names for groups of people, there is no one term that is universally approved, and not all people from Arctic regions dislike the word Eskimo. I read that, indeed, many native Alaskans prefer Eskimo to Inuit, since the word Inuit isn't a part of their Yupik languages. (Inuit means "people" in some Greenlandic languages.)

That said, unless you are a native of an Arctic region, you should still avoid the word Eskimo. It really is offensive to many!

Anyway: Knud Rasmussen was a Greenlandic / Danish / Inuit man, born in Greenland on this date in 1879. Greenland was then and still is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. 

Even though he was born and raised in Greenland, which is geographically part of North America, Rasmussen is considered a European because of his mostly-Danish parents. But he was a European who grew up playing with native Greenlanders and working with hunters who drove dog sleds and carried home their meat on sledges. 

As an older teen and very young adult, Rasmussen tried to become an opera singer and an actor. Opportunities did not open up for him in the entertainment field, and when he was asked to use his dog sledding experience and his knowledge of the Kalaallisut language to help on a Danish Literary Expedition of Greenland, he jumped at the chance. After the expedition, he wrote a book and went on the lecture circuit, telling people about Inuit folklore and culture.

Other expeditions and books and lectures followed, and Rasmussen became an expert in Native Arctic peoples and geography. He also became the first European person to cross the Northwest Passage on a dog sled.

The Northwest Passage is route from Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to Asia and the Pacific Ocean - through the Arctic Ocean. It used to be really tough to do with a boat or ship because of all the sea ice, so explorers like Roald Amundsen had to time the passage carefully. Of course, Rasmussen had to be careful in the other direction - he had to make sure that there was plenty of firm ice! 

Here are a few photos of gorgeous sights available in Greenland:

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