Academic journal article Western Folklore

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century. By Elizabeth Bernhardt Pinson. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2004. Pp. x + 212, foreword, photographs, map, bibliography, index. $42.95 cloth, $19.95 paper)

In this memoir of growing up, Elizabeth Bernhardt Pinson takes us on a bi-cultural journey to the far north, Teller, Alaska, in the early years of the twentieth century. Born in 1912 of an Inupiat mother and a sailor father-originally from Germany, he served on many a whaling expedition and enjoyed the company of all who were drawn to exploration-Pinson takes us back to a time when the Inupiat lived in sod igloos and devoted almost all their time to hunting and gathering, barely surviving in the arctic climate. As a small child, the author, now 92 years old, stayed for a year with her grandparents in their sod igloo. She was allowed to go hunting seals with her grandfather in his oomiak. But during the influenza epidemic of 1918, both of the grandparents died in their sleep. Six-year-old Elizabeth, unable to fend for herself, stayed by their bodies in the unheated igloo. By the time she was rescued by her older brother, the cold had taken its toll. She lost both legs.

Pinson's account of growing up is valuable for its juxtaposition of details of Inupiat traditions (clothing and its construction, traditional foods and their preparation and preservation, and the making of indigenous dwellings) with accounts of outside incursions in the form of traders, missionaries, whaling ships, steamships, even lighter-than-air craft: when Roald Amundsen's dirigible Norge, on expedition to the North Pole, ran short of fuel and was forced to land at Teller, Elizabeth, a small child, happened to be standing on the ice. In this way she became privy to narratives of a pioneer arctic aviator. Such contrasts in depictions Inupiat and Euro-American point up the same contrasts in Pinson herself. She portrays her mother's life, yet it is clear that she identified with her father and shared a love of the sea with him. He taught her how to walk on prosthetic legs; he instilled in her a determination to enjoy life, and an interest in history and music. She went on several arctic steamship journeys, and we understand from the memoir that her experience of them was memorable, life-changing. …

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