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Poseidon Expeditions Book Club: Folk Tales by Knud Rasmussen

7 December, 2022

Knud Rasmussen, 1879-1933, was a Greenlandic–Danish polar explorer and anthropologist. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled and is largely considered the ‘Father of Eskimology’. According to our expedition leader and director of expedition operations Anja Erdmann-Rutten, Knud Rasmussen should be considered a key figure in polar exploration, similar to Nansen, Amundsen, or Peary.


Knud Rasmussen was born in Jakobshavn, Greenland, and spent his early years among the native Greenlandic hunters, learning their language and trade in driving dog sleds in the Arctic. He wanted to pursue a career in acting and opera singing, but the attempt was unsuccessful, becoming the polar explorer we know now. Between 1912 and 1933, he completed a series of seven expeditions, known as the Thule Expeditions, and collected the myths and legends of Inuit people. Here are a few of the books by Knud Rasmussen Anja recommends for anyone traveling to Greenland of interested in the region:

Across Arctic America

In a 20,000-mile trek from Greenland into Siberia, Rasmussen continuously explores uncharted territories and the tales and culture of each Eskimo tribe he encounters. The book is an account of the journey, aimed at understanding the intellectual and spiritual life of the Eskimos, self-contained and isolated from the outside world. Consider this an account of religious rituals and practices, some strikingly foreign from our own, some no different.

The People of the Polar North: A Record

This book is the most detailed description of traditions, habits, culture, and beliefs of the indigenous people of the North in the early 20th-century one can find. If you are interested in diving in a completely different world and learning about life in the Arctic, we strongly recommend checking this one out. There are also many excellent charcoal renderings of the natives by an expedition team member.

Eskimo Folk Tales

The book consists of 52 folk tales collected by Knud Rasmussen from Eskimo story-tellers in various parts of Greenland. This Arctic region is where Rasmussen felt most at home, and he returned there again and again, studying, exploring, crossing the desert of the inland ice, making unique collections of material, tangible and otherwise, from all parts of that vast and little-known land.

Inuit Folk Tales

Knud Rasmussen’s own mixed heritage allowed him to understand Inuit stories at a deeper level than did most observers and notice many priceless legends that would otherwise be left undocumented. In 1910, he established a base in Thule, Greenland to visit as many Inuit tribes as he could, taking meticulous notes and making sketches, collecting artifacts, and compiling hundreds of Native legends and songs.

Aboard the m/v Sea Spirit, we have a fully stocked polar library, where you can spend some quiet time reading and taking in the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration during your cruise.

Photo credit: https://polarjournal.ch/2020/03/05/knut-rasmussen-der-gutmensch-aus-groenland/

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