Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

The Land of the Long Night online

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I looked around, and saw a queer-looking structure, built of slabs of
stone plastered over. It was about seven feet square, the inside
oven-like in shape. They were just lighting a fire; then the door was
closed. In one section of the structure was an open fireplace used for

Poles were secured to the ceiling near the fireplace, upon which hung
garments, - stockings, shoes, boots, and other articles. In the middle of
the room was the usual trap-door leading into the cellar. There were two
large hand looms upon which two girls were weaving. These two looms were
very old and had been several generations in the family. Three other
girls were occupied with wheels, spinning wool and flax.

Along the walls of this large room, which was about twenty feet square,
were a number of bench-like sofas, used for beds. Two or three wooden
chairs, and a large wooden table surrounded by wooden benches, made up
the rest of the furniture.

The stove began to heat the room fearfully, for after the firewood had
been reduced to charcoal, and the fumes from it were gone, the sliding
trap-door in the chimney had been closed, thus preventing the heat from
escaping. The thick walls of the oven-like stove had been heated, and
threw out a great deal of heat, which to me soon became unbearable.

The farmer said to me that the walls would remain warm for two or three
days. The windows were all tight; none could be opened, and the only
ventilation came through the door when some one came in or went out.

I went out and looked at the farm buildings while my sleigh was being
made ready. I was surprised to see the buildings of the farm and the big
timber of the log house, for I was so far north. The yard was enclosed
by houses on three sides. The dwelling-house, the barn, and the
cow-houses were the largest buildings. There were besides a blacksmith
shop, a storehouse, and a shed for carts. All these buildings were
painted red.

In the middle of the yard was an old-fashioned well, with its sweep,
having at one end a bucket and at the other a heavy stone, and
surrounded by a thick mass of ice. From the well there was a trough
going into the cow-house, which I entered. The cattle were small and
well-shaped and in good order. The building was very low, the windows
very small and giving but little light. The floor was entirely planked
over, and there were pens on each side.

Looking towards the end of the building I saw a girl standing by a huge
iron pot, about four feet in diameter and three feet deep, encased in
masonry. She was putting coarse marsh grass into the pot, which was
filled with water made warm by a fire underneath. "Much of the grass we
gather," said the farmer, "is coarse, and it is so tough that the cattle
cannot eat it; so we have to prepare it in this way before we give it to

A number of sheep were penned in a corner. "Our three horses," said the
farmer, "have a stable for themselves." This farm was one of the good
farms, and there were a number quite as good. In some the dwellings are
of two stories, but these were the great exception.

In the mean time supper had been prepared. Dry mutton as tough as
leather but cut very thin, smoked reindeer meat, hard bread, butter,
cheese, two wooden bowls of buttermilk, and fish were put on the table.
This was a great repast, in my honor. There was no tablecloth, no
napkin, no fork, the flat bread was used instead of plates, we had
wooden spoons for the sour milk, and helped ourselves to it from the
common dish.

A little after supper came bedtime. The girls, looking at the clock,
which marked nine, suddenly got up to make the beds ready. They pulled
out the sliding boxes, in one of which three of them were to sleep. The
boxes were filled with straw and hay, and had homespun blankets or
sheepskins, and eider down or feather pillows. The sofa-like beds were
all along the walls, for there was a large family.

It was well that I was at the farm. A more terrific windstorm than all
those I had seen before, arose during the night. In the morning the snow
swirled to an immense height, hiding everything from sight; the whole
country was enveloped in a thick cloud; the huge snowdrifts were carried
hither and thither. The storm lasted two days, and after it was over the
weather became calm, the temperature was 40° below zero, and when the
atmosphere was very clear we had about three or four hours of twilight.

Then I bade farewell to the good farmer and his wife, and once more I
was on my way to "The Land of the Long Night," which was now very near.

The next day I came to a little lake the natives called Kunsijarvi, and
further on I came to still another lake called Rukojarvi; and between
these two I had crossed the Arctic Circle. But it was January, the sun
showed itself above the horizon at noon. Near the shore of Lake
Rukojarvi was a solitary farm, where I stopped.



In the morning Joseff, the owner of the farm, said to me: "Paulus,
before you go further on your journey you must learn to go on skees;
otherwise you will not be able to travel, for the snow is very deep
further north. I will teach you how to use skees, but in order to learn
you must remain with us for some time."

Then pointing to the lake near by, he said, "This is the place where you
are to learn. It will be easy for you to walk with them, for the surface
of the lake is smooth and flat."

After saying this, he went into one of the outer buildings of the farm
and came out with several beautiful pairs of skees, and handed one of
them to me with these words: "I give them to you; when you wander
further north and walk with them, think of me." I thanked Joseff for his
gift and said: "I will always remember you, also your wife and your
children, without these skees." Then looking at them, I added, "How
beautiful they are! How proud I shall be when I walk with them."

These skees, or snowshoes of northern Europe, are made of wood from the
fir tree; at their thickest part, in the centre, they are between four
and five inches in width. Here, where the foot rests, there is a piece
of birch bark fastened, over which there is a loop, and through this
loop the foot passes. That part of the skee under the foot is concave,
and here it is thickest, so that where it supports the weight of the
person it cannot bend downward. The under part of the skee is grooved
and polished, and soon becomes by use as smooth as glass. The forward
end turns slightly upward, as you see by the pictures, so as to pass
over the snow easily.

Joseff left me, and soon came back with a good many more skees; some
were not more than six feet long; one pair was much longer than mine.

After I had looked at them, he said, "The short ones are used in the
forest, especially among the Lapps, where pine, fir, or birch trees are
close together, for there long skees cannot be used; but a heavily built
man must have longer ones." Then pointing to the long pair, which were
about fourteen feet long, he said, "These long skees are used chiefly in
the province of Jemtland, which you passed on the shores of the Baltic
on your way here. The snow is generally very deep there, and after a
great snow fall, when it is very soft, long skees are needed so that
they can bear up the weight of a man and not sink too deeply. Here we
use skees of about the size of the pair I gave you, sometimes a little
longer; but you are not a heavy man, so longer ones are not necessary
for you. They will be able to support your weight without going deeply
into the snow, even when it is soft."

Then showing another pair, he said, "These have sealskin under them.
They are used in the spring when the snow is soft and becomes watery;
the skin prevents the snow from sticking to the skee."

The following morning we started with our skees for the lake, I carrying
mine on my shoulders. When we reached the lake Joseff said, "Put your
feet under the loops, and you must manage to keep them there, just as
you would do if you had an old pair of slippers much too large for you.
You would have all the time to push your feet forward to keep them on.
Do likewise with the skees. Your sharp-pointed Lapp shoes will help you
to do this, as they somewhat prevent the slipping of the skee. It will
be a little difficult at first, but it will not take long for you to
learn to do this. Constant practice will be the best teacher, and you
will soon be able to walk with them."

Then Joseff gave me two staves to propel myself with. At the end of each
was an iron spike, and above it a guard of wicker-work, about ten inches
in diameter, to prevent the stick from sinking deeper. "These staves,"
he added, "are very useful when the snow is soft and the skees do not
glide easily. Then propelling oneself with them makes one go faster.
Though the snow is packed they will help you, as you are a beginner. The
most important point to learn is to keep the skees always parallel with
each other; this is somewhat difficult at first. Never raise your feet
or skees above the ground; make them glide on the snow; push one foot
forward, then the other, just as when you walk."

Then he got on his skees, and said: "Now, look at me and see how I go."
I saw him gliding on the snow, pushing first one foot then the other,
the two skees running parallel with each other; and when one had a
tendency to go inside or outside, he corrected the deviation at once by
a slight movement of his leg and foot. I noticed afterward that with
many persons the ankle was very flexible, owing to their going so much
on skees.

After going some distance he returned to me, and we started slowly
together. I pushed first one foot then the other forward, and tried to
do exactly what he had told me to do; but before I knew it the end of
one skee overlapped the other and stopped my advance at once.
Fortunately I was going slowly, otherwise I should have landed on the
snow. "The overlapping of one skee over the other is quite common with a
beginner," said my teacher to me.

Putting my skees in position again, we started. This time one of my
skees left me. Several times the two left me, and I found myself seated
on the snow every time. I made slow progress that day. At the end of the
lesson Joseff said, "Do not be discouraged, Paulus, you will soon learn
the knack. I will now show you how fast a man can go on skees. Look at
me." Then he started; he seemed simply to fly over the snow, and before
many minutes he was far away, almost out of sight. He was going at the
rate of at least twenty miles an hour.

I said to myself: "O Paul, when will you go as fast as Joseff!" I was
filled with ambition. I wanted to learn as fast as I could, and I
thought I would take lessons every day.

When he returned the perspiration was dripping from his face, though the
cold was 39 degrees below zero.

I spent several hours every day on the lake, learning and practising,
and when Joseff had time he would come with me; and after three days I
was able to manage the skees tolerably well. I kept them in line and
they did not slip out from my feet any more. I could go several thousand
yards without stopping and with no mishaps.

After I could do this, Joseff said to me: "Paulus, you know now how to
go well on skees upon level land; now you must learn how to go down hill
with them. This is difficult, and I do not know whether in one winter
you can learn how to do it - at least so as to go down the slopes of
mountains; one has to have learned that in boyhood - but I will teach you
anyhow to go down hill safely."

We left the farm and went on with our skees until we came to the foot of
a pretty steep hill. Then Joseff said: "We will stop here, and I will
teach you to go down hill."

I noticed that he said this with a roguish eye, which was full of fun,
and I began to suspect that things were not to go as smoothly as when I
was taught on the lake. "We cannot ascend this steep hill straight
forward, for the skees would slip backward. We must ascend in zigzag,"
said Joseff; and then with his staff he showed me how we were to go.
"Follow my furrow, then it will be easier for you," said he. I found it
hard enough, and slow work. When we reached the top of the hill we were
very warm, though that day it was 32 degrees below zero. I was wet with

After a rest, Joseff said: "Paulus, look at me." Straightening his skees
and armed with his staff he leaned his body forward, and down he went,
faster than boys coasting down a very steep hill at home. It was fine,
and I wished I could learn quickly and go down hill as fast as he did.

When he had ascended the hill again, Joseff said to me: "Now, Paulus,
get ready." He saw that my skees were in position, and saying, "Bend
your body far forward as you go down," he shouted "Go!" At this word I
bent my body forward as he had told me, and down I went; but I got
scared, as I was going very fast, and forgot to follow his advice;
straightened myself and bent backward, and before I knew it my skees
slipped from my feet. I was unskeed just like a man who is unhorsed, and
was seated on the snow looking at my skees, which were going forward
down the steep hill and only stopped at its base, to the great
amusement of Joseff, who evidently expected something of the kind. "The
tendency of a beginner," he explained, "is to bend backward, thinking
that by doing so he will be able not to go so fast; this invariably
brings about the same result, and he falls."

After a good laugh from both of us, Joseff said: "Paulus, try again; but
this time I will teach you to go down hill in another way." He gave me
his big stick, and said, "Ride this, and rest upon it as heavily as you
can, so that a great part of your weight shall be on the end that sinks
into the snow, and before you start let the stick be in the snow about
three inches deep. Thus you will be prevented from going down too fast.
Don't forget to start with your skees running straight along side of
each other." I went down riding the stick, and reached the bottom of the
hill in safety. I felt very proud of my success, but thought that if I
could ever do this like Joseff how happy I should be.

Then Joseff gave me another warning. "Paulus," said he, "people must
look out carefully not to run into boulders as they go down hill, and a
hill full of boulders only those who can guide their skees well can
venture to go down. Avoid such hills when you are further north, for
otherwise you might even be killed."

[Illustration: "Paulus, try again!"]

Shortly after our return to the farm the wind began again to rise, and
another terrific windstorm blew over the land. The hillocks of snow were
swept from where they stood and new hillocks were made in other
places. When I went out the wind almost took me off my feet.

I found that my friends in Haparanda were right. The Lapp costume is
well adapted for cold weather. Nothing is warmer than reindeer skin, and
it is convenient either when the wearer is driving in his Lapp sleigh,
walking or travelling on skees, or when breasting violent windstorms.

I finally bade good-bye to Joseff, and thanked him for having taught me
to go on skees. And I continued my journey northward, with a guide to
show me the way.



A few miles further on I came to a little hamlet composed of a few
farms. The inhabitants were all Finlanders. Travelling was so bad, on
account of the big drifts of snow, that I decided to stay a few days in
the place. The following day was Saturday and the afternoon was the
beginning of Sunday, and the boys and the young men of the place said to
me: "Paulus, to-day is bathing day. Every Saturday we have a bath."

"All right, boys," I replied, "I will have a bath with you." Of course
they did not mean a water bath, but a steam bath.

Pointing to a little log building, they said, "Paulus, this is the bath
house. Come, and we will show you how we work out a steam bath in our
country. You see the bath house stands away from other buildings, to
prevent the fire from spreading in case it should start anywhere."

So I went with them to the bath house and got in. It was dark, and no
light or air could come in except through the door. The room was about
fifteen to eighteen feet long and about ten or twelve feet wide. In the
centre there was an oven-like structure, made of boulders piled upon
each other without any cement whatever. Along the walls were three rows
of seats, made simply from the branches of trees and rising one above
the other, just like seats at a circus, the first one being near the
ground. The people had brought wood beforehand. This they put into the
oven and set fire to it. They said to me, "We are going to keep the fire
burning all the time, to heat the stones, and when they are burning hot
this afternoon we will stop the fire, the place will be cleaned, and
then we will take our bath."

We were soon obliged to go out, on account of the smoke. And the fire
was kept up all day, boys coming now and then with more firewood to add
to it.

Late in the afternoon I went with two women who cleaned the place
thoroughly and took away the ashes, and a big vessel put next the oven
was filled with water. Slender boughs of birch trees were brought in,
and I wondered why. I found out later! Finally word was sent round that
everything was ready.

Then my new friends said to me, "Paulus, you will undress in your room
and come to the bath room with nothing on, for there is no place there
to dress or to hang your clothes. We all go there naked."

"But," said I, "it is 30 degrees below zero."

"That is nothing," they answered, laughing. "The bath house is close
by - just a stone's throw from your place, and you will find it warm
enough there," upon which they left me to get ready themselves.

When I was undressed I looked through the windows and saw men and boys
without clothes on running towards the bath house, which they entered
quickly and shut the door.

It did not take me much time to reach the bath house. I ran double quick
to it. Oh! wasn't it cold on the way! But as soon as I was in I could
feel the great heat from the oven. It was so warm, and felt so good
after coming from the icy air.

Then water was taken from the large vessel and thrown over the stones
with a big dipper. Steam rose at once; then more water was thrown, until
the place was full of steam. I could not stand it. It was too hot for
me. "Don't stand up, Paulus," they said; "sit on the lower seat." Even
that was too high for me. I sat on the floor until I got accustomed to
breathing the hot air. The perspiration was fairly running down my body.
More water was poured and more steam was raised.

Then one of the fellows said, "Paulus, let me give you a switching with
the birch twigs. It is fine; it brings the blood into circulation." One
of the boys began to switch my back, and soon I cried, "Enough, enough,
enough!" Soon all were switching one another, and the one who had
switched me said, "Paulus, give me a good switching - harder than the one
I gave you." I thought mine had been strong enough; my back must have
been as red as a boiled lobster. I followed his injunctions until he
said it was enough.

Then more steam was raised after a while, and after this was done all
shouted, "Let us have another switching before we go." At last I went
out with a few of the men, when, lo! they rolled over two or three times
in the snow, calling out to me to do likewise; that it felt so good. I
did what they bade me to do. How nice it was! It was a delightful
sensation. Then we got up and ran as fast as we could for our houses.

As we ran, they called to me, "Paulus, do not dress at once, and not
before you have stopped perspiring." So I walked up and down in my room
for more than an hour before I dressed. After this I felt like a new

The Finlanders do not dress like the Laplanders when they are at home;
it is only when they travel that they wear the kapta or pesh. The men
wear long overcoats, lined with woolly sheepskin. The women's dress is
composed of a body of black cloth, with skirt of thick homespun wool.
Their long and heavy jackets are also lined with sheepskin inside, and
they wear hoods.



After leaving this hamlet where I had such an odd bath, I came to a farm
where I saw sleighs the like of which I had never seen before. To many
of these were harnessed reindeer with superb horns, while others were
without animals.

These sleighs looked exactly like little tiny boats, just big enough to
carry one person and a very small amount of luggage, but not big enough
for trunks. They were all made of narrow fir-tree planks, strongly
ribbed inside just like boats, about seven feet long and two and
one-half feet in width at the end, which was the broadest part. The
forward part of some was decked. They all had a strong leather ring to
which the traces were fastened. They had holes pierced in their sides
for strings to pass through from one side to the other to keep
everything fast. They had keels like sailing boats; these were very
strong and about four inches wide, and varied some in thickness or
height; many of the keels were much worn from constant use.

As I was looking at these sleighs, strange-looking people of very small
stature came out of the farmhouses. These were Lapps, and they were
dressed as I was. We saluted each other and began to speak together in
Swedish, and they wondered where I came from.

One of them said to me, "You are looking at our sleighs as if you had
never seen such ones before."

"You are right," I replied, "I have never seen such sleighs before, and
if these had been on the shores of a river or lake, I should have taken
them to be boats."

Then the Lapp explained: "The higher the keel is the quicker the sleigh
can go and the faster we can travel. The keel acts like a runner, and
when the snow is well packed and crisp, the sides of the sleigh hardly
touch it; but this makes it the more difficult for a beginner to remain
inside, for the sleigh rocks to and fro."

Then pointing to a sleigh, he said, "This kind is called 'Kerres.' They
are used to carry merchandise or people." Then pointing to another,
"This kind is called a 'Lakkek.'" These were somewhat larger than the
other, and had decks like a vessel, with a sort of hatchway. These were
used as trunks; two had their decks covered with sealskin to make them
more surely water-tight.

"In these," said the Lapp, "we carry our woollen clothing, our fine
handkerchiefs, our jewelry, our silver spoons, our prayer-book and
psalm-book - everything that is precious. In them we also carry our
provisions, our coffee, our sugar, salt, and everything that has to be
protected against snow or dampness."

Another kind was called "Akja," especially built for fast travelling,
and had keels about two and a half to three inches thick. The forward
part of these was over-decked to about a third of the length, and
covered with sealskin. The decked part was a sort of box or trunk to
keep provisions or other things necessary for a journey which required
to be protected. The backs of most of these were leather-cushioned.

After I had looked carefully at all the sleighs, I went to the farmhouse
with the Lapps and was welcomed by the Finlander who owned the place.
His name was Jon. We were soon friends.

The people asked me whither I was bound, and I told them that I was
going as far north as the Arctic Ocean, as far as Nordkyn. Then they
said to me, "You cannot go further without learning how to drive
reindeer, for you must give up horses. The snow is too deep and we do
not use dogs in our country. We will teach you how to drive reindeer and
use our sleighs; then, when you know, some of us will take you where you
want to go, either north, east, or west."

I bought a very pretty sleigh with the forward part decked over, where
some of my things could be stored. The back was cushioned and covered
with sealskin made fast with broad rounded-top copper nails. This was a
really "swell" sleigh.

The next day Jon said to me, "Let us go together where my herd of

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 4 of 16)