Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

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summer, but no malaria at any time. Nor is there any sore throat there.
I do not remember, indeed, ever to have heard a person cough in that

The material of the tent was of very coarse woollen stuff, called
"vadmal." The tent was about thirteen feet in diameter at the ground.
Its frame was composed of poles fitting each other; the wood had become
black from being smoked for years. These poles are so well knitted
together that they can resist the terrific winds which blow over the
land. A cross pole high up sustained an iron chain, at the end of which
is a hook to hold the kettle and cooking pot. The coarse woollen stuff
which covered the frame was composed of two pieces that were made fast
by strings. The nature of the vadmal permits the wind to go gently
through. The entrance is by a small sliding door made of the same

Inside, along the lower part of the tent, were boxes of different shapes
and sizes, packages lying on the top of skins to prevent the wind from
blowing in from the bottom; the outside was protected by snow.

As I glanced around I saw two queer-looking things, resembling in shape
the sabots or wooden shoes of the peasantry of Europe, only very much
larger, hanging near the sides. I looked in, and to my great
astonishment saw a Lapp baby in each. They were Lapp cradles, called
"katkem" or "komse." They were made of a single piece of wood and were
about two and a half feet long by fifteen or eighteen inches wide. In
one was such a sweet Lapp baby, a dear little girl, with her eyes wide
open. As I looked at her she smiled. In the other was a big fat boy,
fast asleep.

Two women went out and collected a lot of snow, which they put on to
melt in a big iron pot hanging over the fire. This is the way the Lapps
have to do to procure water. When the snow had melted she put the water
in a coffee kettle that had a spout. One of the women ground coffee in a
mill. Then the ground coffee was put into the kettle and left to boil
for quite a while, the woman watching it, taking off the pot when it was
about to boil over, and then putting it over the fire again. The third
woman was attending to the cups and saucers. When the coffee was ready
they put in a little bit of salt to give it flavor, then set the coffee
kettle on the ground and put into it a small piece of dried fishskin to
clarify it and precipitate the grounds at the bottom of the kettle.

When the coffee was ready to be poured, one of the women went out and
came back with reindeer milk which had remained frozen for over three
months. Then the coffee was served. The wife bit several pieces of rock
candy from a big lump, to sweeten each cup of coffee, and after putting
in frozen reindeer milk with a spoon, licked it with her tongue - "What
is the use of being particular when one travels," I said to myself. If
one were, he would starve. We had silver spoons, round in shape, with
twisted handles. "These," said the father, "have been in the possession
of our family for nearly two hundred years." I saw different initials
and different dates from the year 1700 down.

After coffee men, women, and the young girls filled their pipes and had
a good smoke. They were very much astonished when I told them I had
never smoked in my life.

"There are two things we Lapps have always with us - coffee and tobacco.
After a hard day's work or a long journey there is nothing so refreshing
as coffee," said Pehr Wasara, smacking his lips at the very thought.

While we were chatting, Pehr was busy cutting reindeer meat and putting
the pieces in a pot hanging over the fire which had been filled with
snow that had melted. When he had finished, he said: "By and by you will
have something to eat." I was prodigiously hungry; travelling over the
snow in a temperature between 35 and 45 degrees below zero, as I had
done for several days, gives one such a good appetite! While waiting for
the meal to be ready, I went outside the tent with my host.

The sight outside was quite as strange as the inside of the tent.
Numerous Lapp sleighs were scattered here and there, skees were lying on
the ground in different directions. Quarters and other large pieces of
reindeer meat, out of the reach of wolves, foxes, and dogs, were
suspended to the branches of trees. On two racks about eight feet high
above the ground were pieces of reindeer meat piled upon each other.
Collars, traces, reins, everything for the harnessing of reindeer, were
seen all round the tent; buckets full of frozen reindeer milk, filled
late in the autumn, were on the ground. Hanging on trees were bladders
filled with congealed milk or blood.

The sleighs were of different kinds; several were decked over and used
as trunks. Others were empty. Four were filled with hoofs of the
reindeer they had killed to subsist upon during the winter.

Skins of wolves, of white foxes, of reindeer, were stretched on frames,
so that they could not shrink. Reindeer pack-saddles, empty pails,
wooden vessels, lay here and there. Fur garments and underwear were
hanging to the branches of trees. It was a strange sight indeed! But a
sight I met thereafter at almost every camp.

When the meal was ready we were called in. The host served the meat,
which had been put in a large platter, in portions, guessing what would
satisfy the hunger of each person. The fattest parts, which are
considered the most dainty, were given to me, being the guest of honor,
and the meat was served to us in wooden plates. We had nothing but
reindeer meat. I was getting accustomed to eat meat without bread or

During the meal small pieces of roots of fir trees, which are full of
resin, were thrown into the fire for light. After the meal I thanked all
for it, according to the custom. Then the Lapps lighted their pipes

Pehr Wasara employed a man and a woman servant. From their clothing you
could not tell them apart from the other people. They were treated like
members of the family. The girl was paid three reindeer a year, the man

"How much can you buy a tent for?" I inquired of Pehr Wasara. "Thirty or
forty dollars," he replied. "This is a great deal of money for us poor
Lapps." Pehr had plenty of money in the bank, but pretended poverty. I
learned also that a trained reindeer costs eight dollars.

I asked many questions. How long a tent lasted? He replied: "The vadmal
is very durable, and a tent lasts about twenty years, but it has to be
patched very often during that time." I looked round and saw a good many
patches, and I thought of the story of the knife and handle, - first the
blade broke, then a new blade was put in; after this the handle broke,
and a new handle was put on. I remembered that once a dear old aunt of
mine said to me: "Paul, this black silk dress has lasted me twenty
years." I exclaimed, "Twenty years, aunty! Are you sure of this?" Then
in the course of a few days, by indirect questions I found out that she
had had three new bodices put on at different times, and three different
skirts. I thought the tent of the Lapp might be twenty years old in the
same way.

After the meal had been finished the babies were taken from their
cradles, and their little beds were made afresh. The cradle bottoms were
covered with fine, soft, well-dried lichen or reindeer moss, over which
a little cotton sheet was spread. The babies were stark naked, and were
wrapped in little sheepskins while their beds were being made. Then they
were laid in, the sheet turned down, with a coarse piece of vadmal and
sheepskin over it; the whole was made fast by a cord fastened through
holes on each side of the cradle and laced across.

One of the mothers said to me: "When a child is born it is the custom
among Lapps to give him or her a reindeer. When baptized the sponsor,
too, often gives a reindeer to the babe, and these animals, and the
increase thereof, become the child's own property."

This woman, pointing out her sister to me, observed: "When my baby had
his first teeth, my sister here presented him with a reindeer. This is a
custom among us Lapps."

Then two of the men and two of the women with their dogs and their
skees went to relieve the people who were watching the reindeer herd,
and Pehr Wasara remarked, "My reindeer are divided in a number of
herds - for they could not all pasture together. We are afraid of wolves.
These people are to remain on the watch all night."

The family was very pious; they were, like all the Lapps, Lutherans.
Before going to sleep they sang psalms and hymns, praising God for the
blessings of the day.

Then they dressed themselves for the night, putting on over the garments
they wore during the day a long reindeer kapta, a sort of nightshirt
reaching below the feet. More reindeer skins were put over the skins on
which we were seated. Then a big bearskin was given to me as a blanket,
Pehr saying, "I killed this bear myself."

Before retiring I took off my shoes, the Lapp grass, and my stockings,
and hung them on the cross poles to dry. All did likewise. I carefully
arranged my precious Lapp grass so every vestige of dampness would be
absorbed when I should put it on again in the morning. One of the women
lent me a pair of her own stockings, which she took from one of the
little chests by her side.

The fire had gradually died out. "We seldom keep fires burning at
night," said the head of the family, "for it would be dangerous." The
dogs were driven out and the door made secure, comparatively speaking.
We were all huddled close together. Then we bade each other good-night.
I looked at my thermometer, it marked 39 degrees below zero inside the
tent; it was 46 degrees outside and everything was perfectly still,
there was not a breath of air stirring. Through the opening in the tent
for the smoke to pass, I could see the stars twinkling in the blue sky
as I lay on my back. Then putting my head under my bearskin I soon fell
asleep, though some dogs succeeded in smuggling themselves in, and two
or three times they awoke me by trying to get under my bearskin and lie
by me. They did likewise with the other people. Once I was awakened by a
big booming sound. It was the cracking of the ice over a lake not far
off from us.



When we awoke in the morning it was 40 degrees below zero in the tent
and 48 degrees below outside. I felt like washing my face and my hands,
but melted snow was sure to turn into ice as soon as it was on my face.
I did not want to wash in warm water, for it would have made my skin too
tender. So I rubbed my face and hands with snow and dried them
thoroughly. This was my usual morning wash when I slept out of doors.

A big fire was lighted and the maidservant went to work kneading
dough - yeast was not used. The loaves were baked on charcoal, as is
often done among the Lapps, and at the same time coffee was made.

The breakfast was composed of the dry powdered blood of reindeer, mixed
with flour, diluted in warm water and made into pancake. We had a
porridge of dried reindeer's milk that had been stirred in warm water
with a wooden spoon. The milk of the reindeer is very rich and thick.
When it was served to me, the wife remarked: "This food is very
nutritious." We also had some reindeer meat and finished up with
reindeer cheese and a cup of coffee. It was a fine breakfast. I ate
heartily of everything. When it is so cold one is always hungry. After
the breakfast, all the household with the exception of the host and
hostess started on their skees for the reindeer herd, which was to be
removed to some other quarters, for the moss had been more or less eaten
and they were to take them to a place where the snow was not so deep.
The mothers had slung their cradles with their babies on their
shoulders. Each Lapp was followed by his dog.

About one hour after breakfast the night watch returned with their dogs.
Immediately the wife gave to each a cup of coffee; then they took their
breakfast. They gave their dogs some of the powdered blood mixed with
flour and warm water. The dogs relished this greatly. Then they were
given the bones, which they had been watching with glaring eyes. They
went out with them and gnawed them until there was nothing left of them.
Such is generally the meal given to the dogs every day. Once in a while
they get a small piece of meat, which they swallow voraciously in a
single mouthful.

When the night watch had done eating they went to sleep; so did their
dogs. These Lapp dogs are thickset. They resemble the Pomeranian breed,
but are larger; their hair is long, very thick, and bushy. Their ears
stand upright; they seem to have some wolf blood in them. The tail is
curly. Pehr Wasara said to me: "Lapps could not do without their dogs.
They are faithful animals; they are our helpmates; they keep our
reindeer together when we are on the march, watch them when they are
pasturing; they look out constantly for wolves, and warn us when they
are in the neighborhood, and of their approach beforehand, and attack
them without fear. Neither are they afraid of bears. They are very

"Every man, woman, manservant or maidservant and grown-up child, has his
or her dog which obeys and listens to his master alone. They are never
allowed to stay behind; wherever their master goes they go, and watch
with him night and day if necessary. Occasionally, for some reason
unknown to us, or because the deer scent the wolves afar off, a panic
seizes the herd of reindeer, and instinctively they move away. That is
the time when our dogs prove most useful and of the greatest service to
us. They go around in every direction and bring the reindeer together.
They seem to know that there is some unseen danger. When the wolves come
into the herd, the dogs attack them fiercely and act with great cunning,
taking care not to be bitten by them and waiting for the opportunity to
spring on the wolves."

While Pehr was talking I wished I could see a pack of wolves attacking
reindeer, to see how the dogs fight them.

"Do not think," added Pehr, "that it is our inclination to be harsh
towards our dogs. We never overfeed them; it is the only way to keep
them hardy, strong, and healthy. They are not allowed to rest until
their master or mistress has returned to the tent. Then we want them to
stay out doors."

"I should like very much," I said to Pehr, "to see how you break in
reindeer and accustom them to harness."

"Well," he replied, "you will see how we train our reindeer to draw
sledges. You came just in time, for we are now training some, as we have
several that are getting too old. The males are used as draught animals,
as they are stronger than the females. When the snow is in good
condition they can draw as much as four hundred pounds, or two or three
logs of pine or fir."

So he sent two men after the reindeer. They took their lassos with them,
and in less than an hour they returned with two reindeer.

"The process of teaching a reindeer to draw a sleigh or carry a pack on
his back," observed Pehr, "is very tedious and very hard work. Some of
the reindeer are more difficult to teach than others, and in spite of
the best training the wild nature and restlessness of the animal shows
itself not infrequently."

I thought so. I remembered my first lessons.

[Illustration: "I went outside the tent with my host."]

"We begin to train the reindeer," he continued, "when he is about three
years old, and he does not become a well trained animal before he is
five. When they are under training a daily lesson is given them to let
them know their masters, and also a lesson to accustom them to be
lassoed, of which they are very much afraid at first. We give them salt
and angelica, of which they are very fond, every day, to make them
come when they are needed, and in that case the lasso is not necessary.
They are never subjected to ill-treatment at any time; if they were we
could do nothing with them."

The work of teaching the reindeer to draw a sleigh began. Salt was first
given to one of the deer, which he seemed to enjoy very much. Then
without trouble a very strong leather cord with a loop was put carefully
over his horns, and the loop was drawn tight at the base. The collar was
carefully put on his neck and more salt given to him. The trace attached
to the sleigh was much longer than those used when driving; it was
several yards in length, so that the sleigh could not be touched when
the animal kicked; then it was tied to the collar of the reindeer. As
soon as the animal was urged to move, and felt the weight of the sleigh,
he plunged wildly forward and kicked, then plunged first in one
direction and then in another. It was a great sight. I thought they
would never be able to break the animal in. It required all the strength
of the Lapp not to be dragged by the animal. The other man, with a cord,
held the sleigh. After a few trials both man and beast were exhausted.

A short rest was then taken and another trial was made. With repeated
rests for the trainer and the animal, the day's lesson proceeded. The
trainer was in profuse perspiration, though it was 38 degrees below
zero. My host said to me: "This exercise is repeated day after day until
the animal submits to it. They are in their prime at seven or eight
years and can work till the age of fifteen or seventeen years. The
reason we have to wander so much with our reindeer is that we have to go
where the snow is not so deep as in other parts, for the reindeer has to
dig into the snow to find his food, the lichen, and he cannot go deeper
than three or four feet. We generally know where these places are, for
the wind, which blows every year more or less in the same direction,
blows away a part of the snow. When we come to such a place we pitch our

"When the reindeer is left to himself can he find such a place?" I
inquired. "How can the animals know that the snow is only three or four
feet deep?"

"I do not know," he replied, "but the wild reindeer can find it,
otherwise they would starve."

"How can they dig through the snow?" I asked with a smile. "They have no

Pehr laughed at my remark. "Their fore feet are their shovels," he
replied. "You will see for yourself how they dig the snow."

I asked Pehr also about the speed of the reindeer.

"The speed of the reindeer," he replied, "varies very much according to
the time of the year and the state of the snow, October, November and
December being the months when they are the fleetest, as they are fresh
from the summer pastures. January and February are also very good months
for them. The cold weather strengthens them, and they are not yet
exhausted from digging through the snow, as they are at the end of the
season. The rapidity of their gait depends very much also on the state
of the surface of the snow. If it is well packed and crisp, they go very
fast. Much depends, too, upon the distance and whether the country is
hilly or not, or with a long range of slopes. On the rivers, over well
packed snow, and a good track that has been furrowed by previous
reindeer, they can average twelve or fifteen miles an hour when in good
condition, sometimes twenty for the first hour; down a mountain slope
twenty and twenty-five. They can travel five or six hours without
stopping; the first hour very rapidly, the second more slowly, and
towards the fifth and sixth hours still more slowly, perhaps not more
than eight or ten miles an hour, for by that time they require rest and
food, and we unharness them in places where the snow is not deep, and
let them get their food. Early in the winter, when they are in good
condition, one can travel with a swift bull reindeer one hundred and
fifty miles in a day, and even two hundred miles if the condition of the
snow is favorable and the cold is 30 or 40 degrees below zero. The
colder the weather is the greater is the speed. Seventy or eighty miles
a day is a good average for a reindeer."

When this talk was ended, Pehr Wasara said to me, "Let us take our skees
and go to one of my herds near by." After a run of about two miles we
came into the midst of a herd of about three thousand reindeer. "There
are more," he said with pride. "Are they not fine animals?"

"Yes, indeed, they are," I replied.

While I was looking at the magnificent horns of some of the beasts, Pehr
remarked: "The horns of the males, which often weigh forty pounds,
attain the full size at the age of six or seven years, those of the cow
at about four years. The time the reindeer drops his horns is from March
until May. In the adult animals they attain their full size in September
or at the beginning of October. After the age of eight years the
branches gradually drop off. They are the easiest animals that man can
keep. They require no barns. They are never housed. They like cold
weather and snow. Food has not to be stored for them. They will not
touch the moss that has been gathered unless brought up to do so by
farmers. They get their food themselves. We do not give them water. When
thirsty they eat the snow. When our people go among them they will often
not even raise their heads, and remain quiet when we pitch our tents.
Once in a while there is so much snow in some districts that it is
impossible for reindeer to get at the moss; then the only way is to go
to the lowlands, or into the forest, where the reindeer can feed on the
moss hanging from the firs or pines.

"Some of the reindeer," he went on, "though trained to eat kept moss,
hay, and even bread, thrive only when they are free to roam about; they
cannot be kept all the time in their stables. They must wander over the
snow and eat it. Otherwise they are sure to degenerate and become
useless as draught animals."

"How many reindeer," I asked, "does a family require for its support?"

He replied, "A thousand at least. A herd of two thousand to two thousand
five hundred gives from two hundred to two hundred and seventy-five,
perhaps three hundred, calves a year. Sometimes we have bad years with
our reindeer. Some years prove unfavorable to their increase. Some years
the snow is very deep, which prevents them from digging for food; the
herd then become emaciated from their exertions and want of sufficient
food, and many die.

"Some Lapps," he added, "own five or six thousand reindeer, one or two
among us, eight or ten thousand. The spring is a bad time for them; the
snow melts during the day from the sun's heat, and a thick crust forms
at night from the frost, so that their feet break through, causing
lameness and disease. At that time we move them as much as we can only
during the day, but it is hard work for them to go through the soft

"Without the reindeer we could not exist in this northern land of snow.
The reindeer is our horse, our beast of burden. On him we feed. He gives
us our clothing, our shoes, our gloves; his skin is our blanket and our
bed; his sinews our thread. On the march a herd of reindeer is easily
managed. We keep them together without much trouble, and in winter they
remain where we leave them to get the moss; but if the wolves are after
them, then they flee in every direction, and many herds then become
mixed together."

"When your reindeer get mixed with those of other herds, how can you
tell which are yours?" I inquired.

Pehr answered, "Every owner has his own mark branded on the ears of all
his reindeer, and no other person has the right to use the same, as this
is legal proof of ownership; otherwise, when several herds were mingled
together the separation would be impossible. The name of the owner of a
herd, and each mark, have to be recorded in court like those of any
owner of property."



The next day after our conversation about reindeer Pehr Wasara said to
me: "We are going to move away our camp and take our reindeer to a new
pasture," an expression that struck me as somewhat singular, as the
country lay under snow to the depth of five or six feet. "Some of us are
going to fetch the draught animals, and I will be back in a short time."
With these words he left with some of his people.

They returned with a fine lot of trained reindeer.

In the mean time there had been a great commotion in the camp; everybody
was busy; the tent had been packed in two bundles; its frame made three

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 6 of 16)