Qajaq Journal Volume Six. Letter from the Editor
It was his good fortune and ours as well that Paul-Émile Victor was born in time to catch the end of the great age of exploration, an age when for humankind the world was a larger place. He arrived in East Greenland the moment before the modern innovations of mechanized-travel, aviation, satellites and instant communications irrevocably changed the lives and lifeways of the indigenous peoples who lived there. In the mid 1930's the kayak was still central to the daily existence of the Ammassalimiut, and the skills used in hunting marine animals from that small craft were part of the patrimony passed from father to son, as they had been for millennia. What Victor recorded of the kayaks of East Greenland, their manufacture, uses and techniques is unique. With the possible exception of HC Petersen's work I can think of no equivalent. Paul-Émile Victor was a man who possessed the curiosity of the explorer, had the keen eye for detail and circumstance of the ethnologist and the skill for rendering what he saw of an artist and illustrator. His drawings are full of linguistic and technical detail that is most often lacking from other observers, while his written descriptions of hunting from the kayak are relayed with an immediacy that can only come from someone who was a witness to the event. Victor also does an excellent job of describing the variety of ways the East Greenlanders were able to roll their kayaks. There are no comparable historic accounts. You would have to go back to the missionary David Cranz's 1767 book The History of Greenland to find anything similar. Rolling, though always noted with fascination in the narratives of northern visitors, is seldom rendered with the kind of detail that Victor offers us. Lastly, what is most evident to the reader of La Civilisation du Phoque is the great affection he had for the people of East Greenland. He was witness to a world that has passed, which through his work we are privileged to be able to share.
I want to offer special thanks to Daphné Victor, the executor of Paul-Émile Victor's estate, and Dr. Joëlle Robert-Lamblin, the editor and co-author of La Civilsation du Phoque for their generous permissions, allowing these sections of the book to be published in Qajaq Journal. I am grateful also for their patience and substantial assistance they rendered during the process of translating and bringing this volume to press. Dominque Sellier's encouragement was crucial and gratefully acknowledged, as this initial enthusiasm and help with communications was key to getting the project underway. Sincere thanks to François Perez and the Bibliothèque Centrale du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, for providing photographs and drawings used to illustrate the test, to Ken Taylor and Harvey Golden for their comments on the initial draft of the translation, Tom Milani for editing the text and Eric Eaton for designing it. As always I want to thank the board and membership of Qajaq USA for their continuing support.