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Freeze Frame Scott Polar Research Institute

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Indigenous Transport Methods

Many explorers in the heroic age failed to learn from the methods of people indigenous to the Arctic. Indigenous people at this time were generally viewed as uncivilised and so it did not occur to many explorers to make use of the knowledge of the people who have lived in such a climate for generations. For example, Nares the leader of the British Arctic Expedition (1875-76) failed to make use of any indigenous knowledge. He man-hauled sledges that were too large and cumbersome. Even though he had taken dogs, these were not used on the sledging journeys. Lieutenant Wyatt Rawson recorded of man hauling that,

“the hardest day’s work we had ever imagined, let alone had, would not hold a patch on the work we should have sledging.”

Similarly, Dr Edward Moss wrote that,

“Nothing can exceed the monotony of sledge-travelling … day after day the same routine is gone through, day after day the same endless ice is the only thing in sight.”

Furthermore, Nares did not try to work with his environment, or to follow indigenous methods. For example, when such a large group of men were concentrated aboard ship it was not possible to supplement their diet with enough game. Additionally, as shooting was reserved only for the officers, it was unlikely that they would catch enough, even if there were enough to be had. They made their life more difficult by taking tents rather than building snow houses, and so the weight of the tent would have to be pulled along too. They also took the wrong type of snowshoe. One officer had taken advice from the explorer John Rae, who was famed for adapting Inuit techniques, and this officer found the going a lot easier than those with the other type of shoe.

Expeditions which have travelled with indigenous people and not listened to their ways have angered the people of the north. For example Haig-Thomas, the leader of the British Arctic Expedition 1937, angered his local guides as he refused to take their advice. He overloaded their sledges which wore out the dogs and so the day’s travelling would stop, not when they reached a good hunting spot, but when the dogs were tired and could go no further.


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