This is an excerpt from a longer article, available at Project Gutenberg. I’ve included only the ten-page Music and Poetry section, along with a few illustrations that were printed on other pages but seem to belong here. The official date of the article is 1884-85 although it was not physically printed until 1888.
Orthography is explained early in the article. Boas’s own spellings are based on Kleinschmidt, but with q in place of ĸ (kra). Long vowels are rarely marked, while short vowels are sometimes shown by doubling the following consonant. Words are often written with nasalized finals: n for t sometimes, ng for k almost always, irn (only) for iq. Medial q is usually written χ (chi), representing the fricative pronunciation: “Eχaluin” and similar.
Modern (ICI) forms should be deducible from Boas’s versions:
Note however that most of the songs were collected by people other than Boas, and he didn’t try to regularize their spelling.
All sound files are in midi format. Depending on your browser, they
will either play as-is or will need to be downloaded to your computer.
Most browsers will offer two “Music” links; use the one that works best
Fig. 531. Diagram showing interior of
qaggi or singing house among eastern tribes.
POETRY AND MUSIC.
Among the arts of the Eskimo poetry and music are by far the most
prominent. The tales which have been related are only a small part of
their stock of traditions. Besides the contents their form also is very
interesting, as most of them have been handed down in unchanged form and
their narration demands a great deal of art. Many traditions are told in
a very abridged form, the substance being supposed to be known.
A specimen of this kind is the Sedna tradition (p. 604). All these tales must be considered
recitatives, many of them beginning with a musical phrase and continuing
as a rhythmic recitation, others being recited in rhythmic phrases
throughout. Other traditions are told in a more detailed and prosaic
manner, songs or recitations, however, being sometimes included.
Ititaujang, for instance, in traveling into the country looking for his
wife, sings the song No. XIII, and in the Kalopaling tradition the boy,
on seeing the two Inuit coming, sings:
Some Eskimo are very good narrators and understand how to express the
feelings of the different persons by modulations of the voice. In
addition, as a number of tales are really onomatopoetic, an artistic
effect is produced. The way of reciting is always similar to the one
above described by notes (p. 648).
Besides these tales, which may be called poetic prose, there are real
poems of a very marked rhythm, which are not sung but recited. The
following are examples:
MERRYMAKING AMONG THE TORNIT.
Pika pikagning mingepignirming qijepignirming sukadla. aq! aq!
The Eskimo reciting this song jump up and down and to the right and
left with their legs bent and their hands hanging down, the palms
touching each other. In crying aq! aq! they jump as high as
THE LEMMING’S SONG.
Ikergnapigen, ikergnapigen sirdnaturenain
aχe-eroqturenain nakusungming aukturenain
Fig. 532. Plan of Hudson Bay qaggi or
singing house. (From Hall II, p. 220.)
Besides these old songs and tales there are a great number of new
ones, and, indeed, almost every man has his own tune and his own song.
A few of these become great favorites among the Eskimo and are sung
like our popular songs. The summer song (No. I) and “The returning hunter” (No. II) may be most frequently heard. As to the
contents of the songs, they treat of almost everything imaginable: of
the beauty of summer; of thoughts and feelings of the composer on any
occasion, for instance, when watching a seal, when angry with somebody,
&c.; or they tell of an important event, as of a long journey.
Satiric songs are great favorites.
The form of both old and new songs is very strict, they being divided
into verses of different length, alternating regularly. I give here
ARLUM PISSINGA (the killer’s song).
Qiangalo taitoχalunga qolaralo taitoχalunga
Qiangalogalo qolaralogalo aisinaiisi
uvanaleunen audlatsiapiata kingodnidlaqdjuagung
The “killer” of the song title is a killer whale (arluk, gen.
arluup or arlum).
The rhythm of the songs will best be understood by examining the
melodies. Every long syllable may be replaced by two or even three short
ones; other short syllables appear as unaccented parts before the
accented part of a measure; in short, the rhythmic adaptation of the
words to the melody is very arbitrary and interchanges frequently occur,
so that it is impossible to speak of metric feet. At the same time this
furnishes distinct proof that the musical rhythm is the decisive element
in determining the form. The rhythmic arrangement of the words is
regulated with considerable exactness by the quantity of the syllables,
and not by the accent. While, for instance, in speaking, it would be
“palirtu´gun,” in song No. IV it is “palir´tugun´,” and in
No. I “tekto´roti´kelek´tlune,” instead of “tektorotikelektlu´ne,”
&c. Such displacements of the accent, however, are avoided if
possible, and in the best and most popular songs they hardly appear at
The numbers refer to the songs printed below, so “No. I” is the Summer Song, No. II above. But the quoted word “tektorotikelektlune” occurs only in the first version.
The construction of the songs corresponds entirely with that of the
music, inasmuch as every melody and every rhythmically spoken song is
made up of musical, that is, rhythmic, phrases which are divided by
cæsuræ. Repetitions of the same phrases are very frequent.
The adaptation of the melodies to our divisions of time and measure is
also somewhat arbitrary, as they frequently consist of a mixture of
three and four part phrases. It is for this reason that I have noted
down some songs without any division into bars or measures and in those
cases have only marked the accented syllables.
Among the twenty melodies and rhythmic poems we find ten of binary
measures, five of triple measures, and six of mixed ones. Of the whole
number, nine begin on the full bar, eleven on the arsis.
The melodies move within the following range: In a fifth
(No. III), one; in a minor sixth (Nos. VII, IX, X), three; in
a major sixth (Nos. II, IV, XVII), three; in a seventh (Nos. XII, XIV),
two; in an octave, (Nos. I, II, V, VIII, XI, XVI), six; in a minor ninth
(No. VI), one; in a major ninth , one; in a tenth
(No. XIII), one.
These may be divided into two very characteristic and distinct
groups. The first, which would coincide with our major key, contains the
following essential tones:
The fourth and the sixth occur seldom, and then only as subordinate
tones. This key is identical with the Chinese and many of the Indian
In the second group, which corresponds to our minor key, we
frequently find the fourth, while the sixth only appears twice and then
as a subordinate tone (in No. XV). We furthermore find the
major seventh in the lower position leading back to the beginning, i.e.,
the key note. The essential components of this key are:
Professor R. Succo calls attention to the fact that the relation of
the melodies to their key note resembles that of the Gregorian chants,
especially the psalmodic ones among them.
If we, in accordance with our ideas, suppose the melody—No. XIII, for example—to begin in C major, it nevertheless does not
conclude in the same key, but in E. We would say that No. XIV is
written in A minor; still it ends in E. We find the same in the
Gregorian chants. They also resemble the songs of the Eskimo in the
retention of the same note during a large number of consecutive
On the whole the melodies, even to our musical sense, can be traced
to a key note. However, changes often occur as well (see No. VI).
A very striking construction appears in No. XIII, where the
oft-repeated E forms a new key note, while at the conclusion the melody
leaps back without any modulation to C through the peculiar interval,
I. SUMMER SONG.
Ajaja, adlenaipa, adlenaitariva silekdjua una aujaratarame.