The Indigenous population known as the Inuit or “Eskimo” share an old and traditional culture. The term Eskimo is used by Westerners to identify indigenous peoples of the North Artic. Carleton Coon, an American anthropologist in the 20th century once said “ Eskimos are closely identified with the Santa Claus myth. Because much of Eskimo culture is ingenious, mechanical, and healthy it is a suitable subject of kindergarten study and furnishes out of door patterns for children’s play”, ( Coon 153). Much of Inuit culture is very structured in comparison to the West. The Inuit have been studied by many anthropologists throughout the known history of their existence. The renowned anthropologist Franz Boas performed fieldwork on the Inuit.( Boas 399-670).
The Inuit are thought to be direct descendants of a tradition of people arriving in the arctic around 1000 AD, (Legare 100). The people of this tradition are said to go by many names such as Neo Eskimo, Eskimo, Northern Maritime, or Thule peoples,(Friesen and Mason 14). The Inuit for a very long duration lived in small groups practicing a nomadic lifestyle. This was unaltered until the 20th century, and it was noted by scholars David Damas, and Richard McGhee that about 50 Inuit tribal groups lived in the Canadian arctic, with members of the group varying from 30 to 100 people, (Legare 100). The Inuit reside in North American Arctic(Boas 414). The North American Arctic contains Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. This paper will be utilized to provide a substantial evaluation on the culture and tradition of the Inuit.
The Inuit system of subsistence is a paramount aspect in the definition of their culture. The Inuit practice Hunter Gatherer subsistence, and are thus completely dependent on the environment, (Boas 420). Inuit subsistence is dependent upon the distribution of animals in the arctic during Winter, Spring, Summer,and Fall. Since the environment is too cold for vegetation to flourish, the Inuit are forced to depend on animals for subsistence. The Inuit practice a nomadic lifestyle in order to survive the Arctic. Themigration patterns of animalsis instrumental inthe nomadic movement and setup of villages by the Inuit, (Boas 420). The Inuit’s predominant source of subsistence is the common seal, (Boas 471). An Inuit hunter will wait at a breathing hole of the seal for the ideal moment to strike and kill. The traditional harpoons were made of ivory blades. TheArctic has a large quantity of seals, and the Inuit use all parts of the seal. The Inuit use the skin of the seal for summer clothing and construction of tents during the summer season, and they consume the meat for food, (Boas 420). The Inuit use the seal blubber as fuel for cooking, (Coon 153).
Another important animal that the Inuit depend on is the deer, ( Boas 420). The Inuit use deer to make clothing for winter, whichenable themselves to bear the Drastic and harsh temperatures of the Arctic during winter. When summer arrives in the Arctic,melting snow and ice, the Inuit travel inland to hunt reindeer and fawns, as the skins and meat of these animals arehighly veneratedin the Inuit society. During the summer the Inuit also hunt Walrus, Salmon, and birds in the region. In the summer, herbs are used for cooking in substitute of blubber, and the form of hunting is practiced is by firearms and harpoons, (Boas 420). Dogs are used as well for hunting and pulling sledges for transport, (Boas 485). The clothing the Inuit wear is a fully insulated suit thatcontains an inner and outer suit, (Coon 154). The double fur suitis crafted by womenwith the use of a knife. The clothing is a double fur suit that is made up of 12 pieces of duplicates being a hooded parka, gloves, mittens, boots, and pants. Additionally, consuming a lot of fat allowed the Inuit to live without heat or with a shortage of burnable blubber (Coon 154).The Inuit fashioned raincoats from animal intestines as well, (Coon 155).
The Inuit Practice a form of Tribal social organization, anda community is made up of several families living in a settlement at a time, (Boas 579). Inuit social organization emphasizedevasion of hostility, teamwork,servitudeto one’s community, integrity,and sharing of resources within the community, (Hippler 453). There is no hierarchy intheInuit society, no political organization, and the division of labor is based on sex, ( Coon 160). Oftentimes a family or an extendedfamilywill live together at one time, (Hippler 453). Within these communities two forms of light leadership are distinguished.The elders are the first form of light leadership.The elders are honored intheInuit society as they have attained old age and were thought to have a largereserve ofexperience, and intelligence, ( Bennet & Rowley xxix).
The second form of leadership in Inuit society is the Shaman. The shaman are believed to be able to control the spiritsin Inuit society,(Stefansson391-392). The shamans were believed to be able to bring game, and cure sickness in Inuit society, (Hippler 453). The shamans were not regarded as a formal leader and still had to partake in daily activities like hunting for food, ( Coon 160). Communities were likely to follow the advice of a renowned hunter (Coon 160). Where the social organization of Inuit culture gets divisiveis the expected roles and duties of men and women. In Inuit society the dutyof men is to ultimately serve his family. This includes hunting, operating the sledge, feeding hunting canines, building dwellings, and crafting andmaintaining hunting equipment.
The women in Inuit society are responsible for keeping the household clean, sewing of clothes, cooking, making tent covers, carvinganimal skins, raising baby canines, and designing the interior of the house. Woman also care for their children while themen are on hunting trips. Both men and women depended upon each other’sroles to maintain functionality in their communities, (Boas 580-581). The treatment of children intheInuit society is of a tender nature and physical punishment is not used. There isan Issumautangin each tribe that is experienced with the right time to shift settlements, and is consulted when families are evaluating a migration to another tribe or settlement, (Boas 581). As mentioned earlier the Inuit society emphasizes sharing of resources and knowledge. Thus the meat, blubberand skin are dispersed within the community when a seal is caught and brought to camp. When a whale is caught and brought to a settlement, a feast is held in celebration of the capture, (Boas 581). The hunting rules and customs in Inuit society differentiated on the type of game. Ground seals belonged to all members of the hunt. Walruses were cut into pieces depending upon the amount of hunters, and the hunter who attacked it first took the head and tusks along with one piece of body. Bears and youngseals belong to the man who sawit first, with no concern to whoever dealt the killing blow, (Boas 581-582).
Conflicts in Inuit society are handled in a violent manner. These conflicts can arise as a result of violation of laws. Since all laws are orally told in Inuit society, the practiced form of punishment is blood vengeance and usually can span into next generation families due to a continuous cycle of vendetta. This cycle ends when two families agree to stop and an act of reconciliation is made by touching each other’sbreast and saying Illaga, meaning my friend, (Klutschak, cited by Boas 582).
Marriages in Inuit society were mostly monogamous and arranged, (Boas 579). A large majority of marriages were arranged between two families when children were young. These arranged marriages are not strict or binding and can be revoked at any time. Even with marriages being arranged at a young age, the bride has to be bought from her parents by a gift. Not all marriages are arranged and some men and women mature into adulthood before marrying. However, consent of the wives parents is always required, and if the parents are deceased consent will fall to her brothers, (Boas 579-580). Marriages between cousins,aunts, nieces, and nephews are taboo, however, the marriage of a man and two sisters is not considered taboo, (Boas 579).
With this information,one can infer that it appears that the Inuit for the most part do not partake in endogamy. Polygamy is found intheInuit society, albeit rare. Polygamy is allowed when a family settles in their own house, and then a man is granted the ability to take on more wives with one being the chief wife. However, Franz Boas remarked that “…only a very few men having two or more wives”, (Boas 579). Boas mentions certain items that are seen as required to the establishment of a household intheInuitsociety. These items are attributed as the hunting equipment of the man, and the knife, the scraper,thelamp, andthecooking pot of the women. Oncea man and a woman has acquired all these items they are ready to start a family on their own. The Inuit practice another tradition with marriages in their communities,that allows them to borrow wives. This practice is known as wife lending and consists of a man exchanging wives with another man for a period of time as anexpression of friendship. ( Boas 579).
The kinship system of the Inuit is based on a bilateral descent and institutes fictive kin ties to people in the community, (Hippler 460). This means that the father and mother sides are distinguishedand valued. Hippler notes that Inuit kinship “ …tended to create a series of mutually exclusive circles which were occupied solely by oneindividual or his nuclear family.”,(Hippler 460). Thus meaning thatInuit kinshipwas characterized by strongimmediate family association. Albert Heinrich notes that Inuit kinship identifies family as “children”, “parents”, “siblings”, “grandchildren”, “grandparents”, “consanguine aunts and uncles”,“first cousins”,and “distant relatives”. (Heinrich 111). Inuit Kinship is also found in the way in which a child is named. This tradition is infused with Inuit religious ideals and serves as a practice for them. The Inuit believe that a soul is infused in a name, and thus naming a baby is attributed to giving it a soul, (Alia, cited by Searles 242). In Inuit society names are assigned usually by biological tiesinthe family. People are alsonamed after someone who has passed away. This practice ties into the belief that the souls of deceased live again in the body and name, (Searles 242). Therefore, kinship is levied on strong religious ideals and family transparency in Inuit culture.
The Inuit practice Animism within their culture with a belief that spirits and deities are responsible for life, weather, andtheafterlife, (Boas 583-600). Much of religious ideal is conflicted with each tribe believing in similar, the same, or different deities and spirits. In the seventeenpages Boas lists several deities that different tribes believe in along with spirits. Sedna is most prevalent among the tribe with Boas referencing her a multiple times. Additionally, anthropologist Carleton Coon speaks of her in his book, (Coon 160). These influenced a large part of Inuit life and order. The spirits in Inuit religion were believed to be the cause of all circumstances and that spirits were controlled by charms used by shamans. Shamans were responsible for curingthe ill. The cause of illness was believed to be either one losing its soul or having a spirit sent by a bad shaman to make one sick. Spirits are not evil or good in Inuit society and are said to only act under the guidance of shamans, ( Stefansson390-394).
On the legend of Sedna, it is believed that Sedna was once a girl who went to a land and got married to a fulmar, (Boas 584). Sedna did not like the living conditions and the environment her marriage was situated in. Sedna called for her father to takeher back home and he did.There was a storm that jeopardized the boat while sailing back home. Sedna’s father cut two fingers off of Sedna when she was hanging on to the boat. It is said that onefinger became whales, and the other became seals, (Boas 584). In Boas’s discussion of religious ideals, Sedna is also attributed to being the bearer of all forms of life.
The afterlife in Inuit society is distinguished with a consensus between tribes that there are two levels. These levels are further established with Boas’s comparison with Hall and his agreeance on the findings, (Hall cited by Boas 589). These levels are the Adliparmiut and Quadliparmiut, (Boas 589). The Adliparmiut is constituted as hell and is remarked as being extremely cold, covered in ice, dark, and having no sun. The residents of Adliparmiut are said to be the people who committedmurder, did not help their tribe, and mistreated people. Quadliparmiut is regarded as heaven and that it is categorized by no night, no ice or snow, plenty of game, and an aura of happiness. The residents of Quadliparmiut are said to be people who helped their tribe, people who were killed, people who committed suicide, and other violent deaths. Members of Adliparmiut and Quadliparmiut are thought to have their souls placed there by Sedna based on her judgment of their actions and past life. The Inuit belief in violent deaths gain access to a sacred plain of bliss known as Quadliparmiut is similarto the Norse belief in Valhalla. There is much discrepancy in the direction of these afterlife plains. Some tribes argue that Adliparmiut is above and Quadliparmiut is below and vice versa, ( Boas 589-591).
The Inuit face social issues today in their community. The creation of Nunavut by the Canadiangovernment is one such example. The establishment of Nunavutforced the Inuitto surrender their indigenous claims to the lands in north Canadathey deem sacred (Legare 101). This was done by the Canadian government to provide health care, and other services to the Inuit.(Wenzel 92). Nunavut is a region in North Canada that is made up of the Inuit tribes of Canada. The issues found here are an inadequate amount of affordable housing, low education rates, high unemployment levels, medical issues, and financial distress, ( Legare 104).
Additionally there is another problem that the Inuit face in the establishment of Nunavut. Inuit must now work in order to be able to hunt and practice their traditional form of subsistence, ( Wenzel 92). The Inuit in Nunavut use the money they receivefrom labor to purchase snowmobiles, motor boats, and hunting equipment needed for hunting. The issue that arises of this conflict is that Inuit must now sacrifice hunting for work if he does not have the means to hunt. Despite these circumstances the Inuit still practice their traditional form of sharing and care for their community in Nunavut, (Wenzel 92). Wenzel says “ As the Inuit often note, no one, whatever their circumstances, need go without food or shelter.”, (Wenzel 92).
To conclude the Inuit are a very old culture who’straditions and principles establish a strong sense of community, companionship, and love between its people. The Inuit although having gone through various changes and challenges still hold aplace in both ancient and modern history. It will be pertinent to continue interacting and sharing information with Inuit people just as previous Scholars have and continue to do so. The Western world and Inuit both have beneficial information to be exchanged, and it would be ethnocentric to say otherwise. Time will tell on how the further relations, and cultural aspects of the Inuit will progress or diminish.
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