The human civilization, despite its being a single form of the organization of social life, is rather diverse. The major differences between peoples inhabiting the Earth are based on their genetic and ethnic peculiarities, cultural traditions, and customs as well as on the geographical regions they inhabit. Numerous variations in the human cultures lead to the different extents to which this or that people is adjusted to the present environmental and social conditions, to surviving and development under the circumstances of either complete civilization or wilderness. The current paper will focus exactly on the latter point in an attempt to examine and compare the ways of life of the two such different and simultaneously similar peoples as Netsilik Eskimo from Canadian North and Igbo tribe from the hot savannas of Nigeria. This paper will focus on the consideration of these peoples from the point of view of cultural anthropology which will provide for a comprehensive understanding of these peoples’ similar and different points in behavior.
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To start with, it is necessary to explain why exactly these two ethnic groups, namely Eskimo and Igbo tribes, are chosen for the analysis in this paper. The first reason for it is the fact that they both are, or were as Igbo tribes in the late 19th century, at the initial stages of their civilized development, and therefore they differ substantially from today’s civilization in the broadest sense of the word. In other terms, Netsilik Eskimos and Igbo people from Nigeria live according to the mythological beliefs, tribal or clan rules of social co-existence, and primitive means of social control as the supervision of Gods and controls by Shamans or Oracles. This is their major similarity in the broad context and the main reason for the comparative analysis of their behaviors.
However, there are several other similar points that make these two people living on opposite sides of the Earth and in absolutely different climatic conditions similar to each other. The most important among these points is the striving of Netsilik Eskimo and Igbo for survival in the difficult conditions of existence. Although the conditions under which they had to struggle for survival were rather different the major essence of the ways they looked for was directed at surviving by any accessible means. Thus, for example, “the Netsilik Eskimos, living in one of the harshest areas of the inhabited North, were able to survive in this cold desert environment because of their efficient and remarkably adapted technology.” (Balikci, p. 3).
On the other hand, Igbo tribesmen living in the hot and dry savannas of Nigeria had to work industriously to feed their families while despite the fact that natural conditions were far not so difficult. At least they did not have to think of the means to warm their accommodations up. Nevertheless, their situation was also complicated by other factors including droughts, lack of water supply for the fields where their crops grew or vice versa the excessive pouring of rains, etc.: “…the year had gone mad. Rain fell as it had never fallen before. For days and nights together it poured down in violent torrents, and washed away the yam heaps.” (Achebe, p. 17).
Accordingly, the phenomena that led to the decline of the original civilizations of Netsilik Eskimos and Igbo tribes in Nigeria were different in their specific manifestations but similar in their essence. They both were destructed by the violent interferences of civilized nations into their stable and natural ways of living. The way in which Netsilik Eskimos were civilized was much more humane and peaceful, while Igbo people were forcefully converted to Christianity and subdued by the military powers of British missionaries. Thus, Eskimos felt necessity in the conveniences of modern life themselves without any necessity to impose them on Netsilik people. The first step was the introduction of the rifle to the number of the hunting weapons of these Eskimos, which further on amounted to the overall acculturation. It was manifested by the involvement of modern values for the Eskimos communities, and by implementing the material achievements of the civilization in their lives: “In a very short time, the Netsilik moved from igloos to frame houses and their children were obliged to attend school.” (Balikci, p. 9).
At the same time, the Igbo tribe was subject to violent and destructive activities by the Christian missionaries who tried to “correct” their way of living and show them the only true path. Okonkwo, the protagonist of the book by Achebe, saw that invasion into the life of his tribe as the end of the world he used to live in, but he could not resist this force on his own: “Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: ‘Why did he do it?’” (Achebe, 1994, Ch. 24).
Thus, it is obvious, that despite the fact that the Netsilik Eskimos and the Igbo tribe were deprived of their ethnic identity in different ways, the most significant point in this process was its result. In other words, Eskimos decided by themselves that the advantages that civilization could bring them were worth more than their heritage, while Igbo fought for their identity but did not succeed. As a result, the outcome for both people was the same – they came to lose their originality and identity.
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However, apart from the considerable similarities between the two peoples described by Chinua Achebe and Asen Balikci in their books, these ethnicities display substantial differences in their behaviors and in the factors that influence them. These factors concern such geographical and environmental factors as weather climate, etc. as well as cultural, historical, and other aspects of their existence.
Thus, the first and the determinant distinctive feature between the two peoples under consideration is their geographical location and its respective effects upon their behaviors and life habits. For instance, the Netsilik Eskimos depended greatly on the cold weather, low temperatures, and huge amounts of snow covering the landscapes of their lands in forming their habits and customs: “Snow and ice were enormously important to the wandering Netsilik Eskimos as they were an almost constant part of the Netsilik environment and largely determined how they lived, hunted and traveled.” (Balikci, p. 5) Accordingly, the Eskimos of this group developed numerous tools for snow processing including snow knives and fur combs that assisted them while creating their shelters from snow, ice, and animal furs.
On the contrary, the heat of the African climate was the determinant factor in shaping the Igbo behaviors and traditions. The cult of a strong man who had to simultaneously be a successful farmer and the head of the family was dominant in Igbo. Thus, farming was the essence of Igbo tribesmen well being, and the seasons of failures in crops of yams were equal to death for many of Igbo: “That year the harvest was said, like a funeral, and many farmers wept as they dug up the miserable and rotting yams. One man tied his cloths to a tree branch and hanged himself.” (Achebe, p. 17).
Drawing from the above-mentioned natural and climatic differences, the major means of food production were different as well. The harsh and cold climate in the North provided the Netsilik Eskimos with no opportunity to go in for agriculture but made perfect hunters out of them. The soil was not fit in the North for its processing and growing vegetables, crops, etc. At the same time, numerous animal species and fish allowed the Eskimos to feed their families by means of “collaborative hunting and fishing” (Balikci, p. 9). The ideal of the successful hunter was one of the basic in the Netsilik culture reflecting the harsh reality of the society that allowed no one to fail if he or she wanted to eat.
Finally, the major difference between the people if viewed from the perspective of cultural anthropology is their attitudes towards the attempt of the civilized world to acculturate them. Thus, for instance, the Igbo tribe perceived the outside interferences into their life as the hostile and destructive expansions of the other culture. This aimed at destabilization of Igbo existence and further elimination of the tribe as a whole. The overall position of the Igbo people towards invaders was negative and there could be an alternative: “We have heard stories about white men who made the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true.” (Achebe, Ch. 15).
At the same time, the Netsilik Eskimos were not hostile to the civilization at all. Even vice versa, their attitudes towards innovation and progressive steps in hunting, accommodation building, and children education were rather welcomed by them: “The sedentarized band fragmented into individual families. Large amounts of imported commodities became suddenly desirable necessities.” (Balikci, p. 9) Thus, Netsilik Eskimos were more ready to the demands of the new time, and it can be assumed that harsher environmental conditions made them look for any way of survival.
So, to make a respective conclusion to this paper, it is necessary to state that the peoples of Netsilik Eskimos and Igbo tribes from Nigeria are rather similar to each other despite the fact that they lived in different areas and climatic conditions. Their similarities lie mostly in their striving for survival by any means in the harsh reality of the world. However, the means they chose for these purposes and the results they achieved are quite different. Igbo tribe was subjugated by the British forces and lost its ethnic identity. At the same time, the Netsilik Eskimos took up the modern commodities and ideals willingly, and this brought them peaceful life within their community. All these facts are described skillfully by Chinua Achebe and Asen Balikci, whose books are valuable sources of knowledge for such a science as cultural anthropology.
- Balikci, Asen. The Netsilik Eskimo. Waveland Press, 1989.
- Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart: A Novel. Anchor, 1994.