Introduction, Ancestry and Migration of the Inuit
This group of people refers to themselves by the term Inuit. However, they have been referred to by the term “Eskimo” since when the seventeenth century ended. This is a term that means the one who eats of raw meat. The Inuit are distributed in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia (Das and Kolack 32). Majority of them are in Greenland. Their ancestors originated from Asia about ten thousand years back. They crossed from Siberia to Alaska. They dwelt in Alaska for a period of five thousand years when their offspring (Paleo-Eskimos) moved eastward towards both Quebec-Labrador peninsula and Greenland. In these regions, we had the development of the Dorset and the pre-Dorset cultures.
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About four thousand years after this, the Thule culture developed in the northern part of Alaska. Dogsleds and skin boats were the main characteristics of this culture. After hundreds of years, the Thule culture spread to the Arctic parts of Northern America (Bonnefoy 25). The Inuit ancestors were very good in the hunting of marine creatures and land mammals which included especially the right whale and the caribou respectively.
This essay describes the mythological culture, religion, rituals and sociology of the Inuit. It also discusses the insights provided by the stories, their place in the culture, the reflection it has and how these stories can be used to understand the culture, sociology, religion and rituals of this group of people.
Culture surrounding the Inuit mythology
The Inuit mythology is the basis of their beliefs and rites at both the group and individual level. For a long time, it was never thought that the Inuit mythology was organized into detailed and coherent information but was rather though that it was about heroic epics, animal fables and other accidental events that were devoid of any interest.
According to the Inuit mythology, two men were born from the earth’s small mounds. One of the men became the other’s wife and became a woman after his partner had recited a song for him (Bonnefoy 26). The first man and woman brought forth animals either through their own creation or from other worlds. During that earliest time, the earth was dark, the sky did not have heavenly bodies, ice was not available in the sea and there was no wind, storm or lightening.
During that period, the Inuit were very ignorant and poor. Their hunting instruments were few and they did not know much regarding the game. To make their prey visible, they could put saliva on their fingertip thus laminating it. They could then point it up in the air. Nonetheless, they could scratch the ground and eat the earth which primarily was their food. They used skins that were warm, fragile and sparse which were from birds and white foxes (Oakes 37).
The bear, crow, white fox and wolf were among the first animals during that time. However, confusion reigned between animals and humans. Human beings could change themselves into animals and vice versa. These made the animals and humans to be so close to each other and they could communicate in the same language. Although they had different habits, they could hunt in the same way and stay in the same places. Both the big game and marine animals were not there hence there weren’t any taboos. Great danger was not there in life. People feared sicknesses and they neither knew the rules of life nor the strategies of avoiding danger and wickedness (Bonnefoy 26). However, they discovered that amulets had protective power. During that era it was common for women to be infertile. This caused them to go and search for babies from the ground. Finding boys needed more time and effort whereas it was easy finding girls. The population of the Inuit increased rapidly since there was no death during that time.
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Insights from the Culture
This culture shows us the important role that the earth played among the Inuit people. It did not only regulate the social reproduction of the Inuit during their initial times of humanity but also generated humanity. In the demographic sense, sterile women could search for children from it and at the economic level the earth provided the people with basic food during a period when game was rare.
This mythology also enables us to appreciate the new discovery that man had made regarding the efficiency of the spoken word. Moreover, through a song, sexual difference is achieved. The creation of a woman reduces man’s dependence on the earth. However, sterility is still critical. The search for small game enables man to deal with the issue of provision. Despite the inexistence of death, a new challenge faces humanity and that is overpopulation.
Rituals and Religion of the Inuit
The body’s symbolism was of great significance in the religion of the Inuit. Hair, feet, hands and nails among other parts played a key role in both ritual and myth. The opposition of the features of male and female greatly determined the symbolism of the body which had an integral part in the Inuit culture. In Inuit religion, the opposing principles of male and female were represented by the sea spirit Nuliajuk and the moon spirit Aninga. The mother of mankind, game and life was Nuliajuk (Baaren 102).
From her union with the dog that belonged to her father, we had important races among men coming forth. Later on, she got married to a stormy petrel and then her father took her away from him. After the stormy petrel followed them, the father threw her out of the boat and chopped off her finger joints. She then held tightly to the boat. Out of her finger joints, a very important game was made. Some versions of the myth indicate that her father cut off one of her eyes. Nuliajuk then sank down to the sea bed where she is still ruling the animals of the sea (Baaren 102).
On the other hand, Aninga started his life as a blind boy and later on became a hunter. Aninga had sexual relations with his sister making the union to remain sterile. Initially, Aninga was confined in his grandmother’s igloo and was made a dispenser of fertility. Generally, women who did no conform to the culture of the Inuit were changed into food. Mythologically, men could kill women to create food. Afterwards, they could kill game such as whalers to produce food (Crandall 31).
Fresh food and skins could be handled by clean women. On the other hand, unclean women were thought to make the game get away. Women who were unclean were not supposed to be near the hunter and his game. There was a close connection between the uncleanness of the women and their fertility (Baaren 103).
Abortion, menstruation, miscarriage and recent child delivery were thought to be the main causes of uncleanness. Incases where there was death of a close relative, both men and women were considered unclean. In such a case uncleanness could affect the entire group of relatives whereas only an individual could be termed as unclean in the case of uncleanness that was linked to female fertility. In this latter case there was a potential danger of the uncleanness affecting the woman’s closest relatives such as her male relatives.
It was common for the Inuit to wear long hair. It was believed that cutting away one’s hair was cutting away part of their soul. Men were to cut their hair short at the forehead and cut it at the sides whereas children had to wear long hair. There were many ways through which women could wear their hair although it had to be parted on top of their heads. After cutting of air, instead of discarding it, it was to be burned inside a tent or house. Clearly, hair was regarded as a seat of the magic power.
Hair was also significant in some ritual aspects. This was particularly in line with covering and combing of air. Whereas unclean women were to cover their hair when they were outside, men and women were to avoid combing their hair during mourning periods. A noxious vapor was thought to come from the hair of unclean women. This was attached to Nuliajuk during the transgressions of the ritual injunctions. Concealed abortions and miscarriages are the transgressions that affected the hair of Nuliajuk. Light and sight were also closely linked to the moon spirit (Baaren 104).
The Inuit are found in Greenland, Alaska, Siberia and Canada. Their ancient culture centers around hunting both marine and land game. Sexual differences were acquired through a song. The earth was principally food and also could be used for procreation for the women who were sterile. Hair was regarded as a magical power’s seat and consequently it had to be handled carefully. Unclean women’s air was regarded as polluted. In the mythical past, fingers were transformed into game. Not having fingers was thought to be inability to work with instruments in cutting meat. Moreover, sound sight was attributed to the moon spirit.
Considering of particular properties of the body has been used to explain the symbolism of the body. Accordingly, what determine the symbolism of the body are oppositions as culture-nature, life-death and male-female among other aspects.
Baaren, Theodorus. Commemorative figures: papers presented to Dr. Th. P. van Baaren on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, 1982, Volumes 1-3. Leiden: Brill Archives, 1982.Web.
Bonnefoy, Yves. American, African and old European Mythologies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Crandall, Richard. Inuit Art: a History. Jefferson: McFarland, 2000.
Das, Mitra and Kolack, Shirley. Technology, values, and society: social forces in technological change. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.
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Oakes, Jill, et al. Alaska Eskimo Footwear. Fairbanks: University of Alaska press, 2007.