11 jun. 2008




FAMILY









Gender roles, marriage, and community

The division of labour in traditional society had a strong gender component, but it was not absolute. The men were traditionally hunters and fishermen. The women took care of the children, cleaned huts, sewed, processed food, and cooked. However, there are numerous examples of women who hunted out of necessity or as a personal choice. At the same time, men who could be away from camp for several days, would be expected to know how to sew and cook.
The marital customs among the Inuit were not strictly monogamous: many Inuit relationships were implicitly or explicitly sexually open marriages; polygamy, divorce and remarriage were fairly common. Among some Inuit groups divorce required the approval of the community, if there were children, and particularly the agreement of the elders. Marriages were often arranged, sometimes in infancy, and occasionally forced on the couple by the community. Marriage was common for men when they became productive hunters, and for women at puberty. Family structure was flexible: a household might consist of a man and his wife or wives and children; it might include his parents or his wife's parents as well as adopted children; or it might be a larger formation of several siblings with their parents, wives and children; or even more than one family sharing dwellings and resources. Every household had its head, an elder or a particularly respected man.


Life and traditions of the Inuit people

The Inuit were traditionally hunters and fishermen, living off of Arctic animal life. They hunted by preference whales, walruses, caribou and seals, although polar bears, musk oxen, birds and any other edible animal might be taken in a pinch. The Arctic has very little edible vegetation, although Inuit did supplement their diet with seaweed.

Sea animals were hunted from single-passenger, covered seal-skin boats called qajait (singular qajaq) which were extraordinarily buoyant, and could easily be righted by a seated person, even if completely overturned. Because of this property, the Inuit design was copied - along with the Inuit word - by Europeans who still make and use them under the name kayak. Inuit also made umiaq - larger, open boats made out of skins and bones for transporting people, goods and dogs.
In the winter, Inuit would also hunt sea mammals by making holes in the ice and waiting for the air-breathing seals and walruses to use them when they needed air. According to Inuit tradition, they learned to do this by observing the polar bear, who hunts by seeking out holes in the ice and waiting nearby.

On land, the Inuit used dog sleds (in Inuktitut, qamutiit, singular qamutiq) for transportation. The husky dog breed comes from Inuit breeding of dogs for transportation. A team of dogs in a fan formation (and not bound together in a line like horse teams) would pull a sled made of animal bones and skins, and in some southern areas a bit of wood, over the snow and ice. They used landmarks to navigate, and possessed a comprehensive native system of toponymy.

Where natural landmarks were insufficient, the Inuit would erect an inukshuk to compensate.Inuit industry relied almost exclusively on animal hides and bones, although some tools were also made out of worked stones, particularly the easily-worked mineral known as soapstone.

Walrus ivory was a particularly essential material, used to make knives. Some Inuit who lived near the tree-line also had native woodworking traditions.Inuit made clothes and footwear from animal skins, sewn together using needles made from animal bones and threads made from other animal products.

The parka is, in essence, the same garment across the Arctic - made in a similar fashion by Arctic peoples from Europe through Asia and the Americas, including by the Inuit. The hoods of Inuit women's parkas - amautiit (singular amaut or amautik) in Inuktitut - were traditionally made extra large, to protect the baby from the harsh wind when snuggled against the mother's back. Styles vary from region to region, from shape of the hood to length of the tails. Boots (Inuktitut: kamik) could be made of caribou or sealskin, and designs varied for men and women. Inuit also lived in temporary shelters made from snow in winter (the famous igloo), and during the few months of the year when temperatures were above freezing, they lived in tents made of animal skins and bones.
The division of labour in traditional society had a strong gender component. The men were traditionally hunters and fishermen. The women took care of the children, cleaned huts, sewed and cooked.The marital customs among the Inuit were not strictly monogamous, many Inuit relationships were implicitly or explicitly sexually open, and polygamy, divorce and remarriage were fairly common.

Formal marriage and divorce required the approval of the community, and particularly the agreement of the elders. Marriages were often arranged, sometimes in infancy, and occasionally forced on the couple by the community. Marriage was expected for a man as soon as he could hunt for himself, and for women at puberty.

Family structure was flexible - a household might consist of a man and his wife or wives and children; it might include his parents or his wife's parents as well as adopted children; or it might be a larger formation of several siblings with their parents, wives and children; or even more than one family sharing dwellings and resources.

Every household had a head of household - an elder or a particularly respected man.There was also a larger notion of community, generally several families who shared a place where they wintered. Goods were shared within a household, and to a lesser extend within a whole community in winter.
As with most nomadic people, there was no real conception of ownership of land - if a spot was unoccupied, all were free to hunt or camp there. Animals belonged first to the hunter or trapper, then to his household.
Nearly all Inuit cultures have oral traditions of raids by Indians and fellow Inuit, and of taking vengeance on them in return. Although these tales are generally regarded not as accurate historical accounts but as self-serving myths - violence against outsiders as justified revenge - it does make clear that there was a history of hostile contact between Inuit and other cultures.
In Alaska, the Inuit became accomplished raiders through constant feuding. Given the narrow margins of survival, the advantages of supplementing one's hunt by stealing from one's neighbours seem obvious. Even within an Inuit band, breaching traditional justice and wronging another Inuit was routinely punished by murderous vengeance, as the story of Atanarjuat shows.
Within a community, punishments were meted out by community decision, or by the elders, and a breach meant that the victim and his or her relatives could seek out restitution or revenge. There is a pervasive belief that the Inuit left their elderly on the ice to die. This is not genuinely true. It is true that sometimes elderly Inuit who could no longer hunt or do other useful work might choose, or be convinced to choose, a form of assisted suicide when food was very scarce. They were not left to die on the ice, but rather were more directly dispatched. This practice was not universal among the Inuit - some bands never had such practices - and was only tolerated under truly desperate conditions. Inuit communities were largely ruled by respected elders, and routine geronticide did not take place.
A far more common response to desperate conditions and the threat of starvation was infanticide, which did sometimes entail abandoning an infant in hopes that someone less desperate might find and adopt it before the cold or the wildlife finished it off.

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