on thin ice with the mighty quinn

We pine for authenticity. The real . The genuine, wanting to graft ourselves onto it as part of an expression of our individuality. Or do we? It has to conform to our idea of it. Rousseau’s Noble Savage has to be like us, read the sports section and shop for bargains. Otherwise not in my backyard. In the case of the Inuit- formerly the Eskimo of raw flesh swallowing and wife lending fame- we know they don’t function well outside of their natural habitat but we continue to place them within an urban context, at least within an intellectual architecture. Is the Western ambivalent attitude towards another variant of “the other” justified? If one marries my neighbor’s daughter will he put the mother-in-law out on an ice floe to die when she is deemed expedient?

So, transforming Inuit culture into a consumable “ready-made” is intrinsically impossible within the parameters of a consumer society. Complexities such as the Inuit concept of transformation: men to men, men to animals, animals to men, animals to animals permeates all aspects of far northern life and is simply beyond the pale of  Western comprehension. Inuit spiritual belief harkens to the deep recesses of pre-normative religious thought, well removed from the Platonism that informs our own lives.

---This type of sympathetic magic was also manifest in the stylized “whale-fluke” tattoos adorning the corners of men’s mouths . Fittingly, these symbols were applied as part of first-kill observances among the Yupiget of St. Lawrence Island and the Yupiit of Chukotka , as well as by other groups in the Arctic . Read More:http://www.larskrutak.com/articles/Arctic/

There is also the issue of death, both human or animal, which are deep-seated cultural values by which arctic peoples lived their lives and evaluated their experiences. At one level, physical contact with the dead, human and animal, was not condoned, or was to be practiced with great caution. The spirits of great animals  and people were believed to be imbued with an identity that was considered to be equal or better to that of the living. A supernatural and parapsychological inflected perception, fantastical, multiple realities at odds with the seeming simplistic Christian tradition they became exposed to.

…As an individual matured, his or her education revolved around the increasing awareness of the natural and supernatural worlds, and the prescriptions and proscriptions for proper behavior within them. The supernatural was met everywhere in the landscape and places along hunting or travel routes became sacred because they embodied local spirits or manifested the presence of higher divinities including animals and deceased ancestors. Therefore, it was here, within the landscape of sea, ice, and frozen tundra, that the everyday, elusive and unobservable experiences, rituals and rites of passage took place circumscribing the identity of the people by linking them to a collectively shared and experienced sense of place. Indeed, humans, animals and everything in the natural world shared the same fundamental spiritual essence  and in this sense “persons” were constituted of multiple personal attributes extending beyond the human domain….Read More:http://www.larskrutak.com/articles/Arctic/

---Harvard archaeologist Steven A. LeBlanc is the Director of Collections at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He is also the author of Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. The fact of the matter is, infanticide was widely practiced among the aforementioned groups. It was not unusual for them to kill an infant if the paternity was unsure, if the baby was deformed or diseased, if it was a twin, or for sex selection (female babies were more often killed than males). Hunter-gatherers, foragers and nomads were constantly on the move, looking for sources of food. Mothers could carry only one infant on their backs at a time, and suckling children were often not weaned until the age of three or four. This is not to say that these people were any more or less evil than we are today. These were often very painful decisions being made by people on the edge of survival. And, as is so often the case throughout history, these decisions were often made by dominant males instead of mothers... Now, in case farming, industrial, and post-industrial people like ourselves feel superior, we should take into the account the existence of the foundling hospitals that existed up until the 19th century.Read More:http://estamos-vivo.blogspot.com/2009/09/dark-shadow-from-our-ancestral-past.html

One example of this “archaic” to us view is the Inuit use of tattoos. They are used to mark an ancestral presence, and, importantly, are understood to function as the conduit for a visiting spiritual entity, coming from the different temporal dimensions into the contemporary world. Inhabiting the body or even body snatching, the kinds of exoticism, to the West, that fascinated the likes of Antonin Artaud. … It does recall   “For example, in many shamanistic performances in the Arctic, the human body was altered (via masking, body painting, vestments, or tattoo) to facilitate the entry of a “spirit helper” Tattoos and other forms of adornment acted as magnets attracting a spiritual force – one that was channeled through the ceremonial attire and into the body.( ibid.)

…That raises the question: Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, does popular culture portray primitives as peace-loving folk living in harmony with nature, as opposed to rapacious and brutal civilization? Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which attributes civilization to mere geographical accident, made a best-seller out of a mendacious apology for the failure of primitive society. Wade reports research that refutes Diamond on a dozen counts, but his book never will reach the vast audience that takes comfort in Diamond’s pulp science….

---the 1804 Battle of Sitka where the Tlingit Kiks.ádi defended their homeland against Russian mercenaries and their Aleut serfs as depicted in this painting by the renowned artist Louis S Glanzman.--- Read More:http://northwestexplorerblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/hiking-trails-of-sitka-alaska-717-724.html

…Native Americans, Eskimos, New Guinea Highlanders as well as African tribes slaughtered one another with skill and vigor, frequently winning their first encounters with modern armed forces. “Even in the harshest possible environments [such as northwestern Alaska] where it was struggle enough just to keep alive, primitive societies still pursued the more overriding goal of killing one another,” Wade notes.Read More:http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/2006/07/populism-authenticity-and-other-lies.html

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---Eskimo Heart “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” Inuit.---Read More:http://gettinontappayas.blogspot.com/2009/04/eskimo-heart.html


On the other hand, when food did run short, the old and sick were looked upon as drains on the community’s resources. Sometimes they were killed – thrown into the sea, buried alive, locked out in the cold, or starved to death. Far more commonly they were simply abandoned to die. The victim might be taken out in the wilderness and left there, or the whole village might pick up and move away while the old person slept. If the villagers were unexpectedly restored to prosperity, they might go back to rescue those left behind. An abandoned person would also be welcomed back as a full member of the community if he could manage to make his way back to the village on his own. But usually he couldn’t….

---1938: ...ESKIMOS of the Bering Strait region probably did not invent the pneumatic tire, but they seem to have known about its basic principle and utilized it long before the white man realized its possibilities. These Eskimos, just emerging from the Stone Age, offer a wonderful opportunity to observe a primitive people in a primitive environment, and to compare their standard of intelligence with that of people of our modern age. Those who cherish illusions that modern man represents the acme of mental development are likely to have their illusions shattered....Read More:http://blog.modernmechanix.com/category/history/page/4/

…Most of what has been called senilicide is better called assisted suicide (though we can’t discount the possibility of old people being pressured into asking for assistance). Unassisted suicide was also common, but in many regions, it was believed that a more pleasant afterlife awaited homicide victims (including volunteers) than suicides. Assisted suicide was always much more common than involuntary senilicide, and was common throughout the range inhabited by Eskimos, Yuit and Inuit alike. In hard times, older Eskimos often felt they were a burden, and asked their younger relatives to kill them. Similar requests could be made by any Eskimo, young or old, for any number of reasons: pain, grief, or clinical depression. The person who was asked to help felt bound to comply even if he had misgivings.

---Inupiat woman, Alaska, circa 1907--- Read More:http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Inuit

The popular legend that the Eskimos put their old people on ice floes and set them adrift is wrong in detail, but it’s not terribly far off in the broad strokes. I can’t say for sure how this particular idea got started, but it may have come from the movie The Savage Innocents (1959) starring Anthony Quinn or the novel it was based on, Top of the World (1950) by Hans Ruesch. (Thanks toSDSTAFF samclem for this lead.) I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve just read the book and found two scenes of interest. In one, the mother-in-law Powtee is put out on the solid sea ice to die, only to be rescued soon after. In the other, the wife Asiak walks across the sea ice to drown herself in the open water. At the edge, a piece of ice breaks free under her weight and she floats along on this small ice floe briefly before drowning herself. It’s possible that a conflation of these two episodes led to the popular idea of old people being set adrift on ice floes. Read More:http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2160/did-eskimos-put-their-elderly-on-ice-floes-to-die

Ev’rybody’s building the big ships and the boats
Some are building monuments
Others, jotting down notes
Ev’rybody’s in despair
Ev’ry girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Ev’rybody’s gonna jump for joy
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn

I like to do just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet
But guarding fumes and making haste
It ain’t my cup of meat
Ev’rybody’s ’neath the trees
Feeding pigeons on a limb
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
All the pigeons gonna run to him
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn

A cat’s meow and a cow’s moo, I can recite ’em all
Just tell me where it hurts yuh, honey
And I’ll tell you who to call
Nobody can get no sleep
There’s someone on ev’ryone’s toes
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Ev’rybody’s gonna wanna doze
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn
For nine hours, the men had fought the wind and snow without food or water. Then, settled in their igloo, an agonizing thirst overwhelmed them. Ross melted snow over the blue flame of an alcohol lamp, and in a few minutes he had enough water for everyone, much to the amazement of Awack and Ooblooria, who would have waited at least three hours to melt the same quantity of snow with their stone vessels and oil lamps.

Before long, the igloo’s warmth left Ross and Blanky soaking wet as snow that had sifted into their woolen coats melted. The two sailors pulled off their soggy outfits but were hardly any better off as a steady drip, drip, drip from the igloo’s roof added to their misery. The two Inuit, on the other hand, were perfectly comfortable in their outfits of animal skin and fur. Ross and Blanky finally found a modicum of comfort inside their sleeping bags, although dampened to the very soul.

The four dead-tired men had just fallen asleep when a ruckus jolted them wide awake. Outside, the sledge dogs had broken loose and were fighting among themselves over Awack’s sledge. His sledge, like many Inuit wintertime sledges, had been constructed entirely of frozen fish and deer. To build it, Awack had formed the two seven-foot-long runners from narrow cylinders of salmon wrapped in skins and tied with thongs. He then plated the surface of the runners with a two-inch thick layer of mossy earth and water, which he polished to a slick finish with a bearskin rag moistened with water and saliva. The crossbars were constructed from frozen loins of deer. The method provided a wonderfully efficient way to carry emergency provisions and made a tempting feast for the dogs. Fortunately, the men awoke in time to stop the dogs, and Awack was able to salvage his edible sledge.Read More:http://www.inuitcontact.ca/artifacts/pdf/Encounter_between_James_Ross_and_Awack.pdf


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