Social Life in Northwest Alaksa: The Structure of Inupiaq Eskimo Nations

Social Life in Northwest Alaksa: The Structure of Inupiaq Eskimo Nations

by Ernest S. Burch

Paperback(1)

$29.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781889963921
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 02/01/2007
Edition description: 1
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 2.10(d)

About the Author

Ernest S. Burch, Jr., is a historical ethnographer specializing in the study of northern peoples, especially those of northwestern Alaska and the central Canadian Subarctic. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has published extensively on the Iñupiat, the Caribou Inuit, kinship, and hunter-gatherer social organization. His recent books include The Iñupiaq Eskimo Nations of Northwest Alaska (University of Alaska Press 1998) and Alliance and Conflict: The World System of the Iñupiaq Eskimos (2005). He is currently a research associate of the Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution.

First Chapter

Social Life in Northwest Alaska

The Structure of Iñupiaq Eskimo Nations
By Ernest S. Burch, Jr.

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2006 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-889963-92-1


Chapter One

Introduction

When they first came to the attention of Westerners in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Iñupiaq Eskimos of northwestern Alaska were divided among several social units, which have been variously referred to in English as "societies" (Burch 1980), "nations" (Burch 1998a), and "tribes" (D. J. Ray 1967, 1975b:103-20). In their own language, the Eskimos called them nunaqatigiich. But regardless of what label is used, these organizations were the Iñupiaq counterparts of modern nation-states.

This is the third and last of a series of volumes I have written on the early-contact nations of Northwest Alaska. The first, The Iñupiaq Eskimo Nations of Northwest Alaska (Burch 1998a), was a social geography in which I (a) identified the nations that used to exist in the region; (b) described their environmental settings; (c) reconstructed the numbers, distribution, and seasonal movements of their members; and (d) described how they met their demise as autonomous social systems. In the second volume, Alliance and Conflict: The World System of the Iñupiaq Eskimos (Burch 2005), I described the types of relations obtaining between and among the several nations formerly existing in the region. The purpose of the present volume is to describe how these nations were organized internally and how they functioned.

In addition to presenting a different perspective on Iñupiaq nations than the first two volumes did, this work also focuses on a slightly larger geographic area. It includes not only Northwest Alaska (the NANA Region), but also the Point Hope (Tikigaq) district immediately to the northwest, and the Shishmaref and Wales districts immediately to the southwest. The change was made because the Tikigagmiut of the Point Hope district, and the Kinikmiut of the Wales (Kinigin) district, were the largest and most complex of all the Iñupiaq nations of northwestern Alaska. Including them expands the range of variation in the phenomena under investigation, which I think makes the study more interesting than it otherwise would have been.

The purpose of this introductory chapter is to set the stage for the analysis that follows. I begin by defining the region and the time period of primary concern. I then briefly describe the early-contact Iñupiaq people and the societies of which they were members. Next, the discussion turns to how I analyze those societies, and how I acquired the information with which to do so. Finally, I present a summary account of the country inhabited by the early-contact Iñupiat (pl.), its climate, and its plant and animal life.

Place and Time

The study region is located in northwestern Alaska between (roughly) Cape Beaufort, on the north, and Cape York, on the south. It includes the entire coastline and all of the drainages reaching the sea between those points (see Map 1). The region is approximately 375 miles (600 km) from east to west, and 240 miles (385 km) from north to south. It was chosen as the focus of my research because Nicholas Gubser (1965), John Murdoch (1892), and Robert Spencer (1959) had published major ethnographies of Iñupiat living farther north, and because E. W. Nelson (1899) and Dorothy Jean Ray (1964, 1967, 1975b, 1984) had published important ethnographic reports on the area just to the south. I thought I could make a greater contribution to knowledge if I focused on the area in between. The geographic extent of my research slightly overlapped the regions covered by the authors mentioned above.

The early-contact period is defined as ad 1800-48. This period was chosen because it is the earliest time on which both oral and documentary sources can shed light, but the latest time in which Iñupiaq societies were essentially free of Western influence. It is thus the only time for which a comprehensive ethnographic account of the structure of Iñupiaq Eskimo nations can be compiled.

The period from 1800 to 1848 was an era in which Western influence, although present, was minimal. Most of the few Westerners who visited the region were interested in exploration rather than exploitation, although some trading vessels did visit it. No doubt a few European genes flowed into the Native population from these strangers, but neither the explorers nor the early traders had much impact on Native ways of life. The worldwide fur trade was just beginning to make its influence felt, but it had not yet led to major changes in the Iñupiaq economy. As of 1848, no European diseases are known to have reached the study region, no Westerners had tried to settle there, and no missionaries or other outsiders had attempted to transform Iñupiaq beliefs or behavior. That situation changed significantly in 1848.

In 1848, two events occurred that initiated an exponential increase in Western influence. One was the arrival of the first American whaling ship in north Alaskan waters (Bockstoce 1984, 1986; Bockstoce and Burns 1993). The number of whalers increased dramatically over the next few years, and by the early 1880s, the whalers had nearly exterminated two pillars of the coastal economies, the bowhead whale and the walrus. From the first, the whalers were accompanied by independent trading vessels whose masters quickly discovered the potential of the Native fur trade.

The second major event, also in 1848, was the arrival of the first of many British Navy ships whose crews were participating in a massive search for the missing expedition led by Sir John Franklin (Bockstoce 1985). The Franklin search lasted seven years, during three of which one ship or another remained in or near the study area over the winter, and during all of which several ships visited the region in summer. These developments initiated Western-Native contacts of unprecedented scale and duration, and led to major changes in Iñupiaq life.

The first attested epidemic struck the region in the late fall of 1851. According to one of John Simpson's sources from Point Barrow, the sickness came from the Asiatic coast, and killed many people in the large villages at Point Hope (Tikigaq), Icy Cape (Qayaiqsigvik), Cape Smythe (Utqiagvik), and Point Barrow (Nuvuk). Forty people died at Point Barrow alone, out of a total population of about 360 (Simpson 1875:237). If the sickness really did come from the Asiatic coast, then many others had to have died in the study region as the epidemic swept northward from Bering Strait.

The Iñupiat

The first Westerners to visit Iñupiaq settlements north of Bering Strait arrived there early in the 19th century. They found the country inhabited by a small and widely scattered population of people who depended entirely on hunting and gathering for their existence. These people were the Iñupiaq Eskimos.

In 1816, Otto von Kotzebue (1821), the first Westerner known definitely to have visited the study region, described the Iñupiat as being

of a middle size, robust make, and healthy appearance; their motions are lively, and they seemed much inclined to sportiveness: their countenances, which have an expression of wantonness, but not of stupidity, are ugly and dirty, characterized by small eyes and very high cheekbones; they [the men] have holes on each side of the mouth, in which they wear morse [walrus]-bones, ornamented with blue glass beads, which gives them a most frightful appearance. Their hair hangs down long, but is cut quite short on the crown of the head. Their head and ears are also adorned with beads. Their dresses, which are made of skins, are of the same cut as the Parka in Kamtschatka; only that there it reaches to the feet, and here hardly covers the knee; besides this, they wear pantaloons, and small half-boots, of seal-skin (I:209-10).

Ten years later, F. W. Beechey (1831), who spent much more time in the region than Kotzebue did, elaborated:

Their dress ... consisted of a shirt which reached half way down the thigh, with long sleeves and a hood to it, made generally of the skin of the reindeer, and edged with the fur of the gray or white fox, and sometimes with dog's skin. The hood is usually edged with a longer fur than the other parts, either of the wolf or dog.... In wet weather they throw a shirt over their fur dress made of the entrails of the whale, which, while in their possession is quite water tight, as it is then, in common with the rest of their property, tolerably well supplied with oil and grease ... (F. W. Beechey 1831, I:340; see also pp. 339, 341, 345, 359, 360).

Beechey (1831, II:300, 303) found the Iñupiat to be "continent, industrious, and provident," but also "warlike, irascible, and uncourteous." In 1838, Aleksandr Kashevarov (VanStone ed. 1977:81, 87-88) found the inhabitants of northwestern Alaska to be "warlike," "well built," and "strong."

Dr. John Simpson (1875), who spent several years in northwestern Alaska in the late 1840s and early 1850s, and who actually measured and weighed several individuals at Point Barrow, described the Iñupiat in greater detail:

In stature they are not inferior to many other races, and are robust, muscular, and active, inclining rather to spareness than corpulence. The tallest individual was found to be 5 feet 10 inches [180 cm], and the shortest 5 feet 1 inch [155 cm]. The heaviest man weighed 195 lbs. [88.5 kg], and the lightest 125 lbs [57 kg].... Their chief muscular strength is in the back, which is best displayed in their games of wrestling. The shoulders are square, or rather raised, making the neck appear shorter than it really is, and the chest is deep; but in strength of arm they cannot compete with our sailors. The hand is small, short, broad, and rather thick, and the thumb appears short, giving an air of clumsiness in handling anything; and the power of grasping is not great. The lower limbs are in good proportion to the body, and the feet, like the hands, are short and broad, with a high instep (Simpson 1875:238).

Simpson's account applied specifically to people living some distance north of the study region, but it probably applied equally well to the inhabitants of the coastal portions of the region of present concern. However, people living near the head of Kotzebue Sound, and particularly those living in the interior, along the Noatak, Kobuk, Selawik, and Buckland rivers, were described by later observers as being significantly taller, more robust, and more Athapaskan in appearance than their coastal counterparts. The early Iñupiat generally were infested with lice, and many had dark blotches on their faces from frostbite (Hooper 1884:10; Thornton 1931:36-37, 50).

Several early observers commented on Iñupiaq teeth. Simpson (1875) noted that

the incisors of the lower jaw do not pass behind those of the upper, but meet edge to edge, so that by the time an individual arrives at maturity, the opposing surfaces of the eye and front teeth are perfectly flat, independently of the wear they are subjected to in every possible way to assist the hands (Simpson 1875:239).

With regard to the uses to which teeth were put, John Kelly (Wells and Kelly 1890) claimed that they were

used for pinchers, vises, and fluting-machines. The teeth are employed in drawing bolts, untying knots, holding the mouth-piece of a drill, shaping boot-soles, stretching and tanning skins. When they become uneven from hard usage they are leveled off with a file or whetstone (Wells and Kelly 1890:15).

A more graphic idea of early-19th-century Iñupiaq appearance can be conveyed by means of some illustrations. These sketches were made by Tim Sczawinski based on early-19th-century renderings. My analysis of what the sketches show was aided by information provided by Iñupiaq elders Frieda Larsen (1999), Albert McClellan (1987), Levi Mills (1987), Thomas Mitchell (1987), and Evans Thomas (1987).

The first illustration (Figure 1) is of a young woman. Her hair has a part (quppi[??]ñiq) down the middle, and the front portion of each side is gathered and bound with a thin strip of leather (tugligun). She has an ivory amulet (aanguaq) hanging around her neck, and decorative wolverine skin tassels (pl. nigrat) on her lightweight summer parka. She also has four tattoo (sing. taviugun) lines extending from her lower lip to her chin. The second illustration (Figure 2) is of a middle-aged woman who is wearing a rain parka made of walrus or bearded seal intestine trimmed with bleached and decorated strips of sealskin. Her parka hood comes to a point, standard for females, and she has one thick and two thin tattoo lines on her chin. The large hair piece under her chin was probably made from the throat hair of a bull caribou.

The next two sketches are of men. Both have the characteristic shaved crown, bangs in front, and longer hair hanging down on the sides and back. Both also have light mustaches, and some facial hair around the chin. Figure 3 shows a relatively young man wearing a small labret (tuutaq) on each side of his mouth, and goggles (dual irigaak) of the kind worn for protection against bright sun reflecting off of the snow-covered landscape. A small amulet is suspended from his parka just below the neck. Figure 4 shows a somewhat older man wearing a large labret at the right side of his mouth, and a necklace (qunusigun) consisting of ivory beads on a sinew string. These accoutrements suggest that he was a man of some substance. Like the young woman, the men are wearing lightweight summer parkas with hoods trimmed with short-haired wolf skin.

These four faces hardly represent the full range of variation in early-19th-century Iñupiaq appearance. However, they do provide a good general idea of how the people whose social organization is the subject of this book appeared to early Western observers.

Nations

Aleksandr Kashevarov (VanStone ed. 1977:81) was the first Westerner to bring along an interpreter during his exploration of northwestern Alaska, and he learned a number of things about Iñupiaq life that his predecessors had missed. Among them was the fact that the Iñupiat were "divided into several families living in friendly or unfriendly relations with each other." Kashevarov identified several of these "families" by name, and recorded the coastal locations of their territorial borders. John Simpson (1875:233), who learned to speak the Iñupiaq language, characterized Kashevarov's "families" as "sections," which he said were "named after the portions of land they inhabit or the rivers flowing through them."

The "families" or "sections" noted by Kashevarov and Simpson were mentioned only sporadically in the ethnographic and historical literature on northwestern Alaska over the following century. Finally, in 1967, Dorothy Jean Ray (1967) wrote an article focusing specifically on such units. She referred to them as "tribes," characterized them at some length, and identified several whose territories were formerly located on the Seward Peninsula. She said that each tribe constituted a "well-ordered society in which a chief and often a council played an important role. The influence of their government extended over a definitely bounded territory within which the inhabitants were directed by a system of rules and laws."

In general, my own research has corroborated Ray's findings. However, instead of referring to these entities as "tribes," I originally denoted them as "societies" (Burch 1980), society being a concept that, if carefully used, is more useful than "tribe" for comparative purposes. More recently, in deference to the wishes of my senior informants, I have taken to referring to them as "nations" (Burch 1998a). "Society" and "nation" are used interchangeably in this volume.

Like the nations we observe and experience in the modern world, those of the early-19th-century Iñupiat were politically autonomous social systems whose members exercised dominion over discrete territories that, for reasons discussed elsewhere, I refer to as their estates. They also generally regarded themselves and acted as separate peoples. In contrast to nations in the modern world, however, those of early-19th-century northwestern Alaska were minute in scale, lacked governments (contra Dorothy Jean Ray), and were supported by an economy based entirely on hunting and gathering. The ages of these nations are unknown, although they were probably reckoned in centuries in most cases by the beginning of the 19th century.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Social Life in Northwest Alaska by Ernest S. Burch, Jr. Copyright © 2006 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

LIST OF FIGURES....................IX LIST OF MAPS....................XI
LIST OF TABLES....................XII
PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS....................XIII
IÑUPIAQ ESKIMO ORTHOGRAPHY....................XIV
Chapter 1 Introduction....................1
Place and Time....................2
The Iñupiat....................3
Nations....................5
Analytic Approach....................9
The Data....................11
The Geographic Setting....................17
Notes....................29
Chapter 2 Role Differentiation....................31
Nonhuman Environment: The Yearly Cycle....................31
Nonhuman Environment: The Daily Cycle....................53
Absolute Age....................57
Relative Age....................62
Generation....................63
Sex....................64
Economic and Political Allocation....................66
Religion....................71
Cognition....................72
Stratification....................74
Notes....................75
Chapter 3 Solidarity....................79
Conjugal Families....................79
Domestic Families....................89
Compound Families....................98
Settlements....................102
Flexibility....................125
National Solidarity....................126
Notes....................129
Chapter 4 The Economic Process....................133
Raw Materials....................133
Manufactured Goods....................200
Services....................262
Discussion....................293
Notes....................296
Chapter 5 The Political Process....................307
Sources of Power....................307
Feuds....................325
Discussion....................327
The International Arena....................329
Notes....................335
Chapter 6 The Integration Process....................337
The Information Process....................337
The Motivation Process....................350
Notes....................379
EPILOGUE....................383
GLOSSARY....................393
REFERENCES....................399
INDEX....................459

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews