Copper Eskimo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. One central theme of Copper Eskimo beliefs relates to the separation of sea and land animals. The sea goddess, Arnapkapfaluk, was believed to be in control of sea creatures and certain precautions had to be observed to keep them from contamination by land animals. Most Important was the custom of sewing the caribou skin garments only in the period before the seal-hunting season began. There were other deities, but most Copper Eskimo beliefs revolved around threats of witchcraft and fear of ghosts.

Religious Practitioners. The shaman acted as an intermediary between the human and the spirit world. Powers were believed to come from the deity of the air, Hilap Inui. Some sort of visionary experience was needed to qualify as a shaman, with training from established practitioners also Important. In addition to the main functions of controlling weather, bringing game, and healing, the shaman had to perform certain feats from time to time such as those involving ventriloquism, in order to prove his powers.

Ceremonies. Aside from shamanistic performances, most social events centered around recreational activities involving singing, dancing, or athletic events and were accompanied by communal eating in times of plenty.

Arts. The Copper Eskimos wore ceremonial garments more elaborate in design than those of most Eskimo groups. Women also practiced tattooing for cosmetic purposes and to mark marriage or marriageability. Far more developed was the oral literature of the Copper Eskimo. The Danish ethnologist Knud Rasmussen, who visited nearly every Eskimo group from Greenland to Siberia, proclaimed the Copper Eskimo the most poetically gifted of any of these far-flung people. From his recordings and the work of Diamond Jenness we have available a large body of material on the songs, legends, and mythology, which gives important insights into their psychology and worldview.

Medicine. In addition to attempts to combat sickness through supernatural means, shamans also used some practical medical skills, such as setting and splinting broken or dislocated bones, lancing swellings, and amputating frozen limbs. Headaches were treated by bleeding.

Death and Afterlife. Copper Eskimo beliefs concerning the afterworld were vague, but there was a definite belief in and fear of ghosts of the recently deceased, and places of death were quickly abandoned. In winter, a corpse might be left in a snowhouse or snowblock enclosure and in summer within a tent, which was also abandoned. In either case some implements that might be useful in a possible afterlife were usually left in the grave, though in many cases these objects were in miniature, given the value of actual implements.

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Oct 27, 2009 @ 9:21 pm
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halie wheat
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