Inughuit - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Inughuit, like other Inuit groups, believed in the Mother of the Sea ( Nerrivik ) and the Moon Man. She controlled the sea mammals and he made sure that taboos were followed. If someone violated a taboo, the Moon Man would appear in a dream or in the guise of a polar bear to remind the wrongdoer. The central belief in pre-Christian Inughuit religion was that everything in nature was alive and had a soul ( inua ). Incorrect human behavior could offend the souls and lead to calamities such as a poor hunt or starvation. Protection from such disasters was provided by wearing amulets or reciting spells in the proper tone, although spells could lose their power if used too often. Amulets and spells were also used to bring good luck. The Inughuit believed that humans had three parts—the immortal soul, the name, and the body. In 1903, Majaq, the hunter, told Rasmussen (1908): "The human soul is what makes you beautiful, what makes you into a human being. The soul alone makes you will, act, be enterprising. It is the soul that gives you drive in your life. Therefore, the body must collapse when the soul leaves it." An individual's personal name had its own force and was tabooed after the person died in order to save its power until it could be given to a newborn of the same sex. The qualities of the deceased name's owner were believed to follow the name to the next bearer. Thus, infants were often named for deceased friends and relatives of their parents. Those who shared the name of someone who died had to change the name until it was put into use again.

Religious Practitioners. Any member of the society could be a shaman ( angakkoq ), although the spirits would not work through just anyone. Special qualities were needed, and the best hunters were often shamans, with their power measured by the number and power of the helping spirits they controlled.

Medicine. Traditionally, some illnesses were attributed to a loss of the human soul, with recovery contingent on the shaman traveling to the spirit world and bringing back the lost soul. Other maladies such as broken bones and cuts were treated by experienced adults. Persons with serious handicaps had much difficulty surviving. Since 1928, however, a physician has served Inughuit communities.

Death and Afterlife. After a death, the settlement was tabooed for five days, with no activities save food preparation permitted. The Inughuit did not fear death, for it was seen as a stage between life in this world and life in the next. The next world was much like this one, except that it was free of illnesses, unsuccessful hunts, and other problems. There were two pleasant afterworlds, one in the sea and one in the sky. The notion of hell was introduced by the Christian missionaries. As all evil was thought to stay in the corpse, anyone who touched it was restricted from some activities for a year. The task of removing the body usually fell to a relative who carried it through a hole or side window so that the soul would not be able to find its way back. The corpse was then covered by stones and personal objects set on the grave. Grave robbing was forbidden, although objects could be substituted for valuable hunting tools so they could be used. The soul of the deceased remained near the grave to make sure all rules were followed and to frighten any violators.

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