West Greenland Inuit - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. In aboriginal times, no class distinction existed, but great hunters who were generous were afforded much prestige. Various kinds of dyadic relationships were known: there were men who occasionally borrowed each other's wife, and persons who had a joking relationship as regular opponents in song duels or exchanged rare food. Sharing of food was essential for survival. Hunters taking part in the same hunt had the right to certain parts of an animal killed by any of them, and gifts of meat were presented to all families of the settlements. Intermarriage with Danish men between the middle of the eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century resulted in the formation of a specific Socioeconomic category with Greenlandic ethnic identity and Greenlandic as its first language. Many members of these families were employed by the mission and the trading Company. Since the 1950s, a considerable number of marriages between Greenlanders and Danes, including Greenlandic men and Danish women have taken place.

Political Organization. Prior to contact with Europeans, centralized political authority did not exist. Danish-Norwegian colonization, which began in 1721, resulted over time in the population scattered along the immense coast being considered as one people. In the early 1860s, a limited kind of municipal self-government was introduced. In 1908, a law secured the establishment of two provincial councils, and in 1950 they were merged into one. According to the Danish constitution of 1953, Greenland became an integrated part of Denmark, and it has since then sent two representatives to the Danish parliament. In 1979, home rule was established within the unity of the Danish realm, and the provincial council was replaced by a home rule parliament and a government. Greenland is a member of the Nordic Council and of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Conflict and Social Control. Direct confrontation was avoided and still is. In aboriginal times, song duels held in a festive atmosphere were a major mechanism of social control. Opponents from different settlements took turns singing, insulting each other, and praising themselves—behaviors that would be unthinkable in any other social context. The spectators showed their approbation and displeasure of the performance and tension was released. Conflicts might also be resolved simply by withdrawal. The most extreme form was a person leaving for the wilderness as a qivittoq, who, it was assumed, received supernatural powers. Leaving human society in this way was a revenge against those who had treated the person badly. A murder was expected to be followed by blood revenge by a near relative, even if many years might pass Before it was carried out. It was also considered a duty to kill a sorcerer who was suspected of having caused another person's death. Although incidents of violence occurred between West Greenland Eskimos and European whalers and explorers in the early contact period, the history of colonization is nearly free of incidents of physical violence between Greenlanders and Europeans. Some resistance did take place—for example, as protest movements among converts. In the twentieth century, disagreement both with Danes and among Greenlanders themselves has been expressed within a Political framework. A modern criminal code based on resocialization was introduced in 1954. Since then, alcohol abuse has resulted in many social tragedies and violent deaths. At Present, nonnatural deaths (accidents, suicides, homicides) constitute about one-third of all deaths in Greenland. The high suicide rate is thought to result from rapid cultural change.

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