Asiatic Eskimos - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Asiatic Eskimos subdivide into two large territorial groups: the northern and the southern. Each of them included smaller groups, which could be considered separate tribes (Russian: plemená ). For each of these tribes there was—toward the end of the nineteenth century—a characteristically stable self-consciousness and a sense of opposition to other tribes, a historically stable relation to a definite territory, a special idiom (at the level of language, dialect, or speech variety [Russian: govor ]), a high level of tribal endogamy, and peculiarities in certain elements of spiritual culture.

The basis of social organization was the patrilineal clan. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, each clan was led by an older man whose duty it was to regulate the clan's social and productive activity. He opened and closed the hunting season, fixed the time for going into the tundra for barter, and led the clan's religious ritual.

Membership in one clan or the other influenced marriage choices (usually exogamous), economic unions (hunting brigades were usually made up of the members of one clan), the acquisition of territory (different parts of the settlement were considered to belong to different clans), the order of burial (the members of a clan were buried side by side), religious activity (a clan could have its own rituals), and folklore (legends of origin and of intergroup relations and cosmological myths).

Political Organization. Government of the territory of the Asiatic Eskimos theoretically rested with the soviets (village, regional, district), in which, as a rule, there were representatives of the native population. Practically all the power—legislative, executive, and judicial—belonged to the local, regional, and district party organizations of the Communist party. Until 1990 elections to the soviets were fictional, and the very structure of the soviets and the legal regulation of their plenipotentiary power was seriously flawed. In recent times, however, there are signs of change in this system. In the entire country—and Chukotka is not an exception—there has arisen a powerful movement for real independence in decision making, for actual—not paper—self-government. It is possible that some role in this movement will be played by newly formed social organizations: the associations of the peoples of Kolyma and Chukotka and the Eskimo Association (the latter is the only truly independently formed organization, the constitutional meeting of which took place in August 1990).

Social Control and Conflict. For the basic foods, an inequality in use, called forth by unequal property, was to a significant degree softened by the ruling social norms of mutual help and the communal allotment of the catch. There was nonetheless material inequality in the use of imported goods and in the ownership of imported objects.

Intracommunal conflicts were often resolved with the help of distinctive competitions, in which the offended parties poured out their emotions in ironic songs (Russian: draznilkakh ). In folklore there is evidence of conflicts and skirmishes with the Chukchee and also of war with "alien tribes."

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