(MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS – continued)

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MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS (6 of 7)

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The Inuits

On lands now called Alaska eastward to the Hudson Bay and along the rim of Greenland, were those who called themselves "the people." Neighbors to the south of them around Hudson Bay, the Cree, called them "eaters of raw meat." the Cree word for this was "eskimo." This is what outsiders called them until recently, although they disliked eating uncooked meat. They are now called what they prefer: the Inuit.

The Inuits lived in log cabins insulated with turf and they lived in temporary dwellings of ice called igloos. In winter the Inuits were more isolated from one another than in the summer, when some of them joined other families at fishing places on rivers and lakes, forming groups as large as several hundred persons.

In addition to fishing, the Inuits hunted caribou and bears. They thrived in conditions that would have killed the average twentieth century suburbanite. From one-man kayaks they harpooned seals in the open sea – a craft to be copied by Europeans for recreation. From hides they made their clothing and pails for hauling water and for storing meat. Hides were used for plates, but where wood was available they carved wooden plates and used bark to make containers and baskets. They made sleds, which were pulled by their teams of dogs. They made parkas. And they found comfort in their imaginatively built igloos, which they could construct in less than a half-day. They made translucent skylights for their dwellings from very thin ice or gut.

Their religion was similar in ways to that of other ancient people. They saw spirits in sticks and stones, in the wind and snow. And among them were shamans. Thunderstorms were not as common in Inuit country as they were in the Mid-East, and they had no angry god of the sky. Nor did they have a lot of sunshine and a sun god as did the Maya, the Aztec, Inca or the Egyptians.

Generally, the Inuits were cheerful. They had no fear of post life torments in hell. But like everyone else they had their conflicts and quarreling. They were as impulsive, free from authority and close to nature as the original Taoists of China wanted to be. Responding to impulse, murder occurred from time to time as it did in other societies. Before an Inuit man was thirty it was common to have killed at least one other Inuit man in a quarrel – even if he were generally peace loving. The women were less violent.

The disputes between men were often over women. A man might have more than one wife, or a woman might have more than one husband. People were free with their affections. The Inuits had not gone through the stage of land ownership and women as property as had aristocrats in Asia and Europe. As in the Pacific islands, the view of non-virgins as damaged goods had not developed. Neither was celibacy highly prized. A host often offered his wife to a visitor who was alone. Sometimes a wife stayed for a day or more with another man. But if a man decided to keep another man's wife, an aggrieved husband might turn violent.

There was no police force or court system during these times. People enjoyed the freedom of expressing their wrath rather than having to wait for a bureaucracy or the gods to move on their behalf. They could not be accused of taking the law into their own hands. Anyone was the law – judge, jury and executioner. The system of justice was as it had been among the ancient Hebrews and others: revenge. But if a man killed unusually often, the community became concerned and might in some way constrain him.


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