Friday, June 8, 2012

Rasmussen and the Shaman

“We do not believe, we fear”

 As a folklorist, Rasmussen was particularly interested in the rules and taboos which regulated almost every significant aspect of Iglulik Inuit life.

The Inuit could ably describe what rules must be followed in any given situation, but Rasmussen wanted to know, in each case, “Why?”

 His hosts could provide no answers and, moreover, regarded the request for a justification of their religious principles as unreasonable.

They were not offended by the questions. Rather, they found it unreasonable to expect that there should be answers to such questions. Finally, Aua countered Rasmussen’s incessant queries with a series of questions of his own.

Why, he wondered, were his people plagued with a constant succession of blizzards when it was calm weather that was required for successful hunting?

 Why, the old man continued, should Kublu’s snowhouse be so cold and cheerless simply because Kublu had been unsuccessful at sealing, despite a day spent on the ice?

He drew attention to his sister, Natseq, and pointed out that she had lived a long and good life, doing no harm to anyone, and he wondered why it was that she must now suffer pain before her days ended. He concluded his unanswered questions with a statement of simple fact:

 “All our customs come from life and turn towards life. We explain nothing, we believe nothing. But in what I have just shown you lies our answer to all you ask.”

 He then spoke of the fear of the weather spirit, of the fear of deprivation and hunger, of the fear of the woman at the bottom of the sea who controls the supply of life-giving sea mammals, of the fear of the souls of deceased humans and animals that had been killed.

 Indeed, his philosophy was, “We do not believe, we fear.”

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