November 14, 2006

Inuit cruel to elders?

New Yorker cartoon:  Eskimo is "retired" to die on an ice floe


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Cultural components that are not those of EuroMan always are interpreted in comparison to European standards. That is the essence of the cartoon and as it depicts what otherwise was culturally commonplace for some Arctic Natives, there is nothing of note to the cartoon save for the texture of the comparison.
Plains people, the Kiowa included, were forced by hunter-gatherer existences to make camps for older, perhaps infirm, tribal members who no longer were able to contribute to the overall welfare of the tribe. It did not occur in secret or seclusion but was done with proper ceremony for all to witness and with no small amount of sorrowing. The very nature of their evolved lifestyle made it a social necessity and this was practiced until the tribes all were forbidden by the US Government to follow the bison. And so removed, Plains tribal families became large extended units with great care and honor being given to the elders among them that once had had to be left behind. Otherwise, writerfella would not have had so rich a tutelage from all his older relatives who taught him to be Kiowa.
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

The "culturally commonplace" practice of leaving Arctic elders to die may be a myth. As Michael D. Swenson noted in his reply to JAMA:

There has never been a Siberian Yupik tradition that an elder "bids farewell to his family and walks over the frozen Arctic Ocean, never to return." Shah's story perpetuates a falsehood that has never been true among the Inuit of Alaska. Theirs is not "a culture that feels a man is only as valuable as the wisdom he imparts." As in all Inuit cultures, the Siberian Yupik hold their elders in very high esteem—partly because of their role as reservoirs of cultural traditions and wisdom, but mostly just because they are the elders. They are intrinsically valued as indispensable members of the community.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!