Inuit Shamanism and Christianity

Inuit Shamanism and Christianity: Transitions and Transformations in the Twentieth Century

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Inuit Shamanism and Christianity
    Book Description:

    Using archival material and oral testimony collected during workshops in Nunavut between 1996 and 2008, Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten provide a nuanced look at Inuit religion, offering a strong counter narrative to the idea that traditional Inuit culture declined post-contact. They show that setting up a dichotomy between a past identified with traditional culture and a present involving Christianity obscures the continuity and dynamics of Inuit society, which has long borrowed and adapted "outside" elements. They argue that both Shamanism and Christianity are continually changing in the Arctic and ideas of transformation and transition are necessary to understand both how the ideology of a hunting society shaped Inuit Christian cosmology and how Christianity changed Inuit shamanic traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7636-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    In this book, we will explore the complex transitions and transformations of Inuit religious beliefs and practices in northeastern Canada, in the territory now called Nunavut, in the nineteenth century and twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, Inuitangakkuuniq(shamanism) was at the core of Inuit beliefs and practices, but when the Inuit adopted Christianity, it receded into the background. Although many Inuit think ofangakkuuniqas a feature of the past, it continues to fascinate them and many elders are convinced that it is still very much alive.

    Inuitangakkuuniqis generally considered to be a form of shamanism....

  6. Part One Angakkuuniq and Christianity
    • 1 Continuity and Decline
      (pp. 3-36)

      In the sixteenth century, European ships began to visit the Inuit of northeastern Canada. Encounters between Inuit and Qallunaat usually took place in the summer, as Europeans ships were not designed or equipped to survive the harsh arctic winters, but in the early nineteenth century, a British expedition searching for the Northwest Passage spent two winters at Lyon Inlet (1982-22) and Iglulik (1822–23). The British naval officers Parry (1824) and Lyon (1824) provided extensive descriptions of Inuit life. At that time the British Empire was almost at its zenith, and the expansion of Western civilization at the expense of...

    • 2 Missionaries and Angakkuit
      (pp. 37-68)

      The adoption of Christianity by the Inuit is still not well understood. Missionary sources usually ascribe the success of the mission to the work of the missionaries, but provide little insight into the decision-making process among the Inuit themselves. In this chapter, we explore the role of Inuit leaders and shamans in the adoption of Christianity. We show that they played a crucial role in this process of religious transformation. We also explore the role of the missionaries who facilitated conversion by accepting that they were considered to beangakkuitby the Inuit.

      In 1771 the Moravian Brethren began their...

    • 3 Inuit Winter Feasts
      (pp. 69-100)

      Feasting was an important part of Inuit social life. When Qallunaat introduced the celebration of Christmas, Inuit were quite willing to participate in it if given the chance. The Christmas celebrations organized by the missionaries took account of the interests of Inuit, notably their enthusiasm for games and various forms of competition and play. Christmas soon evolved into the most important annual festivity, replacing the traditional winter feasts, which apparently had already been in decline when the missionaries arrived in the North. In this chapter, we explore those traditional winter feasts and their replacement by Christmas. We first discuss the...

  7. Part Two Animals, Owners, and Non-human Beings
    • 4 Hunters and Prey
      (pp. 103-132)

      Inuit identify themselves as hunters, and they perceive hunting as the foundation of their existence. Inuit and animals have always been connected in a cosmic cycle maintained by hunting and the rules that pertain to it. In this chapter, we will examine the complex relations between animals and human beings in the past and in the present. We will begin by discussing the origin of human beings and animals and will then examine the sexual discourse with respect to animals and hunting. We will explore the notion of thetarniq(the miniature image of a being), a feature of animals...

    • 5 The Owners of the Sky, the Land, and the Sea
      (pp. 133-167)

      In this chapter we will examine the non-human agencies connected to the sky, the land, and the sea. These agencies would sanction human beings if they transgressed the rules of life. The sea and the sky each had aninua,its person or owner. We will explore the place of these owners in Inuit beliefs and practices. The earth,nuna,could not be associated with one particularinua,but was inhabited by many non-human beings and held the graves of the deceased. The importance of the land and the deceased has often been overlooked in studies of Inuit religion and...

    • 6 Inuunngittut, Non-human Beings from the Land and the Sea
      (pp. 168-198)

      Inuit mythology tells us how in a mythical past the categories of time and space were gradually articulated to the point where the present order of the world was realized. This order is by no means eternal. It has a beginning and an end. At the end of time, Sila, the owner of the sky and the weather, will kick the pillars supporting the sky and the world will collapse. Since the beginning of time, the world became populated by human beings, animals, and many other beings. Even thoughinuunngittut, non-human beings, may resemble human beings or even have a...

  8. Part Three Encounters, Healing, and Power
    • 7 Initiation, Visions, and Dreams
      (pp. 201-241)

      In the past, shamans were thought to be able to see non-human beings andtarniit.They acquired this ability through an initiation that required a first encounter with a helping spirit and the acquisition ofqaumaniq, shamanic light and vision. Other people did not have this special capability. Today, shamans no longer have an institutionalized role in Inuit society. But encounters with non-human beings are still frequent. They occur mainly out on the land or in visions and dreams. In this chapter we will show that there is great continuity in shamanic initiations as experienced in the past and in visions...

    • 8 Healing as a Socio-cosmic Process
      (pp. 242-271)

      In the past, illness could be caused by various things: transgression ofpittailiniit, loss oftarniq, attacks bytupilait(evil spirits), orilisitsut(evilangakkuit). Elders indicated that healing had been the major task of theangakkuit. According to Boas (1964 [1888], 592–3), it was their principal office:

      The principal office of the angakut is to find out the reason of sickness and death or of any other misfortune visiting the natives. The Eskimo believes that he is obliged to answer the angakoq’s questions truthfully. The lamps being lowered, the angakoq strips off his outer jacket, pulls the hood...

    • 9 Powerful Objects and Words
      (pp. 272-304)

      In the past, objects and words constituted privileged means of connecting to ancestors and non-human beings. Christianization introduced new objects and new words, but strong continuities are obvious in their use and application. In the first part of this chapter, we will examine the many uses ofaarnguat(amulets) andqalugiujait(miniature objects attached to atapsi, a shamanic belt) in Inuit culture. We will then explore the powerful symbolism of miniatures; these operated on the same level as thetarniqand are still very popular among the Inuit today. Miniatures were given as burial gifts and played an important...

  9. Part Four Connecting to Ancestors and Land
    • 10 Connecting to Ancestors: Qilaniq and Qilauti, Head Lifting and Drum Dancing
      (pp. 307-341)

      In this chapter we will focus on techniques of divination and on the role of play in encounters with cosmological or human agencies. We will examine the connections between theqilaniq(head lifting) ritual and theqilauti(the drum, which played a central part in shamanic performances and drum dances). Divination was a central feature of many Inuit rituals. It allowedangakkuitto assess the true state of things in the past as well as in the present. Divination might reveal the cause of an illness or the reason for the absence of animals, as well as enable angakkuit to...

    • 11 Reconnecting People and Healing the Land: Inuit Pentecostal and Evangelical Movements
      (pp. 342-371)

      Since the early 1970s, the rapid development of Pentecostal and evangelical movements has given a new dynamic to Inuit Christianity.¹ In this chapter we will focus our analysis on these contemporary forms of Inuit religiosity. Although these modern movements claim to represent a break with the past, they shape both old and new features in a variety of ways. They advocate new forms of solidarity, integrating modern ideologies in a Christian perspective. They aspire to heal society by providing space and context for the preservation of local views, models, and practices within a Christian framework. We will see that relations...

    • 12 Transitions and Transformations
      (pp. 372-390)

      Today, as in the past, many people wonder whether Inuit culture can survive in the modern world. Is the present interest in Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit a genuine attempt to preserve traditional Inuit culture, or does it signify the victory of modernity, objectifying and solidifying Inuit culture into a relic of the past? History shows that Inuit culture is tenacious and resilient. Inuit have managed to transform and reshape their culture continuously. Far from succumbing to the impact of Western culture and notwithstanding the incorporation of many new elements, Inuit have always refused to identify with Qallunaat, valorizing their own perspectives and...

  10. Appendix 1: Glossary of Inuktitut Words
    (pp. 391-399)
  11. Appendix 2: Inuit Elders
    (pp. 400-404)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 405-434)
  13. References
    (pp. 435-458)
  14. Index
    (pp. 459-467)