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Eskimo Boyhood

Eskimo Boyhood: An Autobiography in Psychosocial Perspective

Charles C. Hughes
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 440
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jqsm
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  • Book Info
    Eskimo Boyhood
    Book Description:

    Here is a unique view of life as experienced by a young Eskimo. The autobiography was written by a youth in his early twenties who relates the details of his boyhood life, recalling the feelings accompanying his experiences.

    In addition to allowing Nathan simply to relate his story thereby illustrating the uniqueness of an individual life, Mr. Hughes sets the autobiography in a broader context, which illustrates the major trends in sociocultural changes in a small and isolated corner of the world. Not only were different answers required in this new evolving world, but different questions were being asked -- not how to hunt, but whether to hunt. Not how to train the body, but for what? It is in this kind of world that we see the struggles, the defeats, and the victories of a boy seeking to find his identity and place in life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6350-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part One Place, Time, and Person
    (pp. 1-20)

    “When we got close, those who had been at home were coming down the hill to the beach. I saw my cousins running and rolling down like I did when the boat came in from hunting. I jumped out of the boat, feeling very proud. I had lots to tell my folks while we unloaded the boat. My uncle said that now he would have one more crew member, because I had not been afraid—not even a little bit. I felt a little funny, and I was glad he hadn’t seen my fright. That meant I was a real...

  5. Part Two The Life

    • 1. At Camp
      (pp. 23-34)

      I don’t know how to begin, but I was born at camp in a big old-fashioned Eskimo hut, called amongtighapek, and I lived in it for the first few years of my life.

      My grandparents and my auntwere living with us in the old house. We lived in this house only at winter time. In summer time we moved to a new house, which my father and his brothers bought and built. We took off the roof [walrus hide] from the old house, and put it away for summer. In the summer we and my uncle’s† family lived...

    • 2. A Child’s View of School
      (pp. 35-44)

      After my sixth birthday my father began to let me go with them when they went hunting in the boat. One morning it was very calm and the weather was very good. The water was smooth. My father and his brother were going to hunt for sea lions by boat. Like other times, I was going to help them get ready; but I didn’t expect to go, because I knew what my father would say if I asked to go. He would say, “Wait a little longer until you are old enough.” But this time he looked at me and...

    • 3. The New House
      (pp. 45-74)

      It was around my ninth year that we spent the whole year at Gambell. The same summer my second brother was born, Martin. He added more joy to my life. It was very good for me to have one more brother to play with and take care of. He seemed more dear to me because he was the youngest brother I had. In that year we were living with Akoak’s family. We even played, worked, and went to school together. But I was not completely happy, because I missed something very much—hunting, good hunting. I had learned to like...

    • 4. War
      (pp. 75-100)

      During that winter when I was back in camp from the village, my Dad finished his new sled and the old one was so fully broken that Uncle Nagotak used some parts of it to repair his old sled. When he had taken all he wanted from that old sled, he left the runners still on it; both of the wood runners were broken so they were about four feet long, with one longer than the other. The steel parts were still on it, but not good for any use. I looked it all over, and it gave me an...

    • 5. Fourth of July Footrace
      (pp. 101-122)

      In the spring of 1942 I was in my early eleventh year. The hunting season had passed; most of our spring work was done. The only hunting was for birds and fishing was for bullheads. On one of the nice calm days I and Day went fishing in somebody else’s boat. Maybe there were eight of us in the boat. Dad still wore his homemade uniform top. The bowman shot birds for bait and meat. The place where we were to fish was off the point of the mountain. There were other boats there manned by fishermen. Our motor was...

    • 6. Bird Netting with Kakianak
      (pp. 123-148)

      During that summer some ships anchored and Dad sold his ivory carving for candy, cigarettes, or other things. In one of those boats some engineers had come and they surveyed some places and left stakes. We didn’t know what they were for. The engineers and their instruments were a very new sight, so we boys gathered around them, along with some of the grown-ups, too, trying to make out what they were doing and what their tools were for. But none of us had the right answer. Some days they were working on the ground at the south of the...

    • 7. Nathan Joins the Church
      (pp. 149-160)

      My parents were not Christians. But they were not satisfied in pagan beliefs, either. We held some sorts of ceremonies, according to what the old people had taught. We were doing them just because it was the custom of our people. People thought there are gods everywhere—the weather god, god of the sea, and many others. All of them had to be worshiped in the proper way to please them. To please them, we offered sacrifices of what we had. If the gods were not pleased they would be angry, and cause us to be sick or have other...

    • 8. Unloading the Ship
      (pp. 161-176)

      The rest of the summer went by just as usual. The fresh meat shortage was high and the store was running low on everything, because for some reason the freighter was not coming. The whole village ran low on almost everything. Sometime in the summer a little boat (Traderby name) came around and supplied the village with flour, sugar, tea, or whatever little it had to trade. We traded some sealskins, ivory, leather ropes, and so forth for whatever the man had to trade, and it helped the whole village some. But it didn’t last long. Within a short...

    • 9. The Dream Seal
      (pp. 177-202)

      Now all of our meat was very low and old. Only once in a while we had some reindeer meat—that was most welcome. But the promising north wind blew, which would bring in the ice, and it would be good hunting. It blew harder and harder and cooled every day, until it began to snow. And then it was very stormy. When the storm let up, some icebergs were seen. As always, men got their hunting gear ready. As for my Dad, he made a new toboggan out of whale baleen, and an ice tester pole with a sharp...

    • 10. A Hard Lesson
      (pp. 203-218)

      From the beginning Dad and I had been lucky, so I started to expect to bring home something from every hunting trip, and something that I had shot, too. But it didn’t turn out to be that way at all. Even though I had known that many times even the best hunters came back after a hard day without a thing to bring home, I expected to get something, at least a duck or something. But even if we didn’t shoot anything at all, we got a share from somebody else’s walrus or mukluk.

      In a short time I learned...

    • 11. Truant Hunter
      (pp. 219-228)

      As December came by, the school became very interesting, but not very new to me anymore. But it was always the best part of the school year, because we always laid aside our regular work and began practicing and preparing for the Christmas programs. I didn’t mind missing the hunting and staying in school until Saturdays, when we didn’t have to be in school. Then I went hunting, but only when the weather was nice and good for hunting. I usually filled the day with work at home, such as replacing the week’s supply of ice. I liked that too,...

    • 12. The Christmas Program
      (pp. 229-238)

      The days seemed to pass by quickly before Christmas. We were busy in school, going earlier in the mornings and staying an extra hour after school. I liked that. I didn’t mind being in school, because the teacher let us practice for the program, and decorating the room was nice work. Our teacher let us do that work mostly by ourselves, only giving us ideas here and suggestions there, and then we were to be on our own. We needed to be quieted down while making some Christmas cards and so forth. Most of the time we talked about what...

    • 13. A Crewman for Kogoyak
      (pp. 239-258)

      Now my parents were doing something that was strange to me. They always bought us (the children) whatever they were able to buy from the store. But now they never did that anymore—they bought only what was really needed. Where did the rest of their money go? What did they do with it? I never saw them buying anything for themselves, either. Sometimes I asked Mother why they were doing that. She would answer that it was a secret, that I must not know.

      Many times when I saw the other boys in their fine, new school clothing that...

    • 14. Akoak’s Death
      (pp. 259-290)

      Now I was twelve years old. I hadn’t done anything for my birthday. We don’t have any kind of celebration, and I didn’t think of that, except to feel one more year older. That I was pleased with.

      The hunting season went by, with all its fun. But duck hunting took its place. To save money, my father bought me only shotgun shell reloading supplies: gun powder, shots, and a primer, and I had to reload my own shells, instead of buying factory-loaded shells. I learned to like the job of reloading my own shells. My Dad told me never...

    • 15. The Ancient Enemy
      (pp. 291-324)

      In the next few days I kept myself busy carving ivory, even though my friends asked me to play with them. I told them that I was busy. I was no longer satisfied with that kind of fun. I wanted real fun—hunting. I saved up my ivory carvings to buy some shells. When I finished a few carvings—enough for a few boxes of shells—I asked Dad to take them to the store so he could get me what I wanted. But he told me to do that myself. At first I wouldn’t, because I was bashful about...

    • 16. High Seas to Savoonga
      (pp. 325-360)

      Nagotak and his family had come from Southwest Cape. With them around my spring happiness was complete. But they were soon to go back.

      While they were here, Dad and Nagotak had their private conversations. No matter how curious I got, I left them alone, because I was not wanted there. But once, to my surprise, I was invited to their conference. Dad told me, “When Nagotak comes today, we want to talk with you.”

      What was this all going to be about? I hoped not about women and making me get married. Anxiety was getting the best of me....

    • 17. Back to Southwest Cape
      (pp. 361-380)

      Soon we began to keep our ears open for the news from theNorth Star, and began packing our things away, both those to take with us and those to leave behind. At the same time we were gathering every bit of needed things we could get from the store, and from relatives and friends. All hands in the family were needed on such a task, but whenever I could I would steal away and look up my buddies and have a good time with them—and end up being scolded by Dad and Mother for wasting time and being...

  6. Part Three Self and Society
    (pp. 381-422)

    Here we have a life story; or, at least, a portion of that stream of events we call a “life.” Can something of value be accomplished now by taking it apart, looking at discrete pieces, using it as a series of data that have other contributions beyond the sheer telling of what it was like to be an Eskimo boy growing up on St. Lawrence Island during the middle years of the twentieth century? In my view it can, and my purpose in this section is briefly to translate these data into some of the concepts in a behavioral science...

  7. Postlude
    (pp. 423-426)

    A human life has many sides. To him who lives it, it is a poignant chain of experiences, memories, and hopes unlike those of anyone else, unduplicable, a creation unto itself in the sweep of time and circumstance. An outsider can never, therefore, expect to “know” another human life as the person himself has known it—in all its richness, scope, and immediacy. At best, he can only vicariously (and selectively) apprehend its experiences and the web of purposes which over time comes to inform it.

    But even that is difficult, for only rarely is entrance allowed into the private...

  8. References Cited
    (pp. 427-429)