Sunday, September 26, 2004


The Inupiat of Northern Alaska Part D

A youngster who wined, sulked, cried, or expressed some other unacceptable emotion, was told flatly, "Be nice!" If it appeared to be getting into mischief, it was warned, "Don't pakak!" There were other frequently offered admonitions as well: "Don't ipagak! meaning do not play in the water or on the beach; "shut the door," to keep out the cold; "Put your parka on," guaranteeing adequate dress for outside; "Don't go in someone else's house when no one is at home," reflecting concern for others' property. Most common was "Don't fight!" which was directed not only against personal assaults and rock throwing, but also verbal quarrels.

Certain acts like "taking without asking" and those involving potential dangers did lead to punishment. If admonitions were unsuccessful, threats of such a fearsome creature as an inuqugauzat [little spirit people], a nanuq [polar bear], or tanik [White man] were brought in for support. Or the threat might be unspecified, as in "somebody out there, somebody gonna get you." If this did not have the desired effect, the misbehaving child was dealt with more severely. The adult would shout, threaten, or actually strike the child, although physical punishment was relatively rare. More likely, the child would be isolated, a form of punishment reserved for serious breaches like fighting or playing with water in below-freezing temperatures. In keeping with the attitude that children were ignorant and forgetful, punishment was accompanied by explanation and reasoning. Seldom was anything more than mild humiliation or teasing used as a negative sanction.

A child's reaction to any of these treatments ranged from compliance, temporary fears, or unhappy looks - all of which were usually ignored - to sulking, rebellious shrieks, or silent resistance. This latter took the form of ignoring orders or repeating the behavior to see if the adult would take notice. It was rare indeed to hear a child talk back, verbally refuse to perform the action, or say petulantly, "I don't want to." Sometimes a child did threaten vengence - when it was angry at another child or an outsider such as a tanik - but it was most unusual to hear threats directed at parents or adult relatives. By adolescence, discipline seemed to consist entirely of lectures, though still delivered in the harsh tone characterizing Inupiat cautions.

After the age of five, a child was less restricted in its activities in and around the village although walking on the beach or ice still required an adult. During the dark winter season, the child remained indoors or stayed close to the house to prevent it from getting lost and to protect it from polar bears which occasionally entered a village looking for food. In summer, children played at all hours of the day and "night," or at least until their parents went to bed.

By the eighth year, some of the responsibility for a child's socialization had been passed from adults to peers. Children frequently lectured each other using the same admonitions as told to them earlier: "Don't fight," "Don't pakak," "You supposed to knock," and "Shut the door." Rule-breaking might also be reported to a nearby adult: "Mom. Sammy ipagak." Tattling was not depreciated to the extent that it had once been. Still, while older children regularly "played parent" in which they imposed adult rulings on younger ones, all children instructed each other irrespective of their age. Such instruction was generally taken in good spirit. Thus, when an younger child reminded an older one, "You supposed to knock," the latter was likely to smile sheepishly, go out of the room, knock, and enter again.

Although not burdened with responsibility, boys and girls were both expected to take an active role in family activities. In the early years, these were shared, depending on who was available. Regardless of gender, it was important for a child to know how to perform a wide variety of tasks and give assistance when needed. Both sexes collected and chopped wood, got water, helped carry meat and other supplies, oversaw younger siblings, ran errands for adults, fed the dogs, and burned trash. As children grew older, more specific responsibilities were allocated according to gender. Boys as young as seven might be given an opportunity to shoot a .22 rifle, and at least a few boys in every village had taken their first caribou by the time they were ten or eleven.

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