This is a timelapse multiple exposure photo of an arctic day, apparently titled “Six Suns” (even though there are 8 in the picture?) With credit to Circosatabolarc for posting the photo on Twitter, where I saw it. Photo by taken by Donald MacMillan of the Crocker Land Expedition, 1913-1917.
Attempting to resolve the name-suns discrepancy, I searched for “Six Suns” and found this photo, also taken by Donald MacMillan, from The Peary-MacMillian Arctic Museum, which actually shows six suns.
I hearby dub this photo “Eight Suns.”
A reverse image search turned up one more similar photo, a postcard titled “Midnight Sun and Moon,”taken at Fort McMurray on the Arctic Coast, sometime before 1943.
As you can see, above the arctic circle, the sun’s arc lies so low relative to the horizon that it appears to move horizontally across the sky. If you extended the photograph into a time-lapse movie, taken at the North Pole, you’d see the sun spiral upward from the Spring Equinox until it reaches 23.5 degrees above the horizon–about a quarter of the way to the top–on the Summer Solstice, and then spiral back down until the Fall Equinox, when it slips below the horizon for the rest of the year.
I love this graph; it is a beautiful demonstration of the mathematics underlying bodily shape and design, not just for one class of animals, but for all of us. It is a rule that applies to all moving creatures, despite the fact that running, flying, and swimming are such different activities.
I assume similar scaling laws apply to mechanical and aggregate systems, as well.
Apropos Friday’s conversation about the transition from hunting to pastoralism and the different strategies hunters employ in different environments, I got to thinking about how these different food-production systems could influence the development of different “intelligences,” or at least mental processes that underlie intelligence.
Ingold explains that in warm climes, hunter-gatherers have many food resources they can exploit, and if one resource starts running low, they can fairly easily switch to another. If there aren’t enough yams around, you can eat melons; if not enough melons, squirrels; if no squirrels, eggs. I recall a study of Australian Aborigines who agreed to go back to hunter-gatherering for a while after living in town for several decades. Among other things (like increased health,) scientists noted that the Aborigines increased the number of different kinds of foods they consumed from, IIRC, about 40 per week to 100.
By contrast, hunters in the arctic are highly dependent on exploiting only a few resources–fish, seals, reindeer, and perhaps a few polar bears and foxes. Ingold claims that there are (were) tribes that depended largely on only a few major hunts of migrating animals (netting hundreds of kills) to supply themselves for the whole year.
If those migrating change their course by even a few miles, it’s easy to see how the hunters could miss the herds entirely and, with no other major species around to exploit, starve over the winter.
Let’s consider temperate agriculture as well: the agriculturalist can store food better than the arctic hunter (seal meat does not do good things in the summer,) but lacks the tropical hunter-gatherer’s flexibility; he must stick to his fields and keep working, day in and day out, for a good nine months in a row. Agricultural work is more flexible than assembly line work, where your every minute is dictated by the needs of the factory, but a farmer can’t just wander away from his crops to go hunt for a months just because he feels like it, nor can he hope to make up for a bad wheat harvest by wandering into his neighbor’s fields and picking their potatoes.
Which got me thinking: clearly different people are going to do better at different systems.
But first, what is intelligence? Obviously we could define it in a variety of ways, but let’s stick to reasonable definitions, eg, the ability to use your brain to achieve success, or the ability to get good grades on your report card.
A variety of mental traits contribute to “intelligence,” such as:
The ability to learn lots of information. Information is really useful, both in life and on tests, and smarter brains tend to be better at storing lots and lots of data.
Flexible thinking. This is the ability to draw connections between different things you’ve learned, to be creative, to think up new ideas, etc.
Some form of Drive, Self Will, or long-term planning–that is, the ability to plan for your future and then push yourself to accomplish your goals. (These might more properly be two different traits, but we’ll keep them together for now.)
Your stereotypical autistic, capable of memorizing large quantities of data but not doing much with them, has trait #1 but not 2 or 3.
Artists and musicians tend to have a lot of trait #2, but not necessarily 1 or 3 (though successful artists obviously have a ton of #3)
And an average kid who’s not that bright but works really hard, puts in extra hours of effort on their homework, does extra credit assignments, etc., has a surfeit of #3 but not much 2 or 1.
Anyway, it seems to me like the tropical hunting/gathering environment, with many different species to exploit, would select for flexible thinking–if one food isn’t working out, look for a different one. This may also apply to people from tropical farming/horticulturalist societies.
By contrast, temperate farming seems more likely to select for planning–you can’t just wander off or try to grow something new in time for winter if your first crop doesn’t work out.
Many people have noted that America’s traditionally tropical population (African Americans) seems to be particularly good at flexible thinking, leading to much innovation in arts and music. They are not as talented, though, at Drive, leading to particularly high highschool dropout rates.
America’s traditionally rice-farming population (Asians,) by contrast, has been noted for over a century for its particularly high drive and ability to plan for the future, but not so much for contributions to the arts. East Asian people are noted for their particularly high IQ/SAT/PISA scores, despite the fact that China lags behind the West in GDP and quality of life terms. (Japan, of course, is a fully developed country.) One potential explanation for this is that the Chinese, while very good at working extremely hard, aren’t as good at flexible thinking that would help spur innovation. (I note that the Japanese seem to do just fine at flexible thinking, but you know, the Japanese aren’t Chinese and Japan isn’t China.)
(I know I’m not really stating anything novel.) But the real question is:
What kind of mental traits might pastoralism, arctic pastoralism, or arctic hunting select for?
Hello, and welcome to Anthropology Friday! Today we’re having a look at Tim Ingold’s Hunters, Pastoralists and Ranchers: Reindeer economies and their transformations. (1980)
Ingold’s book is not a colorful, entertaining account of life in a reindeer herding community, but an academic attempt to explain why (and how) some arctic peoples have transitioned to reindeer-based pastoralism and some have continued their hunting lifestyle (not a whole lot of gathering happens in the arctic.)
Ingold is something of a Marxist (he cites Marx explicitly in the prologue) and sets out to prove that cultures (or at least the cultures he examines) don’t evolve in the Darwinian sense because one cultural approach to economic production doesn’t actually produce more babies than a different approach, and thus there is no biological selective mechanism at work. (Rather, he asserts that there are cultural factors at play.)
“Social Darwinism is wrong” is a pretty typical attitude from a Marxist, so with that caveat, let’s head to the book’s interesting parts (as usual, I’m using “”s instead of blockquotes.) Ingold begins with a question:
“Some years ago, I undertook a spell of anthropological fieldwork among the Skolt Lapps of northeastern Finland. These people were, so I imagined, reindeer pastoralists. Yet when I arrived in the field, the promised herds were nowhere to be seen. On inquiry into their whereabouts, I was assured that they did exist, scattered around in the forest and on the fells, and that before too long, a team of herdsmen would be sent out to search for them. Well then, I asked, should I purchase a few animals myself? Certainly not, came the reply, for the chances of ever getting my hands on them again would be remote. They could, after all, take refuge in every nook and cranny of a range of wilderness extending over several thousand square miles. … What kind of economy was this, in which live animal property roamed wild over the terrain, quite beyond the ken of its possessors, and in which simple common sense appeared to dictate against owning any animals at all? …
“[W]hy, if the herds are wild, do we not find a hunting economy[?] …”
EvX: Ingold then backtracks into some necessary ecological background on reindeer and their hunters:
“Of particular interest is the close, symbiotic association between the raven and the wolf. Flying above the herd, the raven guides the predator to its prey, in the expectation of receiving a share in the pickings… A similarly close relation exists between human hunters and their domestic or semi-domestic dogs, whose partnership with man in the chase is rewarded with left-overs of meat.”
EvX: Man the hunter follows the wolves, and the wolves follow the ravens, and the ravens track the prey. Give man a horse, and he is formidable indeed.
O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.
Two ravens flew from Óðinn’s
shoulders; Huginn to the hanged and
Muninn to the slain corpses.
Moving on, Ingold outline the traits which make the reindeer suitable for domestication. They are, first of all, herd animals, a necessary prerequisite for pastoralism. (Pigs, by contrast, don’t form large herds, preferring to live in groups of <10.) This was not surprisng; the importance of predators in making a species suitable for domestication, however, was:
“The association between a pack of wolves and a reindeer herd on which it preys is a very close one. Packs are known to follow wild herds throughout their nomadic wanderings and seasonal migrations, whilst the deer are so accustomed to the presence of wolves that only those deer in the immediate vicinity of a wolf show any concern for their safety…
“Wolves are able to gorge enormous quantities of meat in a short time, and then to go for two weeks or more without food … This ability overcomes the necessity for meat storage in the face of irregularities in food supply.”
EvX: Ingold notes that wolves generally pose little threat to healthy, full-grown reindeer, but exact significant losses among fawns.
“Very heavy losses are recorded among reindeer fawns during the first months of life under ‘wild’ conditions. McEwan (1959) estimated that 33.5 per cent of fawns of both sexes died in the first three months among barren-ground caribou, and similar figures (33 to 44 per cent in the first four months) are given by Nowosad (1975) for the introduced reindeer herd of the Mackenzie Delta. Among Labrador caribou, fawn mortality over the first nine months (June to March) was found to be as high as 71 per cent, compared with an annual adult mortality rate of only 6 per cent (Bergerud 1967:635). These figures, although not strictly commensurable, present a striking contrast to the 12 per cent fawn mortality recorded by Skunke (1969) during the first six months under pastoral conditions in Swedish Lapland. It is clear that the surveillance of fawns, to the extent that it confers protection from the principal agents of mortality, represents a critical factor in pastoral herd growth. …
Very young fawns may be taken not only by wolves but also by smaller predators such as fox and wolverine, as well as by birds of prey. They may also succumb to wind chill and other adverse weather conditions encountered whilst on the fawning grounds.”
EvX: Until recently, there was little in animal husbandry which quite compares to agriculture’s direct human involvement in plant reproduction, but both agriculture and pastoralism involve human effort to deter our food’s other natural predators. In agriculture, we protect plants from bunnies, worms, insects, and stampeding herds to increase yields. In pastoralism, we protect animals from death by exposure, starvation, or predation by wolves to increase herds.
(I am reminded here of my grandfather’s dog, a German Shepherd, who killed all of the male coyotes in the area and then mated with the females, resulting in litters of hybrid coydogs.)
Interestingly, Ingold notes that:
“At this stage, losses of male and female fawns are about equal… However, sex ratios in adult herds always favour females by a large margin. The figures tabulated by Kelsall (1968:154) for barren-ground caribou of breeding age show a variation of between thirty-four and sixty-four males per hundred females, despite a roughly equal ratio at birth. …”
EvX: But enough about wolves; what about human hunters? Ingold argues that it would be nigh impossible for even the most nomadic humans to actually keep up, as wolves do, with a herd of reindeer:
“Rather, the strategy is to intercept cohorts of the moving herds at a series of points on their migration orbits. The route connecting these points may cover the same distance as that travelled by the herds, or only a small part of it, but in no case is it identical to the itinerary of any one group of reindeer. Thus, hunters will frequent one location as long as game are present or passing through, building up a store of food if the kill is more than can be immediately consumed, and moving on to another location once supplies are exhausted. The strategy requires that hunters are able to anticipate rather than follow the movements of their prey and that, once located, enough animals can be killed to tide them over until the next encounter. …
“The wolf preying on reindeer has no difficulty in locating its resource, the problem is to isolate vulnerable targets. On the other hand, for human hunters, who are not in continuous
contact with the herd, the problem lies entirely in being in the right place at the right time. Once located, reindeer are remarkably easy to kill, even with primitive equipment … Moreover, the uncertainty of location encourages hunters to kill when they can;…
“In summer and autumn, deer can be hunted with dogs: the dog scents and chases the deer, holding it at bay until the hunter arrives within shooting range. This is perhaps among the most widespread of all human hunting practices, combining the superior strength of dogs as coursers with the ability of men to kill from a distance.”
EvX: The domestication of the dog and its long cooperation with man is a fascinating subject in and of itself. According to Wikipedia:
The closest living relative of the dog is the gray wolf and there is no evidence of any other canine contributing to its genetic lineage. The dog and the extant gray wolf form two sister clades, with modern wolves not closely related to the wolves that were first domesticated. The archaeological record shows the first undisputed dog remains buried beside humans 14,700 years ago, with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago. These dates imply that the earliest dogs arose in the time of human hunter-gatherers and not agriculturists. The dog was the first domesticated species.
The Newgrange and ancient European dog mDNA sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups C and D but modern European dog sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups A and B, indicating a turnover of dogs in the past from a place other than Europe. As this split dates older than the Newgrange dog this suggests that the replacement was only partial. The analysis showed that most modern European dogs had undergone a population bottleneck which can be an indicator of travel. The archaeological record shows dog remains dating over 15,000 YBP in Western Eurasia, over 12,500 YBP in Eastern Eurasia, but none older than 8,000 YBP in Central Asia. The study proposed that dogs may have been domesticated separately in both Eastern and Western Eurasia from two genetically distinct and now extinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs then made their way with migrating people to Western Europe between 14,000-6,400 YBP where they partially replaced the dogs of Europe.
Indicating that: 1. Humans + their dogs likely wiped out all of the wolves in their area, the same wolves their dogs were descended from, and 2. Modern European dogs are likely descended from dogs who accompanied the original Indo-Europeans, the Yamnaya, when they conquered Europe (also Iran, India, etc.) Continuing:
Ancient DNA supports the hypothesis that dog domestication preceded the emergence of agriculture and was initiated close to the Last Glacial Maximum 27,000 YBP when hunter-gatherers preyed on megafauna, and when proto-dogs might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early hunters, assisted in the capture of prey, or provided defense from large competing predators at kill-sites. … The earliest sign of domestication in dogs was the neotonization of skull morphology and the shortening of snout length that results in tooth crowding, reduction in tooth size, and a reduction in the number of teeth, which has been attributed to the strong selection for reduced aggression. …
As the Taimyr wolf had contributed to the genetic makeup of the Arctic breeds, a later study suggested that descendants of the Taimyr wolf survived until dogs were domesticated in Europe and arrived at high latitudes where they mixed with local wolves, and these both contributed to the modern Arctic breeds. Based on the most widely accepted oldest zooarchaeological dog remains, domestic dogs most likely arrived at high latitudes within the last 15,000 years. …
In 2015, a study found that when dogs and their owners interact, extended eye contact (mutual gaze) increases oxytocin levels in both the dog and its owner. As oxytocin is known for its role in maternal bonding, it is considered likely that this effect has supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding.
I recall asking some time ago whether the domestication of animals had influenced the evolution of human empathy. In order to profitably live and work with dogs, did we develop new, inter-species depths to our ability to understand and be moved by the needs of others?
In 2003, a study compared the behavior and ethics of chimpanzees, wolves and humans. Cooperation among humans’ closest genetic relative is limited to occasional hunting episodes or the persecution of a competitor for personal advantage, which had to be tempered if humans were to become domesticated. The closest approximation to human morality that can be found in nature is that of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Wolves are among the most gregarious and cooperative of animals on the planet, and their ability to cooperate in well-coordinated drives to hunt prey, carry items too heavy for an individual, provisioning not only their own young but also the other pack members, babysitting etc. are rivaled only by that of human societies.
But what does this tell us about cat people?
Hunting dogs make major contributions to forager societies and the ethnographic record shows them being given proper names, treated as family members, and considered separate to other types of dogs. This special treatment includes separate burials with markers and grave-goods, with those that were exceptional hunters or that were killed on the hunt often venerated. A dog’s value as a hunting partner gives them status as a living weapon and the most skilled elevated to taking on a “personhood”, with their social position in life and in death similar to that of the skilled hunters.
Intentional dog burials together with ungulate hunting is also found in other early Holocene deciduous forest forager societies in Europe and North America, indicating that across the Holarctic temperate zone hunting dogs were a widespread adaptation to forest ungulate hunting.
In ecology, the term pariah dog refers to free-ranging dogs that occupy an ecological niche based on waste from human settlements. … All authentic strains of pariah dogs are at risk of losing their genetic uniqueness by interbreeding with purebred and mixed-breed strays. To prevent this from happening, some strains of pariah dogs are becoming formally recognized, registered, and pedigreed as breeds in order to preserve the pure type.
Sure, they’re feral dogs who eat trash, but their bloodlines mustn’t be sullied by mixing with common strays!
Throughout the world, wherever there are men there are dogs: the Arctic-dwelling Eskimo have dogs; Native Americans have dogs; Aborigines have dogs (even though the dogs arrived in Australia after the Aborigines;) the Basenji hails from the Congo rainforest; etc. The only major group I know of that isn’t keen on dogs is Muslims. (Though Muslims probably have mixed attitudes on the matter. After all, Verse 5:4 of the Quran says “Lawful for you are all good things, and [the prey] that trained [hunting] dogs and falcons catch for you.”)
But enough about dogs. Let’s get back to Ingold:
“Upper Palaeolithic men, exploiting herds of gregarious big game principally by battue methods, had little use for hunting dogs, whilst packs of wild dogs could scavenge the waste discarded on the sites of human kills without having to enter occupied camps. … In Europe, on the other hand, the advantages for both species of close partnership gave rise to a process of unconscious selection on the part of man in favour of those qualities enhancing the efficiency of dogs as hunting aids. This contrast could account for the fact that in the tundra and taiga regions of the Old World, hunting dogs are found only in Europe and Siberia west of the Yenisey—Khatanga divide. However, as Meggitt (1965) has shown in the case of the relation between Australian aborigines and dingoes, co-hunting does not necessarily give rise to domestication in the sense of either taming or breeding. Human hunters may equally well follow behind wild packs on their predatory forays; and dogs, as habitual scavengers, derive a concomitant return through their interaction with man.”
EvX: As a bit of an aside, Ingold notes the effects of modern technology on ancient ways:
“The introduction of the gun throughout the circumboreal region has greatly modified the balance of traditional hunting practices by encouraging solitary stalking and coursing techniques at the expense of trapping and collective ambush drives. Possession of a rifle so increases the penetrating power of the individual hunter as to enable him to obtain all the meat he needs without recourse to co-operation beyond the dyadic partnership. Moreover, the consequent dependence on external traders for firearms and ammunition tends to disrupt traditional sharing relations, so that hunting on one’s own is made not only possible but desirable.”
EvX: But back to the Deer. Ingold enumerates the variety of uses circumpolar people have fo reindeer and the difficulties with obtain sufficient fat (humans can’t eat more than about 40 or 50% of their diets as protein without going into starvation mode, and dead deer can only be preserved effectively in the winter months, so lean deer killed in the summer are not consumed very efficiently.) He then compares the nature of hunting in different climes:
“In a number of respects, hunters of the arctic and subarctic are in a very different position from their counterparts in warmer climatic zones. It is now recognized that most so-called hunting peoples derive the bulk of their subsistence from gathering, horticulture or fishing, whereas game provides only a protein supplement to the diet (Lee 1968). Consequently, hunting activity tends to be sporadic, undertaken in response more to whim than to pressing need. Once a hunter has decided to embark in search of game, he may take the first animal of whatever favoured species that comes his way (e.g. Woodburn 1968:53). No attempt is made to kill more animals than can immediately be shared and consumed in camp; meat is wasted only if the victim is too large to be consumed at once. …
“Starvation appears to be all but unknown to such people, whilst the birth-spacing requirement imposed on women by the burdens of gathering and the necessarily long period of lactation renders the growth of population almost imperceptible … Taking into account the great diversity of prey species available to human hunters in tropical biotic communities, as well as the variety of non-human predators competing for the same resources, it follows that the impact of human predation on any one species of prey must be extremely small, and that it could not possibly operate in a density-dependent way. …
“Consider now the reindeer hunter. He is primarily dependent on a single game species: hunting is for survival. It provides not a supplement but a mainstay to his diet, as well as materials for his clothing and shelter. For this reason, as we have seen, he must slaughter more animals than he can possibly consume in their entirety. Storage over the winter months is not only possible but vitally necessary. Food may be there in nature, but certainly not spread all around. On the contrary, it is both concentrated and highly mobile; whilst abundant in one locale, it may be completely absent from another. …
“The Nganasan, for example, obtain virtually a whole year’s supplies from only four months of hunting…
“If the herds change their accustomed routes, as they frequently do, and if the hunters
fail to locate them, people may starve. …
“It follows that even if we assume a constant human population, the size of the kill will fluctuate in relation to prey abundance. …
“On the basis of repeated reports of starvation among Eskimo and Naskapi reindeer hunters in the Ungava region of Labrador, Elton inferred that the human and reindeer populations must have been subject to linked oscillations of the Lotka—Volterra type: For hundreds of years the Indian population must have starved at intervals, giving the deer opportunities to increase, then killing deer heavily until another failure to cross their erratic tracks caused more Indians to starve . . . We see here the Indian population suffering a slow cycle, lasting over a generation, in much the same fashion as the shorter cycles of the wolf, lynx, fox and marten. It is to be supposed that such cycles among the caribou hunters had from the earliest times helped the elasticity of the hard-pressed herds.”
EvX: The differences in tropical vs. arctic hunting may help explain why megafauna such as elephants and giraffes have survived in Africa and virtually nowhere else.
Ingold then goes into detail about different reindeer hunting methods, such as setting up “fences” made of flapping cloth that “funnel” the reindeer into a pen and then killing them. It seems to me only a short step from here to deciding, “wait a minute, we can’t freeze these carcases today because it’s too warm out, but if we just kill a couple of deer now and keep the rest in the pen for a few weeks, it’ll get cold and then we can kill them,” and thence to, “Hey, what if we just keep them in the pen all the time and only kill one when we need to?”
“At first glance, the wolf and the pastoralist might be seen to have much in common (Zeuner 1963:47, 124). Both follow particular bands of reindeer, more or less continuously. Both slaughter for immediate needs, keeping their stores of meat ‘on the hoof. Both are selective in their exploitation of the herds. …
“A herd-following adaptation may be a necessary condition of pastoralism, but it is certainly not a sufficient one. There are three critical differences between the exploitation of herds by wolves and by human pastoralists. Firstly, pastoralists protect their herds against wolves, whereas wolves never offer protection against man. Secondly, pastoralists select intentionally, whereas selection by wolves is unintentional. Thirdly, the impact of pastoral selection on different age and sex classes in the herds is quite different from that of wolf predation. …
“The selection strategy of wolves … tends to maximize the sustained yield of meat from the herd. This is achieved primarily through the slaughter of a large proportion of the annual crop of fawns … Pastoralists, on the other hand, are reluctant to slaughter fawns, though some may have to be killed for their skins. Otherwise, the rule is to castrate males surplus to reproductive requirements, allowing them to survive well into maturity; and not to slaughter females at all unless or until they have become barren. This is a strategy for maximizing not the productivity but the numerical size of a herd, or the ‘standing crop’ of reindeer. It cannot be accounted for on the basis of human demographic pressure, since the yield is no greater than that which would be obtained by a random pattern of exploitation.”
EvX: So here is Ingold’s Marxism bleeding through. He wants to prove that pastoralism supports no more people than hunting, because reindeer function like currency for pastoralists, and so they become obsessive reindeer hoarders, preferring to grow their herds rather than produce more children.
He doesn’t cite any anthroplogical/ethnographic evidence on this count, though, and I am, frankly, skeptical. I recall, for example, a study of a spontaneous economy that sprang up in a POW camp in which inmates used cigarettes as currency which they used to trade for food, and the authors noted in passing that the camp’s smokers were thinner than everyone else because they were trading away their food to get currency just to smoke. Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean you won’t consume it. Ingold wants to prove that the preference for hunting or pastoralism stems from cultural factors–do people want to be pastoralists?–and not from one or the other offering biological, Darwinian advantages in the form of producing more children, as this would support the idea of Social Darwinism, which of course is evil Nazi heresy.
But this theory is dependent on the idea that, in fact, pastoralists and hunters have the exact same number of children–which I am not convinced of.
But let’s let Ingold have the last word (for today):
“To sum up: comparing the ecological relations of hunting and pastoralism, we find the latter to be chronically unstable, and unable to support a human population any higher than the former. Indeed, human population density under pastoralism may be lower than that which could be sustained by a hunting economy. It is for this reason that the pastoral association between men and herds is unique, having no parallels amongst other vertebrates. There is no selective mechanism on the Darwinian model that could account for a predator’s stimulating the increase of its prey at the expense of its own numbers. …
“From this contrast, I deduce the ecological preconditions of pastoralism: the herds must be followed, protected against predators and exploited selectively. Comparing the pastoralist and the wolf as exploiters of reindeer, I conclude that pastoralism cannot be regarded as an ‘intensification’ of hunting, and that the transformation from hunting to pastoralism marks a step towards overall ecological instability whose rationale must be sought on the level of social relations of production.”
This is the last installment of quotes from Kabloona, an account of Gontran “Mike” dePoncins’s year spent among the Eskimo of Canada in 1939. To make it easier to read, I am going to dispense with the blockquote:
“Spring was returning to the arctic. The temperature rose till it stood well above zero, and suddenly one day–it was the 25th April–it mounted to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. A nasty warm wind was blowing, the kind of win which, at home, makes us fearful of catching an unseasonable cold. The “heat” was intolerable. …
Light had come to the northern night–or if this was not light, at any rate it was no longer darkness. The air was filled with an eerie glow; the horizon was swollen with the promise of light, and the night was a ruddy purple. … as the days went by the lamp became unnecessary and we had the light of the sky all though the night.
One of the most curious things was our resistance to sleep. … Sleep would not come. I would get quietly out of bed and go out-of-doors to sketch. … Across the northern sky stretched a band like white gold, white and liquid, like gold in a crucible. … The southern sky was a hard bright blue, and so luminous that the caplets of islands and the faraway mountains emerged in the distance with brilliant clarity. … something stirring, something vibrant was present that filled the being with a nameless agitation. It was impossible to be still. You wanted to walk, to run, to go on endlessly from hillock to hillock, shouting verses aloud, singing songs you had never before heard. You were seized by what could easily become delirium and might move you as plausibly to religious ecstasy as to sexual explosion–of itself and without the intervention of your will. The earth was being born again. You were witnessing its creation. You wanted harps to chant its glory’ and you knew that it was moving the missionaries to prayer and urging on the Eskimos to their indefatigable mating. …
It was three o’clock in the morning and children were at play out on the frozen sea. Women, their mothers, sat on the point of a knoll and watched them, called out to them. … They will wander like this all summer long, sleeping only when they are too weary to stand, and sleeping wherever they happen to find themselves
This is the season of Eskimo madness, particularly for the young. I remember a boy of eleven or twelve years, named Ivitaligak, who went out of his mind every spring. do not know if this malady exists elsewhere in the same way, but with Eskimo youths it takes the form of a violent somnambulism. Ivitaligak would rove like a somnambulist, coming, going shrieking, beating his head with his fists and screaming, “Give me a rifle! Give me a rifle! I want to kill myself!” It would not have been hard for him to kill himself before coming to. That night he picked up in both hands a burning stove and shook it violently without feeling the burns. His friends threw him down and pummeled him to try to wake him, but no one could do it. They smacked him again and again, holding him down on the ground as he twisted and contorted himself: all in vain. … Once awake again, he could remember nothing that had happened and when they told him, he burst out laughing and refused to believe them. His father, Anarvik, said to me that this always happened int he spring, when the boy did not get enough sleep, wandered all night long, night after night, and stretched out occasionally on the bare ground to slumber. Angulalik’s little son, Wakwak, displayed the same symptoms, though not so violently. Once they came to, the boys complained of headaches; but these things pass when they grow to be men.
Unlike ourselves, the Eskimos are still children of nature. Spring, the season of rut in the animal kingdom, induces physiological mutations in them. They change color: from earth brown they turn purple, a red glow lies over their cheekbones, and their eyes shine with a strange gleam. Here at Perry River a frenzy of sexuality had spread through the camp, embracing every member of it. Day and night they copulated in a sort of delirium, inexhaustible and insatiable.
Imagine a world covered by the waters of an endlessly wide lake, and the waters receding until only peaks emerge like islands over the lake-bottom. There were hundreds of these peaks as far as the eye could see, with here and there a ridge that ran like a prehistoric river bank, its smoothly worn slope covered with pebbles that appeared from far away as fine as sand. Infinite in distance, hushed, seemingly deserted by man and beast, it was the landscape of a fairytale. Far away. farther away than I have ever been able to see anywhere in the world, the sun burned on the rim of a ridge, and every peak and slope and hillock stood bathed in a ruddy pink light, a rose that was unreal in its liquid softness. There were days enough when the land of the Eskimo, with its blizzards and its grey and horizonless air, had seemed to me in truth a ghastly world; but on this day, seeing this immensity spread out before me, being conscious of the solitude in which I stood gazing at it, I recognized the right of the Eskimo to the pride he took in his land, and fancied that in his mind this was an offering made to him by who knows what god, and that he too felt himself a member of a chosen people. Here, I told myself, is their Eden, this wide world stocked by the Great Giver with the magnificent game that came up year after year to feed them and arm them and clothe them and surrender itself, the constituent fundament of their households.
I thought of the months on the trail, of the hardships and even miseries I had endued, and of a sudden I began to miss them with an intensity which amazed me and which, since then, has never left me. … God knows we were poor enough. Our poverty was total. We possessed nothing: not even the snow was our own. … But there was a cheer and a contentment in our existence which I continue to muse upon and cannot altogether explain to myself. Was it because infinite poverty lent infinite price to the least object? There was more to it than this. I had lost all I owned, but had found great riches. Like a religious, I possessed the veritable treasures, those which could not be taken from me. I had lost the world, but I had found myself, had exchanged the glitter for the gold. Within me had lain potentialities for moral serenity;, and I had not known it. Storm and danger had been my salvation, an without them my spirit should have dropped heedlessly off to sleep in my flesh. Thee on that Arctic tundra I had constructed myself from within. Up though the lined and frozen layers of skin on my face, my true visage had begun to emerge, the visage that God had meant all men to show to one another; and that visage all the blizzards, all the adversity in the world could not decompose. …
I say “we” but I cannot pretend of course to lend to the Eskimos these thoughts I now express. The poverty that was my salvation had from the beginning of time been theirs … These men about whom I knew properly nothing at all, these beings of another race separated from me by thousand of years of the evolution of my kind, had stood shoulder to shoulder with me in the blizzard. With my friends Outside there had always been differences, we had always remained personalities, individuals. Here, after the first few weeks of my probation, none of this existed: he contact was direct, devoid of the detours of personality. Day after day a wind would raise, a sign of danger would appear in the air, and we would respond together, each forgetting himself and striving in the common cause. Outside, it wanted war and flood to give man this sense of brotherhood: here it was a commonplace of life. …
I stood on the shores of Ellice Island and said to myself that I did not want to leave this land. … And as I turned and walked down the hill, I knew that my fate lay elsewhere; and I know now that it lies in France. … for a Frenchman of our time, the trail back leads home.”
And thus de Poncins returns home just in time for World War II.
In the spring of 1938 I stood one afternoon before the house of the Oblate Fathers in the Rue de l’Assomption in Paris. The day was fine, the street deserted and still, the house-front blank with that anonymity characteristic the world over of the city dwellings of priestly communities. I was about to embark upon a long trek into what was for me the unknown. If those within were willing to help me, my first step would be taken without stumbling. If not… well, I should go forward somehow. …
There I stood, then, with my finger on the bell at the door of the Oblate Fathers. It is the particular mission of the Oblate Fathers to evangelize the most distant and disinherited peoples of the earth. For generations, Christian priests have gone out of this house to the confines of the world–to central Africa, to the Brazilian jungles, to the Arctic. Here in this house you would not have guessed it. Not a footfall sounded, not a map hung on a wall. Someone, a shadow, had opened a door and vanished, shutting the door behind me. I stood alone in an old-fashioned reception room, waiting in the company of three green chairs and, on the wall, the enlarged photograph of a dead bishop.
A man came in: obviously a religious, and one look at his face and bearing told me that he was a chief. He signed to me to it down, and we sat in two of the three straight-backed chairs. Without a preliminary word, I blurted out the purpose of my visit, which was to go live with the Eskimos. Not those of Greenland, who, I gathered, were domesticated under governmental tutelage; nor those of Alaska, who carved souvenirs for tourists; but the Canadian Eskimos, those of the Central Arctic who, because they inhabited regions so emote and difficult to reach, still lived their primitive life of thousands of years ago, knowing of the white men only an occasional solitary missionary. I knew that their islands in the Glacial Ocean formed part of the immense diocese of that Oblate father who was celebrated in Canada as the “The Bishop of the Wind”; that the bishop toured his diocese in his own airplane’ and what I wanted was to be flown in by the bishop. Could the Oblate Fathers help me to realize my wish?
The man had not stirred. A proposal that had seemed to me, as I made it, monstrous, childish in its effrontery, seemed to him entirely normal. You have only to write the bishop,” he said in a curiously depersonalized voice, “He will reply.” As if the Arctic lay round the corner! This was my first lesson in humility, and I had been taught it even before leaving Paris. In a single word this religious, for whom neither time nor space existed, had reduced my vainglorious project to the dimensions of a Sunday picnic. But the bishop did not know me, I had ventured to say; the recommendation of the House would perhaps be necessary…. With a wave of the hand my objection was dismissed. “Not at all. It will be much better if you write direct. Here is the address. Good afternoon.” And silently this imperturbable servant of Christ had left me, shutting himself back into that eternity out of which he had for an instant emerged.
It was in April that I wrote, addressing my letter to the bishop’s episcopal seat at Fort Smith, on the sixtieth parallel. At the end of May came the bishop’ reply. His Grace would be pleased to fly me in, provided there was space’ “for,” he wrote, “the plane is small and there will be another passenger. Meet me at McMurray, in northern Alberta, at the beginning of July.” …
I had left Paris on June 11, 1938.* It was on the 9th of July that I took off from Fort McMurray with Bishop Breynat, his chaplain, and Bisson, his pilot. … As the plane rose above the tree-tops Bisson made a sign with his hand; we fell back, and I, looking behind, saw the chaplain purple with tenseness and the bishop quietly absorbed in his breviary. …
In this wise I saw Goldfields born and die again, where the bishop left, by way of a gift, a haunch of beef. I saw Fond-du-Lac spring into existence and then vanish, where, on a little knoll, Brother Cadoret knelt, and the Indians with him, to kiss the bishop’s ring. It was there that an Indian had ventured to speak to the bishop.
“You go to see the Great Seated One,”–the Pope–he said. “Take him this, and when you have seen him, pray for Higine.” He had put three dollars into the bishop’s hand; and as we sat again in the plan and the earth darkened and the lakes below us shone like metal in the darkening earth, the bishop still held in his hand the three dollars, forgetting in his emotions to put them into his purse. …
We had flown fifteen hundred miles when I saw one night, shining in the Arctic sun, a pool bigger than any I had seen before. This was the sea, the Glacial Ocean. Again the pilot dived, again a little cluster of huts sprang up; and exactly at midnight on the 14th of July, I was set down in Coppermine. Father Delalande took us to his mission house, and without a word the old bishop climbed the wooden ladder into the attic and went to bed Next day he was off. He had done what he could for me in dropping me here at the last outpost of civilization.
In the dark we were greeted by the priests in the mission. Before we could even say something they said “Il faut rien dire, on comprend!” – “No need to talk, we understand”. They were friendly and gave us a bucket of water to wash in. We could park the car in their garden. We closed our tent at midnight. The adrenaline was still rushing trough our veins. …
The mission is at the same time a (boarding) school. … The priests (Brothers actually) are nice guys. There are 4 of them, young and smart. All of them have studied in Lubumbashi or Kinshasa. After they finished the seminary they were sent to a mission. They cannot choose which one. We could hear the sadness in their voices when they told their stories.
They sampled the “world” when studying, they have a degree (one of them had a masters in engineering) and then they are sent to a mission. They know they will probably never have the chance again to live in a city. At the mission they take care of the kids, teach, etc.. A noble and rewarding job. But they carry all this knowledge that they cannot put in practice here. They have no computers, no tools, no electricity, no budget, …
The priest-engineer was setting up a project to generate clean energy from a river. He had a recycling project. A radio project. An irrigation project, … He had to run all these projects without any funds, without material. So many ideas, so little chances. …
Thus far the missions were havens of peace and quiet. Were things were functional (sometimes) and clean (sometimes). Not so at the home of Frère Louis. He lived like the Congolese lived… in a rundown building without any comfort. He had a bathroom that hadn’t seen a brush in ages,.. . It struck us as a bit odd, but later we would understand that Frère Louis is one of these rare people that does not care about himself, but only about the others. We would meet Frère Louis later on this trip and everything would become clear then.
He was well organized though. He was the only one in town with transportation … He uses this truck to get supplies from Lubumbashi to all of the project he is running in the area. The big wheels, the portle axles and the huge winch make it a capable bundybasher. …
While we were there several people came to visit. Among them was a friendly older lady. She had beautiful (homemade) clothes. She was responsible for the orphanage that was run by Frère Louis. …
“That night we talked for hours with Frère Louis. Our little adventures here dissapear in the nothing compared to everything he went trough. He had been in DRC for over 40 years, he stayed during all the wars. He had to abandon everything and run for his live three times as teams were sent out to kill him. But he always returned. Many books could be filled with his adventures.
He is also responsible for most of the bridges Katanga. He build hundreds of bridges himself. He has a small working budget from Franciscans, but he funds most of it all by himself. He has put every last penny in the Congolese people. That is why his house in Luena was so rundown.
There is much more, but I have quoted too much already. You can read it all on Frederick and Josephine’s thread.
Several centuries later, two monks, Hourg and Barsanuphii, journeyed east to Kazan, capital of the Tartars, learned the Tartar language, and established a monastic community for the conversion of the Mongol peoples. St Stephen of Perm (1340-96), another monk, would in turn journey beyond Kazan, across the Ural Mountain, into the forests of Siberia to labor among the pagan Zyrians. There Stephen devised a Zyrian alphabet, translated the Gospel, and subsequently converted an entire people. This model of monastic evangelization became the pattern for other Russian Orthodox missionaries as they trekked ever eastward, eventually establishing a network of missions across Siberia and along the entire Pacific Rim: in China (1686), Alaska (1794), Japan (1861), and Korea (1898). The eight Orthodox monks who arrived in Alaska in 1794 were simply part of this centuries-old missionary heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Russian traders settled in Alaska during the 18th century. In 1740, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated on board a Russian ship off the Alaskan coast. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries—among them Saint Herman of Alaska – to establish a formal mission in Alaska. Their missionary endeavors contributed to the conversion of many Alaskan natives to the Orthodox faith. A diocese was established, whose first bishop was Saint Innocent of Alaska. The headquarters of this North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was moved from Alaska to California around the mid-19th century.
The Shelikhov-Golikov Company appealed to the Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to provide a priest for the natives [of Alaska]. Catherine the Great decided instead to send an entire mission to America. She entrusted the task of recruiting missionaries to Metropolitan Gabriel of St. Petersburg, who sent ten monks from Valaam, including Herman. The missionaries arrived on Kodiak on September 24, 1794.
Herman and the other missionaries encountered a harsh reality at Kodiak that did not correspond to Shelikhov’s rosy descriptions. The native Kodiak population, called “Americans” by the Russian settlers, were subject to harsh treatment by the Russian-American Company, … The monks themselves were not given the supplies that Shelikhov promised them, and had to till the ground with wooden implements. Despite these difficulties, the monks managed to baptize over 7,000 natives in the Kodiak region, and set about building a church and monastery. Herman was assigned in the bakery and acted as the mission’s steward (ekonom).
… After over a decade spent in Alaska, Herman became the head of the mission in 1807, although he was not ordained to the priesthood. The local population loved and respected him, and he even had good relations with Baranov. Herman ran the mission school, where he taught church subjects such as singing and catechism alongside reading and writing. He also taught agriculture on Spruce Island. …
Herman moved to Spruce Island around 1811 to 1817. The island is separated from Kodiak by a mile-wide strait, making it ideal for eremetic life. Herman named his hermitage “New Valaam.” He wore simple clothes and slept on a bench covered with a deerskin. When asked how he could bear to be alone in the forest, he replied, “I am not alone. God is here, as God is everywhere.”
Despite his solitary life, he soon gained a following. He received many visitors—especially native Aleuts—on Sundays and church feasts. Soon his hermitage had next to it a chapel and guesthouse, and then a school for orphans. Herman had a few disciples, including the Creole orphan Gerasim Ivanovich Zyrianov, a young Aleut woman named Sofia Vlasova, and others. Entire families moved in order to be closer to the Elder, who helped to sort out their disputes. Herman had a deep love for the native Aleuts: he stood up for them against the excesses of the Russian-American Company, and once during an epidemic he was the only Russian to visit them, working tirelessly to care for the sick and console the dying. Herman spent the rest of his life on Spruce Island, where he died on November 15, 1836.
Non-Jews Help Jump-Start New Chabad Center in Alaska: A warm welcome in wintry Wasilla from the entire community
When Rabbi Mendy and Chaya Greenberg moved into their new home on a quiet dirt road in Wasilla, Alaska, one week before the High Holidays, they received a different kind of welcome.
A crew of local residents—almost all of them not Jewish—descended upon their house to unpack boxes, sweep, clean and arrange furniture. In fact, with just hours left before the onset of Shabbat, they even purchased and set up a brand-new dining-room table around which the couple would celebrate the holy day.
Who is this group of helpful denizens, and why have they raised thousands of dollars and volunteered countless hours for a Jewish group?
The answer lies with Ruthann Crosby-Cleeves, a local chaplain who leads “ChessedAlaska,” an organization dedicated to teaching the Seven Noahide Laws—the universal values of the Torah—to non-Jewish people.
On the sixth day since a massive earthquake crumbled buildings and shook mountains in the impoverished country of Nepal—before recent warnings of a new earthquake to come forced everyone back indoors—the focus of Chabad’s efforts have been concentrated on providing sustained humanitarian aid to thousands of people who have lost everything in the rubble. …
The delegation brought hygiene supplies, hot meals, fresh water and fruit.
“Tiny babies are thirsty for water, their eyes empty and dead, their small faces wizened like those of old people,” continues Lifshitz. “Wherever we went, people fell on our necks, begging for some food, for more water. We promised them that we would not forget them. We will be back tomorrow, and then again, the day after tomorrow. We will be there for the as long as they need us.”
Just before she left to return to the Chabad House, Lifshitz recalls that a woman with a pinched, wrinkled face approached her. “All she wanted was a hug,” she says. “We hugged for a very long time. Her tears remained on my shoulder long after we parted ways. How much strength did I get from that single hug…”