Eskimo Spiritual Landscapes

ARCTIC EXPLORER BARRY LOPEZ, who has lived and hunted with Eskimos, has noted differences in the way in which our modern technological/materialist culture relates to the Arctic landscape – objectively as a landscape for exploitation of resources – and the relationship that the native Eskimo hunters have with their landscape. He describes his experience hunting with the Eskimo and the ‘focus in relating’ as follows:

“To hunt means to have the land around you like clothing. To engage in a wordless dialogue with it, one so absorbing that you cease to talk with your human companions. It means to release yourself from rational images of what something “means” and to be concerned only that it “is.” And then to recognize that things exist only insofar as they can be related to other things. These relationships – fresh drops of moisture on tops of rocks at a river crossing and a raven’s distant voice – become patterns. The patterns are always in motion”.

By contrast, Lopez argues, Western culture has tended to turn all elements of the natural world into objects.

“We have turned all animals and elements of the natural world into objects. We manipulate them to serve the complicated ends of our destiny. Eskimos do not grasp this separation easily, and have difficulty imagining themselves entirely removed from the world of animals. For many of them, to make this separation is analogous to cutting oneself off from light or water. It is hard to imagine how to do it”.

Lopez concludes that the depersonalization of relationships is a most confusing aspect of Western culture for the Eskimo to grasp.

Footnotes

1 Lopez (1989) Arctic Dreams, 199-200.

2 Ibid, 200.

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