Inuit is a general term for a group of indigenous peoples who share the same culture and language and currently inhabit the arctic regions of Alaska, Greenland, Canada, and Siberia. The term Eskimo has become unfavorable for these people and they prefer to be called Inuit.
The life they live is quite challenging considering the cold and almost barren surroundings but sharing or gift giving has become a strong value and of utmost importance among the people. Like any other groups of people around the world, gift giving has been an ancient and reliable means of strengthening relationships and showing gratitude. Hospitality is also an essential trait and should be accepted to keep the host from losing face.
The Inuit people believe that everyone and everything has a spirit and that these spirits hung around and could possibly influence the outcomes of events. These religious beliefs combined with the natives’ whale hunting in order to survive are the factors that shaped the Inuit’s celebrations and gift giving tradition.
Inuit Gift Giving Practices
- For the Inuits, there is no need to wrap gifts, they are offered as they are.
- The usual gifts are food. Whale meat is the most popular gift because it comprises 70% of the Inuit’s diet.
- If you are a guest to an Inuit home, you can make your wishes known by making indirect hints. It is considered rude and aggressive to make a direct request.
- Refusing a gift from your host is also rude and would insult the host.
- If you received a gift, it is expected that you reciprocate with a gift also. Otherwise, people will think you are taking advantage of a person’s generosity and they will gossip about you.
Inuit Gift Giving Occasions
Despite the harsh environment that surrounds the Inuit people, they still find a way to celebrate and share their possessions. These happy occasions are centered on hunting season and fruitful hunts.
- Weddings –the traditional Inuit people don’t have a formal wedding ceremony. The couple will just start living together and no gifts are given. But because of western influence and modernization, more and more Inuit celebrates Christian weddings and thus practices the same European gift giving traditions like giving money and house items for the newlyweds.
- Naluqatak – this takes place in June. It is a celebration in honor of the spirits of the hunted whales. Everyone who had been part of a successful whale hunt – captains and crews of whale ships – will offer whale meat to the community. The people will then have a feast and an entire day of singing, dancing, and their traditional blanket toss, a trampoline made of walrus skin.
- Christmas – before the onset of European culture, Christmas was not celebrated by the Inuit people. Nowadays, the occasion has become very popular among the natives that they even import evergreen trees from Europe. For families who can’t afford importing Christmas trees, they just decorate their houses with a piece of driftwood. Like westerners, the Inuit celebrate Christmas with gift giving and sharing.
- Messenger Feast – this is another traditional festivity among the Inuit people that celebrates a successful whale hunting season. A host village who had a successful whaling hunt will send two “messengers” to neighboring villages to invite people for a huge gathering to be held in their own village. The villagers will not only exchange food and whale meat, but also jewelry and tools as well.
- Potlatch – is a Native American word that means “gift”. It is a traditional ceremony characterized by giving away possessions. The Inuit who held the Potlatch will give away his most valuable belongings. It is a demonstration of equality among tribe members.