Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/638

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

enforced by public opinion, the origin of the taboos themselves is quite obscure. It is forbidden, after the death of a sea mammal or after the death of a person, to scrape the frost from the window, to shake the beds, or to disturb the shrubs under the bed, to remove oil-drippings from under the lamp, to scrape hair from skins, to cut snow for the purpose of melting it, to work on iron, wood, stone, or ivory. Women are, furthermore, forbidden to comb their hair, to wash their faces and to dry their boots and stockings.

A number of customs, however, may be explained by the endeavors of the natives to keep the sea mammals free from contaminating influences. All the clothing of a dead person, more particularly the tent in which he died, must be discarded; for if a hunter should wear clothing made of skins that had been in contact with the deceased, these would appear dark and the seal would avoid him. Neither would a seal allow itself to be taken into a hut darkened by a dead body, and all those who entered such a hut would appear dark to it and would be avoided.

While it is customary for a successful hunter to invite all the men of the village to eat of the seal that he has caught, they must not take any of the seal meat out of the hut, because it might come in contact with persons who are under taboo, and thus the hunter might incur the displeasure of the seal and of Sedna.

It is very remarkable that the walrus is not included in this series of regulations. It is explicitly stated that the walrus, the white whale and the narwhal are not subject to these laws, which affect only the sea animals that originated from Sedna's fingers. There is, however, a series of laws that forbid contact between walrus, seal and caribou. It is not quite clear in what mythical concept these customs originate. There is a tradition regarding the origin of walrus and caribou which is made to account for a dislike between these two animals. A woman created both these animals from parts of her clothing. She gave the walrus antlers and the caribou tusks. When man began to hunt them, the walrus upset the boats with his antlers and the caribou killed the hunter with his tusks. Therefore the woman called both animals back and took the tusks from the caribou and gave them to the walrus. She took the antlers, kicked the caribou's forehead flat and put the antlers on to it. Ever since that time, it is said, walrus and caribou avoid each other, and the people must not bring their meat into contact. They are not allowed to eat caribou and walrus meat on the same day except after changing their clothing. The winter clothing which is made of caribou-skin must be entirely completed before the men will go to hunt walrus. As soon as the first walrus has been killed, a messenger goes from village to village and announces the news. All work on caribou-skins must cease immediately. When the caribou-hunting