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ERIC Number: EJ793374
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 19
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0161-6463
"Strange Things Happen to Non-Christian People": Human-Animal Transformation among the Inupiat of Arctic Alaska
Cassady, Joslyn
American Indian Culture and Research Journal, v32 n1 p83-101 2008
Inuit myths, folklore, and material culture are filled with examples of people who turn into animals. Margaret Lantis, a well-known Eskimologist of the mid-twentieth century, once commented that human-animal transformation in Inuit mythology had an "immediacy and a reality" that was unknown in other parts of the world. It is hard to discern from more contemporary ethnography, however, whether transformation still occupies a meaningful place in Inuit life. This article examines present-day Inupiaq understandings of, and experiences with, human-animal transformation. The author offers conventional wisdom on this topic, how such metamorphosis is accomplished, and the cosmological forces that still are believed to operate behind the scenes. This article departs from the customary preoccupation with shamanistic practices and instead focuses on how everyday Inupiat explain the social and moral significance of turning into an animal. Through this discursive lens, the author argues, one may appreciate how different generations of Inupiat have integrated Christian cosmology and deities into their interpretations of both animals and human-animal hybridity. Attention to animality in the context of transformation, rather than during the hunt (the context in which the majority of theories on Inuit-nature relations are generated), provides a unique perspective on how missionization has shaped Inupiaq conceptions of human-animal relations. This research allows one to consider how today's "Christianized" animals contrast with the "nonhuman persons" that populate anthropological literature and joins a broader anthropological concern with how indigenous religious practice coexists with world religions. (Contains 60 notes.)
American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. 3220 Campbell Hall, Box 951548, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1548. Tel: 310-825-7315; Fax: 310-206-7060; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Alaska