Brad Belschner's Reviews > My Life with the Eskimo

My Life with the Eskimo by Vilhjálmur Stefánsson
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's review
Oct 25, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: socio-anthropology
Read in October, 2015

At the beginning of the 20th century many of the Eskimo were still living in stone-age or bronze-age tribes. Steffanson was a Harvard anthropologist who lived among them and basically 'went native' for years. His writing is primarily his personal narrative, with anthropological insights along the way. It's one of those books you can open up randomly to any page and be virtually guaranteed to find something fascinating.

This was the first book to make me realize the vast gulf between my 'worldview' and that of primitive tribes. It's interesting to try and get inside the head of men who truly believed that e.g. the world is flat, children are possessed by the souls of deceased elders until puberty, alphabets are divine in origin, a nice way to spend an evening is to casually visit the Moon during a seance, etc. Their cultural taboos and dietary customs make Leviticus sound like a tea party. The Eskimo acceptance of Christianity is especially interesting: they embraced new religious beliefs and customs easily and uncritically because they considered them to be additive, not contradictory...which is also why syncretism became such a big problem for them.

The book is impossible to summarize. I've only provided random tidbits. You can get me talking at a party for hours about crazy anecdotes and observations from this book.

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Reading Progress

10/28/2015 marked as: read

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