Historical Events

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The system of taboos relating to eating caribou and seals at the same time are discussed by Stefansson. "The flesh of caribou and of seals must not, among some tribes, be eaten at the same time, nor must the flesh of caribou be eaten on the sea at all."

May 2, 1911

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 17

Facultative Carnivore
Religion
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

It is a theory which has been much in vogue among ethnologists that the fundamental reason back of the system of Eskimo taboos is that they are intended to keep the sea industries away from the land industries and the sea animals away from the land animals; the theory being that the Eskimo were once inland dwellers and accustomed only to land animals and hunting methods suited to the land, and that when they came down to the sea they found its requirements and its animal life so different from that of the land to which they were used that they conceived it necessary to keep the two rigidly apart and that taboos were therefore established. We have elsewhere pointed out that the western Eskimo consider that sudden death, pestilence, or famine will follow upon the sewing of caribou skin garments within a certain number of days after one of the large sea mammals has been killed. It is true among many tribes of Eskimo that caribou skin garments must not be made or mended on the sea ice. The flesh of caribou and of seals must not, among some tribes, be eaten at the same time, nor must the flesh of caribou be eaten on the sea at all. Under other circumstances when both may be eaten, they will have to be cooked in separate utensils and certain ceremonies have to be performed to cancel, as it were, the evil effects that might otherwise ensue. 


Here, however, everything was different. Not only did these seal hunters engage in the cutting up of the animals, but the meat was taken home and cooked in the same pots in which seal meat had been cooked and eaten; and not only the same day that seal meat had been eaten and the seals had been killed, but the seal meat and caribou meat were actually eaten at the same meal by the same individuals. One old man, however, said that he knew that it was not right to boil caribou meat in the same pot in which seal meat had been boiled unless you suspended the pot by a different string. His wife therefore took off the old greasy string which had served as a bale for the stone pot, braided a new sinew string, and swung the pot by that over the lamp. These Eskimo have various taboos relating to seal and to caribou, but none of those that I have seen in use or heard of, except in the case of this one incident of the string, had any tendency to keep the two apart.