Music Of The Alaskan EskimosChapter 18
Non-Western Music



-Each geographical region of Alaska, and each group of people within an area have their own variations and styles.

-Eskimo music and performing practices are derivatives of the natural and social environment.

I. Appeals to the Spirits:

- To ensure success in survival skills, appeals were made to the inua (spirits) of animals or to the spirit of the atmosphere, sila.

- These appeals were made primarily through the medium of drum songs sung by the hunter himself or through an intermediary, the angakok or shaman.

- Rituals and festivals involving singing, dancing, mime, feats of magic, storytelling, and sporting competitions were celebrated go honor the spirits.

- Traditional songs are an important activity connected with the traditional rituals.

II. Power Songs:

- Eskimo songs refer to every facet of life. By far the most numerous are the hunting power songs, which relate hunting incidents or are connected with stories of courageous hunting feats.

- Hunting songs for good fortune, composed by the hunter or an angakok, were used sparingly, and never performed for entertainment.

- Power songs could be purchased and included: boat launch, whale hunting, and harpoon power songs.

- Some power songs are composed to honor spirits of the animals, such as seals, whale, caribou, reindeer, wolves, foxes, and birds.

- Sometimes sung to transport the singer, by means of self-hypnosis and through a trancelike state of mind.

III. Juggling Songs:

- Accompanied women’s game of juggling beach rocks.

- These songs, being extremely old, have some archaic words and meaningless syllables, and the sentences are fragmented.

- Most of these songs deal with a woman’s lack of sexual attraction to husband.

- Modesty forbids the singing of some of the words, and can be replaced with meaningless syllables.

IV: The Bladder Festival Songs:

- Eskimos believed that spirits (inua) of al animals lived in their bladders, which, when honored, purified, and returned to the sea, would enter the animal from which they came and bring the hunter good fortune during the following hunting season.

- The festival was held over a period of several weeks, starting usually in November and concluding about a month later.

- During the course of the festival the bladders of the first animals taken by the young boys were honored.

- The festival was never widely celebrated, but it was given in the Lower Yukon and Kuskokwim areas, on Nunivak Island, Nelson Island, and at Norton Sound.

- Included songs that related to the traditional dances or ceremonies with ritual:

o Blowing up bladders

o Songs to the bladders

o Honor of the wild parsnip used for purification purposes

- Many other songs honored the spirits of the sea mammals, and the land-sea songs were sung.

- The shaman performed masked dances.

VI. War Songs:

- There are NO war songs in Alaskan Eskimo musical literature.

- Violence was not a common way of settling disputes among the Eskimos. In the past, the Eskimos preferred to settle disputes by means of ridicule song contests.

o The person who had the grievance challenged the offender to a song contest of ridicule and invective.

o The loser in this battle of musical wits suffered great shame, perhaps so great that he may choose to leave the village.

o At times, ridicule songs were sung at social gatherings to “punish” those that offended the community.

VII. Children’s Songs:

- There were no need for lullabies

- Many songs composed for children exhibit the Eskimo sense of humor.

- The purpose of a song is to quiet the children when they are being too noisy. Many string games and their accompanying songs are written for children to occupy them. Also, frightening them by means of spirit performances and teasing them through song were quite common methods of discipline.

- Children were relatively undisciplined in Eskimo communities

- Numerous stories with songs sung by animal characters and contain animal calls are used for social training.

VIII. Eskimo Dancing:

- A vast numbers of songs were composed to accompany dancing, which is categorized as either ceremonial or for special purposes of entertainment.

- Acting Dances depict hunting scenes or activities such as building ice or sod houses and are choreographed.

- Common Dances/Muscle Dances: anyone may dance using whatever motions they want.

- Women take very short, shuffling steps, or remain in place while bending their knees, swaying, and moving their arms in a most graceful manner. As they dance,