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Ravens Symbolic Meaning to the Inuit Essay

Raven was an incredible animal to the Native North American Inuit culture; he was extremely symbolic in many ways. One of the most important things Raven could do was transform; he was the barrier of magic to many, being able to transform could bring happiness to everyone. The Inuit culture believed that Raven could heal many due to his magic and great level of intelligence. Raven is the keeper of secrets, and can assist the Inuit people in finding their own hidden thoughts. Raven is also amazing for being able to keep track of ancestral memories and with his intelligence be able to tell the stories back to younger generations. The Inuit people recognize that everything in the universe holds a deeper meaning, as a result, all objects and beings deserve one’s attention and respect. As Samuel Wilson mentioned in Trickster Treats “Trickster tales often serve to entertain and instruct children, teaching them how to behave and how the world works” (pg.1).

When a child learns how the world works, it will expand their knowledge. In fact, the Inuit culture looked at raven as being a culture hero more then they looked at him being a “selfish buffoon”. Raven is a revered and benevolent transformer god, his spirits can transform him into anything he wants or needs. In Dictionary of Anthropology by Winick god is defined as “a particular god was believed to be in charge of various parts of the world or of specific activities or qualities. Communication with them is necessary to insure that they are on our side. ” (pg.235). I believe they call Raven a god because he has such great power and often the Inuit talk to him. Raven is a trickster character and almost all his stories have to do with his frivolous or poorly thought out behaviour that would get him in trouble. When Raven got into trouble in the stories it taught the children what actions they could perform or not perform in regards to respecting proper morals.

As outlined in Write it on Your Heart (1989) by Harry Robinson and Wendy Wickware, trickster tales often serve to entertain and instruct children, teaching them how to behave and how the world works in a more complex and mature way. As Levi-Strauss mentions in Myth and Meaning(1979), “culture and its members must be convinced of their originality and even, to some extent, of their superiority over the others” (pg. 20). In my opinion there are many different types of Gods in the world and to which people believe in, in each different culture belongs an individual god. In Canadian culture children are taught values and how the world works mainly through education and books. In my opinion, the Canadian culture is less difficult than the Inuit because most Canadian children have everything handed down to them and do not have many rules to follow or goals to obtain at a young age.

As I learned in Anthropology, the stories of the Native American people make it easier, then Canadians, to learn and grasp a concept because most young children look up to their ancestors for advice; through storytelling there is lots of advice given. From hearing stories on a daily basis I realize how memorable they are. Ancestors are by far the most intelligent people from any tribe, because they have been around the longest. In Native American stories, as elsewhere, the trickster is often the underdog, but never the most powerful or beautiful animal. From reading Raven the Trickster (1983) I got the point of view that the trickster is the one who through cleverness defeats more powerful forces, using their very power, arrogance, or vanity as a weapon against them.

As Samuel Wilson said in Trickster Treats (1991) “Long before there were any people on the earth, a huge monster came down from the North, eating every animal he could find. He ate all the animals, from the smallest to the largest, from mice to mountain lions, all except Raven, the trickster” (pg.1). Samuel Wilsons’ quote helps underline how difficult life was for the Inuit. The Inuit people find it very useful for their society to understand the spiritual part of their culture because it helps them connect to each other and their inner self. Culture is extremely significant to the Inuit people and they spent a lot of time practicing how to greater it. In Concise Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology by Mike Morris culture is defined as: “general use, culture is usually treated as an attribute of quality of refinement in the mind, which can be accumulated or exercised through reading, attending the theatre, and classical music concerts and similar pursuits” (pg.56).

Culture is also defined by Charles Winick in Dictionary of Anthropology as: “all that which is nonbiological and socially transmitted in a society, including artistic, social, ideological, and religious patterns of behaviour, and the techniques for mastering the environment”(pg. 146). The intelligence of Raven is never ending, he can do anything he set his mind too, Raven is especially good at healing. Raven is also called upon in Native ritual for healing purposes. Specifically, the Raven is thought to provide long-distance healing. Raven is so intelligent he could heal anyone. Gale Eaton mentioned in Raven the Trickster that the Inuit, along with other cultures, believe that being able to heal is an important power; if you could heal the sick more people can survive, making it so there were more resources to obtain food. Raven did not only heal the sick, he could also heal the crazy or the hurt because he had such strong spirits helping him.

From watching various videos I learned that when a healing process took place everyone in the tribe would get together, and the whole community supported each other, it was a ritual activity that took place in the tribes. It seemed to be meaningful to the cultures when they would heal people, a person called a Shaman would contact the spirits, such as Raven, by singing, dancing and drumming. Shaman had to have a deep connection to Raven and his spirit. Mike Morris defines Myth as: “a story that has usually developed orally over a long time, and that is used by a society to explain certain phenomena or aspects of its identity. It may describe supernatural events” (pg.175). I chose to define myth because I believe that healing is a supernatural event. In many other cultures, such as the Canadian culture, when someone is ill or hurt only close family helps, this is what is so superior about the Inuit culture; everyone is there for each other.

From previous knowledge and experience I found out that when someone is hurt in the Canadian culture we send them to the hospital and often inject them with medicine. From listening to lectures in Anthropology 101 at Selkirk College I gathered the information that the way the Inuit heal is much more connective way to both yourself and god and also very inspiring. In my opinion the way that Raven’s spirits heal everyone shows the younger generation how important it is to not be greedy and to help everyone, even if they would not help you. Not everyone in a society can keep a secret and often when a secret is told everyone begins to know it that is why Raven was so superior, because he could keep everything to himself. From reading various articles and books I acquired the knowledge that countless cultures point to the Raven as a harbinger of powerful secrets, especially the Inuit. Moreover, the Raven is a messenger too, so his business is in both keeping and communicating deep mysteries.

Many Inuit people have hidden thoughts, especially during the long winter months, because life is very tough and the days are extremely long. Levi-Strauss pointed out that any human could go to Raven and talk to him, and talk to his spirits and ask for help or get answers to their questions. In Canadian culture only “twenty percent of people attended church on a regular basis. The Washington Post reported that the analysis reveals a discrepancy between the diaries and the polls, and suggests that many Americans have been misreporting how they spend their Sunday mornings, inflating estimates of church attendance by perhaps as much as a third” (http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm). From being allowed to visit various churches in my community I saw that in my culture anyone is welcomed into a church if they need to speak to God or to obtain their wishes or prayers.

Due to the Inuit adopting other cultures traits it has made the Inuit people be seen as better off than lots of people because they are much more spiritual and connected to only one God. In the Inuit culture everyone believes in the spirits and Raven, making his spirits that much more powerful and useful. Watching many documentaries to find more information and listing to my Anthropology professor I gathered that Raven would fly high towards the heavens and take prayers from the Inuit people to the spirit world and, in turn, bring back messages from the spiritual realm. The people tell Raven their prayers or secretes and he brings them back a solution, always helping solve problems. As Wendy Wickwire made clear to me in Write it on your Heart that Raven could tell the best stories and pass down the best memories in the Inuit culture; everyone looked up to him and could not wait to learn more. The way the Inuit people learn is through storytelling and through ancestors, unlike the Canadian culture that uses books and the internet. Storytelling is most powerful and meaningful after long winters because people were depressed and tired.

The Inuit people do not only hear stories from Raven, they also tell their own stories about their adventures and experiences while hunting or gathering, which I read in Jackie Chappel mentions in Living with the Trickster: crows, ravens and Human Culture (2006) “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows” (pg.0016). The quote is inspiring because it shows how great Raven is compared to mankind. Stories connect people more closely to each other because when someone hears the story they can put themselves in the storytellers’ position, when I read stories in Write it on your Heart I felt very connected to them. To the Inuit people Raven’s stories helped bring everyone delight because he is so positive and inspiring, even if he was getting into trouble or causing mischief. Raven’s incredible memory helps him tell the stories back to younger generations, reminding them what amazing people their ancestors are, and what amazing strong people they will or should become.

Raven helped the children and adults of the Inuit culture reminisce about their long lived and hard working lives. If there was a death in the family, the family could depend on Raven to pass down the message to make it easier on everyone. Foremost, the Raven is the Native American bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos. Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the midnight wings of the Raven and come to only those within the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge. In my opinion the people that are the most worthy are the eldest. Levi-Strauss in A New Prospective Upon an old Problem (2009) says that “the underlying conceptual opposition in the trickster myths is that between the abstract concepts Life and Death” (pg.302).

Raven has non-human entities that possess a soul or spirit equal to that of a human. There are many other symbols Raven stands for in different Native cultures, the Inuit people’s symbols were the most interesting and meaningful to me, this is partly why I chose their culture. The symbol of the Inuit that I find most interesting is the inukshuk. Mike Morris, in Concise Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology (2012) defines a symbol as: “a word or object representing another abstract or concrete entity, as in signs, pictograms, and so on. Symbols are of great importance in semiotics and the study of religion, and ritual” (pg.246).

In conclusion, Native American Inuit are a deeply spiritual group of people who communicate their history, thoughts, ideas and dreams from generation to generation through symbols and meanings, such as the Raven symbol. Levi-Strauss mentioned that “the one observation that has forced itself upon every Anthropologist who has studied the trickster myths in detail, including Boas (1898), Lowie (1909), and Radian (1972:155-169), is the trickster seems to be the merger of two independent personalities, one which is indeed a “selfish buffoon” of Bugs Bunny variety, and the other which is indeed a “selfish buffoon” (pg.305). Not every culture gets to have such an amazing object to symbolize them and their traditions, Raven can do everything for anyone; and he always finds help or an answer.


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