A documentary movie “Fishing at the Stone Weir” depicts Netsilik Eskimos, the People of the Seal, during the provision preparation period. Produced in 1967, this film provides scenes from authentic society before it was influenced by European culture. It has no translation or commentaries, thus viewers may enjoy the native Eskimos’ language and make their own conclusions concerning their society. Some scenes may surprise or abhor. This is presentation of people who have to cope with harsh conditions armed only with primitive tools. The most amazing fact is that they seem to enjoy their life and fit perfectly to the severe tundra nature.
The first scene shows a family that is going to the fishing place. It is the midsummer and a high time for red fish spawning. Eskimos gather in small groups near rivers and build weirs to trap fish. It is clear that family ties are very important as is it easy to withstand challenging conditions of the North. Children are very close with their parents, especially when they are toddlers – mothers always carry them in bags behind the back. When children become older, they still stay close to parents. They do not go far and imitate every action of the adults. Being 10 or 11 years old, children join their parents in everyday routine. They do not assist, but rather do their own business on a par with adults. Owing to the fact that little settlement are far from each other, kids do not often see their peers. That is why their social circle is rather limited. Besides, there is no other source of gaining knowledge except from parents. That is why children seem to be very close and obedient to their parents.
As for relations between a husband and a wife, they seem to be less intimate. As it can be observed in the movie, they hardly demonstrate their feelings or share emotions. There were no scenes of chattering or tenderness. Adults have distributed duties and do not interact unless there is a need. Nevertheless, it is obvious that a man is a head of the social group as he is a breadwinner of the family. An aliquant evidence of division of the society according to the duties performed is a scene of meal. Women are sitting apart from men. Little children are in the circle with women, an elder boy is sharing food with men. The position they take shows that everyone is equal in the circle – there is no leader or division by wealth or social role. Still, families are very close, for instance, they often share the same piece of fish. Therefore, it seems that Eskimos’ families are very close, though parents are very intimate with small children and adults’ relations are more business-like.
Their gestures as well as the language are rather precise. Eskimos use gestures to point something or show the direction. They do not use many words and spend time just talking to each other. Each gesture or word has an accurate goal. Besides, their hands are busy most of the time. They give each other instructions while doing something or teaching children. In other time, their interaction is quite limited, especially between men and women. As it can be seen in the scene of meal, the circle of men is rather far from the circle of women while within the circles their members stay rather close to each other. It may be concluded that this society has a strict division to males with their duties and women with their responsibilities. However, their ties within the family are very firm as only united powers may provide each member with food, shelter, and safety. Eskimos do not have to use abundant language or gestures as each person has a precise role.
The primary aim of males is providing food and safety. It is a man who leads the family when they need to get to some location. Man builds a trap for fish and then goes fishing. He shows where a tent should be put and makes the fire. There were no incidents in the film when women were arguing with men. On the other hand, women have a lot of work to do as well: it is a responsibility of a woman to equip the place of staying. No doubts, women sew and make food. They take an important part in food preserving – they prepare fish by cleaning it from entrails and carving. They also are responsible for making and maintaining a fire out of sparks provided by man. However, some part of the catch is put in special stone wells constructed by men. Children of older age take an active part in fishing. Little kids imitate everything they see starting from harpooning and ending with building little stone shelters for fish storage. Nevertheless, there were periods when male and female roles were overlapping. For example, many fish was trapped in the weird, so even women were fishing with harpoons, the same way as men did. Even a woman with a child behind her back was participating. On the other hand, men were helping store the catch not only by putting it in wells, but also by cleaning them together with women. Children are learning to perform adult tasks by repeating everything they see. Moreover, there was a scene where an adult man was sharing his skills with a young boy. To sum up, the whole group pursuits a common goal – they strive to survive. They do not divide the catch: fish is put and cleaned together. It is impossible to exclude any member of a group as the labor of each member is essential.
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Though this society may seem quite primitive, it is unique. To start with, it is hard to overestimate the importance of family. Only united efforts make a challenging task of living in harsh Northern conditions possible. This society is rather scattered, that is why it is important for them to stay close to their communities. What is very appealing is that they seem to have a perfect sense of humor. Although they do not have much free time, they find reasons to laugh. Eskimos do not spend much time talking, but they have strong ties. There is a strong authority of a man and a father, though both parents are close to their children. Parents do not cocker children, but always share tasty pieces with them. It was a bit bewildering when a mother cut eyes of a fish and its forehead and gave it to a child as these parts are not considered delicious in American cuisine. Perhaps, they are tasty for Eskimos, or maybe they are believed to have some properties, which are particularly useful for children. Despite of limited equipment and opportunities, they resist life challenges, mostly thanks to their unity.
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Tools shown in the film are rather plain and not numerous. The Eskimos have simple tents, knives, harpoons for fishing, devices for making holes (alike a screwdriver) and fire, ladles, and buckets. All these are made of wood, stone, bones, leather, and steel. One of such harpoons called kavikaks is depicted on the picture.
Kavikak has a plain structure. To the stick (1) one attaches a slingshot (3). At the ends and in the middle of the slingshot there are sharp points (2). Such device is used to harpoon fish with one accurate strike. This tool can be made of wood, stone, bones, and steel. The stick is wooden, and the slingshot may be bone or wooden too. The points may be made of nails or sharpened pieces of wood. They may be either inserted in the ends of a slingshot or tied with thread or thin leather straps. The staff and the slingshot are joined the same way. Generally, it is not a complex task to make such a device. Wood, nails, and threads may be found easily. Perhaps, the most challenging moment is to make a kavikak firm enough to strike fish with it. On the video, fishing with it seems rather easy. Although, one needs to practice to make accurate strikes and then take the catch away from the harpoon.
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While watching the film, it was more and more desirable to understand the Eskimo language. It was not easy to figure out what they were talking about as their language has nothing common with English or any other Germanic language. Therefore, after being able to talk with Eskimos, it would be interesting to ask them about their religion and beliefs. Another curious issue is what they find most pleasant and challenging. It would also be good to find out if they have leisure time and how they prefer to entertain themselves. Hearing their songs, musical instruments, or myths would be nice as well.
To sum up, the movie gives a good illustration of the society that is quite different from modern American. On one hand, these people are seem to be quite primitive: they do not have any modern equipment, lead a nomadic life, eat raw fish, and have pagan beliefs. On the other hand, they manage to be happy by being in harmony with severe Northern nature. They do not try to alter it, but rather obey its laws. Despite being a small nation, they are able to preserve their own traditions and values. Family is the main unit of the society and maybe their cohesion, vitality, and vigor could be taken as an example.