Emotions Have Many Faces: Inuit Lessons by Jean L. Briggs

The article “Emotions Have Many Faces: Inuit Lessons” written by Jean L. Briggs and published by the Canadian Anthrolopogy Society, examines the interpretation of Inuit emotions and how emotions play a huge part in their society; differentiating the meanings of Naklik- or Nallik, Unga, and Hira. 

Jean L. Briggs, who’s given the name Yinii, is adopted into an Inuit family while doing her initial research into the Inuit people. It is this initial research process that sparks Briggs’ interest to pay attention to the Inuit behavioral methods. Briggs points out the fact that she was a “Bad daughter” (pg 157) and later goes on to describe the actions that labeled her as such, including the fact that she was hesitant to share supplies with others when the supplies were running low. Although she knew she was a “bad daughter” to her Inuit family, she was not aware that her actions were disturbing others’ perceptions of her within her tribe. She became ostracized by the tribe and this intrigued Briggs to take a look at how emotions play a role in the Inuit society. 

While looking into the emotional side of the Inuit people, Briggs took a look at other anthropologists who also included emotions in their research, some being Margaret Mead’s book Growing Up in New Guinea, Kenneth Read’s article, High Valley, and Hildred Geertzhe, Vocabulary of Emotion: A Study of Javanese Socialization Processes. These readings range from talking about rhetoric that is used, to how to correlate to a person’s emotional status, to how emotions affect the way people within a tribe behave. 

Jean L. Briggs returns to the Inuit tribe a few years after being ostracized with intention of learning more about Inuit emotions and how it led to her being ostracized. Briggs mentions that emotions or being emotional within her society is usually associated with women. She then compares it to the Inuit society and how being overly emotional isn’t associated with gender but instead behavior. Briggs states, “For them, a happy person was a good person, a safe person; anger was mindless, childish; also dangerous: an angry person might kill” (pg, 160). Relating this to how she behaved when she first arrived, it is easy to see why Briggs was labeled as a “Bad daughter” (pg 157). Briggs introduces the emotional concepts that play a large role within the Inuit lifestyle. The concepts, Naklik- or Nallik, is “referred to a nurturant, protective attachment, in some contexts rather similar to our notion of Biblical love, as in ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’” (pg 159), Unga is “was a needy, dependent attachment, which was considered immature: ‘The way a small child feels toward its mother (pg 159)”, and Hira is a number of feelings including “nervous awe that comes from being in a position of irreversible disadvantage … in which one cannot modify or control the actions of another (Brody, 1975:158-9)” and “a feeling of dependence (Brody, 1975:159)”.

Jean L. Briggs demonstrates that Unga and Hira’s behaviors are similar to that of a child, which is why she was being portrayed negatively in the tribe. They expected an adult to exhibit a balance of both Naklik and Unga, but Briggs did not know this at the time. Briggs then goes on to examine how children are taught the methods of displaying emotions, concentrating on a little girl, Mataa. The Inuit tribe uses the method of questioning children to instill their beliefs into Naklik, Unga, and Hira. Unfortunately, the questions can be confusing at times and when a child can’t properly determine when a tribe member is being serious or not, it puts that child at risk because they won’t be able to determine how to emotionally and physically react to a person outside of the questioning. Inuit people correlate emotion with behavior, so when a person is unable to emote how they feel it can cause a setback in how people behave in return. Briggs displays in her article that emotion and behavior are entangled with the way Inuit people choose to communicate with one another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.