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Jarich Gerlof Oosten was born in Enschede, the Netherlands, on January 23, 1945. He left us on May 15, 2016 in Leiden, aboard his ship, leaving behind a great family: his wife Nelleke; four children and their families—Liesbeth, Eva, Maarten, and Johanneke; and many grandchildren. Jarich was very proud of them and much attached to his family life.

After completing his studies at the gymnasium in Enschede in 1963, Jarich studied history of religion and comparative religion at the University of Amsterdam (1963-1967) and the University of Groningen (1967-1970). He soon developed an interest in Arctic studies, and wrote an M.A. thesis on Inuit shamanism. In 1976, he earned a Ph.D. (cum laude) at the University of Groningen for a dissertation on the religion of two groups of Inuit from the Eastern Canadian Arctic. His dissertation was published in 1976 under the title The Theoretical Structure of the Religion of the Netsilik and Iglulik.

Jarich had a great career as a professor at Leiden University. He was known to have a thorough, encyclopaedic knowledge of religions, mythologies, and cosmologies of the world. For a long time he oriented himself towards the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Claude Lévi-Strauss and worked closely with Patrick Edward de Josselin de Jong, Adam Kuper, and other European anthropologists in the CASA research program (Cognitive and Structural Anthropology). His brilliant book The War of the Gods: The Social Code in Indo-European Mythology (1985) offers a great illustration of his inspiring thought. Jarich also worked with Hans Claessen in a project on the place of ideology in the process of state formation, as part of the “Intercultural Study of Literature and Society” research program. This cooperation culminated in the publication of a book in 1996 on the role of ideology in the formation of early states.

In 1997, Jarich was appointed a full professor at Leiden University and, in 1998, an adjunct professor at the University of Utrecht. He always enjoyed teaching, and his courses focused on religious, structural, and theoretical anthropology, notably the study of narratives and rituals. I will never forget a paper he once presented at Université Laval, in Quebec City, on “Santa Claus in the Netherlands,” which greatly interested my students in visual anthropology.

Jarich was active in various administrative duties at Leiden University. Besides sitting on the board of the Faculty of Social Sciences (1983-1985), he was a founding member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (1989), the secretary of the CNWS (School for Asian, African, and Amerindian studies) (1988-1992), the vice-chairman of the CNWS (1995-1997), and from September 1997 to his retirement the director of the CNWS. Between 1988 and 1992, he cooperated with Wilt Idema in founding this school, a joint venture of the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences that encompassed more than 100 senior researchers and about 60 junior researchers. Jarich also sat on various editorial committees, such as Bijdragen van het KITLV (1978-1983) and Antropologische Verkenningen (1982-1984 and 1986-1994), and was co-editor of the international series Studien zur sozialen und rituellen Morphologie. He wrote extensively on Inuit shamanism and myths in Études/Inuit/Studies and many other journals (see below for a detailed list of his most important publications).

His involvement in research was extensive and impressive. In Leiden he developed a strong working relationship with Cunera Buijs, from the National Museum of Ethnology. He was actively involved in international research and teaching projects, which resulted in various forms of joint work with Michèle Therrien (INALCO, France), André Iteanu and Cécile Barraud (EraSME-CNRS, France), Roberte Hamayon (Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, CNRS/Nanterre, France), Michael Houseman (Laboratoire des systèmes de pensée en Afrique noire, France), Jos D.M. Platenkamp (University of Münster, Germany), and François Trudel (through the CURA program “Memory and History of Nunavut” at CIÉRA of Université Laval, Canada).

As an academic, Jarich took part in lively intellectual debates, always showing great respect for his colleagues, with whom he would discuss, such as Birgitte Sonne, Soren Thuesen, Ann Fienup-Riordan, Robert Crépeau, John MacDonald, Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, and others. He gave many guest lectures in Paris (1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1998), Heidelberg (1993), Montreal (1994), Münster (1996), Aarhus (1998), Nuuk (1999), and Quebec City (2001). He also sat on many international juries for Ph.D. dissertations, such as X. Blaisel’s (Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1993), F. Laugrand’s (Université Laval, 1997), and the doctorat d’État of M. Therrien (INALCO, 1997).

After four years of administrative work at the CNWS, Jarich Oosten decided to focus his research mainly on Inuit. In 1994, he founded the Research Group on Circumpolar Cultures (RGCC), which still organizes national meetings and international seminars a few times a year. It was during those occasions that he had very good discussions and worked on joint publications with Dutch senior Arctic researchers, such as Cornelius Remie, Cunera Buijs, and Wim Rasing. That same year he set up an oral traditions project in conjunction with Susan Sammons of Nunavut Arctic College, in Iqaluit, Canada. It was in this context that I first met Jarich. I still remember our first meeting in Montreal, at Xavier Blaisel’s house, when he was returning from Iqaluit after spending a month learning Inuktitut with Mike Mallon and Alexina Kublu. I was still a Ph.D. student, and he turned out to be very helpful, discussing each page of my dissertation manuscript and introducing me to the great ethnographic work of Knud Rasmussen. As soon as we met, a strong friendship started, and it developed over the years.

With the collaboration of other colleagues, such as Michèle Therrien, Louis-Jacques Dorais, Wim Rasing, and Jean Briggs, he then developed an oral history project that has resulted in a series of publications by Nunavut Arctic College (see the collections “Interviewing Inuit Elders, Perspectives of the XXth Century”). Such joint endeavours with Nunavut Arctic College and Inuit elders and youth proved to be very fruitful and stimulating. From then on Jarich and I spent about a month every year in the Arctic doing research, conducting interviews, teaching Inuit students, and working closely with local institutions in Iqaluit, Igloolik, Rankin Inlet, and Arviat. The courses at Nunavut Arctic College were only an initiation. Thanks to the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY), and thanks to the help of Inuit, such as Alexina Kublu, Henry Kablalik, Atuat, and Noah Tiktak, Jarich and I developed new projects and workshops to bring elders and young Inuit out on to the land. Rankin Inlet and Arviat became major sites for our workshops but we also met in many other localities, such as Baker Lake, Igloolik, Churchill, Kugaaruuk, Chesterfield Inlet, and others (see Laugrand and Oosten 2012e for the details).

A few of our trips on the tundra were quite adventurous, with long walks on foot and travel by dog-team, skidoo, or canoe. In fact, these fieldwork experiences were sometimes exhausting, but they became really fascinating for us. The workshop format we developed turned out to be very adequate for our research and enabled us to collect rich ethnographic materials and oral accounts from Inuit elders. Today several of these books are still extensively used by Nunavut Arctic College, and they show how interested Jarich always was in documenting and preserving the participants’ views and in facilitating the transfer of knowledge between generations. As a specialist in shamanism, Jarich showed his great skill in retrieving the elders’ memories and practices. Soon enough we had the privilege of filming some old shamanic rituals and drum dancing, and participating in divination practices (qilaniq) and other performances that involved play-acting. One day, Jarich with his long beard was even asked to play the role of a Catholic missionary, and the elders gave him a crucifix, which he used to revive Felix Kupak. Many of these films have not yet been made available to the public, but they are very rich sources of information on Inuit shamanic traditions and rituals. Through all of these courses and workshops, Jarich developed a strong friendship with such elders as Lucassie Nutaraaluk, Agiaq Kappianaq, Emil Imaruittuq, Olie Itinnuaq, Felix Pisuk, Job and Eva Muqyunnik, Peter Suvaksiuq, Luke and Mary Anautalik, Josie Angutingurniq, Levi Iluittuq, and David Serkoak.

At Leiden University, Jarich was also much appreciated by his Ph.D. students, and he supervised excellent candidates over the years, such as Jos Platenkamp, Barbara Miller, Nicole Stuckenberger, and Lea Zuyderhoudt. In 2009, a few students and Leiden colleagues (Jan Jansen, Sabine Luning, and Erik de Maaker) produced a Festschrift in his honour entitled Traditions on the Move. Essays in Honor of Jarich G. Oosten.

I was happy to see Jarich on his ship Hoop op Behoud in Leiden a few days before he left us. There, we completed a second book on the Rev. E.J. Peck, whose ethnography he admired. Jarich’s strength was gone but his mind was as sharp as ever, and full of humour and wit. I felt privileged to be working again with him, as he knew perfectly well what was coming ahead. I am impressed by the spiritual legacy he left to his family and to his close friends. I can only praise him for his honesty, his utmost generosity, and his anthropological talent. All the researchers who came to know him discovered a demanding man, very humble but looking for the highest standards, resistant to any easy speculation or theoretical interpretation but careful about the categories and the perspectives involved, aware that anthropologists cannot escape being participants themselves—to quote a title of one of his papers (Oosten 2005).

For me, Jarich Oosten was not only a close friend, but also an adoptive father, to use an Inuit image. I learned so much from him. We went on many research trips together “in the Great North,” as he would say jokingly, and we became like geese to the Inuit, flying up north every spring for some time and flying down south again until the next year. I will never forget all those evenings spent together, walking in the night, reflecting on the lessons of the day, and writing books and papers in the evenings. Myna Ishulutaq, Aaju Peter, Vera Arnatsiaq, Julia Shaimayuk, and Susan Enuaraq are some of the great students from Nunavut Arctic College who will never forget him, as he supported them extensively. Many of us, including Alexina Kublu, Jay Arnakak, and Atuat from Arviat, will miss him very deeply in our hearts. Jarich was fascinated by the notion of play and wrote extensively about it, but he also experienced playing with elders. I remember him playing checkers with Lucassie Nutaraaluk, an elder who, hoping not to lose the game, would change the rules while playing. This was funny.

Today, Jarich is no more with us physically, but we can imagine him watching us. His soul, his tarniq, to use another Inuit expression, will continue to travel and visit us. Ten days before he died, we were still working on a manuscript dealing with stories recorded from elders from Pelly Bay. Jarich stopped on a comment by Ollie Itinnuaq, an elder from Rankin Inlet we knew very well and whom he appreciated so much. Jarich felt very sympathetic with one of his statements, and I will end this short note by quoting it: “People like me don’t go to heaven. They remain on this earth, wandering around. We are not aware of things nowadays.”

As for me, I will quote another Inuk elder we worked with, Felix Kupak, who experienced starvation and lost his whole family at a young age. One day, as Kupak was lost in the tundra, he managed to find his way by thinking hard about a deceased person, so he said: “Thinking back, I know that I got help from somewhere. After I got home, I looked back and knew that I had been helped. I survived. I must tell it to other people.”

Figure 1

Jarich Oosten on his boat Hoop op Behoud (built in 1901) in the Netherlands

Jarich Oosten on his boat Hoop op Behoud (built in 1901) in the Netherlands
Photo: Marteen Oosten

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