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From its title, Saqqaq may appear to be in the tradition of the old Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology (and, more recently, some of the offerings available from Waveland Press)—solid ethnography. In point of fact, however, Jens Dahl provides much more than a basic overview of a contemporary Greenlandic settlement. Saqqaq is a work of ethnological analysis that examines a range of issues that should be of interest to all who work among modern Inuit.
Dahl concentrates on matters that, at first glance, may seem pertinent only to Greenland. These include competition for resources between users of different means, and sometimes different modes, of production and how the rules of economy have evolved in order to accommodate this phenomenon, inter-community territoriality, and the tensions resulting from a system which differentiates Inuit into classes through a formal licencing system. Dahl’s analysis is always trenchant, thoughtful and conducted from a firm theoretical base, but also tempered by expansive knowledge of Saqqaq and Inuit realities.
I did find a number of things that I think require broader examination. One is the heavy reliance on Sahlins in relation to understanding hunting as a mode of production and, thus, the analytic utility of a material “calculus.” Another is the focus on the household as the principal socio-economic unit (it must be noted that other Greenland researchers [see, for instance, Hovelsrud-Broda 2000] take a similar view) in contrast to the literature on Inuit subsistence from Alaska and Canada. Indeed, there are a number of places in Saqqaq in which the economic interactions appear to be more kinship-based (and more like the westerly cousins of the Saqqammiut) than the overview that is presented admits.
These are things for some future discussion; none detract in the least from the ethnological quality or value of this book. To go further, I can think of no other work on Inuit since Brody’s The Peoples’ Land that combines conceptual insight, depth of field experience and readability. Saqqaq is a study not only grounded in longitudinal research, but also in longitudinal perspective.
- BRODY, Hugh, 1975 The Peoples’ Land: Eskimos and Whites in the Eastern Arctic, London, Penguin Books.
- HOVELSRUD-BRODA, Grete, 2000 “Sharing”, Transfers, Transactions and the Concept of Generalized Reciprocity, in G.W. Wenzel, G. Hovelsrud-Broda and N. Kishigami (eds), The Social Economy of Sharing: Resource Allocation and Modern Hunter- Gatherers, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Ethnological Series, 53: 193-214.