Study Guide

Julie of the Wolves Tradition and Customs

By Jean Craighead George

Tradition and Customs

She smoothed the silver hairs of her beautiful wedding parka, then carefully took it off and rolled it up. Placing it and her fur pants in a bag made of whale bladder, she tied it securely so that no moisture would dampen her clothes while she left. This she had learned in childhood, and it was one of the old Eskimo ways that she liked, perhaps the only one. She had never violated it even in the warm, gas-heated house in Barrow, for damp clothes could mean death in the Arctic. (1.89)

This tradition has a totally practical purpose. It's not about ritual or spirituality or history. It's about survival.

"Kapu," she whispered. "We Eskimos have joking partners – people to have fun with – and serious partners – people to work and think with. You and I are both. We are joking-serious partners." (1.120)

"Kapu," she whispered. "We Eskimos have joking partners – people to have fun with – and serious partners – people to work and think with. You and I are both. We are joking-serious partners." (1.120)

When a boy caught his first bird in Nunivak, he was supposed to fast for a day, then celebrate the Feast of the Bird. When he killed his first seal his mother took off her rings, for he was a man, and this was her way of bragging without saying a word. (1.177)
You know what's interesting? It seems like a lot of the Eskimo traditions are also ways of communicating. The women are communicating their pride using a tradition instead of talking. Take a look at the "Language and Communication" theme for more on this.

Silly, she said to herself, but nevertheless she sang Kapugen's song of the Bird Feast.

Tornait, tornait,
Spirit of the bird,
Fly into my body
And bring me
The power of the sun. (1.177-78)

What's so silly about that, Miyax? Sounds like a nice song to Shmoop. We think she should get over her hang-ups about Eskimo traditions and start embracing her heritage. After all, it's totally coming in handy.

"Such hard work!" she gasped aloud. "No wonder this job is given to Eskimo men and boys." With a sigh she got to her feet, dragged the skin to her house, and laid it out to dry. Scraping and cleaning the skin was something she knew more about, for that was a woman's job, but she was too busy to do that now. (1.226)

Once again, we see a more practical (if a little sexist) side to these Eskimo traditions that so many people seem so willing to scoff at.

"Bladders hold the spirits of the animals," she said. "Now the spirits can enter the bodies of the newborn seals and keep them safe until we harvest them again." That night the bent woman seemed all violet-colored as she tied a piece of seal fur and blubber to Miyax's belt. "It's an <em>i'noGo tied</em>," she said. "It's a nice little spirit for you." (2.9)

The <em>i'noGo tied</em> is a perfect example of a beautiful Eskimo tradition. What a shame, then, that Julie later throws hers away because she's embarrassed by it.

Not far away the bent woman was dancing and was gathering invisible things from the air. Miyax was frightened but Kapugen explained that she was putting the spirit of the whale in her <em>i'noGo tied.</em>

"She will return it to the sea and the whales," he said. (2.18-19)

This tradition is all about communing with nature. Even though they've just killed a whale, the bent woman makes sure to send that whale's spirit back into the ocean, as a way of giving thanks.

Judith snickered. "That's a charm bracelet," she said. Rose giggled and both laughed derisively. Julie felt the blood rush to her face as she met, for the first but not the last time, the new attitudes of the Americanized Eskimos. She had much to learn besides reading. That night she threw her <em>i'noGo tied</em> away. (2.47)

What a sad moment. Frankly, we'd rather have a handmade <em>i'noGo tied</em> than a store-bought charm bracelet. But then again, we're not a young Eskimo girl just trying to fit in. Maybe we should cut Julie some slack.

The old ways are best. (2.59 and 2.63)

Martha says this to Julie as a way of insulting her new and modern friend Judith. But then, a few pages later, Julie turns these words around on Martha. Oh snap.

The Eskimos lifted their arms and turned their palms to the source of all life. Slowly, without any self-consciousness, every <em>gussak</em> raised his arms, too. Not one person snickered at the old Eskimo tradition. (2.109)

Here's a rare moment when Eskimo tradition finds a comfortable place in the modern world. After months of no sun, you'd have to be crazy not to raise your arms in thanks and wonder.