Briggs, Jean. L. (1998) Inuit Morality Play: the emotional education of a three-year-old. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Keywords: camp lifeQipisaqarmaq

Brigg’s ethnography on the social interactions of a three-year old Inuit girl known as Chubby Maata takes place in Qipisa, Baffin Island in the early 1970’s. At this time, Qipisa was a year-round camp with a population of approximately 60. However, as a seminomadic community, they set up temporary camps consisting of canvas tents throughout the spring and summer months (p. 3). During her fieldwork, the people of Qipisa (Qipisamiut) engaged in traditional hunting and subsistence practices, as well as receiving cash income from selling seal skins and carvings and various government subsidies (p. 3). Briggs spent 6 months living amongst Chubby Maata’s family to examine how Inuit adults stimulate moral thoughts and behaviours in children by creating social dramas.

During her stay in Qipisa, Briggs lived in a qarmaq (qammaq), “old-style winter tents- long, Quonset-shaped structures with wooden frames and double walls of canvas stuffed with an insulating layer of heather and heated with seal oil lamps” (p. 3) that had been built for her by two men from Chubby Maata’s family. The qammaq had one open room with side platforms for visitors to sit on and to store food, as well as a sleeping and sitting platform at the back that further served to store household goods (p. 27). Briggs notes that she slept on caribou mattress hides as well as within a sleeping bag (p. 151). The qammaq was heated with seal-oil lamps that were left uncovered (p. 27). Generally tents had no windows on the canvas walls, however, Briggs notes there was an overhead window in her qammaq (p. 224).

In contrast, Chubby Maata’s family and most other Qipisamiut lived in two-room plywood houses that they had constructed themselves (p. 25). The plywood was brought in from the larger permanent Inuit settlement, Pangnirtung, by snowmobile or motorized boats (p. 3) Their plywood home followed the basic floor plan of a covered porch, a front door, followed by a tiny kitchen-living room with windows, a stove, meat storage, a table and chairs, a sink, and a couch, which was then separated by a door into a single bedroom at the back of the house (p. 27). Briggs mentions that it is customary for visitors to enter the front door and then wait there to be greeted unless they were close relatives, who then made their way straight into the main room (p. 214).

The siting of dwellings in the camp were organized around strong familial ties, with offspring often living next door to their parents (p. 89). For example, Chubby Maata lived with her parents and older sister, while her maternal grandparents, who had adopted many of their own grandchildren, lived in the next home only a few yards away (p. 27). At the time of Briggs fieldwork, the grandparents had 5 of 8 unmarried adult children living in their home, as well as a 3-year-old grandchild (p 27). Briggs notes that it was very common practice for Qipisamuit grandparents to have their adult children living at home, as well as adopting their very young grandchildren into their household (p. 88).

Briggs elucidates how homes in Qipisa served as social gathering spots, with relations dropping in for tea and conversation throughout the day. For instance, religious services were held in the home of the Anglican leader of the camp, with the congregation filling up the main room of the qammaq (p. 125).