Never in Anger

booksRummaging around amongst what we know about the ‘primary’ or innate emotions, one sometimes comes across reference to indigenous tribes who do not experience anger. A tribe in Polynesia, whose name I forget, and the Utkuhikhalingmiut who live in the vicinity of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, are two of them.

We know about this trait of the Utkuhikhalingmiut because a researcher by the name of Jean Briggs lived among them for a 17 months between 1963 and 1965 and wrote a book about the experience: Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family (1970).

A close reading reveals that the Utkuhikhalingmiut don’t express anger because they don’t feel it. They don’t express it because they fear it. They fear killing each other. And this they do (or did) from time to time.

How they don’t express anger is interesting. But you have to read the book to find out. Or read other books by Jean Briggs, particularly Utkuhikhalingmiut Eskimo Emotional Expression.

Alternatively you could listen to Jean Briggs being interviewed by Paul Kennedy on the CBC’s Ideas program here and here. Fascinating stuff.

Anthropologist Jean Briggs lived with an Inuit family during the early 1960s, when she was doing research and writing about them for her doctoral thesis. When she got “angry”, they treated her as a child, because they thought that “anger” was an infantile emotion, something never expressed by Inuit adults. This experience led to many more years of research on the emotions and ideas by which Inuit lived, and how they learned and taught them.

One thought on “Never in Anger

  1. I remember this interview. I heard it not long after I returned from having lived four years in Japan. The Japanese have a similar aversion to expressing anger because, as I was told by one Japanese friend, ‘when you see a Japanese person express anger, you should be very afraid’. How wise to fear one’s anger. This way we consider the anger before it erupts while having the thought “Is it worth it”?

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