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This Day in Resistance History: The Asking Day Model

November 14, 2011

In only a couple weeks, we’ll be face to face with Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving, America’s tribute to the temples of capitalism. This year, as hordes of bargain-hunters fill corporate coffers, think about an alternative model. Think about Asking Day.

November 14 marks the Asking Day Festival in the Inuit culture. It’s the first of a string of winter festivals that encourage the Inuit people to celebrate their season of leisure and plenty after the long summer of hunting and food preservation. This first and most important festival underscores a basic tenet of the Nation: possessions belong to everyone.

The Inuit believe that everything on earth has inua, or a soul. Places, people, animals, and objects all have souls. But the Inuit Nation also believes that no one person can truly possess an object. The only “things” an individual truly owns are the dreams he or she has, the healing songs passed down through a family, and the stories that a person tells. Each tool, item of food, article of clothing, and work of art does not have only one owner. It must find its way to the person who needs it the most.

Inuit communities are essentially collectives, where everything belongs to the group and not to individuals. Although early White anthropologists formulated some pretty outlandish theories about the festival’s focus, Asking Day is intended to celebrate this life of communal property.

On the evening before the festival, the children of the village go from house to house and ask to be given food. They bring the food back to a central kitchen where it is used to cook the Asking Day feast.

On the day of the festival, each person in the village asks someone else to give up an object. They begin by asking for possessions which have the most value. No one may refuse a request. It is considered wise to ask for an item that you really need, and an honor to give such an object up. The goal, by the end of the day, is to see that most of the community’s possessions have changed hands.

The Inuit believe that it adds heaviness to the soul to own things that one cannot use. By evening, everyone’s burden is lightened. Each person has found what he or she needs and possessions have been redistributed to reflect that. The community feasts on shared food and dances to celebrate.

In dealing with the outside world, the Inuit have been forced to work on a cash basis to sell their furs and their art. But within their own communities, the culture is still heavily founded on the idea of sharing freely to meet everyone’s needs.

So as we hear on the news about Black Friday…complete with news footage of people being trampled underfoot as crowds race for Early Bird specials…with cash registers ringing up sale after sale…with gloating merchants announcing their one-day sales totals…the Inuit Asking Festival is a road map leading in another direction.

Buy Nothing Day has become a popular activist alternative to Black Friday’s consumer glut. Events such as Really Really Free Markets offer the chance to put possessions we don’t use into the hands of people who really need them. Individual barters and swaps of services, food, and possessions is another way to fulfill community needs without buying new merchandise from the corporate elite. Community gardens and food justice programs help us grow and exchange food and share seeds.

We can lighten the burdens of others by helping meet their needs. And we can lighten our own lives at the same time by starving the capitalist system of its fuel and its power. 

 

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