I was reading a humor article recently when I came across this interesting reference from Personality and Sense of Humor by Avner Ziv:
Justice is carried out in accordance with an ancient custom that tests humorous ability.
That piqued my curiosity so I did a little more research and found this excerpt from Man’s Rise to Civilization:
In Alaska and in Greenland all disputes except murder are settled by a song duel… The song duel consists of lampoons, insults, and obscenities that the disputants sing to each other and, of course, to their delighted audience… The verses are earthy and very much to the point: they are intended to humiliate, and no physical deformity, personal shame or family trouble is sacred. As verse after verse is sung in term by the opponents, the audience begins to take sides; it applauds one singer a bit longer and laughs a bit louder at his lampoons. Finally he is the only one to get applause, and he thereby becomes the winner of a bloodless contest.
And this guide to Inuit culture, stating:
Certain Inuit groups, including some from the Central Arctic and Greenland, used ridicule in the form of song duels as a means of conflict resolution… The entire community would observe the competition and thoroughly enjoy the wit and humour of the songs. Usually there would be no specific mention of the particular reason for the conflict in the song… Each contestant would disparage his opponent’s character,
sexual vitality, honesty, strength, ability to hunt and virtually any aspect of a person’s life where they would be sensitive to criticism. The person who had composed the most cutting, humorous and witty song received the most positive response from the audience and would be considered the winner.
It seems that the custom may no longer be used, but that still doesn’t mean the Inuit’s aren’t awesome. They effectively started rap battles, and a lot more was riding on the outcome than just pride. It’s a good thing it’s changed though, otherwise MCs like Cassidy or Eminem would be able to get away with just about anything.
In honor of the Inuit custom, here’s a rap battle between Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare (FYI this is mostly safe for work, but there are a few cuss words):