The Eskimos

The Eskimos although classified as one tribe of Indians were highly diverse in the number of tribes and in their own ways of living. Their common Thule ancestors led them each tribe to exploit either the land or the sea for resources. The people in the Bering Strait relied mostly on sea mammals, especially depending on the walrus. Unlike the Nunamuit, who resided in the Brooks range in Northern Alaska, who s chief source of resources was the caribou which they hunted all year round. The weapons used to hunt these animals varied from the type of setting the hunting was in for the land hunting the bow and arrow was widely used, but for water hunting the Eskimos used harpoons or spears.

As diverse as the resource consumption the dwellings of the different groups was also varied. Most shelter in the winter was in semi-subterranean houses of stone or sod over wooden frameworks. But there were others who did it differently than those. The central Eskimos from Quebec relied entirely snow houses in the winter. In east and west Greenland the stone house held as many as fifty unrelated people, which demonstrates a communal living area. In Alaska there were communal living areas that doubled as men s clubhouses called kashim by the Russians, which were semi-subterranean.

The tribes that used the water as a source of food had many forms of water transportation commonly called the kayak, and the larger umiak. The kayak was a seal hunting craft except in the central Eskimo region were the sealing was limited, there it was used to intercept migrating caribou. The umiak was most commonly used as a freight boat rowed by women, although it was also used as a whaling boat. Winter transport was usually sled pulled by dog or men, it was more men then dogs because in areas of low food the dogs could not be fed properly.

Religious beliefs were animistic, in that they believed all things living or not had spirits. If a human soul, which was subject to interference from other spirits, was weakened it would result in sickness. The Eskimos also believed in reincarnation. If the name of a dead person was given to a new child that spirit would be in the new body relating it to all living relatives of the deceased. All Eskimos were in with the spirits of others they all experienced dreams, and achieved spiritual relationships with familiar spirits. Men or women who were specially attuned to the spirits were called shamans, who cured the sick, and could foretell the future. This differed in Greenland were the shamans were entertainers who would bring happiness during the long winters. The two main groups of Eskimos, divided between the north and south, also had some similarities, both had formal chiefships, inherited by the male line of a family, as well as a slave cast, who were mainly war captives.

Just like the Indians to the south, Eskimos also had interactions with Europeans. Russians came to Canada for money in fur sales, this led many Eskimos in the northwest region to acquire massive amounts of wealth in a very short time. The existence of an Eskimo purchasing class which always wanted new and extravagant possessions, led to the rise of rise of the professional artist. The strange part of this is the Eskimos believed that the more you gave away the more prestigious you were. So the rich people would hold big dinners giving away all of their possessions to another rich rival who in turn gives more back, as a sign of contempt. To greater exemplify the contempt the receivers would then burn the possessions received. The Northwest Eskimos were the first to master metalcraft, form the imports or scrap iron from the Europeans or iron scraped of the bottom of wrecked ships. With the coming of the whiteman brought a brief period of economic benefit to the Eskimos but this did not last very long. The arts rapidly degenerated to a few idle shops to buy petty trinkets. All this because Europeans interrupted the evolution of a developing people.

Eskimo life changed greatly in the twentieth century because of increased in the south. Snowmobiles have replaced dogs for land transportation, and rifles replaced harpoons for hunting. Outboard motors, store bought clothing, and other manufactured items have maid their way into the Eskimo s way of life. Money was also introduced which was a totally new idea for the Eskimos. Many Eskimo have abandoned their past way of life for a new future in northern cites, working in mines, and oilfields. Other in Canada have formed cooperative markets to sell their crafts to company s and tourists. Also with modernization came a greater sense of unity which was distinguished by national sovereignty and language. In Canada the term Eskimo is unflattering to the people of Inuit who call themselves by the word that means people in their language inuit. Although greatly different from the original Eskimos the modern day Eskimos still remember their heritage, and the past will always be with them in spirit.


Arts of Native American People: North American Eskimo and Northwest Coast.

Encyclopedia Britannica. Copyright 1996.

Eskimo. Encyclopedia Britannica. Copyright 1996.

Eskimo Lifestyle Compton s Encyclopedia. Copyright 1995.

Map. Hammond Maps .Bookshelf 94. Copyright 1985.

The Arctic: Ethnic Composition. Encyclopedia Britannica. Copyright 1996.

The Arctic: Traditional Culture. Encyclopedia Britannica. Copyright 1996.

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