Eskimo is the most familiar name that pops up in mind immediately when we think of ice, igloos, or the Arctic. In a general definition, they are the nomadic people who represent one of the main segments of the native population of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. The official statistics show that there are about 80,000 Eskimos. Eskimos didn’t have a predominant presence until the nineteenth century XIX. The whalers and European fur traders arrived in the Arctic regions in the 19th century, and this marks the advent of a new way of life.
The new way of life brought some changes, some ups, dome downs, while few things remained same.
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1 Eskimo Clothing
Eskimos wore clothes made with animal skin. Men, women, and children wore the same type of clothing – a hooded jacket, pants or leggings, socks, boots and gloves. They wore wooden or bone glasses to withstand the brightness of the sun on the snow.
Eskimo clothing is made with seal skin. The coat was turned inward and lined with bear skin or foxes, which women chew with their teeth and enjoy with urine. These clothes are sewn with the animal tendons.
2 How far does the Eskimo territory extend?
The territory of the Eskimos includes the extreme northeast of Siberia, the islands of the Bering Sea, the continental coast of Alaska, the continental North coast of Canada, several islands of the north of Canada, most of the west coast and stretches of the east coast of Greenland.
3 Eskimos Way of Life
Women of the house cook and sew, while men prepare their utensils to hunt and catch seals and whales. Since the extremely cold northern lands do not allow any plant or vegetative growth, Eskimos take advantage of all hunted animals: meat, fat, skin, bones and intestines. Hence they are left with only two options to survive- hunt and fish. As their characteristic is, the Eskimos are accompanied by dogs, which help them hunt and pull the sledges, their main means of transport.
For thousands of years the Eskimos have followed a way of life unlike any other people. Means of transport, methods of hunting and language were differentiated. There were no tribes, no chiefs, only distinct cultural groups, ranging from one family to hundreds of people. The groups depended on the hunting, which varied in the different seasons.
4 History of Eskimos
Scientists are of the thought that the Eskimos originated from the land bridge that existed where today lays the Bering Strait. Ten thousand years ago, it was an important link between Siberia and Alaska. Some of the Eskimos moved to northeastern Siberia, while majority of them headed for Alaska. There population later spread through Arctic North America and Greenland.
Vikings were the first Europeans to make contact with the Eskimos. The Vikings had occupied Greenland when they arrived in about 1,100. From the 16th century onwards, European explorers found them in the eastern regions of Arctic North America. Russian explorers and other European nationalities kept in touch with the Alaskan Eskimos in the 19th century. The nineteenth century witnessed the invasion of the lands of the Eskimos by a large number of whalers and European fur traders.
Eskimos/Inuit lived in the Arctic, one of the coldest regions on Earth. The most widely propagated theory about their settlement in the coldest regions of the planet is that it was due to rejection by the American Indians (12,000 years ago), when they arrived at Alaska, coming from the northeast of Asia and through the Strait of Bering.
Today the Eskimos do not form or belong to any nation, but they are people of solidarity, welcoming nature, and very peaceful. Their civilization is based on the family, patriarch and polygamy, in which the man has more women to the extent that it has more riches.
5 Climate in their areas of habitat
Their territory in Greenland and the surrounding areas is one of the coldest and most inhospitable regions in the world. There are long and cold winters and short and cool summers. The temperature in colder months range from minus 29 ° C to minus 34 ° C. Nine months of the year witness lakes and rivers covered with ice.
The dry land or terra firma area ofthe Arctic is made up of immense plains called tundra. The upper part of the tundra softens during summer. Following this marshes and swamps appear. Summer season is marked by the land cover of lichens, mosses, shrubs and wildflowers.
6 Eskimos and the laws of their land
The Eskimos had no laws, but they obeyed rules of conduct. According to them, everyone was helping in the struggle for survival. At times, the elders of a community condemned to death a person who had committed murder or another serious crime. Children were well treated and rarely punished. It was common for parents to choose, as a child, the future spouses of their children. There was no marriage ceremony; the couple simply began to live together. For Eskimos, children were an important entity. According to their beliefs, children were the reincarnation of their ancestors. The Inuit believe in the existence of superior beings who do not need to worship or even pray.
7 Languages Spoken
Every Eskimo had a language called the Eskimo. Only the Eskimos of northeastern Siberia and those of southern Alaska spoke dialects. There was no writing system. The Eskimo language is divided into four very similar dialects, which have only nouns and verbs.
The Eskimos fed on the meat of seals and caribou (a species similar to the reindeer). They also ate fish, poultry, musk oxen, polar bears and whales. Also, they ate fruits, roots, stems and leaves of certain plants.
Their usual diet was boiled meat, but due to the slowness of this process and the shortage of animal fuel, they started to eat raw meat. In fact the word Eskimo (in the Algonquin language) means raw meat eater.
It is completely normal for food to be scarce during winters. It marks the time when men go out to travel and hunt.
Many Eskimo families had a winter residence and a summer residence. In the summer, almost all Eskimos lived in tents made of caribou or seal skin. In winter, they lived in houses made of peat (aggregate of vegetable remains). When traveling, they built domed ice houses that served as temporary shelters. Only those in central Canada and those in the northern islands of the country used ice houses, called igloos, as permanent winter shelters. They were built with snow hardened into blocks by the effect of wind and cold.
Eskimos were locomotive on ice, snow, water and earth. In ice and snow, they used dog sleds; to navigate the rivers, the lakes, and the sea, they used boats made of animal skins. In the summer, they walked.
The Eskimos believed the nature to be under the control of powerful spirits. They believed that people and animals had souls, which after death, lived in another world. Post an Eskimo’s death, the body was wrapped in animal skins and bounded by a circle of stones.
The fun was mostly in the winter, when storms and dark hours compelled us to stay indoors. There was body wrestling, tug-of-war and other tests of strength, dances to the sound of drums, songs and stories about legendary heroes.
The Eskimos decorated their everyday objects. They adorned their clothes with furs, buckles, ivory buds, fish, and other animals. They decorated instruments, weapons and other objects with sculptures and paintings. They carved animals in bone or ivory for children to play with.
14 Body statistics
Eskimos are generally very small. On an average they measure 1.60 m and women 10 cm less. They are known to have strong bodies and short limbs.
15 The Eskimos in the Present
In the modern day, Eskimos can be found in only few select places like –
Russia– A larger population of the Eskimos lives in the extreme northeast of Siberia. They raise reindeer, hunt walruses and other animals and produce sculptures and various types of handicrafts for trade. In addition, the government provides them with benefits like education, housing and others.
Alaska-Only a small population of the Eskimos lives in city, whereas the major part inhabits small villages. Just like others they too survive on hunting and fishing. A large part only finds temporary occupations and depends on the US government for housing and other assistance.
Canada– Most Eskimos live in cities, in housing provided by the government. They receive financial aid, medical assistance and other types of state assistance.
Greenland– Most of the Eskimos work in cities, especially in the fishing industry. Only the northern ones still live from seal hunting and continue to follow their traditional way of life. The government provides them with housing, medical care and other benefits.