7 Things About Inuit (Eskimo) People

The humans best adapted to cold

By Stefan Anitei on February 19th, 2008 20:06 GMT
1. Inuit (Eskimo) people inhabit a large area on the northern coast of North America, Arctic Archipelago, Greenland and the extreme point of eastern Siberia, on a length of 9,000 km (5,600 mi). They are the human population living in the toughest cold conditions, in a polar clime characterized by winters with temperatures of -45o C and strong winds that keep people indoors for days.

The name of Eskimo comes from the languages of the Algonquian Indians, "wiyaskimowok", which means "eaters of raw meat", that's why they prefer to call themselves "Inuit", which means "people" in their language.

The Eskimos made three types of dwellings. A permanent type, made on the shore, was a hut with stone or flattened soil walls and the roof made of whale ribs used as beams, over which they placed seal skins, covered with soil and moss. The interior was covered with seal skins and, because of the lamps fueled by seal grease, which delivered enough heat, the temperature was pleasant, even if the air was impure and smelly. A summer type of dwelling was represented by skin tents very similar to those of the Amerindians. But the most famous Eskimo dwelling was the igloo, a small cupola made of ice blocks skillfully cut and disposed in a spiral; the interior, thanks to the skins and the heat of the lamps, resulted comfortable; this type of dwelling was used during the hunting expeditions over the ice.

2. The Eskimo religion is animist. They believe that all the beings and objects possess a spirit, a soul, which is an appendix of the body and has the same shape, even if smaller. Normal persons cannot see the soul, but those endowed with supernatural power can even oblige the spirits to obey them; these are the shamans. When the soul leaves the body, the body gets ill and if it abandons it definitively, the body dies. The souls of the dead are believed to wander the Earth as specters and be able harm the living people; the only way to avoid this is to give a newborn the name of the dead, so that its vagrant soul incorporates into its new master. Often, the Eskimos represent the spirits as small statues carved in walrus tasks or bones, which the shamans use in their witchcraft.

3. The Eskimos originated in Siberia. They are the only indigenous people of North America to be of proper Mongoloid race (like Chinese, Japanese, Koreans or Mongols). Thus, they are not related in any way to the Amerindians, and entered the continent much later, about 2,000 years ago. Their body is adapted for limiting heat loss: short (1.5-1.6 m or 5-5.3 ft in height), robust, with short limbs. The skin is dark sallow; the skull is prolonged and the face is wide and flattened, with almond shape eyes and wide, robust noses. The hair is black and straight. Eskimos are working and intelligent, fact proven by their complicated technology based on few resources, which allowed them to survive in the Arctic. They are cheerful and friendly, enjoying the presence of visitors, contrasting to neighboring Amerindians, quieter and cooler.

4. Eskimo women used to be married by the age of 15-16. There are no dowries or gifts offered to the parents. The wedding ceremony was a fake kidnapping. The bride had to simulate vexation and, when the future husband came to get her, she received him kicking and screaming, and the groom had to drag her by force. Still, the relation between the spouses used to be warm. The Eskimo woman cooked, processed the skin, made clothes and cared for the children; she was submitted totally to the will of her husband.

5. At the beginning of the spring the seal hunt starts. The seals gather in large herds over the ice, where they give birth. The hunters walk on the ice using boots made of soft polar bear skin and then crawl mimicking the movement of the seals until the animals are on the reach of their harpoons. During the winter, the seal hunt is slow and difficult; the animals can be hunted only when they come out to breathe at their breathing holes in the ice. The hunter must wait in this case for hours, until thrusting his harpoon.

The most difficult prey for the Eskimos is the polar bear, usually hunted in the spring. The hunter searches for bears on sleds dragged by dogs. When a bear is spotted, the dogs are released. The dogs were specially trained and surrounded the bear, chasing it and keeping it at a distance, so that the hunter could safely approach and launch a spear with points made of antler or bone. In many cases, the hunter could turn into victim. Today, the fire arms have changed totally the situation, and uncontrolled hunting greatly reduced bear populations in many places.

During the summer, the Eskimos can leave the coast for hunting caribou (reindeer) in the inland territories. Now, herds of thousands of animals come from the south to feed on likens, mosses and bushes. The Eskimo families who dispersed during spring for the seal hunt, now gather for chasing the caribou herds. The hunters attempt to herd the animals towards swampy zones covered by a light layer of ice which breaks under the weight of the animals; when swimming slowly, the caribou are easy to kill from light kayaks.

Other Eskimo groups dedicate the summer to fishing, especially as salmons go up the rivers for spawning; the fish masses can be so dense, that Eskimos use tridents for holding the fish and drag them out of the water, but also fishing nets. During the winter, fishing can be practiced through ice holes. When fish is found at the reach of the fisherman, this rapidly thrusts a forked dart into it. The Eskimos also fish using fishing lines and fish hooks.

6. The Eskimos used during their displacements sleds driven by dogs. The sleds were made of whale jawbones, reindeer antlers, seal bones and wood pieces. The parts of the sleds were fixed using skin belts. Usually, a sled was dragged by 5 dogs. The Eskimo dogs were easy to train, had an extraordinary resistance, obeyed their owner and could stand several days without eating. They could drag a sled for 10-12 hours without stopping. When necessary, they could do this for 36 hours. When resting, the dogs had to be kept separated. The dogs were not fed excessively, so that they could work.

7. Hunted animals were skinned by men, but the women scraped the skins for removing the rests of meat, fat and tendons, and put the skin to dry, stretching it on pegs. When the skins were dried, women chewed them thoroughly and then rubbed them with a blunt tool for making them more flexible. The chewing of the skin made the Eskimo women to have hugely developed jaws and jaw muscles. The skins processed this way were preserved soft and flexible even at -50o C, a temperature at which the skin tanned with the western method turns rigid, cold and brittle like the glass.