Through the Ages – Eskimos
What are Eskimos?
Eskimos originated in Asia, and traveled to North America over a land bridge. This land bridge no longer exists, but its remnants can be noted by studying the area of a map between Alaska and Asia. They gradually spread from their point of arrival (in what is now Alaska), to inhabit far-northern, Arctic regions, and eventually came to inhabit four countries: the United States (in the unadjoined Alaska), Canada, the (former) Soviet Union, and Greenland.
This land bridge is probably also the road of choice for the people who were to become American Indians. Although ‘Eskimos’ and ‘Indians’ have been given separate anthropological titles, the word ‘eskimo’ is actually in American Indian word, which roughly translates to ‘raw-meat-eaters.’
Eskimos do not refer to themselves as such, but use region-specific words in their own dialects, that translate to the very general term ‘people.’….which isn’t so surprising when you imagine that, to an Eskimo, Eskimo is the normal standard of humanity, and it would be the non-eskimos who are strange, and warrant a differentiating title.
Thus, Canadian Eskimos call themselves “Inuit,” while Alaskan Eskimos use their own language to call themselves “Inupiat” or “Yupit,” and Siberian Eskimos call themselves “Yuit.”
Survival of the Fittest
The Eskimos lived in the coldest stretches of the globe and, until recently, without any of the conveniences of modern living. They did not rely on technology such as automobiles or electricity or even powder-based weapons. Nor were they familiar with the tricks of capitalism such as trading and money.
Instead, they were in a position that required them to overcome the most harsh and barren circumstances in which any humans had survived, using their bare hands and simple tools to satisfy every need. In order to survive, they relied on constant community involvement and support, and lived off of the only resources their harsh land had to offer—animals.
The icy arctic waters were the main source of food for the Eskimos. Seals were the single most important staple in the Eskimo diet. In addition to seals, they caught cod, whales, and other sea-life. On land, they hunted polar bears, foxes, and hares. In the summer time some groups traveled inland to find geese and caribou. All-time favourites included seal, caribou, walrus liver, and whale skin. Mmmm….whale skin, the pizza of the Eskimo teens.
Home is where the carp is.
As they were at the mercy of mobile food-sources (as opposed to plants, which are just somehow less likely to run away), Eskimos were wanderers, and chose their path in accordance to the migration patterns of the animals they hunted. In general, they had a summer home and a winter home. Summer homes were most often tents fashioned from seal or caribou skin.
In the winter, most Eskimos built sod houses. But don’t be too disappointed just yet!
Dome-shaped snow houses were made by some groups as temporary houses while traveling or hunting. These were fashioned out of snow blocks, which were stacked upward in a spiral shape. Though this sounds like the stereotypical ‘igloo,’ you can feel free to be sloppier with that term; the word ‘igloo’ can actually be used for any type of Eskimo housing, be it skin, sod, or snow.
When fur was the fashion
The obvious solution to battling the extreme clothing was a good coat. Eskimo clothing was fashioned from the one resource they had—animals! So, in keeping with the philosophy of using every part of the animals they hunted, Eskimos used furs and skins for clothing as well as housing.
Caribou was the animal of choice for clothing purposes, because it was both warm and lightweight—a magical combination for travellers exposed to the harsh arctic elements. When caribou was not available, they would use seal, polar bear, and even arctic fox.
A complete Eskimo ensemble consisted of a hooded jacket, pants, socks, boots, and mittens. Some groups even fashioned goggles out of wood or bone!
In winter, two sets of clothing were necessary: an inner and an outer layer. The inner layer would put the fur against the skin, and the outer layer had the fur on the outside. A pocket of air between the two layers of clothing helped to keep body heat in, while allowing perspiration to evaporate.
Join us soon for another Through the Ages