Eskimo(redirected from Esquimau)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Eskimo (ĕsˈkəmō), a general term used to refer to a number of groups inhabiting the coastline from the Bering Sea to Greenland and the Chukchi Peninsula in NE Siberia. A number of distinct groups, based on differences in patterns of resource exploitation, are commonly identified, including Siberian, St. Lawrence Island, Nunivak, Chugach, Nunamiut, North Alaskan, Mackenzie, Copper, Caribou, Netsilik, Iglulik, Baffinland, Labrador, Coastal Labrador, Polar, and East and West Greenland. Since the 1970s Eskimo groups in Canada and Greenland rejected Eskimo as offensive and used the name Inuit, although the term has not taken hold in Alaska or Siberia.
In spite of regional differences, Eskimo groups are relatively uniform in language, physical type, and culture, and, as a group, are distinct in these traits from all neighbors. They speak dialects of the same language, Eskimo, which is a major branch of the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. Their antiquity is unknown, but genetic testing of ancient human remains in North America that they are relatively recent migrants to the Americas from NE Asia, spreading from west to east beginning about 1,000 years. By about 1300 A.D. their ancestors, known as the Thule culture, had displaced the earlier inhabitants of North American Arctic. The earlier inhabitants, known as Paleo-Eskimos but genetically unrelated to to modern Eskimos, had first migrated into North America 6,000 years ago.
Traditionally, most groups relied on sea mammals for food, illumination, cooking oil, tools, and weapons. Fish and caribou were next in importance in their economy. The practice of eating raw meat, disapproved of by their Native American neighbors, saved scarce fuel and provided their limited diet with essential nutritional elements that cooking would destroy. Except for the Caribou Eskimo of central Canada, they were a littoral people who roved inland in the summer for freshwater fishing and game hunting.
Eskimos traditionally used various types of houses. Tents of caribou skins or sealskins provided adequate summer dwellings; in colder seasons shelter was constructed of sod, driftwood, or sometimes stone, placed over excavated floors. Among some Eskimo groups the snow hut was used as a winter residence (see igloo). More commonly, however, such structures were used as temporary overnight shelters during journeys. The dogsled was used for the hauling of heavy loads over long distances, made necessary by the Eskimos' nomadic hunting life. Their skin canoe, known as a kayak, is one of the most highly maneuverable small craft ever constructed. Hunting technologies included several types of harpoons, the bow and arrow, knives, and fish spears and weirs. While iron and guns came into common use in the 20th cent., previously weapons were crafted from ivory, bone, copper, or stone. Their clothing was sewn largely of caribou hide and included parkas, breeches, mittens, snow goggles, and boots. Finely crafted items such as needles, combs, awls, figurines, and decorative carvings on weapons were executed with the rotary bow drill.
See U. Steltzer, Inuit: The North in Transition (1985); A. Balikci, The Netsilik Eskimo (1989).
a people inhabiting the region that extends from the eastern tip of the Chukchi Peninsula to Greenland. According to a 1975 estimate, the Eskimo number 90,000. They speak Eskimo and are classed as members of the Arctic Mongoloid race.
The Eskimo were formed as a people approximately 4,000–5,000 years ago in the Bering Sea region; they spread eastward to Greenland, arriving there long before the beginning of the Common Era. The Eskimo adapted with remarkable success to life in the arctic; they created the toggle harpoon for hunting marine animals, a special boat known as the kayak, the snowhouse known as the igloo, and fur pullover clothing.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Eskimo economy was based on the hunting of caribou and marine animals. The social organization was characterized by territorial communes and by substantial vestiges of primitive collectivist norms in the distributions of the catch. Religion consisted in the worship of spirits and of some animals. In the 19th century the Eskimo did not have a clan organization or a highly developed tribal organization.
With the arrival of outsiders, the life of the Eskimo outside Russia underwent fundamental changes. Considerable numbers switched from marine hunting and fishing to hunting for arctic fox and, in Greenland, commercial fishing. Some Eskimo, especially those in Greenland, worked as hired laborers. In Greenland, a small, local bourgeoisie emerged. The Eskimo of western Greenland form a separate people: the Greenlandic Eskimo. In Labrador the Eskimo have, to a considerable extent, intermingled with the long-established indigenous population, which is of European descent. The remnants of traditional Eskimo culture are rapidly disappearing everywhere.
In the USSR the Eskimo constitute a small ethnic group of 1,510 persons (1979 census) that lives with, or in close proximity to, the Chukchi in a number of settlements along the eastern coast of the Chukchi Peninsula and on Vrangel’ Island. Their traditional occupation was hunting marine animals. Under Soviet power radical changes have occurred in the economy and way of life of the Eskimo, who are being resettled from yarangas (portable dwellings) to houses with modern conveniences. On kolkhozes, whose members generally include both Eskimo and Chukchi, a diversified and mechanized economy is being developed; it is based largely on reindeer raising and on hunting, including the hunting of marine animals. Illiteracy has been eliminated, and an intelligentsia has formed.
L. A. FAINBERG
The Eskimo created a distinctive decorative, applied, and representational art. Excavations have uncovered artifacts dating from the end of the first millennium B.C. and from the first millennium of the Common Era. These finds include bone harpoon heads and arrowheads; “winged objects,” thought to be decorations for the bows of boats; miniature stylized figures of humans and animals; models of kayaks that are decorated with representations of men and animals; and intricate ornamental carving. The characteristic Eskimo art of the 18th to 20th centuries is represented by figures carved of walrus tusk or, sometimes, soapstone, by wood carvings, by applique work, and by embroidery that consists of patterns of reindeer fur and skin that are used to decorate clothing and articles for everyday use.
REFERENCESNarody Sibiri. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
Narody Ameriki, vol. 1. Moscow, 1959.
Menovshchikov, G. A. Eskimosy. Magadan, 1959.
Fainberg, L. A. Obshchestvennyi stroi eskimosov i aleutov ot materinskogo roda k sosedskoi obshchine. Moscow, 1964.
Fainberg, L. A. Ocherki etnicheskoi istorii zarubezhnogo Severa. Moscow, 1971.
Mitlianskaia, T. B. Khudozhniki Chukotki. Moscow, 1976.
Ray, D. J. Eskimo Art. Seattle-London, 1977.
the language of the Eskimo, who live in the USSR in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug (formerly Chukchi National Okrug) and in Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. According to a 1975 estimate, the Eskimo number 90,000, including 1,300 Siberian Eskimo (1970 census).
Eskimo, an Eskimo-Aleut language, has 20 dialects, which, having developed in isolation of one another, are widely divergent; many are virtually independent languages. Among the Siberian Eskimo, three principal dialects are distinguished: Chaplin, on which the written language is based; Naukan; and the dialect of the Sirenik Eskimo, which is becoming extinct. A Latin writing system was devised for the Siberian Eskimo in 1932; in 1937 it was replaced by a Cyrillic alphabet. Among the Eskimo outside the USSR; the Greenlandic Eskimo have a writing system.
REFERENCESMenovshchikov, G. A. Grammatika iazyka aziatskikh eskimosov, parts 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962–67.
Rubtsova, E. S. Eskimossko-russkii slovar’. Moscow, 1971.
Kleinschmidt, S. P. Grammatik der grönländischen Sprache. Berlin, 1851.
Schultz-Zorentzen, C. W. A Grammar of the West Greenland Language. Copenhagen, 1945.