Inuit(redirected from Esquimaux)
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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).
In 1976, Joseph Bloom and Richard Gelardin conducted a study of the dreams of the Eskimo (Inuit) people in which a ghost or a spirit appeared. They noted this occurred most often when the dreamer was just falling asleep or just waking up. They were unaware of the widespread occurrence of hallucinating while in a state of semi-arousal and sleep paralysis. They recognized the Inuit experiences as nightmares and linked their sleep paralysis to Arctic hysteria, labeling both as “non-empirical.”
Dreams are an integral part of the Inuit shamanic tradition and are closely associated to the initiatory calling; dreams of dismemberment, death, and rebirth are thought to be a calling to the dreamer to become a shaman. In other instances, they are called, in the dream, by an animal spirit who possesses the dreamer. The dreamer then awakens and proceeds to wander naked through the wilderness, grappling with the spirit for control of the body. Eventually, the dreamer will gain control over the spirit—a victory they mark by the making of a drum—and once again return to their people and start the training as a shaman initiate.