Inuit are an indigenous community inhabiting the Arctic tundra regions such as Alaska, Canada and Greenland. A minority live on the shores of the Chukchi and Bering seas. For four thousand years, the Inuit have occupied the land and waters of the Arctic, showing great adaptation.
Inuits or Eskimos?
The word Eskimo is commonly used in Alaska to refer to all the indigenous Inuit, however, this name is considered derogatory in other regions, because it means “people who eat raw meat.” In several countries belonging to Western culture, the term Eskimo is used in the colloquial use and mentioned on television, cartoons, stories and other foreign cultural expressions.
The life of the first Inuit who inhabited the Arctic was completely traditional and austere. They lived in igloos or tents made of animal skins. All members of the group had a role that was necessary for the survival of the group. The men were experienced and agile hunters, while women made skillfully all thermal clothing made with sealskin or caribou. Both men and women learned to make tools based on animal bones, and children watched their parents from an early age and then helped in daily tasks.
In fishing, it is still common the use of nets, hooks or spears called kakivak. Another instrument is the unaaq, a traditional spear or harpoon with a rope tied to a sealskin necessary for the inhabitants of northwestern Greenland. Despite being frugal, they are effective, thanks to these creations they have survived.
Whaling has always been an activity that covers social, economic, cultural and nutritional needs for the indigenous Inuit. For them it is one of the most important collective work, because it reinforces social relationships, and responsibilities and obligations are established.
The Inuit exploit all parts of a slaughtered animal. When it comes to a mammal, for example, meat is used for human consumption, skin garments are made, tusks or horns are perfect for carving artworks, sculptures and everyday tools; bones can become toys for children and body parts of animals which are considered waste serve as food for dogs.
These customs are still maintained in some communities and fewer people rely on this form of artisanal life, especially the eldest and women; but large numbers of Inuit natives, mainly men, have abandoned those tasks for jobs that oil explorers, whalers, traders and industrial fishermen offer in exchange for better living conditions and much higher salaries, whose monthly income would be almost impossible to get through fishing or hunting. The acceptance of such jobs is not the best decision for the welfare of the Arctic, however, these are people who do what it takes to offer the best to their families without thinking of the consequences.
Beliefs and traditions
They believe in the presence of good spirits and malignant spirits. The latter are able to possess them, to give bad luck in hunting or break their tools. By contrast, those who perform good deeds cure diseases, provide animals to hunt and meet needs. Shamans are required to make connections between people and spirits.
The forms taken by the northern lights create figures that are seen as manifestations of spirits of family members or pets.
They also believe that the waters contain great gods that must be respected. The Inuit work in harmony with supernatural powers to continue to source the resources they need every day.
Many of their ancestors traditions have been kept in the latest generations, despite new forms of entertainment adopted elsewhere. Storytelling, mythology, music, dance and family activities remain important parts in Inuit culture.
The Inuit language belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. It is a set of linguistic varieties spoken in neighboring territories and divided into sixteen dialects, classified in turn into four groups:
Inuktitut (Eastern Canadian Arctic)
Inuinnaqtun (western Canadian Arctic)
Kalaallisut or Greenlandic (Greenland)
Inupiat (northern Alaska)
The native languages of Greenland, Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and parts of Siberia are part of the Eskimo-Aleut languages.
For numbers, they use a vigesimal counting system whose written representation is made with straight lines. Only with zero a crossed curved line is used. As for writing the language, there are six standard ways of writing that vary according to the geographical location of the citizens.
The most modern Inuit know and use the basic tools of their native ancestors, however, they have a choice that their predecessors did not have when food was scarce: supermarkets. The drawback is that many foods such as milk or fruit maintains a very high price because it is imported from far away and the handling is delicate; instead the caribou meat and other animals obtained in the region are at an affordable price. There they can also get knives, vases, lamps or lighters that facilitate their daily activities.
The clothing of the new generations are based in industrial fabrics and materials that help reduce strenuous activities such as hunting, cleaning the animal’s skin and fabrication of clothing. Similarly, sports like hockey begin to be part of the culture of the Inuit peoples.
As air bases and research stations were installed in the Arctic, areas began to become urbanized for human benefit. Schools, medical clinic, shopping and recreation centers are found in the most populated regions. Many of the homes that were built before with traditional materials, are made of stronger elements and have electricity.
There is much information about the younger generation who suffer from myopia. This defect was completely unknown before Western cultures influenced the lives of Inuit. It is said that this is due to change in diet based on refined and processed products and the long time they devote to education, television and other modern appliances.