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Inuit Essay, Research Paper

The Inuit

I. Intoduction

The Inuit are people that inhabit small enclaves in the coastal areas of

Greenland, Arctic North America, and extreme northeastern Siberia. The

name Inuit means the real people. In 1977 the Inuit Circumpolar

Conference officially adopted Inuit as the replacement for the term

?Eskimo.? There are several related linguistic groups of Arctic people.

Many of these groups prefer to be called by their specific ?tribal? names

rather than as Inuits. In Alaska the term ?Eskimo? is still commonly used.

I. Physical Characteristics and Regional Groupings

The Inuit vary within about 2 inches of an average height of 5 foot 4 inches,

and they display metabolic, circulatory, and other adaptations to the Arctic

climate. They inhabit an area spanning almost 3200 miles and have a wider

geographical range than any other aboriginal people and are the most

sparsely distributed people on earth.

II. History

The Inuit share many cultural traits with Siberian Arctic peoples and with

their own closest relatives, the Aleuts. The oldest archaeological sites

identifiable as Inuit date from about 2000 BC and are somewhat distinct

from later Inuit sites. By about 1800 BC the highly developed Old Whaling

or Bering Sea culture and related cultures had emerged in Siberia and in the

Bering Strait region. In eastern Canada the Old Dorset culture flourished

from about 1000 to 800 BC until about AD 1000 to 1300. The Thule Inuit,

who by AD 1000 to 1200 had reached Greenland, overran the Dorset people.

There, Inuit culture was influenced by medieval Norse colonists and, after

1700, by Danish settlers.

III. Language and Literature

The languages of the Inuit people constitute a subfamily of the Eskimo-Aleut

language family. A major linguistic division occurs in Alaska, according to

whether the speakers call themselves Inuit or Yuit. The eastern branch of

the subfamily stretches from eastern Alaska across Canada and through

northern into southern Greenland. This subfamily is generally called

Inupiaq in Alaska, but also Inuktitut in Canada and Kalaallisut in

Greenland. It consists of many dialects, each understandable to speakers of

neighboring dialects, although not to speakers of geographically distant

dialects. The western branch, called Yupik, includes three distinct

languages, Central Alaskan Yupik and Pacific Gulf Yupik in Alaska and

Siberian Yupik in Alaska and Canada. Each of these has several dialects.

The Inupiaq dialects have more than 40,000 speakers in Greenland and more

than 20,000 in Alaska and Canada. About 17,000 people speak Yupik

languages. In the former Soviet Union about 1,000 people spoke it.

Explorers and traders do not learn these languages because they are

some of the most complex and difficult in the world. They rely on a jargon

composed of Danish, Spanish, Hawaiian, and Inupiaq and Yupik words.

V. Social Organization

The manners and customs of the Inuit are remarkably uniform

despite the widespread diffusion of the people. The family is the most

significant social unit. Marriages are generally open to choice. The usual

pattern is monogamy, but both polygyny and polyandry also happen.

Marriage is based on a strict division of labor. The husband and wife have

their own tools, household goods, and other personal possessions. Men build

houses, hunt, and fish. Women cook, dress animal skins, and make clothing.

If one does not take care and help ones kin they will be ridiculed by the

community. In extreme cases they can be put to death. If someone of one

group harms someone from another, there could be a possible blood feud.

This is strongly disapproved. Some groups control disputes by means of

wrestling matches or song duels. These songs tend to be insulting. The loser

of these might be driven from the community.

Alliances between groups that are not related are formed and

maintained by gift giving and the showing of respect. The highest such form

of gift giving occurs when a head of a household offers the opportunity of a

temporary sexual liaison with the most valued adult women of his household.

The women can refuse, then they present a different gift.

VI. Provision of Food

The Inuit mainly eats fish, seals, whales, and related sea mammals.

The flesh of these is eaten cooked, dried, or frozen. The seal is their main

winter food and most valuable resource. They are used for dog food,

clothing, and materials for making boats, tents, and harpoons lines, as well as

fuel for both light and heat. In Alaska and Canada, caribou are hunted in

the summer. They also hunt polar bear, fox, hare, and Arctic birds, for

important supplies. Whale, walrus, and caribou require longer hunting trips

than one kinship group can do on there own. Many families go on seasonal

hunting and fishing trips that take them from one end of a customary

territory to the other, trading with other groups along the way.

VII. Housing, Transportation, and Clothing

Igloos are Inuit ?iglu? houses. They come in two kinds. One is made

from walrus or sealskin tents for the summer. The other is made of stone,

with driftwood or whalebone frames and chinked and covered with moss or

sod for the winter. The entrance is long and narrow. It is just high enough

to have one person crawl through it. During long journeys some Inuit made

winter houses out of snow blocks shaped in a dome. These houses are rare in

Greenland and unknown in Alaska. At one time they were permanent winter

houses of the Inuit in central and eastern Canada. In the 20th century many

Inuit have moved into towns to live in government built, western housing.

The traditional way of transpiration is the kayak, the umiak, and the

dogsled. The kayak is a lightweight canoe like hunting boat made of a wood

frame completely covered with sealskin except for a round center opening,

where one person sits. The skin around the person can be tightened to make

the kayak waterproof. The umiak is a larger boat by about 30 feet long and

8 feet wide. It is made of a wood frame covered with walrus skin. It is used

for whaling expeditions and to transport families and goods. The sled is

pulled by a team of native dogs. Until iron runners were introduced, ivory

and whalebone were mainly used. In the last half-century motorboats and

snowmobiles have become important modes of travel.

Traditionally the Inuit men and women dress the same. They wear

waterproof boots, double-layer trousers, and the parka; a tight-fitting

double-layer pullover jacket with a hood, all made of skins and furs. An

enlarged hood forms a convenient cradle for nursing infants.

VIII. Religious Beliefs

Traditionally the Inuit believe in a form of animism. Animism is the

belief that all objects and living beings have a spirit. Everything occurs

through some spirit. Spirits can effect people?s lives intrinsically. Although

prayer can not control them, magical charms and talismans can control

them. The shaman is the person that can best control the spirits. They are

usually consulted to heal illnesses and resolve serious problems. Communal

and individual taboos are observed to avoid offending animal spirits, and

animals killed for food must be handled with prescribed rituals.

Inuit rituals and myths reflect preoccupation with survival in a hostile

environment. Vague beliefs of an afterlife or reincarnation exist, but these

receive little emphasis. Most beliefs center on preparation for the hunt, and

myths tend to deal with the relations that exist between humans, animals,

and the environment. In arctic Canada, Greenland, Labrador, and southern

Alaska, large numbers of Inuit have converted to Christianity.

IX. Adjusting to Change

In the 20th century the Inuit have become more assertive, forming

organizations to represent their interests, such as the Alaska Federation of

Natives. The organizations have been instrumental in resolving land claims

since 1971. In Greenland the 1970?s and 1980?s were marked by a campaign

for home rule from Denmark. In December 1991 the Canadian government

agreed to the creation of a new unit known as Nunavut in eastern Northwest

Territories. Approved in May 1992, it will have an area of about 2 million

square km (about 772,500 square miles). The Inuit people will have political

control and broad economic rights over the territory.

The international Circumpolar Conference, founded in 1977, meets

every three years. It provides a forum for Greenland and North American

Inuit to discuss common problems, lobby for an Inuit voice in the planning of

economic development, and promote the preservation of the environment.

Bibliography

Ray, Dorothy Jean. Aleut and Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in South Alaska. Washington, 1981, 1986. Scholarly survey of traditional and market art. Companion book on North Alaska, 1977.

Burch, Ernest S. Jr. The Eskimos. Oklahoma, 1988. Heavily illustrated introduction to the traditional culture of the Inuit and the Aleut.

Wilder, Edna. Once Upon an Eskimo Time. Alaska Northwest, 1987. An accurate account of Eskimo life before the white man.

Elibrary.com , http://www.elibrary.com/s/encartal/search.cgi, line 418:


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