mike hunt

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