1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eskimo
ESKIMO, Eskimos or Esquimaux (a corruption of the Abnaki Indian Eskimantsic or the Ojibway Ashkimeq, both terms meaning “those who eat raw flesh”: they call themselves “Innuit,” “the people”), a North American Indian people, inhabiting the arctic coast of America from Greenland to Alaska, and a small portion of the Asiatic shore of Bering Strait. On the American shores they are found, in broken tribes, from East Greenland to the western shores of Alaska—never far inland, or south of the region where the winter ice allows seals to congregate. Even on hunting expeditions they never travel more than 30 m. from the coast. Save a slight admixture of European settlers, they are the only inhabitants of both sides of Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. They extend as far south as about 50° N. lat. on the eastern side of America, and in the west to 60° on the eastern shore of Bering Strait, while 55° to 60° are their southern limits on the shore of Hudson Bay. Throughout all this range there are no other tribes save where the Kennayan and Ugalenze Indians (of western America) come down to the shore to fish. The Aleutians are closely allied to the Eskimo in habits and language. H. J. Rink divides the Eskimo into the following groups, the most eastern of which would have to travel nearly 5000 m. to reach the most western: (1) The East Greenland Eskimo, few in number, every year advancing farther south, and coming into contact with the next section. (2) The West Greenlanders, civilized, living under the Danish crown, and extending from Cape Farewell to 74° N. lat. (3) The Northern-most Greenlanders—the Arctic Highlanders of Sir John Ross—confined to Smith, Whale, Murchison and Wolstenholme Sounds, north of the Melville Bay glaciers. These—the most isolated and uncivilized of all the Eskimo—had no boats or bows and arrows until about 1868. (4) The Labrador Eskimo, mostly civilized. (5) The Eskimo of the middle regions, occupying the coasts from Hudson Bay to Barter Island, beyond Mackenzie river, inhabiting a stretch of country 2000 m. in length and 800 in breadth. (6) The Western Eskimo, from Barter Island to the western limits in America. (7) The Asiatic Eskimo.
The Eskimo are not a tall race, their height varying from 5 ft. 4 in. to 5 ft. 10 in., but men of 6 ft. are met. Both men and women are muscular and active, the former often inclining to fat. The faces of both have a pleasing, good-humoured expression, and not infrequently are even handsome. The typical face is broadly oval, flat, with fat cheeks; forehead not high, and rather retreating; teeth good, though, owing to the character of the food, worn down to the gums in old age; nose very flat; eyes rather obliquely set, small, black and bright; head largish, and covered with coarse black hair, which the women fasten up into a knot on the top, and the men clip in front and allow to hang loose and unkempt behind. Their skulls are of the mesocephalic type, the height being greater than the breadth; according to Davis, 75 is the index of the latter and 77 of the former. Some of the tribes slightly compress the skulls of their new-born children laterally (Hall), but this practice is a very local one. The men have usually a slight moustache, but no whiskers, and rarely any beard. The skin has generally a “bacony” feel, and when cleaned of the smoke, grease and other dirt—the accumulation of which varies according to the age of the individual—is only so slightly brown that red shows in the cheeks of the children and young women. The hands and feet are small and well formed. The Eskimo dress entirely in skins of the seal, reindeer, bear, dog, or even fox, the first two being, however, the most common. The men’s and women’s dress is much the same, a jacket suit, the trousers tucked into seal-skin boots. The jacket has a hood, which in cold weather is used to cover the head, leaving only the face exposed. The women’s jacket has a large hood for carrying a child and an absurd-looking tail behind, which is, however, usually tucked up. The women’s trousers are usually ornamented with eider-duck neck feathers or embroidery of native dyed leather; their boots, which are of white leather, or (in Greenland) dyed of various colours, reach over the knees, and in some tribes are very wide at the top, thus giving them an awkward appearance and a clumsy waddling walk. In winter two suits are worn, one with the hair inside, the other with it outside. They also sometimes wear shirts of bird-skins, and stockings of dog or young reindeer skins. Their clothes are very neatly made, fit beautifully, and are sewn with “sinew-thread,” with a bone needle if a steel one cannot be had. In person the Eskimo are usually filthy, and never wash. Infants are, however, sometimes cleaned by being licked by their mother before being put into the bag of feathers which serves as their bed, cradle and blankets.
In summer the Eskimo live in conical skin tents, and in winter usually in half-underground huts of stone, turf, earth and bones, entered by a long tunnel-like passage, which can only be traversed on all fours. Sometimes, if residing temporarily at a place, they will erect neat round huts of blocks of snow with a sheet of ice for a window. In the roof are deposited their spare harpoons, &c; and from it is suspended the steatite basin-like lamp, the flame of which, the wick being of moss, serves as fire and light. On one side of the hut is the bench which is used as sofa, seats and common sleeping place. The floor is usually very filthy, a pool of blood or a dead seal being often to be seen there. Ventilation is almost non-existent; and after the lamp has blazed for some time, the heat is all but unbearable. In the summer the wolfish-looking dogs lie outside on the roof of the huts, in the winter in the tunnel-like passage just outside the family apartment. The Western Eskimo build their houses chiefly of planks, merely covered on the outside with green turf. The same Eskimo have, in the more populous places, a public room for meetings. “Council chambers” are also said to exist in Labrador, but are only known in Greenland by tradition. Sometimes in south Greenland and in the Western Eskimo country the houses are made to accommodate several families, but as a rule each family has a house to itself.
The Eskimo are solely hunters and fishers, and derive most of their food from the sea. Their country allows of no cultivation; and beyond a few berries, roots, &c., they use no vegetable food. The seal, the reindeer and the whale supply the bulk of their food, as well as their clothing, light, fuel, and frequently also, when driftwood is scarce or unavailable, the material for various articles of domestic economy. Thus the Eskimo canoe is made of seal-skin stretched on a wooden or whalebone frame, with a hole in the centre for the paddler. It is driven by a bone-tipped double-bladed paddle. A waterproof skin or entrail dress is tightly fastened round the mouth of the hole so that, should the canoe overturn, no water can enter. A skilful paddler can turn a complete somersault, boat and all, through the water. The Eskimo women use a flat-bottomed skin luggage-boat. The Eskimo sledge is made of two runners of wood or bone—even, in one case on record, of frozen salmon (Maclure)—united by cross bars tied to the runners by hide thongs, and drawn by from 4 to 8 dogs harnessed abreast. Some of their weapons are ingenious—in particular, the harpoon, with its detachable point to which an inflated sealskin is fastened. When the quarry is struck, the floating skin serves to tire it out, marks its course, and buoys it up when dead. The bird-spears, too, have a bladder attached, and points at the sides which strike the creature should the spear-head fail to wound. An effective bow is made out of whale’s rib. Altogether, with meagre material the Eskimo show great skill in the manufacture of their weapons. Meat is sometimes boiled, but, when it is frozen, it is often eaten raw. Blood, and the half-digested contents of the reindeer’s paunch, are also eaten; and sometimes, but not habitually, blubber. As a rule this latter is too precious: it must be kept for winter fuel and light. The Eskimo are enormous eaters; two will easily dispose of a seal at a sitting; and in Greenland, for instance, each individual has for his daily consumption, on an average, 21 ℔ of flesh with blubber, and 1 ℔ of fish, besides mussels, berries, sea-weed, &c., to which in the Danish settlements may be added 2 oz. of imported food. Ten pounds of flesh, in addition to other food, is not uncommonly consumed in a day in time of plenty. A man will lie on his back and allow his wife to feed him with tit-bits of blubber and flesh until he is unable to move.
The Eskimo cannot be strictly called a wandering race. They are nomadic only in so far that they have to move about from place to place during the fishing and shooting season, following the game in its migrations. They have, however, no regular property. They possess only the most necessary utensils and furniture, with a stock of provisions for less than one year; and these possessions never exceed certain limits fixed upon by tradition or custom. Long habit and the necessities of their life have also compelled those having food to share with those having none—a custom which, with others, has conduced to the stagnant conditions of Eskimo society and to their utter improvidence.
Their intelligence is considerable, as their implements and folk-tales abundantly prove. They display a taste for music, cartography and drawing, display no small amount of humour, are quick at picking up peculiar traits in strangers, and are painfully acute in detecting the weak points or ludicrous sides of their character. They are excellent mimics and easily learn the dances and songs of the Europeans, as well as their games, such as chess and draughts. They gamble a little—but in moderation, for the Eskimo, though keen traders, have a deep-rooted antipathy to speculation. When they offer anything for sale—say at a Danish settlement in Greenland—they always leave it to the buyer to settle the price. They have also a dislike to bind themselves by contract. Hence it was long before the Eskimo in Greenland could be induced to enter into European service, though when they do they pass to almost the opposite extreme—they have no will of their own. Public licentiousness or indecency is rare among them. In their private life their morality is, however, not high. The women are especially erring; and in Greenland, at places where strangers visit, their extreme laxity of morals, and their utter want of shame, are not more remarkable than the entire absence of jealousy or self-respect on the part of their countrymen and relatives. Theft in Greenland is almost unknown; but the wild Eskimo make very free with strangers’ goods—though it must be allowed that the value they attach to the articles stolen is some excuse for the thieves. Among themselves, on the other hand, they are very honest—a result of their being so much under the control of public opinion. Lying is said to be as common a trait of the Eskimo as of other savages in their dealings with Europeans. They have naturally not made any figure in literature. Their folk-lore is, however, extensive, and that collected by Dr Rink shows considerable imagination and no mean talent on the part of the story-tellers. In Greenland and Labrador most of the natives have been taught by the missionaries to read and write in their own language. Altogether, the literature published in the Eskimo tongue is considerable. Most of it has been printed in Denmark, but some has been “set up” in a small printing-office in Greenland, from which about 280 sheets have issued, beside many lithographic prints. A journal (Atuagagldliutit nalinginarmik tusaruminásassumik univkat, i.e. “something for reading, accounts of all entertaining subjects”) has been published since 1861.
The Eskimo in Greenland and Labrador are, with few exceptions, nominally at least, Christians. The native religion is a vague animism, and consists of a belief in good and evil spirits, limited each to its own sphere; in a Heaven and Hell; and a childish faith is placed in the native wizards, who are regarded as intermediaries between mankind and the spirit-powers. The worship of the whale-spirit, so important a factor in their daily economy, is prevalent.
As regards language, the idiom spoken from Greenland to north-eastern Siberia is, with a few exceptions, the same; any difference is only that of dialect. It differs from the whole group of European languages, not merely in the sound of the words, but more especially, according to Rink, in the construction. Its most remarkable feature is that a sentence of a European language is expressed in Eskimo by a single word constructed out of certain elements, each of which corresponds in some degree to one of our words. One specimen commonly given to visitors to Greenland may suffice: Savigiksiniariartokasuaromaryotittogog, which is equivalent to “He says that you also will go away quickly in like manner and buy a pretty knife.” Here is one word serving in the place of 17. It is made up as follows: Savig a knife, ik pretty, sini buy, ariartok go away, asuar hasten, omar wilt, y in like manner, otit thou, tog also, og he says.
The Eskimo have no chiefs or political and military rulers. Fabricius concisely described them in his day: “Sine Deo, domino, reguntur consuetudine.” The government is mainly a family one, though a man distinguished for skill in the chase, and for strength and shrewdness, often has considerable power in the village. No political or social tie is recognized between the villages, though general good-fellowship seems to mark their relations. They never go to war with each other; and though revengeful and apt to injure an enemy secretly, they rarely come to blows, and are morbidly anxious not to give offence. Indeed, in their intercourse with each other, all Eskimo indulge in much hyperbolical compliment. But they are not without courage. On the Coppermine and Mackenzie rivers, where they sometimes come into collision with their American-Indian kinsmen, they fight fiercely. Polygamy is rare, but the rights of divorce and re-marriage are unrestricted. The Eskimo have intricate rules governing the ownership of property and the rights of the hunter. As a race they are singularly undemonstrative. When they met each other they used to rub noses together, but this, though a common custom still among the wild Eskimo, is entirely abandoned in Greenland except for the petting of children. There is, in Greenland at least, no national mode of salutation, either on meeting or parting. When a guest enters a house, commonly not the least sign is made either by him or his host. On leaving a place they sometimes say “inûvdluaritse,” i.e. live well, and to a European “aporniakinatit,” i.e. do not hurt thy head, viz. against the upper part of the doorway. The Eskimo, excluding the few on the Asiatic coast, are estimated at about 29,000.
Bibliography.—Dr H. J. Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo (1875); Danish Greenland; its People and its Products (1877); Eskimo Tribes (1887); J. Richardson, Polar Regions (1861), pp. 298–331; Sir Clements Markham, Arctic Papers of the R. G. S. (1875), pp. 163–232; Simpson, ibid. pp. 233–275; “Hans Hendriks the Eskimo’s Memoirs,” Geographical Magazine (Feb. 1878, et seq.); Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life (1894); R. E. Peary, Northward over the Great Ice, vol. i. appendix ii.; F. Boas, “The Central Eskimo,” Sixth Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology (1884–1885); J. Murdoch, “The Point Barrow Eskimo,” Ninth Annual Report (1887–1888); E. W. Nelson, “The Eskimo about Bering Strait,” Eighteenth Annual Report, part 1 (1896–1897).