The Inuit Traditional Life
The Inuit* are the people who live in the arctic regions (they are sometimes called Eskimo as well). They eat raw meat and fish along with cooked ones. In winter they live in houses made by snow. Inuit have to be good hunters in order to survive in extreme cold conditions. The modern northern diet with grocery foods is normally very expensive. Inuit traditional stories provide each new generation with the life skills and knowledge necessary to survive in the local environment and work together.
(*: the singular and plural form of “Inuit” are both “Inuit”.)
The Inuit live in very cold places of northern Canada, Greenland, the Arctic, and Alaska. They are sometimes called Eskimos, a word which likely comes from the Algonquin language and may mean “eater of raw meat".
They ate both raw and cooked meat and fish. Whale blubber was burned as fuel for cooking and lamps. Inuit were also nomads, but they did not domesticate any animals except for dogs, which they used to pull their sleds and help with the hunting. They were hunter/gatherers, living off the land. They were very careful to make good use of every part of the animals they killed. Respect for the land and the animals they harvested was and is a focal part of their culture.
Inuit lived in tents made of animal skins during the summer. In the winter they lived in sod houses and igloos. They could build an igloo out of snow bricks in just a couple of hours. Snow is full of air spaces, which helps it hold in warmth. With just a blubber lamp for heat, an igloo could be warmer than the air outside. The Inuit made very clever things from the bones, antlers, and wood they had. They invented the harpoon, which was used to hunt seals and whales. They built boats from wood or bone covered with animal skins. They invented the kayak for one man to use for hunting the ocean and among the pack ice.
Inuit sleds could be built from wood, bone, or even animal skins wrapped around frozen fish. Dishes were made from carving soapstone, bones, or musk ox horns. They wore two layers of skins, one fur side in, the other facing out, to stay warm.
Inuit had to be good hunters to survive. When an animal was killed in a hunt, it was thanked respectfully for offering itself to the hunter. They believed it intended to provide itself as a gift towards the survival of the hunter and his children. Their gratitude was deeply sincere and is an important aspect of their belief system. In the winter, seals did not come out onto the ice. They only came up for air at holes they chewed in the ice. Inuit would use their dogs to find the air holes, then wait patiently until the seal came back to breathe and kill it with a harpoon. In the summer, the seals would lie out on the ice enjoying the sun. The hunter would have to slowly creep up on a seal to kill it. The Inuit would use their dogs and spears to hunt polar bears, musk ox, and caribou. Sometimes they would kill caribou from their boats as the animals crossed the rivers on their migration. The Inuit even hunted whales. From their boat, they would throw harpoons that were attached to floats made of inflated seal skins. The whale would grow tired from dragging the floats under the water. When it slowed down and came up to the surface, the Inuit could keep hitting it with more harpoons or spears until it died. Whale blubber provide Vitamin D and Omegas to their cultural diet, and prevented rickets. The whaling industry around the world has depleted the whale population by massive commercial hunting, and now traditional whale hunting for subsistence purposes is rare around the world. Industrialization of the world has also contributed to pollution causing high mercury levels in much sea life, including whales. This has made it necessary to add to the modern northern diet with grocery foods, which are normally very expensive in the north.
During the summer months, the Inuit were able to gather berries and roots to eat. They also collected grass to line their boots or make baskets. Often the food they found or killed during the summer was put into a cache for use during the long winter. A cache was created by digging down to the permafrost and building a rock lined pit there. The top would be covered with a pile of rocks to keep out the animals. It was as good as a freezer, because the food would stay frozen there until the family needed it. Inuit cultural traditions and traditional stories provided each new generation with the life skills and knowledge to survive their environment and work together. They usually moved around in small groups looking for food, and sometimes they would get together with other groups to hunt for larger animals such as whales. The men did the hunting and home building, and also made weapons, sleds, and boats. The women cooked, made the clothes, and took care of the children.
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