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Eskimo (ĕs´kəmō), a general term used to refer to a number of groups inhabiting the coastline from the Bering Sea to Greenland and the Chukchi Peninsula in NE Siberia. A number of distinct groups, based on differences in patterns of resource exploitation, are commonly identified, including Siberian, St. Lawrence Island, Nunivak, Chugach, Nunamiut, North Alaskan, Mackenzie, Copper, Caribou, Netsilik, Iglulik, Baffinland, Labrador, Coastal Labrador, Polar, and East and West Greenland. Since the 1970s Eskimo groups in Canada and Greenland have adopted the name Inuit, although the term has not taken hold in Alaska or Siberia.

In spite of regional differences, Eskimo groups are surprisingly uniform in language, physical type, and culture, and, as a group, are distinct in these traits from all neighbors. They speak dialects of the same language, Eskimo, which is a major branch of the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. Their antiquity is unknown, but genetic testing of ancient human remains in North America that they are relatively recent migrants to the Americas from NE Asia, spreading from west to east beginning about 1,000 years. By about 1300 AD their ancestors, known as the Thule culture, had displaced the earlier inhabitants of North American Arctic. The earlier inhabitants, known as Paleo-Eskimos but genetically unrelated to to modern Eskimos, had first migrated into North America 6,000 years ago.

Eskimo Life

Traditionally, most groups relied on sea mammals for food, illumination, cooking oil, tools, and weapons. Fish and caribou were next in importance in their economy. The practice of eating raw meat, disapproved of by their Native American neighbors, saved scarce fuel and provided their limited diet with essential nutritional elements that cooking would destroy. Except for the Caribou Eskimo of central Canada, they were a littoral people who roved inland in the summer for freshwater fishing and game hunting.

Eskimos traditionally used various types of houses. Tents of caribou skins or sealskins provided adequate summer dwellings; in colder seasons shelter was constructed of sod, driftwood, or sometimes stone, placed over excavated floors. Among some Eskimo groups the snow hut was used as a winter residence (see igloo). More commonly, however, such structures were used as temporary overnight shelters during journeys. The dogsled was used for the hauling of heavy loads over long distances, made necessary by the Eskimos' nomadic hunting life. Their skin canoe, known as a kayak, is one of the most highly maneuverable small craft ever constructed. Hunting technologies included several types of harpoons, the bow and arrow, knives, and fish spears and weirs. While iron and guns have come into common use in the 20th cent., previously weapons were crafted from ivory, bone, copper, or stone. Their clothing was sewn largely of caribou hide and included parkas, breeches, mittens, snow goggles, and boots. Finely crafted items such as needles, combs, awls, figurines, and decorative carvings on weapons were executed with the rotary bow drill.

Eskimo Culture

Particularly when compared to other hunting and gathering populations, Eskimo groups were justly famous for elaborate technologies, artisanship, and well-developed art. They lived in small bands, in voluntary association under a leader recognized for his ability to provide for the group. Only the most personal property was considered private; any equipment reverted through disuse to those who had need for it. In the traditional Eskimo economy, the division of labor between the sexes was strict; men constructed homes and hunted, and women took care of the homes. Their religion was imbued with a rich mythology, and shamanism (see shaman) was practiced.

Contemporary Life

Eskimos in the United States and Canada now live largely in settled communities, working for wages and using guns for hunting. Their mode of transportation is typically the all-terrain vehicle or the snowmobile. The native food supply has been reduced through the use of firearms, but, as a result of increased contact with other cultures, the Eskimo are no longer completely dependent on their traditional sources of sustenance. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 granted Alaska natives some 44 million acres of land and established native village and regional corporations to encourage economic growth. In 1990 the Eskimo population of the United States was some 57,000, with most living in Alaska. There are over 33,000 Inuit in Canada, the majority living in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, N Quebec, and Labrador. Nunavut was created out of the Northwest Territories in 1999 as a politically separate, predominantly Inuit territory. A settlement with the Inuit of Labrador established (2005) Nunatsiavut, a self-governing area in N and central E Labrador, and another agreement called for establishing a self-governing area, Nunavik, in N Quebec in 2009, but Nunavik residents rejected the proposed arrangement in 2011. There are also Eskimo populations in Greenland and Siberia.


See U. Steltzer, Inuit: The North in Transition (1985); A. Balikci, The Netsilik Eskimo (1989).

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ETHNONYMS: Esquimox, Esquimaux

The name "Eskimo" has been applied to the native peoples of the Arctic since the sixteenth century; ironically, it is not an Eskimo word. For close to a century both anthropological and popular sources, including the Oxford English and Webster's New World dictionaries, maintained that the name "Eskimo" derived from a proto-Algonkian root translating as "eaters of the raw flesh." In fact, the name originated in the Montagnais language and had no such meaning. Eskimos refer to themselves with terms that translate as "real people" or "authentic human beings." These self-names vary from one Eskimo language to another and include the names "Inuit," "Inummaariit," "Inuvialat," "Inupiat," "Yup'ik," "Suxpiat," and "Unangan." The strength of the belief by Eskimos themselves in the pejorative connotations of their name was a major factor in its replacement, in Canada and Greenland since the 1970s, by the designation "Inuit," an ethnonym used by eastern Arctic Eskimos and Canadian Arctic Eskimos. In Alaska and Siberia, however, the term has never taken root. Although the Eskimos of the western Arctic are indeed members of the larger family of Eskimo cultures, they refer to themselves in their own language as "Yup'ik," "Inupiat," or "Unangan." To call them "Inuit" is inaccurate, and there is no all-encompassing native name for the entire native population of the Arctic.


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Es·ki·mo / ˈeskəˌmō/ • n. (pl. same or -mos) 1. often offens. a member of an indigenous people inhabiting northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and eastern Siberia, traditionally living by hunting and fishing. 2. either of the two main languages of this people (Inuit and Yupik), forming a major division of the Eskimo-Aleut family. • adj. of or relating to the Eskimos or their languages. ORIGIN: via French Esquimaux, possibly from Spanish esquimao, esquimal, from Montagnais ayas̆kimew ‘netter of snowshoes,’ probably applied first to the Micmac and later to the Eskimo.

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Eskimo (Algonquian, eaters of raw flesh) Aboriginal inhabitants (c.60,000) of Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America (the Inuit), Greenland and Siberia. Sharing the common language family of Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimos have adapted to harsh climates and are proficient hunters of sea mammals. In some areas, a nomadic existence has been replaced by village settlements and work in the oil and mining industries. The eating of raw meat preserves scarce resources and provides essential nutrients. In winter, igloos (snow huts) provide temporary shelter. In summer, tents are made from animal skins. Eskimos are skilled artisans, producing kayaks and finely crafted tools from skin, ivory, bone, copper or stone. Their spiritual life is dominated by invisible forces of nature (innua). Shamanism plays an important role in everyday life.

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Eskimoammo, Gamow •Rameau • Malmö •demo, memo •Elmo • Palermo •emo, primo, supremo •limo •gizmo, gran turismo, machismo, verismo •Eskimo • Geronimo •duodecimo, octodecimo, sextodecimo •altissimo, fortissimo, generalissimo, pianissimo •proximo • centimo • ultimo • Cosmo •Pontormo •chromo, duomo, Homo, majordomo, Nkomo, promo, slo-mo •Profumo, sumo •Alamo • dynamo • paramo

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Eskimo XVI (formerly Esquimaux). — Da. Eskimo — F. Esquimaux pl. — N. Amer. Indian word meaning ‘eaters of raw flesh’.

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ESKIMO. SeeInuit .