Thursday, February 8, 2018

Who Are The Native American Eskimo Indians?

Who Are The Eskimo Indians?

The word Eskimo, properly Eski-mwhan, means in the Abnaki dialect of Algonquin, “he eats raw flesh,” and was applied to the tribe from its custom of consuming fish and game without cooking. They call themselves Innuit, “people,” a term the equivalent of which is the usual expression applied by American natives to their own particular stock.
The Innuit are at present essentially a maritime and arctic nation, occupying the coast and adjacent islands from the Straits of Belle Isle on the Atlantic to Icy Bay, at the foot of Mount St. Elias on the Pacific, and extending their wanderings and settlements as far up Smith’s Sound as N. Lat. 80°, where they are by far the northernmost inhabitants of the earth. They have occupied Greenland for certainly more than a thousand years, and were the earliest settlers in some of the Aleutian islands. Portions of them at some remote period crossed Behring Strait and settled on Asiatic soil, while others established themselves along the shores of Newfoundland. Indeed, from the reports of the early Norse explorers and from the character of relics found on the Atlantic coast, it is probable that they once extended as far south as the mouth of the Delaware river. Their
 ancestors quite possibly dwelt on the moors of New England when the reindeer browsed there, and accompanied that quadruped in his final migration to the north. They belong in history and character to the Atlantic peoples.
This question, as to where their common progenitors resided, has been much discussed. A favorite theory of some writers has been that they migrated out of Asia by way of Behring Strait; but those who have studied their culture on the spot do not advocate this opinion. These observers have, without exception, reached the conclusion that the Innuit were originally an inland people, that their migrations were toward the north and west, and that they have been gradually forced to the inhospitable climes they occupy by the pressure of foes. Dr. Rink, who passed many years among them, would look for their early home somewhere in Alaska; but Mr. John Murdoch and Dr. Franz Boas, two of our best authorities on this tribe, incline to the view that their primal home was to the south of Hudson Bay, whence they separated into three principal hordes, the one passing into Labrador and reaching Greenland, the second moving to the coast of the Arctic sea, and the third to Alaska. These form respectively the Greenland, the Chiglit and the Kadjak dialects of the common tongue.

The closest observers report the physical traits of the Eskimos as thoroughly American and not Asian, as has sometimes been alleged. In appearance the Innuits of pure blood are of medium or slightly undersize, color dark, nose prominent and sometimes aquiline, hair dark brown or black, moderately strong on the face, the pubes and in the axilla; the eyes are dark brown and occasionally blue. The skull is generally long (dolichocephalic), but is subject to extensive variations ranging from almost globular to exceptionally long and narrow specimens.

In spite of the hardships of their life, the Innuits are of a singularly placid and cheerful temperament, good-natured among themselves and much given to mirth and laughter. The ingenuity with which they have learned to overcome the difficulties of their situation is quite surprising. In a country without
 wood or water, frightfully cold, and yielding no manner of edible fruit or vegetable, they manage to live and thrive. Their principal nurriture is the product of the sea. They build boats called kayaks or bidarkas from the bones of walrus covered with the skins of seals; their winter houses are of blocks of snow laid up on the principle of the circular arch to form a dome, with windows of sheets of ice. These they warm by means of stone lamps fed with blubber oil. Their clothing is of bird skins and furs, and they are skilled in the preparation of a sort of leather. As faithful companions they have their dogs, intelligent animals, used both in hunting and for drawing small sledges built of wood or bone.
With their tools of bone or stone they fashion many curious and useful articles, displaying a marked inventive faculty and an artistic eye. The picture-writing which they devised for the assistance of their memory is greatly superior to any found north of Mexico in the faithful delineation of objects, especially of animal forms.
The long winter nights are enlivened by music and songs, of which they are passionately fond, and by the recital of imaginative tales, the stock of which is inexhaustible. A skillful bard enjoys a wide reputation, and some of their poems contain fine and delicate sentiments. Others are from ancient date, and are passed down from generation to generation with scrupulous
 fidelity, every tone, every gesture, being imitated. The meter and rendition of their songs seem to the European monotonous, but the Eskimo has his own notion of the music of verse, and it is a very advanced one; he would have it akin to the sweet sounds of nature, and for that reason their poets sleep by the sound of running water that they may catch its mysterious notes, and model on them their own productions. These songs also serve as a peaceful means to allay feuds. When two persons quarrel, they will appoint an evening and sing “nith songs” at each other, and the audience will decide which comes out best. This verdict will put an end to the ill-feeling.

The imaginative character of the people is also reflected in their religions. They believe in one or several overruling powers, and in a multitude of inferior spirits and uncanny monsters. These require propitiation rather than worship. The general belief is that a person has two souls, one of which is inseparably connected with his name and passes with it to any infant named for him; while the second either descends to a warm and pleasant abode under the earth or passes to a less agreeable one in the sky; the streaming lights of the aurora borealis were sometimes thought to be these latter spirits in their celestial home.
The rites of their religion were performed chiefly by the priests, called angekoks, who, however, were little better than conjurers. In some parts this office
 was hereditary.
The language of the Innuits is very much the same throughout the whole of their extended domain. Bishop de Schweinitz once told me that a few years ago a convert from the Moravian mission in Labrador went to Alaska, and it required but a few weeks for him to understand and be understood by the natives there. In character the tongue is highly agglutinative, the affixes being joined to the end of the word. The verb is very complex, having thirty-one hundred modified forms, all different and all invariable. It is rich in expressions for all the objects of Eskimo life, and is harmonious to the ear. Like the Greek, it has three numbers, singular, dual and plural.
Those Eskimos who live in Asia call themselves Yuit, a dialect form of Innuit. They dwell around East Cape and the shore south of it, in immediate contact with the Namollos or Sedentary Chukchis, a Sibiric people, totally different in language, appearance and culture. The Yuits have not at all assimilated to the reindeer-keeping, pastoral habits of the Chukchis, and by their own well-preserved traditions, moved across the straits from the American side, with which they continue commercial intercourse. Their villages are sometimes close to those of the Namollos, or Sedentary Chukchis, they intermarry, and have a jargon sufficient for their mutual purposes; but it is an error, though a prevailing one, to suppose that they are the same people. The Chukchis never entered
 America, and the Innuits, as a people, never crossed from Asia, or originated there. The jade implements of northeastern Siberia have proved to be of the Alaskan variety of that stone, and not the Chinese jade, as some supposed.

From all points whence we have definite information, this interesting people are steadily diminishing in numbers, even where they are not in contact with the whites. The immediate causes appear to be increasing sterility and infant mortality. Two surviving children to a marriage is about the average productiveness, and statistics show that it requires double this number for a population to maintain itself even stationary.
The Aleutian branch occupies the long chain of islands which stretch westward from the southwestern corner of Alaska. The climate is mild, the sea abounds in fish, and innumerable birds nest in the rocks. We may therefore believe the navigators of the last century, who placed the population of the islands at 25,000 or 30,000 souls, although at present they have sunk to about 2,000. They have the same cheerful temperament as the Eskimos, and their grade] of culture was, when first discovered, about the same. In their own language they call themselves Unangan, people, the name Aleutes having been given them by the Russians.
It may be considered settled that their ancestors populated the islands from the American and not the Asiatic side. Not only do their own traditions assert this, but it is confirmed by the oldest relics of their culture, which is Eskimo in character, and by their language, which is generally acknowledged to be a derivative of the Alaskan Eskimo. It is divided into two dialects, the Unalashkan and Atkan, not very dissimilar, and is remarkable for the richness of its verbal forms.
In physical traits they are allied to the Eskimos, though with rounder heads, the average of twenty-five skulls giving an index of 80.Early in this century they were brought under the control of Russian missionaries, and became partially civilized and attached to the Greek Church. In their ancient myths their earliest ancestor was said to have been the dog, which animal was therefore regarded with due respect.