When you mention Alaska and the Arctic Circle, one envisions igloos, dog sleds, and invariably, Eskimos. However, little do most know, that what most refer to as Eskimos is actually a generalization representing three distinct groups. In order to understand the societies that live in this region and acknowledge their cultural differences we must explore the different groups that inhabit this region of which there are two: the Inuit, and the Yupik.
For the purposes of this discussion we will focus on the lives of the Inuit. The Inuit are a group of people often mischaracterized as Eskimos. They lived in the area of central and northeastern Canada and Greenland. There has been much discussion of the orignination of this group of people but the most recognized theory is that they crossed from northern Asia across thin bridge of land over the Bering Strait sometime around 6000-2000 BC. Many people mistakenly think that the Inuit and Native Americans are one in the same. It seems that the Inuit most likely came from Asia more likely than the Native Americans. Although both probably came to the Americas through the Bering Strait. Biological, cultural and dialect differences show the different origin. Much of this theory is supported due to the close resemblance of the Inuit to the Mongoloid races of Eastern Asia. Because of the harsh land and climate of the Arctic, this area was probably one of the last regions to be inhabited making the Inuit on of the earth’s younger cultures.
A large portion of the Inuit culture was developed based upon the need to survive. Migratory societies such as the Inuit were driven by the need for food to feed its members, by the availability of trade to secure resources not normally available to them, and the need to protect themselves from other cultures looking to infringe upon their sovereignty. Although the Inuit are perhaps one of the younger societies on earth, due to how harsh and desolate the region that they live in much of their cultural traditions have remained unchanged for thousands of years. Furthermore it was not until quite recently that they were exposed to modern things such as firearms and modern clothing such as manufactured boots and insulated outerware. Therefore it is a bit easier to understand ancient Inuit by studying modern Inuit societies.
Within the structure of the Inuit family, the division of labor between men and women was fairly distinct and organized. Men were primarily responsible for getting food through hunting and fishing. They were also in charge of big projects such as building homes, igloos, and tents. Then Inuit women were responsible for the family issues such as raising the children, preparing the food that the men caught, keeping the fire, and making the clothing.
Inuit women were married at a very young age. Marriages were often if not always pre-arranged. The potential couple had little if no say at all in their fate. Usually the...