Eskimo women had a truly unique way of life. They had, as one book put it, "a thousand things to do".
The men, who did most of the "heavy" work, could not easily live without a woman there to help him. Before he married, he would stay with his parents and his mother would do the tasks that his wife would later take on. Often, after he was married, he and his wife would stay for a few years with his parents so that his wife could learn "the tricks of the trade".
The women's main jobs were to chew the skins to make them soft, clean and dry the men's clothing when they came in, sew new clothing (which was their main task), and take care of any children they had.
Feet: Both men and women wore hare skin socks and sealskin boots called kamiks. The men's kamiks came up to the knee, while the women's came up to the crotch. The women's kamiks were topped off with the mane hairs of the male bear, the longer the better and more elegant.
Pants: The men wore short trousers made out of white bearskin. They were a little loose so that they would be comfortable. Because the women's kamiks were so long they couldn't wear trousers like the men so they wore shorts made out of fox skin.
Upper Half: During the winter the men wore a coat of fox fur. It had a hood that could completely cover the head. The women wore a similar coat made of fox fur, only they had sealskin hoods edged with fox tails.
In the summer they wore a coat of sealskin, because it was much cooler. It too was edged with fox tails. The men wore a shirt underneath their coat that was made out of bird skin with the feathers turned inward. During really warm weather they would wear the shirt alone.
When the women had small babies they would wear amauts, which had a separate hood for the baby and the baby laid against the mothers back.
Notes on Clothing: For total protection Eskimos wore the fur on the outside of the clothing. Clothing was loose fit and well ventilated so that they would dry off quickly. This was very practical because if they had gotten warm and perspired inside their coat and then took the coat off it might freeze and that would make it very difficult to get back on!
Children wore the same clothing as their parents.
Inuit Eskimos ate a variety of things including fish, whale, seal, bear, roots, and some other things that could be readily found.
The men would go on hunting trips during seal season. They would wait in their boats for hours sometimes waiting for a seal to appear. Once one surfaced they would spear it and put it in the boat. They took turns spearing them so that every family would have a chance.
The men would go hunting for whales, and they were always watching for them even when they weren't hunting. A whale meant that the whole village would have plenty to eat for some time. When someone spotted a whale all the men would hurry for their boats making sure they had seal floats. They would spear the whale with a spear attached to a seal float. Seal floats were the full skins of seals filled with air. They would use the floats so that when the whale died they could find it.
Then they would haul it to the shore with their Umiaks - small boats made of whalebone and skins. Everyone in the village would come to help pull it onto the shore. Once it was on shore the women would go to work cutting it open and slicing up the blubber, meat, and innards. There would usually be a huge feast after a whale was caught.
A fun activity for Eskimo women and children was gathering roots. The way that they would do this was they would fan out across the tundra in search for a mouse cache. When they found one the mother would cut a small slit in the top of the cache and pull out roots with her hand. As she was doing this she would give her children advice that had been passed down from generation to generation. "You must never take all the roots in a mouse cache. Take about half of them and leave the rest for the mouse to eat during the winter. If you take all of them, the mouse will starve and die and won't be around next year to gather more roots for us."
During the winter Eskimos lived in structures made of stones and peat. The entrance was a long 15 foot tunnel that was lined with stones. The houses were usually on a little hill, facing the sea. The entrance tunnel was cut into the hill, so when you reached the end of the tunnel you actually had to step up to get into the house. The inside of the house was a rough circle measuring 9 ft. in diameter. The walls and roof were a layer of stone, then peat, then another layer of stone. I have no idea how they managed to layer the stone so as to form a roof without it collapsing but they did! Inside the house there was a bench along the back wall about three feet high. It was made out of stones with an overhang so that there was storage space underneath. That was where the family slept. It was covered with a layer of grass and then animal skins were layered over that. There were two side benches, also, but these were mainly for storage and lamps and things.
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
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