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Bering Sea and Arctic Coast Eskimos of Alaska: Encyclopedia Arctica 8: Anthropology and Archeology
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Bering Sea and Arctic Coast Eskimos of Alaska

EA-Anthropology
(Margaret Lantis)

BERING SEA AND ARCTIC COAST ESKIMOS OF ALASKA

CONTENTS
Page
Territory and Tribal Divisions 1
Language 3
Ethnological Investigation 5
History 7
Population 8
Influence of Habitat 11
Culture 17
Bibliography 28

EA-Anthropology
(Margaret Lantis)

BERING SEA AND ARCTIC COAST ESKIMOS OF ALASKA
Territory and Tribal Divisions
These Eskimos occupied a broad coastal area extending from Ugashik
on the Alaska Peninsula (lat. 57°5′) to Point Barrow (lat. 72°4′) and
Demarcation Point near the Arctic coast boundary between Alaska and Canada,
a coastline over 2,500 miles long, not including the islands and inlets.
With their relatives, the Aleuts, they encompassed the entire western and
northern extensions of United States territory in the North Pacific and
Arctic oceans. (While the Indians occasionally approached the coast to
trade, they did not have settlements on this coast in any discernible pre–
historic period.) The Eskimos, a coastal people fundamentally, followed
the larger waterways inland, establishing villages approximately 100 miles
inland in the Bristol Bay area, nearly 300 miles up the Kuskokwim River,
200 miles up the Yukon River (only 150 miles overland from Bering Sea to
Paimiut, across the great bend in the lower Yukon), and more than 300 miles
inland in northwest Alaska: the area of the upper Noatak and upper Colville
Rivers. Westward, Eskimos occupied the Diomede Islands, St. Lawrence, Sledge,
King, and Nunivak islands, but not St. Matthew or the Pribilof Islands.
Their neighbors on the southwest were the Aleuts, on the southeast the
Kaniagmiut of the Pacific Eskimos ( q.v .), while from Cook Inlet to the Koyu–
kuk the Eskimos faced the Tanaina and Tena Indians (cf. "Athabascan Indians").

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Across Bering Strait were the Yuit, a Siberian branch of the Eskimo stock.
East of the Alaskan Eskimos on the Arctic coast were the Mackenzie Eskimos.
Regarding linguistic or other distinction between Eskimo groups within
the above territory, there is not full agreement, as (1) the Eskimos were
not organized into well-defined tribes with stated use-rights for any local–
ity, (2) in most areas, dialects differed only slightly from one village to
the next, (3) there was some confusion of group designations in the records
of explorers and settlers. The following list gives name and location of the
principal groups as accepted by most writers:
Name Principal Location
Aglegmiut Egegik-Naknek area: probably Ugashik to Point
Etolin originally
Nushagagmiut Nushagak River
Togiagamiut Togiak River, Togiak Lake, and lake country east
of it
Kuskokwagmiut (or
Kuskwogmiut)
Goodnews Bay, Kuskokwim Bay, lower Kuskokwim River
Kaialigamiut Coast of mainland from Cape Avinof to Cape Romanzof
Nuniwagamiut (or
Nunivagmiut)
Nunivak Island, Nelson Island (only west side?)
Magemint South mouth of the Yukon and area southward toward
Bethel
Ikogmiut North mouth of the Yukon and both sides of the
river to Paimiut
Unaligmiut Around Norton Sound from Pastolik Bay to Shaktolik
(pre-European time)
Ungalardlermiut Norton Bay and lower Koyuk River (pre-European?)
Kaviagmiut South side of Seward Peninsula from Golovin Bay
to near Port Clarence, including Sledge Island
Kinugumiut West end of Seward Peninsula from Port Clarence to
Shismarof Inlet, including Wales, Diomede Islands,
King Island

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Name Principal Location
Yuit St. Lawrence Island
Malmiut Base of Seward Peninsula, coast around
Kotzebue Sound and north to point Hope (Tigara)
Noatagmiut Upper Selawik (Selawigmiut), Kobuk (Kowagmiut),
and Noatak rivers
Nunatagmiut Upper Noatak to upper Colville River
Utkiavigmiut Coast from Cape Lisburne (Point Lay?) to
Point Barrow
Kapagmiut Inland from Icy Cape and Point Barrow, chiefly
upper Meade River
Kugmiut Coast southeast of Point Barrow
Killirmiut and
Kagmallirmiut
Lowee Colville River (teritory uncertain)
In addition, smaller groups that perhaps were not distinct from any of
the above have been recorded: Chingigmiut, between Togiak and Goodnews Bay;
Sikmiut, on middle Kuskokwim; Quvjasamiut, on the north side of Seward Penin–
sula in the Cape Espenberg-Deering area; Kuvugmiut, interior area south of the
Colville River between the Noatagmiut and Killirmiut; Kangianirmiut and
Oturkagmiut, north of the Colville River, with boundaries between them and
the Kapagmiut not clear.
Language
All who have had experience with the Eskimo language in west Alaska
agree that the dialects in the northwest part of the Territory show remarkably
little variation but that the southwest dialects differ greatly from the former
and also differ among themselves. No two people seem able to agree, however,
regarding the exact boundary between north and south. It was placed at the
Yukon Delta (the Ikogmiut) by Dall, in the Unalakleet-Shaktolik area of Norton

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Sound by Nelson, at approximately the Yukon by Rasmussen, and at Norton Bay
by Barnum.
Linguistic observations in the great area between the Kuskokwim River
and Kodiak Island being especially meager and not a single modern linguistic
study having been made even of the better known Eskimos on the northwest
coast of Alaska, only a surmise regarding linguistic relationships can be
given at this time (1947), as follows:
The dialect shifts from one village to the next nearest are small but
across a radius of a hundred miles, or two hundred, the differences are cum–
ulatively noticeable. Somewhat greater differences even between adjacent
villages are apparent in at least three places: (1) on Nelson Island, with the
Nunivak and Nelson Island people speaking a language apparently more like those
to the south around Bristol Bay, while the language of the nearby mainland has
relationships northward. With only small variations, the latter is spoken by
people from the Kuskokwim to the Unaligmiut north of the Yukon. Even so,
Nunivak people one converse with those at Hooper Bay (Kaialigamiut) without
difficulty, with St. Michael people not quite so easily, and finally with
Unalakleet and Shaktolik Eskimos (Unaligmiut). (2) Beyond the last mentioned
people, there is a sharper break, the Kaviagmiut and Malemiut speaking dialects
with clear relationships northward to Point Barrow and beyond that differing
markedly from the Unaligmiut, Ikogmiut, and others south of Norton Sound. (3)
There have been conflicting statements regarding linguistic differences between
St. Lawrence Island and the American mainland. There is evidence that the Yuit
(St. Lawrence) and the Kinugumiut of Bering Strait are more closely related to
the Nuniwagamiut and Kaialigamiut (and possibly others in this area) than are
the intervening Kaviagmiut and Malemiut. A southward shift of people from the

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arctic coast to the north Bering Sea coast may have severed old connections
around Bering Sea. Perhaps the Kaviagmiut were originally in the Bering Sea
group but were overwhelmed and absorbed by Malemiut. (4) Considerable lin–
guistic difference between Alaska Peninsula Eskimos, i.e., the Kaniagmiut
and Aglegmiut, and those farther north, the Nushagagmiut and Togiagamiut,
is probable but is undocumented.
Despite these differences, the Eskimo language of Alaska was remarkably
uniform, in comparison with the difference between Aleut dialects and parent
Eskimo languages.
Ethnological Investigation
The following people have published ethnological information that they
themselves secured in the course of teaching, missionary work, exploration,
archaeological or other investigation. There have been few studies by trained
anthropologists. For the larger ethnographic and for a few of the more specific
reports, dates of field study are given.
H.D. Anderson and W.C. Eells - Much of west Alaska north to Kotzebue
area, 1930-31.
C.L. Andrews - Kivalina, Wainwright, and Seward Peninsula.
Francis Barnum, S.J. - Nelson Island (linguistics only).
F.W. Beechey - Principally Kitzebue Sound.
J.S. Cantwell - Kobuk River.
H.B. Collins, Jr. - Reconnaissance from Bristol Bay to Point Hope, 1927,
1928, 1929; Archaeology, St. Lawrence Island and Bering Strait,
1928, 1929, 1930, 193 6
E.S. Curtis - Nunivak and King islands, Bering Strait, Kotzebus-Noatak
area, 1927.
W.H. Dall - A large part of Alaska, 1865 - 1890.
Frederica de Laguna - Yukon area, 1935.

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W.F. Doty - St. Lawrence Island.
C.M. Garber - Bering Strait.
Otto M. Geist - Archaeology, St. Lawrence Island, 1926-35.
Louis Giddings - Point Hope, 1939, 1947.
G.B. Gordon - Kuskokwim River, chiefly.
E.W. Hawkes - Norton Sound and Lower Yukon River.
Hans Himmelheber - Kuskokwim River, Nunivak Island, and coast to
Point Barrow, 1936-37.
C.L. Hooper - Arctic coast.
Ales Hrdlicka - Anthropological reconnaissance of Yukon and Kuskokwim
rivers, Ristol Bay area, and coast from Norton Sound to Point
Barrow, 1926, 1929, 1930, 1931.
Sheldon Jackson - Most of the Eskimo area.
J.A. Jacobson - North Bering Sea.
Diamond Jenneas - Bering Strait, 1926.
Margaret Lantis - Nunivak area, 1939040, 1946.
Helge Larsen - Point Hope, 1939.
R.D. Moore - St. Lawrence Island, 1912.
John Murdoch - Point Barrow (prepared for publication the field material
of Ray, Herendeen, Oldmixon, and himself), 1881-83.
E.W. Nelson - Territory south from St. Michael to Kuskokwim River; north–
west to Sledge Island; up Yukon River to head of Innoko River; St.
Lawrence Island; Plover Bay to North Cape (Siberia); and Bering
Strait to Point Barrow (writer of most complete report on Alaskan
Eskimos), 1877-81.
A.E. Nordenskiöld - Seward Peninsula.
Ivan Petrof - Most of west Alaska.
Froelich Rainey - Point Hope, 1939-40.
Khud Rasmussen - Demarcation Point to Seward Peninsula, 1924.
John Simpson - Point Barrow.
Ivar Skarland - St. Lawrence Island, 1934; Bristol Bay area, 1947.

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Vilhjalmur Stefansson - Colville River, 1908-09; Point Barrow, 1912:
H.R. Thornton - Cape Prince of Wales.
W.B. Van Valin - Wainwright and Point Barrow.
E.M. Weyer - Alaska Peninsula and Bering Strait.
F. Whymper - Norton Sound and Yukon River.
H.D. W oolfe - Northwest Alaska.
L.A. Zagoskin - Territory east and southeast of Norton Sound, including
lower Yukon River and middle Kuskokwim, 1842-44.
History
The pre-European history of cultural changes and shifts of people is
shown better by archaeology than by meager and differing legends or by com–
parison of current elements of culture.
After the discovery of Alaska, the history of the Eskimos is the history
of incoming Whites, the "Outsiders." (Regarding internal changes made in
their way of life by the Eskimos as a result of their contact with new people.
see "Acculturation, Eskimo-White and Eskimo-Indian.") The dates of signifi–
cant white influence on the Bering Sea and Arctic Eskimos and the kinds of
influences can be grouped into periods.
1778-1848 Exploration , chiefly by Russians and English. First settlement,
in fortress-like trading stations. Establishment of fur trade,
principally for land furs. Whaling in Bering Sea. Introduction
of a few standard trade articles: tobacco, beads, tea, knives.
First widespread epidemic: smallpox, 1835-1840.
1848-1890 Shift from Russian to American domination . Greatest expansion
of Whaling and walrus-hunting in the Arctic, by sailing ships
chiefly from New England and Scandinavia. Conflict between
Eskimos and whalers. Cessation of fighting between Eskimos and
Indians. First missionaries from the United States, American
mission schools beginning to supplant Russian schools. Alaska
Commercial Co. buys out Russian-American Co. Establishment of
regular travel on the Yukon River.

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1890-1910 Development of government and law enforcement . Establishment
of permanent white towns during and after the Gold Rush. Estab–
lishment of Federal Schools for the Eskimos. Importation of dom–
estic reindeer and training of Eskimo reindeer herders, with
system of apprenticeship. Whaling by steamship, and decline of
whaling. Decline in number of most sea mammals. Measles Epidemic
of 1900-1901.
1910-1938 Gradual expansion and stabilization . Development of more normal
white communities than those of the Gold Rush. Stabilization of
mail routes and steamship travel, of mining, of the spheres of the
large trading companies. Establishment of commercial fishing in
Bristol Bay. Expansion of Federal services for Eskimos, especially
health services. Gradual increase in number of sea mammals, after
earlier depletion. Decline of close herding of reindeer and con–
troversy over ownership of deer. Decrease in isolation of villages,
with use of radio. Influenza epidemic of 1919.
1938-1948 Rapid expansion of air travel , with marked decrease in village
isolation. Expansion of industrial employment of Eskimos. Greater
military influences: permanent military establishments, construc–
tion of roads and airfields, system of weather reporting, founding
of Alaska Territorial Guard (a home guard of natives). Purchase
by Government from white owners of reindeer herds and establishment
of new system of reindeer supervision. Development of native com–
mercial enterprises and self-government. Development of freer com–
petition in trade. Problems of Eskimo relations to white society
approached: passage of anti-discrimination law by Legislature,
more Eskimos receiving high school education, greater use of English
language, consideration of policy regarding native use-rights.
Expanded unified Territorial health program.
Population
Early American census figures can not be compared exactly with recent
ones or with each other because of different application of the terms "Innuit"
and "Eskimauan." In 1880, the total of "Innuit" in the Arctic, Yukon, and
Kuskokwim Census Divisions of Alaska was 15,406. In 1890, the total of
"Eskimauan Linguistic Stock" in those Divisions plus a new Nushegak Division
was 11,375. It is unlikely that there was actually so great a decrease in
the 1880-1890 decade.
Accurate figures of total Eskimo population in Alaska and especially of

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population by groups and villages probably never have been secured. Earlier
census figures have an under-count because inland villages of northwest Alaska
were not enumerated. In more recent enumerations, it has been difficult to
record an accurate distribution of population in permanent (winter) villages,
due to Eskimo mobility from one fishing camp to another, from coast to inland
herds, or to other sites for seasonal occupancy. Despite census-takers' lack
of familiarity with factors of distribution, language barriers, and difficul–
ties of travel, the 1939 Census included many more villages than that in 1929
and is undoubtedly more accurate.
Total enumerated Eskimo population in 1939 was 15,576 (8,034 males and
7,542 females), almost all of whom were in the Bering Sea and Arctic regions
covered by this article. Very few individuals in the Kodiak, Iliamna, and
Kvichak districts now are counted as Eskimos, most descendants of Eskimos be–
ing considered Indian, Aleut, or part-White. The total of 15,576 presents very
little, if any, actual increase over the total in 1920 and 1919, better enumer–
ation alone easily accounting for the difference between 13,698 (1919) and
the above figure.
That the Eskimo population has decreased greatly in the past 75 years
is demonstrated from these examples: the death of an estimated 1,000 on St.
Lawrence Island in 1879-1880 (Collins); death of probably as many as 1,000
along the Kuskokwim River in 1900, with abandonment of about 20 villages
(Gordon); death of more than 100, about one-third of the population, at Point
Barrow in 1900-01 (Andrews) and of at least one-fourth of the people in other
villages for which there are re ords (Stefansson).
The Eskimos are fecund, especially those in the Bering Sea area where
early marriage and abundant and varied food help to produce and maintain large

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families. Since Alaskan Eskimos can produce large families and since the
infant mortality rate is being reduced, an increase in population can be pre–
dicted as a result of the current program of earlier diagnosis and better
treatment of tuberculosis and immunization for smallpox, diphtheria, and
whooping cough.
Although some villages in the Bristol Bay, Kuskokwim, and Yukon areas
enumerated in 1939 cannot be designated today as either Eskimo or Indian and
although some temporarily occupied seasonal villages were counted while others
were not, census figures still show general characteristics of number and dis–
tribution of villages. There were about 220 indenticiable Eskimo villages,
of which 170 had fewer than 100 inhabitants each. The largest villages were on
the arctic coast: Barrow, Wainwright, Noatak, and Kotzebue, each having over
300 Eskimos. That area, however, has long stretches of uninhabited coast, un–
like the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers where small villages are strung like
beads. Configuration of coast, frequent ice conditions, habits of the sea
mammals, dependence of the Eskimos on trading post and school account for the
concentration of population at a few favorable locations on the arctic coast.
Villages containing 200 to 300 Eskimos (plus a white population varying great–
ly from one village to another) were Cambell, Savoonga, Ukivok (King Island),
Shismaref, Deering, Noorvik, Selawik, Tigara (Point Hope), Unalakleet, Ashinuk
(Hooper Bay), Dillingham, Kwinhagak, Akiak, and Bethel. The remaining 30
villages (approximately) had 100 to 200 inhabitants.
Most of the villages have been small since the beginning of white contact.
The largest of 21 villages in the Norton Sound-lower Yukon-Kuskokwim area
visited by Zagoskin in 1842-44 had only 130 inhabitants and the average village
population was 63. Of 175 villages in a much larger area enumerated by

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Petrof in 1880, 123 had fewer than 100 inhabitants. The range in village
population was 6 to 314.
While this population is small in so vast a territory, it has greater
density per square mile than the Canadian and Greenland Eskimos (Weyer). As
the area from which food, furs, wood, and other necessities can be effective–
ly obtained does not coincide with total land area, figures on density of
population do not tell much about the inhabitants' level of living and the
population pressure against resources. Also, the high mortality rate since
the beginning of white contact prevents one from seeing what population the
area may have supported at any one time or could support at present.
Influence of Habitat
The Eskimos of Alaska, like those of Greenland, have a way of life
thoroughly integrated for sea-mammal hunting and for use of sea products,
one of the best examples in the world of a culture effectively adapted to a
particular habitat and functionally oriented to it even in ceremonial and
other nonmaterial aspects of life. Although the Eskimos of the upper Col–
ville and Noatak rivers and of the middle Kuskokwim River may never kill
walrus or whale or even small hair seals, they still depend upon the oil and
skins of these animals, obtaining them by trade with coast Eskimos. The skin–
covered boats, blubber lamps, seal-hide boots and other clothing, and special–
ized methods for sea-mammal hunting are generally known. (See below.)
The sea mammals on which the Eskimos depend are distributed as follows:
Sea-lion: a few as far north as Nunivak Island and (rarely) beyond.
Small gray hair seal or ringed seal: Goodnews Bay (at least) to beyond
Barrow, abundant and important for food.
Spotted or harbor seal: North Pacific to Bering Strait, also around Point
Barrow.

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Bearded seal: all parts of area although not so abundant as preceding two,
important especially for its hide.
Ribbon seal: principally just south of Bering Strait, occasionally in Arctic.
Walrus: everywhere except southeast of Barrow, rare south of Kuskokwim Bay,
important for ivory as well as hide and food.
Right whale and bowhead: south and west Bering Sea to Arctic Sea.
Humpbacked whale: Arctic Sea beyond Point Hope (?)
Beluga (white whale): everywhere, except possibly Barrow.
Polar bear: everywhere south to northern Bering Sea, rarely south of Yukon
Delta.
The relations of Eskimo culture to habitat not so well known are the
following.
Land products utilized : The sea-mammal diet is supplemented by fish
everywhere. Since the arctic region does not have the salmon, herring, cod–
fish, and halibut of Bering Sea, the people depend more upon river fish, of
which large quantities are secured, especially in the Selawik area. The most
nearly universal fish is the tomcod, obtained usually be appearing through the
ice of river or inlet in winter. Bering Sea people, especially those of Bristol
Bay, Nunivak, and the Unalakleet area, dry large quantities of salmon and
other fish, although they store some fresh in pits (to become "stink-fish")
or freeze the fish, depending upon the season. Smoke-drying was not an abor–
iginal technique of the Eskimos but in some localities has been learned from
Russians and Indians. In the Arctic, most fish is eaten frozen or boiled.
Unaligmiut, Ikogmiut, Kuskwogmiut, Nuniwagamiut, and perhaps others in
their area formerly wore waterproof fishskin mittens and carried fishskin bags
for tools or trinkets, even made fishskin parkas.
The islands of Bering Sea and Strait, notably Nunivak, Diomede, and King
islands, have cliff rookeries on which thousands of sea birds nest: murre,

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puffin, auklet, and pigeon guillemot. Geese, ducks, plovers, and other
birds nest on the tundra of the far Arctic. Considerable quantities of eggs
are eaten, and in some places are stored in seal pokes. Almost all other
Eskimos also can obtain these birds for food on their great migration to and
from the Arctic. On Nunivak, for example, 20 to 25 varieties of game fowl are
eaten every year although not all these nest on the island. The skins of birds
are sewed together to make very warm parkas by the people of Nunivak, King,
St. Lawrence, and Diomede islands (although now a disappearing custom).
Berries and greens are obtained in sufficient quantities for storage as
well as for current use in most localities from Bristol Bay to Sewaed Penin–
sula, but only the berries are thus available in the far
While some caribou are found in most parts of the Eskimos habitat, the
animals' migrations bring them into certain localities in greater numbers:
middle Yukon toward Norton Sound and the Koyuk; from central Alaska toward
the coast in northeast Alaska and in mainland Canada; and from the interior
toward the coast within northwest Alaska. Caribou lean and fat, is a vital
food; its sinews the threads of the Eskimo women. On some of the rivers of
northwest Alaska the people formerly killed many hundreds in communal drives
of the deer over cliffs, or into lakes and rivers where men in kayaks paddled
after them and speared them.
Moose, brown bear, and mountain sheep were hunted in the Brooks Range
as well as in southern Alaska, contrary to general concepts of the Arctic.
Other land animals have been important to the Eskimo in providing fur clothing
and, since the coming of whites, as trade articles, the most important sources
of money. Land animals are especially abundant in the Nushagak-Togiak area,
with its mountains and trees in the interior: beaver, land otter, moose, muskrat,
and others that become scarcer as one proceeds northward. Ground squirrels and

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rabbits are found almost everywhere on the mainland. Otter, wolverine, and
wolf are traded by inland Eskimos to coastal people around Bering Sea (from
the Kuskokwim northward) or to commercial traders; marmot is much sought in
the Kobuk area; some variety of fox is obtained locally everywhere, but Eskimos
used to trade it to obtain desired colors of fur. Similarly domestic reindeer
skins from the Chukchis in Siberia were traded up the arctic coast and far in–
land despite the local presence of caribou. Finally, marton, lynx, and other
valuable furs were traded from interior to coast in northwest Alaska.
Conditions for hunting : Under aboriginal conditions when the game supply
is not decreased by such activities as commercial whaling, by far the most im–
portant natural factor to a sea-hunting people is wind: prevailing direction
of wind, sudden shift of wind, duration and force of storms. Whether it is
floating ice and occasional walrus for the Nunivak and Nelson islanders, the
whole walrus herd ging through Bering Strait for the King and Diomede islanders,
or the right whale coming north in the ice leads for the people at Icy Cape
and Wainwright, the wind sets the conditions for scarcity, adequacy, or abund–
ance of food. If the wind drives the ice onto the arctic shore in early summer
when hunting in open leads near shore is counted on, one source of food may be
eliminated. Even land hunting is affected: a prolonged warm wind may bring a
spring flood and a shift of caribou migration route.
There is less precipitation on the coast in any season of the year the
farther north one goes. Bristol Bay, like the south coast of Alaska, has
considerable rain; the Nunivak area has a period of autumn rains when fish–
drying and other activities are affected, but the Arctic has little. Summer
fog on Bering Sea occasionally is hazardous. However, neither fog, rain, nor
snow has affected Eskimo life basically like winds and temperature - until the
coming of the airplane. As the villages become more dependent on air contacts

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with the outside world, fog and snowstorm will affect shipment of furs, re–
ceipt of medical care, and other necessities of their new life.
One important factor is sea depth. From Kuskokwim Bay to the Nome area
there is no regular whale hunting because large true whales do not come into
the very shallow water along the coast. Only the beluga, a dolphin, is
secured regularly in places like Hooper, Scammon, and Pastolik bays and at
Unalakleet. Without whale hunting, there was less use for the umiak, the
baleen and whale bones were not available for implements or house construction
as in the Arctic. In contrast, deep water around King and St. Lawrence islands
has made them especially favorable locations for whale hunting.
Conditions of travel are important conditions of hunting, particularly
on land. In late winter when pack ice may move toward shore, forcing up high
pressure ridges, in spring when the snow gets soft — "has no bottom" — and
the broken ice mills in river, lagoon, and bay, in summer when the tundra is
mushy wet, covered with hundreds of ponds and infested with mosquitoes, and
in the fall when new ice is sharp-edged for a kayak and too thin to hold a sled,
hunting and fishing must shift location or stop altogether no matter how many
animals are in the area. A rugged land also makes hard travel. Although
mountains and bluffs yield a few minerals (stone for tools and ornaments) and
may be the habitat of some desirable land animals, the mainland Eskimos gen–
erally prefer low rolling country near the coast. They also like a broken
shore line providing bays and lagoons on which shellfish, water fowl, and
fish may be secured with protection from the sea and on which both sled and
kayak travel are easier and safer, for mobility is one of the fundamental re–
quirements of Eskimo life.
Probably villages formerly were on higher ground than at present in most
localities because of the necessity of defense. In any case, they were placed

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without reference to available wood and running water. The Eskimo could
manage with pond ice or old sea for drinking water and with a little
driftwood, but he could not live without food. Today, with new needs for
sanitation, he feels greater need for a good water supply.
Moonlight and sunlight are factors of travel and hunting not appreciated
by outsiders. Beyond the Arctic Circle where the sun shines almost all night
in May, when some of the land and most of the sea still are covered with snow
or ice, the glare on the ice from a sun approaching the summer solstice is
dangerous. Wooden eyeshades, goggles, and large hats projecting in front
(the latter among Bering Sea Eskimos only) were the Eskimos' protection against
snow blindness. Lack of sunlight in winter was not felt so strongly by the
Eskimos as by outsiders, as they had learned to live by the moonlight that
shines half of every month in winter. Games, travel, fishing by moonlight,
which may be very bright on the snow, were enjoyable; and sleeping and eating
schedules - never strictly observed - were disregarded, to fit the light and
the dominant activity of the season.
Factors of Isolation : Their habitat has been a protection for the Eskimos
from encroachment by other peoples. Except for the early fur trade and recent
commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, some mining between it and the Kuskokwim,
whaling in the Arctic, gold mining on the Seward Peninsula, and Gold Rush
travel on the Yukon — all periodic and localized — outsiders have not sought
to dominate the sources of Eskimo lifelihood. Lack of salmon in the Arctic,
scarcity of fur animals on the islands and along mainland coast, the ice pack,
storm and fog, the shallowness of east Bering Sea, and the bogginess of the
tundra became a boon for the Eskimos after white settlement. The only thing
in modern culture that can effectively overcome tundra, ice pack, or a two–
fathom sea is the airplane, bound to do both harm and good, like any great in–
vention.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Culture
Basically the culture of all Alaskan Eskimos wes almost uniform despite
the great extent of its territory. Implements, beliefs, and habits char–
acteristic of both Bering Sea and Arctic Sea may be summarized as follows.
Dwellings . Winter house, a log structure (occasionally with whale
bones as supplementary building material and anciently a stone foundation),
semisubterranean and earth-covered, or built on top of ground, of sods and
split logs, with gut window in the roof, small center fireplace, and storage
passageway. The window is made by sewing together strips of opened and cleaned
intestine. Variable summer dwellings, different from type of winter dwelling
construction, except in south Bering Sea. Size, form, and materials of tents
and other summer dwellings showed response to local conditions. No dome-shaped
snow houses. Most Alaskan Eskimos built no snowhouses. A few built a hap–
hazard angular shelter. A ceremonial house ( kashim , karrigi , kadgigi ) every–
where except St. Lawrence Island; used also as a men's workroom and lounging
place except at Wainwright, Point Barrow, and adjacent interior region. Al–
though like the winter house in form and materials, it was larger, had narrower
benches for sitting and sleeping — sometimes in tiers to accommodate many
people — and usually had a large fireplace to provide heat for the men's
sweat bath. Storehouse or open cache on high piling. In many places there
were also windowless subterranean storehouses.
Tools . Stone-bladed men's knives with small end of side blade, women's
rocker-type knives with large blade, chisels and drill points, small thick
adzes, and many others. Ivory-pointed meat hooks, ice grapples, ice chisels,
and adzes, except in Bristol Bay where walrus were scarce and ice conditions
very different from the Arctic. Bow drill, for fire-making and drilling holes.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Hunting and Fishing Implements . Harpoons with the basic elements of shaft,
socket piece, foreshaft, head, blade, and rawhide lines holding foreshaft and
head to shaft. To the harpoon sometimes was attached a float, made of a small
whole sealskin or, on lighter harpoons, a bladder. Blunt-headed bird arrow.
Throwing board or atlatl . Both simple and sinew-backed bows. Heavy caribou
arrows. Multipronged fish spears and bird spears. Both simple and composite
fishhooks of the same construction. Nets for catching seals under the ice,
made of rawhide or, anciently, baleen. Fish seines (gill nets) made of sinew
cord. Conical fish traps, usually made of wood. In the absence of specific
information about the Bristol Bay Eskimos, assumptions that they were similar
to Eskimos immediately north of them must be made.
Transportation . Kayak, umiak or whaleboat, uniform throughout area in
frame construction, differing only in proportions. Double-blade paddle for
the kayak, single-blade paddle for the umiak. Recently the single-blade,
crutch-handled paddle has been used almost exclusively, also oars and oarlocks.
Snowshoes, which varied greatly in shape and netting, however. Sleds: (1) small,
flat, usually hand-drawn sled for transporting boats or meat, chiefly on the ice;
(2) travel sled, with upcurved front, rails, and handle bar, drawn by dogs.
The farther south one goes, the less evidence of the dog sled is found. There
is good evidence that the dog sled complex as known today is not old in Eskimo
history.
Household Utensils and Techniques . Carved and joined wooden dishes and
boxes. Crude pottery (Bristol Bay ?) today although anciently pottery of dif–
ferent style was made. Basketry made by twining technique except in Barrow
region where basketry was made by technique of coiling and stitching the strands.
Cooking was done over a driftwood fire indoors or outdoors, or, from Bering Strait
northward, sometimes over a lamp. Cooking in the open air as much as possible.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Urine, a good detergent because of ammonia content, used in washing and tanning
of skins. Sometimes ashes or sand rubbed on skin to facilitate scarping off
of the hair.
Clothing and Ornament . Fur boots and fur parkas with ruffed hood, re–
markably uniform in out throughout area, e.g., men's parkas were straight
around the bottom, the women's curved up the sides. Boot-trousers for children
and women. Waterproof boots for both sexes. Wooden eyeshades. Tattooing by
stitching rather than pricking. Labrets.
Hunting Techniques . Those especially adapted to Arctic Sea hunting are
described elsewhere in this volume. Except whale hunting and the caribou
drives, nearly all hunting on land and sea was individualistic.
In the nonmaterial aspects of their life, the following are the most
noticeable or best documented similarities — but not the only ones — of both
Bering Sea and Arctic Alaskans.
Games . String figures (cat's cradles), skin-tossing, finger-pulling,
ball games, stick-quoits, carved and dressed dolls, simple mechanical toys,
racing and athletic contests. Skill and personal competition, rather than
gambling, were dominant in most games and sports.
Family Characteristics . A house normally was shared by more than one
family of parents and children, with women and young children occupying it
while the men and older boys spent most of their time in the ceremonial house,
the kashim , even sleeping in it in the central Bering Sea area. Families shar–
ing the women's house almost always were closely related and shared cooking
and other duties intimately and amicably. (If they could not get along, house–
hold members moved elsewhere in an attempt to get better adjustment.) As vil–
lages were small and household s and kashims large, there were few households,
and all villagers were closely related by both kinship and daily experience.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Thus adoption of children was common, exchange of wives by recognized partners
was permissible, and children were reared as much by grandparents, cousins,
and neighbors as by their own parents. Marital separation was frequent, in–
itiated by o ther husband or wife.
None of these practices was promiscuous, however. Regulating social and
economic relations were: (1) patrilineal kinship, with totemic relationships
and tabus designating the lineages, (2) partnerships probably originally
based on cross-cousin kinship, (3) tabus on direct speech and other behavior
between in-laws, (4) matrilocal residence and some service by the bridegroom
for the bride's family immediately preceding marriage or in the early years
of marriage. Both polygamy and polyandry were permissible but neither was
common. Almost always co-wives or co-husbands were related. Kin relation–
ships were designated and regulated not only by the weakly organized totemism
but also by a strong sense of the power and significance of names. Teknonymy
(the naming of parents by their relationship to their children), substitution
of nicknames for "real" names, and other devices were used, to avoid use of
the real name so intimately connected with the individual.
Government and Law . Strict or elaborate government is not necessary,
in fact scarcely possible, for people in such a sparsely settled country,
their activities contained by urgent necessity and difficulty of food getting,
who are much of the time not in permanent villages but traveling in small
groups and scattered to temporary camps. When large numbers of people came
together to "cut in" a whale, the whaleboat owner who was credited with the
kill took charge. At a large ceremonial, wealthy hunters, older heads of
families, or shamans became masters of ceremonies, dependent on the nature of
the occasion. Reindeer drives or roundups were conducted by agreement of the
men with recognized ability as hunters. Personal relationships were regulated

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

by the religiously and socially sanctioned tabu system, family revenge, and
a more or less formalized system of ridicule.
Around the lower part of Bristol Bay where life was physically more
abundant and secure than in the Arctic and where influences from the Aleuts
and the Indians of the south and southeast Alaska were felt, there was more
formality, permanence, and social segmentation in community organization.
There were clearer distinctions between rich and poor, and probably less shar–
ing of goods. In the north Bering Sea and Arctic regions, class distinctions
could not easily be maintained in a society with generally coordinate families
and family law, absence of land-site or water-site ownership, a day-by-day
giving and lending of food, tools, dogs, children, and occasionally wives,
and a periodic redistribution of goods through large gift distribution in the
festivals. Before white settlement, the shamans (medicine men) apparently had
strong leadership and control, because of their supernatural power, often
superior ability and knowledge, and wealth accumulated by "professional"
practice.
Warfare . The Eskimos were, as a people, nonmilitaristic although the
Kinugumiut of Bering Strait and Malemiut at the base of Seward Peninsula are
said to have been aggressive. The Ikogmiut on the Yukon, Sikhmiut on the
Kuskokwim, and the people of the Kvichak area of Bristol Bay were of necessity
frequently at war because of their proximity to the Indians. In Eskimo warfare,
raids might be organized by any wronged individual seeking revenge. Villages
were taken by surprise, if possible, by attackers shooting into the houses
through the skylight. Sometimes the houses were fired. Some women and chil–
dren might be taken prisoner, but not the men. Bow and arrow, slat-armor,
knives and other weapons for hand-to-hand fighting were used. Parts of the
bodies of enemy warriors (not the scalp) were taken as trophies.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Religion . Today almost all these Eskimos are Christians. In their old
religion, encounters with dwarfs, animal spirits, and other supernatural beings
were not limited to a very few people with unusually strong spiritual powers.
Every large village had several shamans, considered to have varying effective–
ness in controlling the supernatural beings, and most laymen at some time had
experiences with the Supernatural, in strange lights, sounds, sensations, and
occasionally true visions. Most spirits were visualized clearly by all and
were not always avoided, as they were considered the givers of beneficial
powers, especially hunting powers, represented by and contained in songs,
stories, masks, amulets, designs on kayak cover, drum, and other articles.
Amulets in the form of small carved figures, the most numerous and important
bearers of supernatural power, were fastened to hunting gear and worn on body
and clothing. Abnormal states in both shaman and audience were induced by
drumming, chanting, dancing and contortion, concentration on the situation
(driving out of illness, a contest with another shaman, a journey to the moon
or under the sea to secure the deities' promise of good hunting, or the quiet–
ing of a storm), and some trickery by the shaman: ventriloquism, sleight-of–
hand, etc. Curing was attempted by sucking out the disease, blood-letting,
or driving out of the disease by spiritual means.
These practices and the tabu system, relating chiefly to treatment of
the food animals, were based on belief in (1) a great world deity, a spirit of
the air, quite remote from most human affairs, (2) keepers and protectors of
the animals, (3) spirits of mountains, winds, the moon, and other natural
phenomena, (4) races of dwarfs, giants, and beings half-human and half-animal,
(5) men-worms, dragon-like creatures, and other monsters, and (6) spirits of
the dead. Because animal spirits were thought to be interchangeably human and
animal souls, the clarity and detail of this belief varied from locality to
locality.

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Although laymen regularly carved masks and amulets and composed songs
referring to spirits, they seldom practiced witchcraft or divination, these
being the special arts of shamans.
Ceremonial demonstrates the helpful emotional value of many of the Alaskan
Eskimo beliefs. Although little ritual accompanied marriage, birth, and even
death, all important food-getting activities were initiated and terminated with
supplication and small offerings to the spirits, by songs, purification, symbol–
ic distribution of food and sometimes many other gifts, imitative white magic,
and other acts that reassured the people of their power as strong skilled hunters,
to whom the animals and natural forces would submit. The shamans sometime, by
engenering fear, used their prestige and supposed power to dominate others and
produced anxiety in the people, but the ceremonial on the whole was positive:
strengthening the hunter and the community in preparation and rewarding him
after any major hunting activity. The occasions for such recognition were the
child's first killing of small birds and animals (by boys) or gathering of
berries, eggs, etc. (by girls), the young man's first killing of each of the
major game animals such as polar bear and bearded seal, the beginning and end
of the whale hunt or any other definite hunting season, and a winter festival
season when all game animals were honored. But fishing, despite its economic
importance, was not ritualized.
Occasions for major festivals combining religious, economic, and other
elements were (1) honoring of deceased relatives (only Norton Sound-lower Yukon–
Kuskokwim area, so far as known), (2) honor of whales and celebration of whaling
(St. Lawrence Island, Bering Strait, and to lesser extent, Arctic coast), (3)
exchange of gifts between men and women, with temporary exchange of spouses
permitted (most of area), (4) trading between villages (especially Seward Pen–
insula), (5) ceremony to return animals' souls to their natural habitat, to be

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

reincarnated (Seward Peninsula to Nunivak Island and possibly farther south),
(6) system of exchange of festivals between the outstanding hunters of different
villages, a general hunting festival (entire area). Despite differences of
avowed purpose of ceremony, the ritual acts and paraphernalia were similar
throughout the area.
Mythology . The most common themes are (1) creation and the nature of the
universe, including the coming of people to a par[] t icular locality, and the in–
stitution of the first festivals; (2) a cycle of experiences of bird or other
benefactor that kills evil people and supernatural beings; (3) unnatural chil–
dren that can either kill or help; (4) beings that steal people and are outwitted
by a strong or clever person; (5) experiences of acquiring good supernatural
powers; (6) marriage of human beings to spirits. There are several humorous
stories of animal trickery and contests, usually centering around Raven. Of
human experience, there are a few war stories, tales of starvation and of ghosts,
of a marriageable young person who spurns suitors, of the poor boy who becomes
wealthy, and other human situations usually resolved by magic means. As in north
European mythology, a few morbid motifs - besides the monster beings - appear,
although rarely: cannibalism, physical abnormalities of people, vengeful ghosts
(sometimes pictured as helpful), the flaying of animals alive and flaying of
human corpses.
Mythology, which is a means of projecting the teller's fears and other
emotions into the characters of the stories, as well as of stating belief re–
garding the world, educating and entertaining the young, shows several personal
qualities and social values characteristic of Alaskan Eskimos: (1) the prestige
of success in hunting, of having much fine food, (2) family affection, (3) great
desire for children (stories of finding children, of magically created children),

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

(4) the difficulties of living alone, of living in darkness, (5) value of
happiness and joy, pleasure of giving, feasting, dancing, (6) power of thought:
belief that thinking will bring a thing to pass, (7) individual power and not
much communal action, (8) frequent marriage and separation, (9) disobedience
of tabus, usually but not always followed by misfortune, (10) mobility: inland
to coast, out onto ice, up into mountains, and stories of just wandering.
Art . As a people, Alaskan Eskimos, like most other Eskimos, show great
skill in several arts. Attitudes and standards of high craftsmanship were
taught, and every individual was expected to practice adequatly the crafts of
his sex although, as elsewhere, only a few individuals were, in addition, artists.
Men's arts were the carving of ivory in full round, in deep and low relief, in–
cising (etching) of ivory, some carving of wood, horn, and bone, and in the
Bering Sea area much carving and painting of wood. There was no painting or
beading of leather. Of stone, usually only plain practical objects like lamps
and knife blades were made although occasionally one finds stone sculpture,
usually of small animal figures. Women's arts were stitchery, basketry, and
ceramics, all with simple geometric decoration in pre-European time but with
occasional naturalistic designs on basketry and other variations in their arts
since white settlement.
Psycho-social Characteristics . H. D. Anderson and W. C. Eells have summar–
ized observations by those who saw the Eskimos before their aboriginal life had
been much influenced by newcomers to Alaska. Common traits of the Eskimos (as
listed by Anderson and Eells, with additions from other sources):
Hospitality; generosity and kindheartedness
Honesty: keeping a promise, not stealing except from those considered
enemies, and hoeesty of observation and report
Joyousness and affection

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Politeness and good manners (self-restraint and consideration for others)
Lack of quarrelsome behavior
Mischievousness ("teasing, prankish")
Strong curiosity about new things, little fear of new things unless
Supernatural is involved
Good mimicry
Intelligence: attentive, observant, analytical, quick-witted, learn readily
Use of joking ridicule as a device of control
Stolid acceptance of what they think is inevitable
Great patience in most situations
Occasional depression, principally associated with semi-starvation
Rare raging angers and loss of self-control
Self-assurance amounting to overbearing behavior when they have assurance
of large numbers of other superiority
Deceit, grasping and begging behavior in trading (possibly trading tricks
learned from whites)
Lack of fear of natural dangers but fear of Indians, certain individuals
in their own group, and spirits
Willingness to forgive, usually, but in a few matters revengeful
Aggression in hunting, to point of extravagance (will kill an animal even
though cannot use all its food)
Carelessness of tools, especially guns
Sex morality not rigorous (practically unmoral rather than immoral)
Social morality: the good of the community, especially the food sources
and supply of the community, was the criterion of morality
In summary, they are outgoing or extrovert, alert, observant, adaptive
people, self-possessed, somewhat opportunistic, "brave in daily encounter with
the various factors of their precarious life but fearful of the unknown," with
of course the individual differences in degree and combination of traits found

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

in any group. Unfortunately, sometimes the expectations, organization, and
belief of the White man lie in that unknown of which the Eskimo may be fearful
and feel the need to protect himself.
Sub-areas of Culture . As with language, the remainder of the culture
shows no clear break between Bering Sea and the Arctic coast or interior.
The principal differences are stylistic: difference of physical proportions,
frequency, or amount rather than absolute lack or fundamentally different
techniques and forms. Some differences are due to difference in habitat,
e.g., in east Bering Sea , no true whaling; little ice hunting with the special
techniques of the Arctic anywhere in Bering Sea; relatively greater reliance
on fish and eating of more dried food dipped in seal oil; seal hunted chiefly
in fall and spring, not winter and summer; cairn burial or coffin burial;
sweat-bathing (more wood available); much greater use of matting, grass socks,
baskets; greater variety and use of wooden objects, especially dishes. In the
Arctic on the other hand, there is whaling in the open leads of ice; hunting
of seal through ice in winter, in open water in summer; formerly disposal of
dead by simply placing corpse out on tundra; a shallower, trickier kayak, and
probably not so well constructed umiak as that of King Islanders, St. Lawrence
Islanders, and other unusually good open-sea travelers and hunters; better
snowshoes (probably); use of caribou corral; more hunting of wolf and polar
bear; less storage of large supplies of meat for winter although as much oil
as possible is stored, i.e., greater dependence upon hunting day by day.
Some elements indicate whole culture complexes with different history of
cultural development in the two regions. Some of these diagnostic elements
and a few important religious complexes are given as examples in the following
comparison:

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Arctic Coastal Region, including
Bering Strait and north side of
Seward Peninsula
Bering Sea Region
Sleeping bench across back of
house
Benches on sides of house
Gabled roof supported by wall
timbers
Domed or cribbed roof supported
by four uprights
Half-moon stone lamps Round pottery lamps
Boot soles crimped into shape
by chewing
Soles crimped by knife
Gut rain-parka sewed in
vertical stips
Same stitched in nea rly horizontal
spiral
Open needlecase with cord run
through it
Stoppered needlecase
No Bladder Festival Bladder Festival
No Feast of the Dead Feast of the Dead (only Norton Sound
to Kuskokwim?)
No ritual intimidation of women
and children
Spirit impersonation intimidating
women and children
Belief in Sedna, woman keeper of
animals under the sea
Only small part of this belief
Modern Culture . Regarding the changes that have occurred in western
Eskimo life in the past two generations, see "Alaskan Eskimo Acculturation."
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Birket-Smith, Kaj " The Eskimos ," London, 1936

Curtis, E.S. " The North American Indian," Vol. 20, 1930

Dall, W.H. " Alaska and Its Resources ," Boston, 1897

EA-Anthrop. Lantis: Bering Sea Eskimos

Hawkes, E.W. "The 'Inviting-in' Feast of the Alaskan Eskimo,"
Can. Geol. Surv. Mem. 45 , Anthro. Ser. No. 3; 1913.

---- "Dance Festivals of the Alaskan Eskimo," U. of Penn.
Mus. Anthro. Publ ., 1914

Himmelheber, Hans " Eskimokünstler ," Stuttgart, 1938

Hrdlicka, Ales "Anthropological Survey in Alaska," Bur. of Amer. Ethnol .,
46th Ann. Rept., Washington, 1930.

Lantis, Margaret " Alaskan Eskimo Ceremonialism ," Amer. Ethnol. Soc. Pub.
No. 11, 1947

Murdoch, John "Ethnological Results of the Point Barrow Expedition,"
Bur. of Amer. Ethnol., 9th Ann. Rept ., Washington, 1892.

Nelson, E.W. "The Eskimo about Bering Strait," Bur. of Amer. Ethnol.,
18th Ann. Rept
., Pt. 1, 1899

Petrof, Ivan "Population and Resources of Alaska, 1880." reprinted
in Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska ,
Washington, 1900

Porter, R.P. "Report on Population and Resources of Alaska," 11th
Census, 1890, Vol. 8
, Washington, 1893

Rasmussen, Knud " Across Arctic America ," New York, 1927

Stefansson, Vilhjalmur " My Life with the Eskimo ," New York, 1913

---- "The Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition of the American
Museum: Preliminary Ethnological Report," Amer. Mus. of
Nat. Hist., Anthro. Papers , No. 14, Pt. 1, 1914

Weyer, E.M. "The Eskimos," New Haven, 1932

Margaret Lantis
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