Extraordinary photographs of amazing people: Inside the life of the Inuit

An Inuit kiss, called Eskimo kiss is the act of pressing the tip of one’s nose against another’s. It is loosely based on a traditional greeting called a kunik. A kunik is a form of expressing affection, usually between family members and loved ones, that involves pressing the nose and upper lip against the skin.


Although it can be (and often is) used in neutral context, the term “eskimo” is generally thought to be not appropriate. “Eskimo” is thought to be either Danish or French (from the word “eskimeaux”), the name is probably based on an old Algonquian term “askimo.”  The generally accepted, politically correct name (that many of them also use themselves) is Inuit.

When using the term Inuit, many people don’t realize that it’s a plural. An individual member of the people is called an “Inuk.”

Words For Snow

The Inuit can describe snow with 50–400 different words, all eloquently crafted to describe a very specific type of frozen precipitation.

 The idea of the multitude of snow words was inadvertently created in the 19th century by anthropologist Franz Boas, who lived with the Inuit and studied their habits. Boas was impressed by the elaborate terms the Inuit used to describe their frozen terrain: Aqilokoq meant “softly falling snow”, piegnartoq was “the snow that’s good for sled driving”, and so forth. He forgot to mention that the Inuit language is structured in a fashion that strings several words into one, thus creating the impression that an entire phrase was just one word.

In reality, the Inuit only have about as many words for snow as English-speaking folks. Their language just enables them to string words into these words so that a seemingly single word can mean anything.

Inuit life today

For those Inuit far removed from population centers, life in the harsh Arctic remains little changed from that lived by their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Traditionally Inuit were hunters and gatherers. They lived in groups that moved from one area to another, according to the season. They depended largely on products obtained from the seal and caribou for food, clothing, heat, and light. There were no chiefs. Leadership was mainly advisorythat is, the person most skilled in a particular activity, such as hunting or fishing, was consulted when advice on that activity was needed.

Eskimo (ĕsˈkəmō), a general term used to refer to people inhabiting the coastline from the Bering Sea to Greenland and the Chukchi Peninsula in NE Siberia.

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 it is generally agreed that they were relatively recent migrants to the Americas from NE Asia, spreading from west to east over the course of the past 5,000 years.

Check out an extraordinarily collection of rarely seen black and white collection of photographs capturing Alaska’s Inuit document the hard but persevering survival of the people commonly known as the hunters of the Arctic.

Photographed between 1909 and 1932, the collection offers a rare glimpse in the their everyday life from hunting polar bears, to building igloos, to their personal dwellings inside.

Survivors: An Eskimo hunter poses with bow and arrows above a slain polar bear seen in 1924 with arrows protruding from its chest


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, saved scarce fuel and provided their limited diet with essential nutritional elements that cooking would destroy.

The traditional Inuit diet varied with the seasons. Seals, whales, and other sea mammals were hunted in the winter months. The meat was eaten cooked, raw, or dried. In summer and fall the major food sources were caribou, small game, fish, and berries.

A traditional Inuit delicacy was akutok (often called Inuit ice cream), made from arctic berries, seal oil, and caribou meat. Strong hot tea and hard biscuits, made with flour bought from a trading post, were served in nearly every home.

Withstanding: A line of Eskimo men are pictured between 1900 and 1930 while wearing various shades and patterns of animal furs as protection

Inuit men pictured between 1900 and 1930 while wearing various shades and patterns of animal furs as protection


Inuit 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 Inuit groups the snow hut was used as a winter residence igloo. More commonly, however, such structures were used as temporary overnight shelters during journeys.

No boundaries: A man paddles in kayak, a popular use for fishing when carrying a spear

Hunting techniques

included several types of harpoons, the bow and arrow, knives, and fish spears and weirs, 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.

The dogsled was used for the hauling of heavy loads over long distances, made necessary by the Inuit hunting life. Their skin canoe, known as a kayak, is one of the most highly maneuverable small craft ever constructed.

Alaskan camp: Photographed around 1916, two women are seen around a camp with furs and skins seen hanging inside

Alaskan camp: Photographed around 1916, two women are seen around a camp with furs and skins seen hanging inside

Inuit culture

Particularly when compared to other hunting populations, Inuit groups were famous for elaborate technologies, artisanship, and well-developed art. Only the most personal property was considered private; any equipment reverted through disuse to those who had need for it. In the traditional Inuit 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 was practiced.

Children of the Arctic: Three Eskimo children are seen seated side by side, their hoods removed to reveal smiles and playful eyes despite the cold climate otherwise adapted to by the locals

Igloo building: A family of Eskimos containing four children and three dogs are seen surrounding the work of an igloo gradually built up from the surrounding snow

An Eskimo girl named Mukpi, a survivor of the S.S. Karluk, is photographed smiling in a bundled outfit of furs

An Eskimo medicine man stands over a sick boy
An Inuit girl named Mukpi is photographed smiling in a bundled outfit of furs, left, while right an Inuit medicine man stands over a sick boy



Inuit clothing was made from animal skins. Traditionally, men, women, and children dressed much alike. They wore waterproof sealskin boots, hooded fur jackets called parkas, and fur trousers made of pelts from seal, caribou, fox, or polar bear. Waterproof jackets were made from seal gut.

Ice fishing: A woman poses over an ice fishing hole, several successful fish seen at her left-hand side
Family Life

Married couples were the nucleus of an extended family. Parents, brothers, unmarried sisters, or other relatives often shared the same household. All members worked together to survive the Arctic winters. Men were responsible for providing food. Women made clothes and prepared food. During the winter months families entertained themselves by telling and acting out stories handed down from generation to generation. Often they danced to drum music.


During the 20th century most Inuit converted to Christianity. In remote regions, some families retained the ancient Inuit belief that certain men and women, called shamans, have the ability to call upon supernatural spirits for aid in curing illness, ensuring good hunting, and controlling the weather.


For land travel many Inuit used showshoes and dogsleds. The teams of Huskies, pulled loads of 500 to 1,000 pounds (225 to 450 kg).

Two kinds of boats were used. At sea among the ice floes, the hunter paddled a kayak, a decked-over small boat with a driftwood frame lashed together by rawhide and covered with sealskin. Larger skin boats, called umiaks, carried several people. They were used for whale hunts and for moving entire families from place to place.

Hunting and Trapping

Bows and arrows were used for hunting caribou and polar bears until the 19th century, when rifles and bullets became available. Seal was hunted with a harpoon flung from a kayak or thrust into a seal’s breathing hole in the ice. During the long winter, fox and other fur-bearing animals were hunted for food and clothing, and for sale at trading posts. Fish were caught through holes in the ice in winter and in rivers and streams in summer.

Arts and Crafts

The most widespread Inuit art form was miniature sculpture of objects in daily life, such as animals, boats, and dogsleds. The material commonly used was whalebone and walrus tusk ivory. In some areas highly imaginative masks of skins were made, largely for religious or magic purposes such as pacifying evil spirits. Women decorated clothing with animal fur, appliques of seal skin, and carved ivory pins.

Walrus hunting: Hunters cut up a walrus, its horns seen held by one man seen left, center
Valuable commodities: Walrus tusks drape over the side of a bin after a hunt
Hunter: A seal hunter is seen walking on land, his snow shoes helping him easily slide across the frozen land
Food on land: A herd of reindeer are pictured in Alaska's Cape Prince of Wales, another form of food for the men and women who turned this otherwise barren land into their sustainable home
A child smiles beneath an outfit of furs in Alaska
An Eskimo smokes a pipe
Eskimo mother with child on back
Eskimo posing in 1903
An Eskimo woman poses


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