Beliefs & Ceremonies of Eskimos

Eskimos have a rich history of cultural beliefs and ceremonies honoring nature.
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Eskimos comprise of the indigenous people who inhabit Alaska, north Canada, east Siberia and Greenland and hold a number of beliefs and ceremonies that have been practiced for hundreds of years. Although the word "Eskimo" is commonly used in America without so much as batting an eye, in Canada the term is offensive and instead they are called "Inuits" and named after their native language. Hunting and fishing is a large part of their livelihood, and many of their beliefs and ceremonies focus on the natural world.

1 Amulets

Eskimos believe in good and evil spirits and associate nature as a platform that encompasses the two. To ward off evil spirits Eskimos create amulets--an item from the natural world that can be in its original form or modified. For example, Eskimos have carried an eagle's claw, a tree branch and a seashell for protection against evil. Other amulets are made from materials like wood, ivory and bone such as the 19th century amulet displayed on the University of Idaho's website from Pribiloff Island depicting the theme of transformation by amalgamating traits of the bird and the seal into a human likeness. This amulet protects the wearer from evil while revealing his "internal essence."

2 Shamans

Some Eskimo tribes have shamans--a spiritually-connected person who practices ancient shamanistic rituals as a part of everyday life. Eskimos believe a shaman can travel through the three realms of spiritual reality--the Upper, Middle and Lower World. This is achievable for him by entering into a trance-like state where he contacts the realms for a number of purposes. Shamans enter spiritual landscapes to uncover secrets, perform hunting-related rituals, heal, find game, manipulate the weather, foretell the future, bestow good or bad fortune on another person and communicate with the dead and the gods of the unseen world.

3 Storytelling

One of the oldest Inuit beliefs is to preserve history and culture through storytelling. The act of storytelling also has a ceremonial element to it, as tribe members will always gather around the elders to hear them tell their people's myths and histories. These oral narratives also give explanations for how mankind and the world came to exist. According to the Arctic Voice Expedition, an organization comprised of historians, anthropologists and other researchers who strive to preserve and bring awareness to Inuit culture, storytelling has preserved the myths "with amazing accuracy."

4 Spring Whaling Ceremony

The spring whaling ceremony takes place after a whale hunt comes to an end. Its purpose is to give thanks to the whale's spirit while asking for success in next season's hunt. This ceremony is also held to satisfy and release the spirits of the slaughtered whales. The ceremony involves placing community members on a "blanket" made from a walrus skin with several men holding the ends. Community members are then tossed into the air as if they were on a trampoline. Today's whale hunts are strictly regulated in both Alaska and Canada and take place in small wooden boats covered in seal skins. After the whale is dragged on shore, the ceremony takes place and every part of the whale is eventually used, except for the guts.

Jen Saunders is an entrepreneur and veteran journalist who covers a wide range of topics. She made the transition to writing after having spent 12 years in England where she studied and taught English literature.