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kottke.org posts about Inuit

Arctic Snow Goggles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

For thousands of years, Yupik and Inuit people have made snow goggles from various materials (bone, wood, whale baleen) to help protect their eyes from the sun and, more importantly, from the sunlight reflected off the Arctic snow. The narrow slits also help with the wearers’ visual acuity. Clive Thompson explains in this piece for Smithsonian:

This style of eyewear can even improve vision, as Ann Fienup-Riordan discovered one day in 2010. An Anchorage-based anthropologist who works with the Yupik people to develop exhibits and books about their culture, she had recently undergone surgery on her retinas, and “the vision in my right eye was still pretty fuzzy,” she says. But when she held the Yupik goggles up to her eyes? “I could see!”

What was going on? It turns out the slit focuses the light, much as a pinhole camera does. As a result, far-off objects appear sharper “and your vision was much, much better,” Fienup-Riordan says. Long before the invention of eyeglasses with glass or plastic lenses, Alaska’s indigenous inhabitants, including the Yupik people, devised their own corrective eyewear. Phillip Moses, a tribal member in Toksook Bay, calls them “Yupik prescription sunglasses.”

Snow goggles were probably the first wearable corrective device to be invented.

Seal Skin Spacesuit Made by Inuit Artists

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2021

Seal Skin Spacesuit

Working with Dr. Heather Igloliorte at Montreal’s Concordia University, Inuit artist Jesse Tungilik and a group of students designed and built a spacesuit made out of seal skin. Tungilik was inspired by the feelings he’d had as a child, bundled up in hunting clothes made by his mother out of caribou hide.

When Jesse Tungilik was a child, his mother made him traditional caribou hunting clothes. While wearing the bulky, heavy handmade outfit, he often imagined that he was in a spacesuit.

“That memory stuck with me when I heard about this opportunity here at Concordia, with its future-themed focus, and the two ideas met in the middle,” Tungilik says.

The image above is a still from a video taken by Brittany Hobson of the spacesuit on display in an exhibition at the Qaumajuq museum in Winnipeg. She says “the video doesn’t do it justice” but the suit looks pretty amazing in that video — I would love to see this in person someday. Dr. Igloliorte, who co-curated the exhibition, talked about the suit and its creation in this video:

Via CBC, you can see a photo of Tungilik as a kid, bundled up in his homemade “spacesuit” while out hunting with his father. Aww. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Inuit Coastline Maps Carved from Driftwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2021

Inuit Cartography

I love these coastline contour maps made by the Inuit people of Greenland. So simple and functional.

In Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), the Inuit people are known for carving portable maps out of driftwood to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which are small enough to be carried in a mitten, represent coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps are compact, buoyant, and can be read in the dark.

See also the Marshall Islands Navigation Charts. (thx, kate)

When they used to display people in zoos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2012

In 1880, the top attraction at a zoo in Hamburg, Germany was an Inuit family who performed seal hunts and other Eskimo-like activities for huge crowds.

At the Hagenbeck Tiergarten — a private zoo in Hamburg — the Inuit were the top attraction. The crowds likely viewed them as primitives, inferior to the cultured men and women of the Old World. “Who knows what these children of the roughest North may be thinking about their highly educated European fellow humans,” wrote one German newspaperman. He was right about one thing: The Germans had no idea. Even as they gawked at the Inuit, the Inuit were peering back at them — and taking notes.

Abraham Ulrikab was, in fact, more accomplished than most of the people paying to stare at him. Raised at a mission in Hebron, Labrador, he was 35 years old, spoke three languages, dabbled in cartography, and played a mean fiddle. He was also a church-going Christian who, in his real life, had long since abandoned the sealskin boots and parka that were his costume at the zoo. Since he could read and write, he kept a diary, documenting his experience as a human exhibit.

As with many other interactions between Europeans and native North Americans, this zoo experiment ended quickly and very badly. (thx, eva)