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When most people hear the word Eskimo, they usually think of igloos and fur coats. But there is much more to this culture than these superficial stereotypes.

Eskimos are indigenous to Siberia, Canada, Greenland and Alaska. The word Eskimo is used as a sort of catch all phrase for several different groups of native people, similar to the way American Indian refers to people from many different tribes. Each group has their own distinct characteristics and variations in customs, but they do share some common cultural traits.

Like many races of people, Eskimos tend to resemble one another physically. They are distinguished by wide faces and brown skin, with dark hair and eyes.

Because the regions of the world inhabited by Eskimos harbor extreme conditions, they are very well adapted to the cold. Living in the arctic requires superior hunting and survival skills, not to mention appropriate clothing. Traditional clothing utilized the skin and fur of animals such as caribou, fox,
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seal and polar bear to provide vital warmth. These same animals were also hunted for food, although the Eskimo diet consisted largely of seafood. Rather than lobster and scallops however, as we may be used to, Arctic seafood includes whale skin and seal meat.

Shamanism plays a large role in Eskimo legends and culture. A shaman acted as a spiritual leader or “witch doctor”, interacting with the spirit world on behalf of the community. They performed benevolent acts, such as healing the sick or exorcising evil, but they also used their influence to scare and manipulate people into loyal following.

Today, modern Eskimos are able to shop for food at the supermarket and buy clothing from stores, and Christianity has taken over as the religion of choice for the majority. But through Eskimo legends, art, dance and stories,
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remnants of their rich cultural heritage remain in many aspects of their daily lives.

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