Eskimo-Aleut Religion

Doctrines Eskimo-Aleut beliefs reflect the hunting culture upon which Eskimo-Aleut survival depends. All animals are believed to possess a soul, which meant that the Eskimo-Aleut sought to treat all animals with respect. When an animal had been hunted and killed a ritual would sometimes be performed to enable the animal to return to the place from which it had come. Certain taboos governed hunting practices. Land and sea animals were kept separate from one another. Women, who were ritually impure through birth or menstruation, were not allowed access to game.
The life cycle was governed by a number of rites of passage. At birth a child would often be given the name of a person who had recently died in the belief that the deceased person would live on in the child. When a boy killed his first seal would be celebrated by a ritual distribution of the seal's meat. At death the soul would go to live in a land in the sky or in the sea.
In some Eskimo-Aleut traditions the shaman was of great importance. Shamans would go into a trance and receive messages from spirits or deities or control them in order to ensure successful hunting. Shamans were also healers and could identify sorcerers who used their powers for evil ends.
Among the more prominent deities were Sea Woman (also called Sedna), who controlled the sea animals; Aningaaq, the sun; and Sila, the air. Sedna is the subject of a number of origin myths. In one she is presented as a girl who was thrown off a boat and, while trying to cling on, had her fingers cut off. Her fingers became the sea animals and she became Sea Woman with the power to withold sea animals if certain taboos were broken.

History According to archaeological studies the ancestors of the Eskimo-Aleut crossed the Bering Straits between 8-10,000 years ago. As they spread across the north as far east the Eskimo-Aleut evolved into distinct language groups.
The life of the Eskimo-Aleut of Alaska was transformed in 1741 with the arrival of Russian explorers and the subsequent establishment of trading stations. The Eskimo-Aleut were exploited by the Russian traders for the otter-hunting skills. So badly were the Eskimo-Aleut treated that they rebelled in the 1760s only to be crushed by the fire power of the Russians. Oppression and the introduction of new diseases depleted the Eskimo-Aleut population to the extent that by 1799 Eskimo-Aleut numbers were reduced to one eighth of their pre-contact size. Those who survived effectively became vassals to the russian American Company which had monopoly trading rights in the area.
A further consequence of the presence of Europeans in the area was the process of converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity. Over time many Eskimo-Aleut abandoned their traditional beliefs as they came to accept Russian Orthodox Christianity.
In 1867 Alaska was sold to the United States for $7,200,000. With the Americans came renewed impact of European culture on the native peoples of the region. The opening of the first canning factory in 1883 provided seasonal work to native Alaskans that removed the need for a traditional lifestyle. The presence of Moravian Brethren missionaries brought more into the Christian fold. In the 1930s the last masked dances were performed. However, attempts are being made to revive traditional religion.

Symbols Amulets often made of bones would be used to enhance the possibility of a successful hunt. Masks were often used in religious rituals, particularly during the 19th century. These masks represent the spiritis of animals, deities or natural phenomena. The eskimos also had a distinctive form of engraving style. A number of relics have been found which contain circle and dot motifs. Later eskimo art is representational consisting of drawings of beavers or bears.

Adherents According to the federal government 1980 census on tribal population there were 661 Aleut and Eskimo in the United States.

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