The Yup'ik Eskimos of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area in Western Alaska lived in an environment that was very different from our stereotyped images of a barren, icy, harsh existence. They lived on a mostly flat, marshy plain crisscrossed by many waterways, which the Yup'ik used in place of roads. Because this region is below the Arctic Circle, temperatures are more moderate and hunting and fishing continued most of the year. Temperatures can range from -80F in winter to 80F in summer.
During the summer edible greens and berries grow prodigiously, and spruce and birch trees are common along streams. Unlike far northern Eskimos, who built igloos for shelter, the Yup'ik used these trees and driftwood to build partially subterranean, permanent winter homes. In the spring and summer groups of families moved to sealing and fishing camps, but returned to the permanent camps for the winter. These permanent communities were large groups of up to 300 persons. Men lived together in a communal house (qasgiq), and women and children lived in groups of from four to twelve in smaller sod houses (enet). During the winter months, the qasgiq was the center of the community where the traditional ceremonies were held, such as the Bladder Festival.
Due to the relatively moderate climate, a wide variety of vegetation grows in the area, supporting a rich population of birds and mammals, and larger game animals including bear, moose, and caribou live inland. The sea and various waterways provide whales, seal, walrus, and many varieties of fish. The abundance of food enabled the Yup'ik in the region to form a more settled lifestyle with larger groups of people, although yearly fluctuations in food availability and weather conditions necessitated some degree of mobility. Village groups, tied together by blood and marriage, varied in size from 50 to 250 persons. Marriages also occurred beyond the village, but remained within the bounds of the larger regional group. Prior to the arrival of Russian explorers and missionaries in the 1800s, bow and arrow warfare between regional groups was a regular part of Yup'ik life. Source of Information: Fienup-Riordan, A. (1990). Eskimo essays. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
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