Filed under: PLACES + CULTURES
This is one of those questions that came to me out of the blue? And lucky for me we happened on a children’s program on PBS (Postcards from Buster) that highlighted the lives of the Inuit in Northern Canada. We also just picked up a book entitled How People Live by DK Publishing Inc (2003) that had an article on the Inuit– you know the company the produces all those informative sticker and subject books. So here it goes…
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE LIVE IN IGLOOS? The Inuit, and other Artic populations, have used igloos as temporary shelters for thousands of years, especially during a hunting trip. As you may already know igloos are made of snow blocks, usually of equal size rectangles, and are round in shape and domed with one entrance (facing away from the wind). They kind of look like a turtle with its head out and legs tucked. The builder builds around in a circle using the snow pack on the inside therefore, the floor of the igloo is below the surface, which also adds to the protection, provided by the structure. As shelters they provide the hunters with moderate warmth since they cut out the wind, contain body heat as well as any lamp heat, but not as much as you would expect. The temperature inside an igloo can still be below zero, but when the outside is -40 degrees this probably feels pretty good. Igloos are surprisingly strong and can hold the weight of the builder standing on top. The important thing about igloos is that they are relatively easy to build (with practice) and can be built very quickly (10 minutes) and it uses a resource that there is plenty of in the artic, ice and snow.
OTHER TIDBITS: The word “igloo” means house in one of the Inuit dialects. What outsiders commonly think of as “igloos” are really temporary houses and not their permanent residences — they live in more permanent structures. The word “Inuit” means “the people” and they make up a large portion of the peoples of the Artic region. There are other groups that outsiders generally refer to as Eskimos, however many Inuit do not like the term “Eskimo” and see it as a derogatory depiction of their culture and heritage. Interestingly and importantly, the Canadian government, in 1999, gave back part of the Northwest Territories to the Inuit creating Nunavut (meaning “our land”). This area is primarily inhabited by the Inuit who live off the land using traditional methods of hunting, fishing, and trading as well as some of the regular jobs you would find in any small town like grocers, mechanics, government officials teachers etc. Artic life can be very difficult due to the consistent cold temperatures and the drastic changes in the amount of light per day throughout the year, from all sun to no sun, but the Inuit seem to manage pretty well. Fun Fact: the Inuit have about 125 different words to describe and say the word “snow”; this may highlight how important snow is to their culture. How many words do you use to describe snow – powder, slush, icy? … Are there any things in your language that elicit such a plethora of descriptions?
UPDATE (Feb ’08): Here is some additional information on igloos in reference to a HOW IGLOOS ARE CONSTRUCTED? comment from below. There are a variety of ways to build an igloo and below are some websites with greater detail and some additional information on the Inuit. The basic concept is to build a wind-resistant dome that will keep warmer air in while keeping the colder air out. You might say “no doubt-i get that”, but the key is to be able to do it fast and with ease. The basic dome design provides the wind resistant shape and you can build the beginning portion of it from inside which will lower the floor (helps in keeping warmth and keeps the floor below wind) and provides some protection while building. A snow knife/saw (usually made out of metal but traditional tools were made of bone or ivory – from walrus) is used to cut blocks . There are two basic block styles represented in the websites below — 1- blocks of the same size stacked in a circular pattern slowly bending to the center and 2- starting with slanted blocks and increasing in size for the first layer or so and then more uniform size slowly slanting to the center in a circular pattern — Both styles end with a plug to fit at the top. It is important to keep the blocks tight fitting so the saws are used to cut around the blocks to get them fitting tight. It is also important to leave air holes to allow for fresh air to circulate and to ventilate the burning of oil lamps. The doorway dome needs to face away from the wind and be below ground level to limit direct wind/airflow from the outside. There is sometimes a lower floor near the entrance and a higher floor inside the structure which could aid in warmth. It is okay for the igloo to melt and refreeze a little — it will aid in the structure strength and wind resistance, but the air hole needs to be maintained.
Some photos and additional information can be found on these sites:
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