Historical Events

Eskimos who were meeting white men for the first time were living beyond 80 despite eating only meat and smoking Chinese tobacco.

The Plover's skipper, Commander Rochefort Maguire

 

This was, it seems, Dr. Simpson's first experience, as well as the captain's, with the typical heat of northern Alaskan winter dwellings. Simpson kept revisiting Eskimo homes during the seven winter months of two years. He describes a healthy and happy people of apparently high longevity who, during the winter, lived practically naked — the children wholly so — in earth and wood dwellings that were seldom cooler than 70° F., who avoided all vegetable foods and salt, and who lived on fat and lean fresh meats that were undercooked or raw. Sweating in temperatures which, during the afternoon and evening, ran to 90° and 100° F., they drank ice water continually.

The only non-native “foods” the Barrow people used in Simpson's time were tea and tobacco, which they had been receiving overland and across the Bering Strait from China long before the Russian “discovery” of Alaska. The tobacco the Barrow people, like all Alaskan Eskimos, smoked in Chinese opium-type pipes, inhaling the smoke. They also chewed; but they did not spit, swallowing the juice instead. They did not, apparently, dip or snuff. Following are a few of Simpson's passages that bear on food and food habits, health and longevity:

“These people ... are robust, muscular and active, inclining rather to spareness than corpulence ... presenting a remarkably healthy appearance ... The expression of the countenance is one of habitual good humor ... The physical constitution of both sexes is strong ... Extreme longevity is probably not unknown among them; but as they take no heed to number the years as they pass they can form no guess of their own ages ... Judging altogether from appearance ... [one man] could not be less than eighty years of age ... There was another ... whose appearance indicated an age nothing short of seventy five. This man died in the month of April 1853 ... There is another man still alive who is said to be a few years older ...

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