Inuit and physiology

This is about the “why do Eskimos people stay there?” column.

Cecil says:

To me this makes sense, and when you look at other populations it is, at times, hard to deny the logic of that statement. For example. if you look at the other extreme you can find the Dinka tribe from Sudan.

Manut Bol, is a 7’7" Dinka who played a few years in the NBA. Looking at the pictures in the link, you can see that he is tall and quite skinny. The Dinka, it seems, have the highest average height of any population (males average 72"). It makes sense that living close to the equator a body would want to shed as much excess heat as is possible. Thus the tall, lean body would be more suitable than a short compact body that an Inuit posesses.

There seem to be advantages for both the Inuit and the Dinka and their particular body types. What is, if there is any, the advantage that the Baka or Efe (AKA Pygmies) get from a compact body in a warm environment?

They also have lean bodies, they’re just short and lean vs. tall and lean. Still have large surface area to volume ratio. Whereas Eskimo have short limbs vs their torso size, and the torso is thicker. Being tall doesn’t net you a gain in surface area/volume ratio, it is the length of limbs and thickness of torso that makes the difference.

Although Cecil’s assessment of Inuit physiology is correct, the role of physiology to explain the Inuit reluctance to migrate south is comeplety erroneous IMHO. I have worked with a few Inuit in the past and my sister- in- law nearly married one until she realized she would be stuck in Churchill,Manitoba for the rest of her life, so I think I know a little bit more than the average doper about them.

Considering their population is low, and their cultures vastly different from down south, most of them undoubtedly suffer anxiety and alienation if they stray too far from their own people. Those who I have known have been extremely shy. Considering the paternalistic nature of the Canadian government and the dependance on the south due to introduced modern amenities no doubt in my mind at least, many probably suffer inferiority complexes. This is all slowly changing however, particularly with the increased autonomy of native governments like at Nunavit.

I am not a professional psychologist, but my assessment is certainly more feasible than Cecil’s. If Cecil was right, one would wonder what Europeans are doing in Australia getting skin cancer.

I worked for many years with the Inuit and Dene people of Canada’s great Northland (we call it the “High Arctic”) when I was an oilfield technician and I am quite familiar with both their unique physiology and their capabilities. I should note here that they most certainly do “feel the cold” just as the rest of us do. Most Canadians will tell you that they are “used to it” but, in truth, we don’t really like the extreme cold. We are just forced to deal with it on a regular basis…as are the Inuit. It’s part of living and working in Canada.

The popular mythology is that the Inuit (Eskimos) have perfect teeth and eat only raw animal meat with very few vegetables. This may have been true several generations ago, but trust me on this, nowadays they eat pretty much what we do and have LOTS of bad teeth. They are quite short of stature, though.

Like most members of the human family, there are smart ones and some that aren’t quite as quick on the uptake. We used to post a big cartoon sign near the landing area that showed an Inuit in an arctic parka walking into the spinning propeller of an aircraft because we’d had a lot of those incidents and we didn’t want that to continue. It was a real problem for a while.

As for the idea that they “don’t like warm weather” I can only say that, inside our toasty warm camp during winter you would likely find an Inuit or two huddled around the source of heat. And not sweating at all.

When you come right down to it, they’re really not much different from the rest of us. Just thought you’d like to know.

Cecil wrote

Who am I to question the great master, but I found this just a little hard to take. The ability to spontaneously redirect blood flow just sounds spooky. It seems like such an advanced adaptation – I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to say, evolutionarily speaking, that such an ability seems pretty drastic. A departure from the abilities of other human beings. Are there other such adaptations among isolated cultures? I thought generally humans were pretty much alike.

All humans have this ability, to some degree. I imagine that it’s just more pronounced among the Inuit and other cold-dwelling populations. Basically, it means that you’re more likely to get frostbite instead of hypothermia, neither of which is a particularly good thing.

If you got the impression that this is voluntary, by the way, the autonomous nervous system is generally things that work automatically, like heartbeat. I don’t think that Cecil is saying that the Inuit can consciously control their blood flow.