File <eskimo.htm>                                                                                                                                                         <Migrations Index>   <Archeology Index>   <Home>          Next►


For teaching purposes:  quote cited references only

[References for this review may be found at <Nyland>]


              [Note:  All Basque words are in Italics and Bold-faced Green]








          An ancient language form that originated in the North African area of our most ancient civilizations has been studied by Nyland (2001).  He found that many words used to describe names of places and things in Eskimo languages seem to be closely related to the ancient language, which is being called Saharan.  It appears that the Basque language is a close relative to the original Saharan.  Following is a discussion of this relationship:


          It has been claimed that there are many names in use by the Eskimo people of Arctic Canada that appear to be related to Basque Nyland (2001). The land north of the tree line is called Ungava, which in Basque would be Ungaba, Unagaba. Many Basque names are assembled from several words by agglutinating the first letters of these words. Unagaba sounded like it came from unagarri (boring) gaba (night). Calling the long, dark, northern night, a "boring night" made very good sense, but the apparent relationship with Basque seemed to be accidental. The North American reindeer is called "caribou", spelled karibu in Basque; from kari-bu, kari (reason, purpose, destination) burdun (roasting spit): "Destination roasting spit" again made good sense. The indigenous people of the Arctic call themselves the Dene; dena in Basque means "all of us" and is the same word as in Denmark. Having been alerted to the possibility of an unsuspected and unlikely link between Europe and the eternally frozen land of the Eskimos, Nyland looked for a possible path the Eskimo language could have taken. Both the names Alaska and Canada looked promising; Alaska, alas-ka, from alatz (miracles) -ka (suffix denoting continuous action, unending), "Miracles unending" is exactly the reason why so many tourist ships cruise along the Alaska coast. Canada, spelled Kanada in Basque, clearly is assembled with the vowel-interlocking formula: .ka-ana-ada, akabu (ultimate, extreme end) anaitu (to get together) ada (noise of...),


           "At the far end we'll have a noisy-get-together" i.e. "On the other side we'll have a party".

          In the far northern village of Old Crow lives a native woman who writes a regular newspaper column about life in the far north. She is no Eskimo but her people have been living side-by-side with them, possibly for millennia. Her name is Edith Josie; the Basque word josi means "to sew" and that was exactly what she was doing when Nyland first met her. She was embroidering a pair of beautiful mukluks for one of the caribou hunters while Nyland told her about the Canadian government's plans to build a forest-ranger station (conservation officer) in her village. Not all these Basque connections in the Arctic could be accidental. What was going on here?




          The following may sound implausible, but this is how Edo Nyland believes it could have happened. To answer the above question, it is necessary to dig deep into the origin of the "Basque" language. The story started during the Ice Age, which had peaked 16,000 bce. (see Climate) The melting of the massive glaciers covering the Alps had caused profound changes in air-circulation over North Africa. It is estimated that by 10,000 bce. the effect was starting to be felt by the people living in the central Sahara. By 8,000 bce. the increasingly dry conditions caused serious droughts there, and by 5,000 bce. the tribes living in the affected areas had to escape to the shores of Africa, the higher elevation areas and the major river valleys like the Senegal, Niger and Nile.


          Tribes that had traditionally lived along the ocean shores of the Sahara had long been involved in long distance ocean travel and had discovered many lands. They were also developing star navigation into a science.  While bringing this into practice, they were well on their way to discover all the continents of the world, with the likely exception of Antarctica. By the time the refugees from the central Sahara reached the coast, the Sea Peoples living there were ready to ferry them to new homes on the north coast of the Mediterranean and to the fertile and beautiful lands around the Black Sea, especially the Danube and Dnepr River valleys and also the Caucasus region. The seafarers living along the coasts of Arabia and Mesopotamia had scouted out the entire south coast of Asia and discovered Indonesia, Formosa (Taiwan) and the Japanese islands.


          Around 6,000 bce., a Caucasian-like tribe which became the Ainu of Japan probably sailed, probably from the mouth of the Euphrates river, to settle on one or more of the beautiful and richly forested islands of Japan (see Sea Peoples). A risky migration required a strong commitment of support from the people back in Mesopotamia. There may have been a good reason for this particular group to migrate so far away. The Ainu had adhered to the extremely ancient religion of the bear worshippers, evidence of which has been found as far back as 200,000 bce. [This date certainly involved a precursor of Homo sapiens -- email].  Changing times and religion in Mesopotamia may have caused them to leave civilization to seek a country where they could practice their bear sacrifices without obstruction. Trade prospects may have had something to do with the support they received from the mercantile class back home. The Japanese islands, which were already sparsely populated, must have appealed to these intrepid pioneers. The newcomers, with their superior technical and linguistic skills taught their Saharan language, boat building, leather tanning, ocean navigation etc. to the native population with whom they appear to have been on generally good terms.


          The long ocean voyages necessary to stay in touch with the homeland, as well as their long discovery trips in the Pacific, required an active boat-building and sail-making industry. Wood was no problem in Japan, the country was full of it in all sizes and qualities. The problem was skins for sails. These people were still hunter-gatherers and wove no cloth, so leather was the best alternative. Back home in the Sahara, this problem had been solved by the Berbers who set up a large hunting camp in Arctic Norway near Mount Komsa in Finnmark around 8,000 bce.  There they annually took large numbers of reindeer out of the herds migrating through the area and sent the skins to the oak forests of southern Sweden and Conamara in Ireland for tanning with oak bark. This example was followed by the Ainu whose scouts had discovered the astonishing wildlife riches of Alaska, especially the many herds of caribou migrating through Alaska and the Yukon.  Their numbers were in the hundreds of thousands. Camps were established in the arctic tundra of Alaska and the hunt began. The skins were either tanned locally with the brain of the killed animals, or taken back to Japan and possibly Korea for bark tanning. Thus equipped they explored everywhere and it is likely that the west coast of North America was discovered by Caucasian type people long before the east coast was. It is well possible that the west coast of America was reached by 8,000 bce. [see Climate for conditions at the time]




          The hunters, who later became the Eskimos, do not appear to have established a religious center similar to Mount Komsa in the Norwegian Arctic. The people involved in this hard work were mostly the native population of the Aleutian Islands, who did not share exactly the same religious traditions with the Ainu. However, both the Ainu and the Eskimos practiced the ancient religion of the Goddess, who represented the life-generating and nurturing powers of the earth.  In other words, the Goddess was nature as created and sustained by the living earth. To the Ainu black was the color of life, the rich black soil that sustained all living things and in itself was alive. Black was also the holy darkness of the sacred cave, regarded as the womb of the Goddess, the central point of their worship. However, the eternally frozen earth of the Arctic and the absence of caves was not representative of the Goddess and thus required an adaptation in belief. In the Arctic it was not the land, but the ocean which was vibrantly alive and which provided all the riches necessary to sustain life in the far north. To this day some Eskimo elders teach that the Goddess "Sedna" lives at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.  The Goddess controls the seals, the Beluga whales, the arctic char swimming up the rivers to spawn, the drifting ice floes and the winter storms. In Alaska, this Goddess is known as Nulirahak and in the Central Canadian Arctic as Nuliaguk. The Eskimo did not worship her exactly as the Ainu did, but they had great respect for her, trying to secure her cooperation and goodwill by persuasion and sometimes by threats.


          There is little doubt that some Ainu individuals were among the hunters and that Ainu blood became mixed in during the long and dreary Arctic nights. Although living conditions were difficult, once the housing and travel problems had been solved the population thrived because there was abundant food in the ocean. The skin boat technology developed by the Sea Peoples of North Africa was adapted to arctic conditions by the Eskimos and has been maintained up to now, both for the one-man kayak and for the large family boat, the umiak. As the population grew, the people became more confident of their ability to cope with the extremely uncooperative climate and the annually repeated extended periods of darkness.  Then the population spread ever farther eastward until they had populated the entire arctic coast of North America from the Bering Strait to Labrador and Greenland, where they met seafarers speaking Basque. To the surprise of the Basques they found they could communicate with the Eskimos to some extent. The language had traveled clear around the earth, carried by population migration. No people on earth ever had to do more creative adapting to their environment than the Eskimos.


          It must be clear by now that the language at the root of the Eskimo language cannot be Basque because these seafarers were never active in the northern Pacific. Instead, the relationship lies with the Saharan language from which Ainu, Basque, Eskimo and a host of other languages derive. The name Inuit, which many Eskimos prefer for themselves, may come from inu-it, inular (sunset, low-angle sun) itsu (blind), sun-reflection blindness, or "snow-blind". Their reputation of staunch independence and high self-esteem may have given the Eskimos their name "ezki-mo", from ezkibel (easily offended) molde (manner, behaviour), "They are easily offended" a name likely given to them by the Basques in Labrador.




          For at least 500 years, the Basques have been fishing the Grand Banks of Newfoundland for cod, while their whalers were actively harpooning off Labrador. Many early visitors had commented over the years that the indigenous people living south of the St Lawrence estuary and the Eskimos living to the north used a Basque pidgin language to communicate with the visitors. The pidgin's existence was explained by the many years of contact with Basque fishermen and whalers. This could have been the case with the indigenous people. However, the Eskimos, generally, kept their distance and avoided unnecessary contact. Yet, they could also talk with the Basques.


          A linguist from the University of Amsterdam, Peter Bakker, documented historical and linguistic evidence of the Basque elements he found in the pidgin and published this in the fall 1989 issue of "Anthropological Linguistics". His article was entitled "The Language of the Coast Tribes is Half Basque", which was an exaggeration because he gave only a handful of examples. Edo Nyland suggested to him that he could have found many more Basque-related words in the Eskimo language spoken all the way to Alaska, thousands of miles to the west, but he wouldn't hear of it. This left Nyland no choice but to document the existence of Basque throughout the range of the Eskimo language and to provide an explanation for this startling phenomenon.


          To show that Basque vocabulary can also be recognized in the high Western Arctic, where no other races ever came, Nyland examined two dictionaries for Basque-related words. He could not have found a more isolated and unaffected part in the north:

          1) The "Kangiryuarmiut" dialect, spoken in Holman on Victoria Island; published 1983.

          2) The "Siglit Inuvialuit" dialect spoken in Aklavik, Paulatuk and in Sachs Harbor on Banks Island; published in 1984.

          Both dictionaries were written by Ronald Lowe of Laval University and were published by the Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement.




          Linguists have been at a loss to explain the development of the language. The Eskimo people have a rather small population, totaling about 100,000 in 2004. These are scattered over an enormous area from Eastern Siberia to Greenland. The number and diversity of Eskimo dialects and sub-dialects surely points to centuries, if not millennia, of groups living in isolation. Even dialects spoken in relatively close proximity, such as the two named above, show extreme differences. Ronald Lowe writes about one of them: "Siglitun seems to belong to no recognized family of Eskimo dialects and its loss would mean the permanent loss to the Eskimo language of those characteristics that are uniquely Sigliq". The speakers often have difficulty communicating with nearby tribes. Therefore, it is surprising that some Eskimo words like amaruq (wolf) have survived almost unaltered through the millennia; in Basque the word amarruki means "cunningly". Another obvious one is  aqittuq (weak), in Basque akitu(tired); also ipun (ear) and ipuin (story).

          There is a clear difference in pronunciation between k and q; the q is a uvular stop sound, pronounced like a k but much farther back in the throat. The r sounds like the French uvular r. The g is pronounced halfway between h and g. The l is more like the French l.




Eskimo        English                 Basque         English
aliak         to please                  alaia          pleasing
amaamak       mother                     ama            mother
amaruq        wolf                       amarruki       cunningly
aming         skin for kayak             mintz          skin
angi          tall                       andi           tall
angiak        spirit of a murdered child angaila        stretcher
angun         man                        ango           native person
ania          brother                    anaia          brother
aninga        her brother                anaia          brother
ano           dog harness                ano            dog feed
apumang       gunwhale                   apurkor        fragile
aqittuq       tender, weak               akitu          tired
aqu           stern of the boat          akulu          to push, to prod
ataatak       grandfather, father    aita          father 
atiq          name, namesake             atikidura      family tie
arautaq       snow beater                arrau-taka     oar-to hit, hit with the oar
aulajursiutuk anemic                     aulaldi        period of weakness
Inuit         Eskimo                     inu-itsu       snowblind 
ikumajaq      lamp                       ikusi          to see
iloga         my friend                  ilagun         friend
ipiutaq       chain to tie a boat down   ipini          to put on, to tie
ipun          ear                        ipuin          story
isumairutivuq mad                        isurikatu      to spill blood
isurtuq       water                      isuri          to flow
ituk          milk                       itukin         outflow
kallupilluk   monster                    kalte          to hurt, to harm
kangaq        ankle                      anka           foot
kayak         kayak                      ekai-akitu     work-tiring
kukiktuq      to steal                   kukuka         to conceal
makitauti     support                    makila         stick, cane
mamitsiarittuq properly healed           mamitu         to coagulate
pallu         handle                     palu           stick
piliutiva     play a game                pilota         handball
po            to blow                    poker          to belch, to burp
tainiq        to name                    bataiatu       to baptize
tamaryangayuk retarded, stupid           tamalez        unfortunately
ublik         water coming to the surface ubil          whirlpool
uluriahuktuq  feel a pain                uluka          wailing
umiak         family boat                umeak          children
unaguiqhituq  to rest                    unatu          to get tired
uqaqtigiya    talked with him            ukakor         pessimistic talk 




          During the thousands of years that the Eskimo have lived in the Arctic, they have created a very special society in a most hostile environment. Their civilization and art are so unique that nothing on earth compares with it.  Therefore, it is not surprising that it is a more time-consuming process to find Basque-related words in the Eskimo language than in the Ainu language. As the Sahara language was introduced to the people who later became Eskimos, the Ainu people, of northern Japan,  must have brought those words that still resemble Basque to them at a very early time. Trying to show this relationship has been a rather time-consuming task. To finish the above comparison would be a good project for a linguistics student.