Winter online exhibition
Arnaup ukiuqsiutinga (akh-nowp oo-kee-ok-see-oo-teenga)
Baffin Island, Nunavut
Caribou fur, seal fur, sinew
Accession numbers 56.26.629a-d
The Arctic Circle stretches half way around the globe. Within this vast landscape one of the world’s harshest climates prevails. Diverse cultures live in this area – more than 10 different Inuit groups live in Canada alone, while the Unangan, Yu’pik and Inupiat live in Alaska and the Kalaallit in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland). Each of these groups has their own unique clothing styles, reflecting the wearer’s sex, age, marital status and community.
This is a complete set of winter clothes for a young, unmarried woman from Baffin Island, in the recently (1999) formed territory of Nunavut. It is made predominantly of caribou fur, which is an unbeatable material for clothing due to its long hollow guard hairs that function to trap air, thereby providing excellent thermal insulation. It is the preferred material for winter clothing – two layers of caribou fur can keep the wearer warm in weather as cold as -40°C. Not only are caribou meat and hides of value, but the tendons provide sinew that is used as thread, and antler and bone are used to make tools and ornaments. Little is wasted.
The creation of such a garment involves considerable work. Even before the furs are cut or the first stitch made, the skins have to be treated to become pliable and long lasting. Much work is needed to scrape, rub, wring, stamp and chew the skin to render it ready for clothing production. It is estimated that some 300 hours of work – from processing to sewing to final product – are required for a woman to prepare 2 sets of fur clothing for her family. The seamstress of this suit took particular time to match the furs for colour, tone and texture before sewing the whole with minute stitches.
It is the ingenuity of the clothing designs that work as hard as the materials to insulate and keep the wearer warm. The cut and tailoring create loose yet fitted clothing, which work especially well at keeping humidity and temperature controlled. The clothing has few openings to let heat escape – a snug neckline, ruffs at the face, wrist and edges of coat and trousers enclose body heat, yet allow body vapour to evaporate.
Two layers of clothes are worn in the winter – when people are hunting and travelling. The inner layer has the fur turned inwards towards the body, while the fur of the outer layer is turned outwards. Warm air is trapped between the two layers of clothing and the body, providing excellent insulation against the cold. The winter outfit for both men and women usually consisted of an outer and inner parka, inner and outer trousers, mitts, and several layers of footwear. The bulk of the clothing was made of caribou skin, but the soles of the boots were often of sealskin. Sealskin was more water-resistant than caribou, making the ideal material to prevent soaked feet – a problem best avoided in Arctic temperatures.
Women’s clothing is similar to men’s. Only the parka – or amouti – differs significantly in cut, featuring a large hood with a pouch used for carrying a baby or young child on the back. Much could be learned from the cut and style of a woman’s parka – not only did each cultural group have its own style, a woman’s status and age could be easily identified by its cut. A young, unmarried woman, for example, would not have the large hood necessary to hold a baby – as is seen in this example.
Today, as in the past, traditional skin clothing remains important to Arctic peoples. Not only are certain kinds of traditional clothing still preferred over manufactured garments, but the making and use of clothing plays a significant role in keeping Inuit cultural values and knowledge alive. Amouti designs are handed down from generation to generation. Whether made of caribou furs or commercially available fabrics, the amouti remains a symbol not only of the individual woman and her place within society, but also of Inuit cultural identity.
This suit was collected by Reverend JW Bilby.
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