3. The Inuit Amautik

 The skin clothing of the Inuit was designed for survival and is an integral part of their material culture. It’s design has been in flux since it’s beginning. Interaction with neighbouring Inuit groups, while following the climactic changes, and animal migrations, would alter how they made their clothing. As early as 1718, some were trading with Hudson’s Bay Company ships that plied the west coast of Hudson Bay, and the introduction of new materials would have an effect on the clothing. The creation of their designs changed further, in the late 1800s, with the decline of the whaling industry, and, as the 20th century progressed many Inuit people were forced to move into urban settlements, and changed or abandoned their original practices altogether. Later generations having taken note of the disappearances, have begun to try to maintain some of their heritage, are being taught by the stories passed on by their elders.

The catalogue to the Art Gallery of Winnipeg’s show “THE INUIT AMAUTIK: I Like My Hood To Be Full”*  has given me much pleasure, in its words and pictures, I never saw the show…The Royal Ontario Museums showcases of Inuit pieces, which I visit often, and the McCord Museum,  give the book some 3d leverage for me!

A brief account…

The amautik, a caribou skin jacket/coat, was traditionally worn by all Inuit woman. A young woman putting on her her first amautik; quite similar in cut to a small boy’s parka, took on the symbol of her fundamental responsibility within Inuit society: to provide for the regeneration of human life. As she grew, her successive coats grew, in size, and in detail, and by marriageable age her amautik was almost the same as her mothers. The design of the amautik focuses on the maternal role of the woman. It has a large pouch, amaut, built into the back, in which a baby or small child up to about age 3, can be carried. Panels of material can be sewn into the amaut as the child grows to make it suitably larger. The amaut can be seen as a symbolic reference to the womb, as it enlarges as the fetus develops. With a twist of the wearer’s shoulder the broad shoulders of the amautik allow a child to be moved from the back to the front for nursing. It has a large hood (nasaq), which, when up, covers both the mother and the child, and allows fresh air to filter down to the child inside. The kiniq, or front flap of the amautik, falls like an apron in front of the woman’s body, and the jacket also has a large back flap (akuq).

THE SYMBOLIC DESIGN OF THE CARIBOU AMAUTIK
by George Swinton
Included in the Catalogue
pages 23 & 24

“Among all the clothing with which I am familiar (including ritual vestments and uniforms of all kinds) the Eskimo amautik – the woman’s parka with it pouch for the baby and its characteristic hood – is a supreme example of combining the functional, spiritual, and symbolic possibilities that a garment, or a single type of garment, is capable of offering. While all traditional fur clothing of inuit men, women, and children, as well as most of their clothing made out of nan-native materials such has duffle, nylon and even plastics, reflects the various attributes of sex, age, and work, the amautik does so more pronouncedly, more fully, more sensuously, and also both more figuratively and metaphorically. it identifies and symbolizes woman, maturity, maternity, geophraphic regions, seasons, belief systems, and design traditions. It marks the origins and changes of Eskimo existence: it is a uniform of function and magic, of harmony with nature, of knowledge of animals, of understanding of materials and of unshakable confidence in past traditions.”

Woman’s Outer Parka
Nunavimiut
Eastern Hudson Bay
Furred sealskin,
1910-1914
Royal Ontario Museum
In extremely cold temperatures dampness of perspiration that soaks clothing could be fatal. Wet wool, for instance, loses its insulation properties. As it becomes wetter and more difficult to dry, it could turn into a shroud of ice. Fur is formed of keratin, a substance that does not absorb moisture. On fur, condensed moisture forms as ice crystals which can then be beaten off.

Female doll
Nunatsiarmiut, Inuit
Furred caribou skin, depilated skin
Centimetres: 38 (height), 20 (width), 9 (depth)
c. 1914
Area of Origin: Southern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
Collected by Roberty J. Flaherty
Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples
Gift of Sir William Mackenzie; The Robert J. Flaherty Collection
HC2275A
ROM2005_5565_1

Description: Female doll dressed in winter caribou-skin clothing. In 1910 the Canadian Northern Railway commissioned Robert J. Flaherty (1884 – 1951) to search for iron ore deposits along the northeast coast of Hudson’s Bay. Flaherty visited the Arctic over several years during which he collected a wide range of Inuit artifacts. He became interested in filming Inuit life and his popular 1922 silent film, Nanook of the North, garnered him acclaim as a documentary film pioneer.

Exhibit History: Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples (ROM), December 2005-present

Publications: Inuit Dolls: Reminder of a Heritage; E. Strickler and A. Alookee; p. 139.

Male doll
Nunatsiarmiut
Caribou fur
Centimetres: 42 (height), 18 (width), 8 (depth)
c. 1914
Area of Origin: Southern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
Collected by Roberty J. Flaherty
Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples
Gift of Sir William Mackenzie; The Robert J. Flaherty Collection
HC2273
ROM2005_5529_1

Description: Male doll dressed in winter caribou-skin clothing but without the outer parka. In 1910 the Canadian Northern Railway commissioned Robert J. Flaherty (1884 – 1951) to search for iron ore deposits along the northeast coast of Hudson’s Bay. Flaherty visited the Arctic over several years during which he collected a wide range of Inuit artifacts. He became interested in filming Inuit life and his popular 1922 silent film, Nanook of the North, garnered him acclaim as a documentary film pioneer.

Exhibit History: Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples (ROM), December 2005-present

Publications: Inuit Dolls: Reminders of a Heritage; E. Strickler and A. Alookee; p. 138. “From the stripes on his caribou pants one can tell he comes from Baffin Island”.

Woman’s inner parka
Paallirmiut
Caribou skin, cloth, glass beads, caribou teeth
width 100 cm, height 120 cm, depth 18 cm
early 20th century
Area of Origin: Arviat, Western Hudson Bay, Nunavut, Canada
Collected by Reverend Donald B. Marsh, Anglican Church missionary among the Paallirmiut of northwestern Hudson Bay between 1926 and 1943.
Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples
Gift of the Members of the Royal Ontario Museum
938.50.31
ROM2005_5297_1

Description: The Hudson’s Bay Company post at Churchill, Manitoba provided an accessible and abundant supply of glass beads for the Paallirmiut of the Arviat area in Nunavut. Beaded designs were created on cloth panels that were then stitched to the hood, chest, and shoulder areas of the woman’s inner parka. Inuit seamstresses displayed a keen sense of colour patterns and graphic design.

Exhibit History: Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples (ROM), December 2005-present

Publications: The Spirit Sings, p.170-200.

*THE INUIT AMAUTIK: I Like My Hood To Be FullBernadette Driscoll
Associate Curator
Inuit Art
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Catalogue of the Exhibition
ISBN 0-88915-085-0
1980