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An Eskimo Child's Parka Jacket

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Design, Ethnographic & Ancient Art

An Eskimo Child's Parka Jacket

A waterproof jacket made from sea mammal gut

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An Eskimo Child's Parka Jacket

East or West Arctic

Height 40 cm Width 38 cm (15.75 x 15 in)

An extremely rare waterproof parka made for a small child.

The waterproof child's parka is finely stitched with vertical panels of gut. The strips were generally sewn horizontally although all North Alaska Coast Eskimo, some Southwest and Kotzebue Sound Eskimo parkas consisted of vertical panels.

The intestine was scraped of its outer and inner lining and washed, inflated and tied in long tubes which were hung up to dry before being split down the centre and rolled tightly. The panels were usually joined with a running stitch in sinew which expanded to seal the holes made by the needle and the hem, cuffs and hood, as well as some seams, could be decorated with skin and other materials as in the present example.

Functionally the parka was a lightweight and extremely effective waterproof garment, admired by Nelson and also purchased in large numbers by Captain Cook for his crew as it was lighter and stronger than English oil-skins. However, the wearing of a gut skin parka also transcended its practical use; it was seen as a powerful garment and was worn for protection against malevolent influences as well as attracting good fortune; it was a symbol of wealth and it was worn by Shaman in rituals. In this animistic culture the new parka would be worn during the mid-winter celebration of the souls of the seals, (as reported by Nelson) and again at the beginning of the spring seal season. Parkas and rolls of prepared seal gut were also given in annual exchange ceremonies.

Bibliography

A Victorian Earl in the Arctic 9 The Travels and Collections of the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale (1888-89) by Shepard Krech III, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Brown University Rhode Island

Museum Collections

British Museum, The larger part of the Earl of Lonsdale's collection was donated to the British Museum.

The Museum of Ethnology, Leiden has some adult parkas in its collections.

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