This kind of clothing is not for hunting.... They just wear it in a ceremonial or whenever there is a dress-up.... It seems to me that we just owe everything to the ancient times, to our ancestors. They had beautiful clothes.
—Estelle Oozevaseuk, 2001
This ceremonial parka is made of winter-bleached intestines from a bearded seal or walrus. It is decorated in a man’s style, using plumes and beak parts from crested auklets. Baby walrus fur was applied along the bottom edge, dyed seal fur to the chest, and strips of seal skin around the hood. People dressed in this style of parka for religious ceremonies such as Ateghaq, a spring ritual to ask God (Kiyaghneq) for good hunting, andKamegtaaq, a thanksgiving that followed the hunting season.
St. Lawrence Island Yupik
Region: St. Lawrence Island, Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 124cm
Accession Date: 1923
Source: Arnold Liebes (collector)
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 123404.000
Wearing & making
Estelle Oozevaseuk: Sanightaaq [fancy gut parka], the men’s fancy parka. This kind of clothing is not for hunting or anything. They just wear it in a ceremonial or whenever there is a dress-up. They have good clothing for dress-up time. It seems to me that we just owe everything from the ancient times, from our ancestors. They had beautiful clothes. This is a men’s pattern, and women had a different kind. Also I see that whoever made this [sewed] very good seams, very even. I was only three years old at the time, but I remember that my mother did not make anything [on her own], only under the direction of her mother-in-law, because her mother had died. And it seems to me like some of them have a different pattern. There used to be some with this [vertical strips] on the sleeves too. When they go like this [put sleeve to body of parka], it matches to these [horizontal strips on body of parka]. When they put their arms down, it just matches.
Somebody made this one without that.
Suzi Jones: Do you know which clan or which tribe this style is from?
Estelle Oozevaseuk: It seems to me like ours¾from the Kookoolik area, from the eastern side. That’s the main place where our ancestors lived. We have a good pattern. As you know, I have told the story about how they died [see story section].
Estelle Oozevaseuk: I think this is maklak [bearded seal] intestine. It took a lot of work to do that. We just cleaned the inside out—pour some water in and take it out so many times. And we use our thumb fingernail to take the outer part off. Then when it’s done, we turn it inside out. It took a lot of work. And then we scrape the inside very gently. When done, we put them in water and try to swell them up—my grandma taught me to fill them up with water and just go like this [lightly tip bowl back and forth].
And they get water logged. Then we would wring them, and the water turned red. And we changed it [water] so many times, so many times, until the water turns clear. Then she took them out in wintertime and blew it up. And when they freeze she held them like that [wrapped around outstretched arms], tied them up and tie them up on the meat rack. And they stayed there for a long time. The coldness turned them white. Ones that had not been cleaned in the water [enough] turn out to be a kind of yellow or reddish color. Walrus is not good for this kind, only the bearded seal intestine is good for dress-up because they’re thinner. Walrus intestine is tougher and thicker than these and wider. Female walrus intestine is thinner, better. Bull walrus is hard. And they always put a string around that place [inside hem of hood opening] for them. They put whale sinew or reindeer sinew [they got] from St. Mary people. They used them [reindeer sinew], because they are softer than whale sinew—braided [sinew]. I still do that for the, my son’s boats, braiding [sinew].
Branson Tungiyan: Ukigkut?
(What about this part [decoration along seams]?)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: This has been trimmed with auklet tufts with the little orange thing [plates] on the auklets. They saved them. My grandma was too much for me! She always made me—even when I was a little girl—stick them on cardboard or plywood, and when they dry, they just fall off. Some of the trimming [bottom of parka] is baby walrus skin. The hair is not dyed. When they have to dye those, they just put them in a small boiling pot and put in between the kind of tree bark that the sun has turned red. This is the color [two horizontal, red-brown bands at shoulders].
Branson Tungiyan: Sameng melquqat ukegkut?
(What kind of fur is used [lower trim along horizontal, red-brown bands at shoulders]?)
Estelle Oozevaseuk: I think it’s some kind of bird skin, only the down, not the feathers.
And dyed seal skins [two horizontal, red-brown bands at shoulders]. Some of them had dyed patterns. It’s going to be in a tribal pattern. Some tribes have very few with other kinds of skins, like seal skins that is white.
Kukulegmiit, ayumiq, sivuneput.
(Kukulek people, many years ago, our ancestors.)
(They did something very arousing.)
Amyuqitiqeghllagluteng aatkiit—whaten legan—
(They acted very cruel—they did this—)
ukut aatkiit esghaghluki
(when I saw these, their clothing)
(I’m thinking about them—and so—how nice their winter is,)
neqeteghllagyaqlegestun. Kiyaghteket elngaatall.
(much food should have been caught. They just lived like that.)
Nunavagllak pinghani atghaghluteng
(Whenever there were a lot of walrus on)
legan unguviita mangunameng
(the cake ice, men would cut chunks of edible)
ikulluteng, gaaghyaghqastun angkaan.
(outer skin even if the animal is alive, they cut one meal size.)
Amyuqetiqeghllakat teghikusameng unguviita.
(They acted very cruel towards live animals.)
Taana esghaghu seghleghqellghat
(This incident of wrong doing, the cruel)
seghletun pillghat entaqun.
(thing they did had consequence.)
(There is a being that watches over us.)
Taawa tawaten pighllagmi Kukulegmii uglaghllak yuuk.
(During this time there were a lot of people who were Kukulegmii.)
Yuggaq ataasiq esqaganlenguq akuzingigalngaq
(One little man who lived there somewhere in the village who didn’t say much)
ukavaghpanlenguq elngatall qusevegngaghllalghii yuggaq
(who is considered a lovely person, he was a very humble little man)
(who did not argue or try to be the key person,)
(even if they were not nice, he just ignored them)
(even if he knew that they disliked him he would ignore them.)
Tawaten sakaq, yuggaq aapghumangitughnguq
(Something happened, the little man did not tell what)
samatni naten liigikikumatneni.
(happened, how he came to understand what he had to do.)
Enkaam Kukulegmiit takwaaqluki aleghquqii.
(So he went to the Kukulek people and talked to them.)
(He put an emphasis on urging them to make clothing,)
(the kind that are dressy.)
Aatkiit igaghrakegteghllalghiit, satughllaget quunpeng.
(Their clothing had so much design and very fanciful all the time.)
Kukulegmiit aatkaqeglleghuniiqegkanget, Qiighqami samani,
(The people of Kukulek were known to have fancy clothing on the Island)
(they were always like that. Some of them)
sungaghmeng entaqun qughalkutiighlluteng ayuqaqelghiit.
(may have beads all around the clothing probably like that.)
Taghnughhaqulluki aarraasimeng ulimatesqiit,
(He told them to even make fancy clothing for their children,)
pikegken naasqughhiitneng kanavek itegaghhiitnun.
(all the way from head to all the way down to their feet.)
Taagken elngaatall aghnat kakitkaq,
(So then women sewed,)
kakiyupiglleghhiitlu entaqun esghaghhu,
(they were excellent sewers no doubt,)
(don’t know why he had said that to them.)
Apeghiighyata taagken pimakangi,
(When they were all done he said to them,)
“Unaami piyukufsi avelghaqaghhaasi, navek pifqaafsi
(“Tomorrow, if you want to, refrain from going somewhere even if)
(the weather is fine.)
(Even if it is a very clear weather and calm weather.)
Aangghutkuminga uum kiyaghtaallemta esla pinighllequq.”
(If my asking is granted by the way of life the weather will be fine.”)
Unaami taghtughyalghiimeng legan amsanaghllugllak, meq
(The next day when they woke up it was so calm the water)
leganqun taghneghaghquuta, qagivleghaghhangunani
(was like a looking glass, not even a ripple of waves,)
imaghlluvleghaghhangunani. Elngaatall sumeghtaghaatkat,
(and no swells at all. So they put in this deep thought,)
“Taawa yuggag temngi pingunghituq.”
(“So the little man is not just saying this.”)
Aghuliitutkaq napigpenani yuuk nemetutkaq tamaana.
(People did not go anywhere, they stayed home.)
Taagken unugyagu esnamun—
(Then towards night, towards the beach—)
tawaten emta neqenghaghqumaghmeng pitkat.
(as usual they made so much food—they went.)
Quyatut elngaatall.Quyastekaqegkangi entagun qayughllak.
(They all felt very happy. He made them very happy supposedly.)
(They made a large fire at the beach.)
Leganqun laluramket bonfire-ngistun.
(Just like white man’s bonfire.)
Kumaghtighllakat unaghsimeng esnami.
(They made a big fire using wood at the beach.)
(They were eating as well.)
Ataasikaghtaan ketfaghaqluteng esnemun tawavek pisqii tawaten.
(One by one he told them to come forward to the shore like that.)
“Seghleghqellesi apeghteghteki, qivghullesi sasi.
(“Tell the wrong things you have done, what you feel sorry about doing.)
Qivghukelleghsi seghletun pilleghpesinun.
(What you feel sorry for wrong things you have done.)
Apeghteghteki, ukmangightek elngaatall.
(Tell about them, cleanse yourself from them.)
Nuna uka tagiiquq qateghvakegllak, iqangilnguq avangilnguq.
(A place is coming that is very white, very clean and free of soil.)
Tawavek uugsaghqaaghtesqellusi pingwaamsi.”
(So you would be able to get on this place, I’m telling you.”)
Naqamqun esgha tawaten qelellengumaat.
(So then they were given advice of what to do.)
Taana yuggaq akuzingigalnguq aangayugsigalnguq.
(That little man never said much, never acted big.)
(He did not put on hot air, never did anything to be criticized for.)
([He] was very quiet. They followed his advice.)
EsnevaghaqlutengL.eganqun apeghralghiistun pikat.
(People came forward. They just did like confessing.)
Sangwaa seghleghqelleghteng, seghletun pilleghteng
(Any wrong doing, anything they did that is wrong)
(that they remembered they told.)
Taaqenghata yuggaam aallgaqegkangi
(When they were done the little man would brush them off)
meghmun tawavek ukmangighniluki.
(towards the water saying he cleanses them that way.)
(He made them turn around and brushed. He did that to everyone,)
iwerngaqun yugllak.Taawanguq whaten’nguq pikaqegkangi,
(all the many people. He had said to them,)
‘Taghneghaghpesigun aaraaghlusi esghaghngaapesi whaa
(“Even if you see your reflection all dressed up like that have”)
seghletun pillelgulghiisi.Ukmangighwaaghlusi esghiisqellusi
(wrong doing. It is for you to see how it is like to cleanse)
tawaten katam aarralleghpesistun, nunamun tawavek
(and dress nicely, you would be able to take a)
(a step over to that land (place). I prepared you.”)
Taagken elngaatall quyatkat taaqluteng.
(Then they were happy when this was all finished.)
Enraqlunguq taam kingunganeng nenglum yuga
(Then after that all the people of that)
(subterranean dwelling place went into a deep sleep—)
(that’s the term they had used. When a person or group of people die in their sleep)
tawateteftut qavameggneng tuqukat qavaghpagniluki.
(that was what happened to those people in their sleep.)
Qamagtengngwaaghluni imaa qaamna tuqulaghaatkaq nenglumi.
(All the occupants of the house had died inside the building.)
Apeghiiqat entaqun apeghiighluteng.
(They were probably ready to go.)
Repall esghaghhu sumeghtaghaghaqelghiinga ilangani
(It really made me think, when I think about this sometimes,)
entaqun quyastellghem saam kaatkaqegkangi.
(and think that they come to the conclusion of happiness.)
Taawa nagneghunnaqaqegkegka sumeghtaghanemni, whaa.
(So I try to continue to tell about it when I think about it now.)
Taananguuq whanga whaten kiyaghusiqa.
(That is what I like to tell about.)
[From discussion with Jacob Ahwinona, Estelle Oozevaseuk, Marie Saclamana and Branson Tungiyan (Kawerak, Inc.) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 5/07/2001-5/11/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. According to St. Lawrence Island Yupik Elder Vera Kaneshiro, a sanightaaq [fancy gut parka] was worn on special occasions and only as a windbreaker, not a rain parka. Two types of plain gut parkas are: an aghsughtaq [bearded seal or walrus gut windbreaker-type parka] worn over a cold-weather parka (fur, birdskin, etc.) in winter time or worn as a layer between an outer cloth parka and an inner, cold-weather parka; and a qaliq [gut rain parka] made from bearded seal or walrus intestines, yellowish in color and translucent.
2. According to Vera Kaneshiro, this process is also called bleaching or winter-tanning, when scrapped skin or intestine is made white in color from exposure to very cold air.
This decorated parka is made from intestines of the bearded seal. It is called a sanightaaq [fancy gut parka] in the Yupik language of St. Lawrence Island. The collector, Arnold Liebes, identified it as a “chief’s snow and rain shirt.”
People dressed in this style of parka for religious ceremonies such as Ateghaq, a spring ritual to ask God for good hunting, and Kamegtaaq, a thanksgiving that followed the hunting season. The wife of a whaling captain put one on to greet her husband’s boat when he returned to the village with a bowhead whale.(1) Maritime Chukchi people of Siberia wore decorated gut parkas in ceremonies honoring the sea spirit Kere′tkun.(2)
To make a sanightaaq, a woman first cleaned the intestines and hung them outside to whiten in the cold and wind. Then she split the intestines and sewed them together with thread made of whale or reindeer sinew. She stitched the seams on the outside for a man’s parka and on the inside for a woman’s.
The strips of intestine could be sewn horizontally or vertically, depending on the local style. Men’s parkas were decorated with feathers of the crested auklet (Aethia cristatella) and with small orange plates taken from the sides of the birds’ beaks. Women’s parkas were hung with tassels of fur from unborn seals. The fur was dyed reddish brown by boiling it with larch or alder bark.(3) The bottom hem and cuffs of this man’s parka are trimmed with gray fur that Estelle Oozevaseuk identified as baby walrus. The hood and chest are trimmed with strips of bird skin and alder-dyed seal fur.
The finest snow shirts were made on St. Lawrence Island, where both bearded seals and crested auklets are abundant. The garments were traded to Yupik and Chukchi residents of the Siberian coast.(4) In the early 20th century, various kinds of trade cloth—muslin, calico, and ticking—replaced seal intestines as the favored material. The colorful cloth parkas that people wear today are called qaspeghaq or qiipaghaq.
In 2001 (see Elders’ discussion), Estelle Oozevaseuk told the story of her ancestors at Kukulek, who perished during the great famine and epidemic that struck St. Lawrence Island in 1878-80.(5) Historical sources and Yupik oral traditions indicate that this tragedy resulted from extremely bad weather conditions, poor hunting, and a deadly disease (possibly dysentery or influenza) that swept the island. Mrs. Oozevaseuk provides a more spiritual interpretation. In her story, the people die because they had been cutting strips of flesh from living walruses, animals upon whom they depended for food. In Yupik belief, this act of disrespect would have offended the walruses, causing them to make themselves unavailable to hunters. In her story, a spiritual leader tells the people of Kukulek to dress in their beautiful intestine parkas and to prepare to pass on to another land. They acknowledge their wrongdoing, receive forgiveness, and die peacefully in their sleep.
1. Doty 1900; Hughes 1959; Silook 1976:19
2. Bogoras 1904-09:247
3. Moore 1923:342; Ungott 1985
4. Bogoras 1904-09:247
5. Crowell and Oozevaseuk 2006