Language: Unangam Tunuu (Eastern Aleut dialect)
Women sewed waterproof “raincoats” using the gut (intestine) of any large sea mammal. The design includes a hood with drawstring. Men always wore this chigdax^ [gut parka] or kamleika (Russian) in their kayaks to keep dry, usually with a birdskin parka underneath.
Region: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Object Category: Clothing
Object Type: Parka, gut
Dimensions: Length 163cm
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E168576
Vlass Shabolin: Chag^talisax^.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Chag^talisax^, yes, but they usually used to call it a kamleika.(2) In my time, I never saw anybody wear this kind of chag^talisax^ or kamleika. It could be in early 1900s that in the Aleutian Chain they were still wearing them.
Maria Turnpaugh: I think old George Berrinon used to wear it once in a while, but I’ve never seen anybody else that I can remember. We had one in our house when we left, but it was gone when we came back, after the evacuation.
Aron Crowell: Were these just worn by men?
Maria Turnpaugh: Yes.
Aron Crowell: So from what you heard, were these used when you were out in a kayak?
Vlass Shabolin: In a single kayak or a three-man kayak.
Maria Turnpaugh: The bottom used to have a drawstring, and you’d tie it around the opening of the kayak so the water wouldn’t come in there. Notice that there its neck part is longer where you would pull the drawstring tight.
Aron Crowell: So you would wrap the hood tightly around your face with that string?
Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, that’s a drawstring.
Vlass Shabolin: It tightens up around your face and makes it more seaworthy, because the water won’t come down through your neck, like if you had elastic around your raingear.
Aron Crowell: We haven’t looked at the hoods closely. Did the other ones have the strips that are going forward like this [seams running vertically down hood]?
Maria Turnpaugh: Yes.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, curve it down or else it’ll be pointed.
Aron Crowell: And how were the intestines prepared?
Mary Bourdukofsky: Cleaned and blown up. Dried in the air, in the sun. They don’t cut them until they dry up, and then they split them open.
Aron Crowell: Sea lion intestines?
Mary Bourdukofsky: It could be sea lion or ugruk [bearded seal (in Iñupiaq)] or any big sea animal you could find.(4)
Maria Turnpaugh: I don’t think we had ugruk around where we came from.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Sometimes they’ll find it around Pribilof Island after a big storm, and people used to take parts of it for some uses.
[From discussion with Mary N. Bourdukofsky, Vlass Shabolin, Maria Turnpaugh and Daria Dirks (Tanadgusix Foundation) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/07/2003-4/11/2003. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. The section includes comments from the discussion of gut parkas E383185 & E008943.
2. According to Mary Bourdukofsky and Vlass Shabolin, a kamleika is a “gut parka” or “rain parka” and can refer to rain gear in general. It comes from the Russian term kamleĭka.
3. This section is from the discussion of gut parka E383185.
4. According to Vlass Shabolin and Mary Bourdukofsky, fur seal intestines were usually used to make kamleikas.
The chigdax^ [gut parka], also known by the Russian name kamleika, is a lightweight, waterproof garment that Unangax^ women created from the intestines of sea lions, harbor seals, fur seals or whales, and from other tough membranes such as the skin of a whale’s tongue.(1) Grizzly bear intestines were sometimes used in the eastern islands and Alaska Peninsula.(2) The intestines, or gut, of one sea lion was enough to make two coats, according to John Gordieff of Unalaska. It was cleaned, dried, split open to make strips about 1 ¼ inches wide, then sewn together with sinew.(3)
The Aleutian design was always constructed from horizontal strips, with a hood that was made separately and stitched on.(4) There are drawstrings at the hood and often at the wrists, but men also wore bracelets to close the sleeves.(5) Skilled seamstresses made completely watertight seams by using fox or whale sinew thread, a double fold, and a combination of running and overcast stitches.(6) Fine bird or fish bone needles were traditional, before iron ones became a Russian trade item.
The chigdax^ was essential dress for kayak hunting, usually with a birdskin parka worn underneath. Used in combination with a kayak skirt, which fastened snugly around the rider’s waist, a man and his boat were completely sealed off from the waves. Russian and European mariners made note of these garments and appreciated their extreme utility, many acquiring them for themselves and their crews.(8) Because they were so practical, intestine parkas continued to be made until the 1940s, long after other types of traditional skin clothing were discontinued.(9)
1. Bergsland and Dirks 1990:111; Black 2003:152-55; Laughlin 1980:56; Liapunova 1996:205-09; Merck 1980:71; Sauer 1802:156
2. Black 2003:152; Laughlin 1980:56
3. Hudson 1992:200
4. Liapunova 1996:205-09
5. Black 2003:153
6. Black 2003:152-153; Liapunova 1996:207
7. Liapunova 1996:210; Merck 1980:77; Sarychev 1969:II8
8. Black 2003:150; Chirikov 1988:135; Corney 1965:139; Jochelson 1933:8, 17; Krenitsyn and Levashev 1988:248; Langsdorff 1993:II16-17; Merck 1980:78
9. Hudson 1992:8; Laughlin 1980:55