Language: Unangam Tunuu (Eastern Aleut and Atkan dialects)
chag^talisax^ “gut parka, rain gear”
Language: Unangam Tunuu (Eastern Aleut dialect)
The intestines were cleaned and blown up, then dried in the air, in the sun. They didn’t cut them until they dried, and then they split them open. It could be sea lion or bearded seal or any big sea animal.
—Maria Turnpaugh, 2003
Women sewed feather-light but strong waterproof parkas from the intestines of sea lions, harbor seals, fur seals, whales, and grizzly bears. The intestines were cleaned and dried, split open to make strips, then sewn together with sinew thread using double-fold watertight seams. The hood, which has a drawstring for the face, was sewn separately and attached. On this parka, red, blue, and black yarn was worked into the seams for color. Kayakers wore the parka in combination with a spray skirt that fastened around the cockpit to seal the boats from waves.
Region: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Object Category: Clothing
Dimensions: Length 110cm
Accession Date: 1869
Source: Army Medical Museum (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E383185
Identifying & explaining
Aron Crowell: What is the Unangax^ name for [this object]?
Vlass Shabolin: Chag^talisax^ [gut parka, rain gear].
Mary Bourdukofsky: It’s rain gear, but they usually called it kamlieka [parka, rain gear, rain parka; from Russian term].
Aron Crowell: And how were these made? It’s beautiful sewing. [Are the] intestines prepared the same way?
Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, they’re prepared the same way. The intestines are cleaned and blown, then dried in the air, in the sun. They didn’t cut them until they dried, and then split them open. It could be sea lion or ugruk [Iñupiaq word for “bearded seal”] or any big sea animal you could find. (1)
Maria Turnpaugh: I don’t think we had ugruk around where we came from.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Sometimes they will find it around Pribilof Island after a big storm. The wind blows it. If they kill them around St. Lawrence Island, they can drift all the way to the Pribilof Islands and people used to take parts of it to use. I never saw anyone wear this kind of chag^talisax^ or kamlieka in my time. It could be early 1900s. I think they were still wearing them in the Aleutian Chain.
Maria Turnpaugh: Old George Berrinon used to wear his once in a while, but I’ve never seen anyone else that I can remember. We had one in our house, but it was gone when we came back after the evacuation. (2)
Mary Bourdukofsky: The neck part is longer.
Aron Crowell: Can you point to what you mean?
Maria Turnpaugh: This neck part here where you would put the drawstring tight is larger than that one [see E168576].
Vlass Shabolin: It covers all around the face here and makes it seaworthy I think, because the water won’t come down through your neck. It’s wrapped up to your chin.
Daria Dirks: Well, maybe that person is taller.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, I think this is for a big person.
Aron Crowell: So that would just wrap really tight around your face with that string.
Vlass Shabolin: Yes, then you pull it back a little bit if they make it smaller and then tighten it up around your face. Like you had an elastic band around your rain gear. . . With this one here they have to be 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.
Vlass Shabolin: Waterproof.
Aron Crowell: The acquisition date is 1943.
Mary Bourdukofsky: We were just talking about this. They said nobody was in Attu in 1943, because the Japanese . . .
Vlass Shabolin: Invaded there in 1942.
Maria Turnpaugh: [And] took the people as prisoners.
Aron Crowell: Well, 1943 would be the day it came to the museum.
Mary Bourdukofsky: Somebody must have found it there after the people evacuated.
Aron Crowell: It could have been collected in 1930 actually . . . Sometimes [the acquisition date] is the same as the date it was collected if someone got it to the museum right away.
Vlass Shabolin: Somebody donated them.
Aron Crowell: Yes.
[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. According to Vlass Shabolin and Mary Bourdukofsky, the intestines of a sea lion or bull fur seal were probably used to make this big kamleika. Fur seal intestines were usually used to make kamleikas. The esophagus of a fur seal is used to make hats.
2. In September 1942, the Japanese successfully captured the islands of Attu and Kiska and took its inhabitants as prisoners of war. In response, the United States military conducted a mandatory evacuation of the remaining Aleutian Islands and interned the people in civilian camps in Southeast Alaska for the duration of World War II.