Language: Qawiaraq Iñupiaq
gutskin parka, intestine parka, rain parka, kamleika [from Chukchi word for gut parka], snow shirt
They’re so light and waterproof.
—Theresa Nanouk, 2001
Hooded parkas made from seal intestines (gut) were ideal outer garments for wet weather and ocean travel. They were sewn with fine sinew thread and a special watertight stitch. This fine gut parka from Golovin Bay is decorated with red wool yarn, feathers, and strips of bird skin.
Region: Golovin Bay, Alaska
Object Category: Clothing
Object Type: Parka, gut
Dimensions: Length 1m
Accession Date: 1880
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E043335
Oscar Koutchak: Kapitaq?
Theresa Nanouk: Kapitaq.
Anna Etageak: Ugruum ilgawia [bearded seal intestines]. They’d catch one and clean it. And they’d eat it, cook it first. And when they want to make this kind [of parka], they put it [intestines] inside out and clean the inside. Scrape it and clean it, maybe all day. And they soak it in salt water to make them white, maybe a couple of days or more. They don’t let them stay too long, because it’s real thin. And they blow [air into] it. When they have holes in some places, they tie them.
Theresa Nanouk: They patch the hole.
Anna Etageak: They tie them up. They blow another one to tie those together where there’s a hole and make it long. And dry them outdoors, like on clothes line.
Theresa Nanouk: They’re pretty long then you blow them, right.
Anna Etageak: Yes. They dry in a little while, maybe a couple of hours or more. They take them down and cut them down the middle [lengthwise]. And roll them, for when they want to sew it, to make a raincoat or tarp. When they go someplace, they carry them [tarps], and sometimes when they go hunting on the land, they use that for a tent.
Theresa Nanouk: They’re so light and waterproof.
Anna Etageak: They sew this long time, maybe a week or more. They have to twist sinew first to sew it with. Momma made one once. They have to sew it real good, so the water won’t go through it. They used to dampen it [gut parka] first, so it won’t tear when they put it on.
Theresa Nanouk: They have to wet them in order to put them on.
Anna Etageak: My Papa used to roll them and put them in something, so it wouldn’t tear or get too dry.
He took real good care of it. And when he wanted to put it on, he wet it a little bit first and then put it on, so it wouldn’t tear. [Gut parkas are] mostly men’s, because they always go hunting. [They’re also for] when they go kayaking. They used to make it wide enough for kayak [to cover the cockpit]. So when it gets rough out there, they used to tie them on so the water couldn’t go in.
[From discussion with Frances Charles, Anna Etageak, Art Ivanoff (Native Village of Unalakleet), Oscar Koutchak, Theresa Nanouk 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, Bill Fitzhugh and Stephen Loring (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. Elders from the Norton Sound area did not discuss this gut parka, but did examine a similar one 193351.000, which they identified as a kapitaq [rain parka]. Also included is information from their discussion of intestine for gut parka193348.000 and skin scraper 212532.000.
Gut parkas—light-weight, knee-length, hooded pullovers made from seal or walrus intestines—were worn as waterproof outer coats by both men and women, and as fancy dress for ceremonial and festive occasions.(1) This garment is also called a rain parka, gutskin parka, intestine parka, rain shirt or kamleika, a name of Russian origin.(2) Men wore gut parkas when hunting on land in rainy weather, and at sea in their kayaks.(3) To keep dry, a kayaker tightened the drawstrings of his parka’s sleeves and hood. He tied the bottom of the parka around the raised rim of the boat’s cockpit, to keep rain and splash from getting inside.(4)
Women sewed gut parkas from long strips of dried and split intestines, using sinew thread. They reinforced and made the seams waterproof by joining the strips with folds and stitching that did not entirely pierce through the material.(5) The strips were usually sewn together horizontally but could also be vertically arranged. When moist and pliable, a gut parka could be rolled up into a small bundle.
(6) The intestine strips, approximately three inches wide, were kept in rolls until used.(7)
Gut parkas were often decorated. Women sewed feathers, seal fur, auklet beaks, dyed strips of tanned skin, beads and colored fabric into the seams.(8) During a festival at Unalakleet in December of 1867, William H. Dall observed women wearing “long shirts made of intestines of seals . . . translucent, embroidered with bits of colored worsted [wool], and ornamented with short pendent strings of beads.”(9) Edward Nelson—in the Norton Sound area from 1877 to 1881—reported that women’s gut parkas were “cut up on each side to produce flaps similar to those of the ordinary frock [parka].”(10)
Strips of seal intestine were made into other kinds of waterproof items as well, including full body suits for setting salmon nets in high water.(11) Sheets of seal intestine (or walrus) were used as windows over the smoke holes of traditional semi-subterranean houses.(12) Larger sheets served as tents when traveling or in open camps.
1. Bruce 1894:110; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:141; Nelson 1899:36-37; Thornton 1931:32; Ray 1966:36, 39; Ray 1984:289
2. Bruce 1894:110; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:141; Ray 1966:39, 107
3. Dall 1870:138; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:141; Nelson 1899:36-37; Ray 1984:289
4. Dall 1870:138; Nelson 1899:36-37, 221; Ray 1966:39-40; Ray 1977:32
5. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:66, 141; Nelson 1899:36; Ray 1966:39; Thornton 1931:32
6. Ray 1966:39
7. Bruce 1894:110; Ray 1966:39
8. Dall 1870:152; Nelson 1899:37; Ray 1977:32; Ray 1966:39
9. Dall 1870:152
10. Nelson 1899:37
11. Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:141
12. Nelson 1899:118; Ray 1966:48
13. Bruce 1894:98; Nelson 1899:118; Thornton 1931:109