“man’s dance pants”
Language: Qawiaraq Iñupiaq
You know who’s going dancing tonight!
—Art Ivanoff, 2001
Both women and men wore short dance pants that came just below the knee, for performing at ceremonies and festivals. This pair is made of mottled reindeer fur and ornamented with decorative hair stitches, strips of clipped white reindeer fur, wolverine trimming, and loops of red yarn. There is a drawstring around the top to tighten them on the hips.
Region: Norton Sound, Alaska
Object Category: Clothing
Dimensions: Width 71cm
Accession Date: 1880
Source: E. W. Nelson (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E043799
Examining & identifying
Theresa Nanouk: Real fancy.
Oscar Koutchak: Fancy thread.
Theresa Nanouk: These were made even before they used calf skin. A long time ago, right?
Oscar Koutchak: Yes. These are dance breeches.
Art Ivanoff: “Made of Siberian reindeer, trimmed with wolverine” [from museum catalog card].
Theresa Nanouk: Yes, it is [trimmed with] wolverine. Pualasuutik [men’s dance pants], nalikasuuk [shorts]. Washington dancing pants. [Laughter.]
Art Ivanoff: You know who’s going to go dancing tonight. [Laughter.]
Village dances (1)
Oscar Koutchak: They used to dance a long time ago.
Theresa Nanouk: Yes, until the missionaries came. I remember when I was a kid, on the Fourth of July they were going to do that. There came Mr. Larsen on his bicycle, to stop it. They were against the dancing.
Oscar Koutchak: Yes, they thought it was sin. Now it’s being introduced with the little children. I think it’s nice.
Theresa Nanouk: Because all they dance about is—
Oscar Koutchak: Just to have fun.
Theresa Nanouk: They dance about animals, like the geese and hunting. They don’t dance about anything wrong. They dance about nature, right? Like your village.
Art Ivanoff: Celebration.
Theresa Nanouk: Mm-hmm.
[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. This section is from the discussion of parkas E007587 & E007589.
Men and women in the Bering Strait region dressed in several traditional styles of pants, which women sewed from the skins of caribou, reindeer skin, polar bear, seal, and dogs.(1) Breeches—pants that reached just below the knees and fit snugly at the bottom—were usually for men. Ankle-length trousers, often with built-in boots, were usually worn by women.(2) Short breeches—reaching to the thigh—were worn by both sexes at ceremonies and festivals and were decorated with decorative materials and needlework.(3) E. W. Nelson collected this pair at Unalakleet in 1880 (see below).
John Murdoch—who traveled in northwest Alaska in the 1880s—reported that trouser styles worn at Point Barrow were similar to those worn in Norton Sound.(4) Murdoch reported that men in the Barrow area wore knee breeches, hair-side out, that reached the top of the boot. Underneath these trousers, they usually put on a pair of caribou-skin stockings. Men occasionally used booted long pants (pantaloons) instead of breeches and boots.
This was more commonly a female style, worn over an inner pair made of soft caribou skin. In the spring and summer, women wore just the inner pants, with knee-high waterproof boots. Children also wore pantaloon-style trousers.(5)
Short ornamented pants like the ones shown here were for dancing.(6) In the winter of 1867, W. H. Dall attended a dance in Unalakleet where he saw men wearing “breeches of tame reindeer skin and had each a tail of wolf or wolverine attached to the belt behind.” Women’s “breeches were of the white Siberian reindeer, embroidered, decorated with strips of wolfskin, and made to fit the limbs perfectly.”(7) In a story relating the origin of the Wolf-Eagle Messenger Feast for people from Kauwerak (Seward Peninsula), William Oquilluk described pants worn by male spirit dancers as made “of summer caribou skin with two stripes of winter-bleached caribou skin running from their hips to inside their legs above the knees. The white strips had edges of lingcod skin with long shoulder hairs of caribou sewn like a fringe.”(8)
Nelson described the pair Unalakleet dance breeches pictured here as follows: “They measure about 15 inches in length and extend from the hip to the upper thigh, and are made of tame reindeer skin mottled white and brown. They have an ornamental strip extending from the lower border on each side and curving upward around the back of the garment, reaching within about 2½ inches of the upper border in the rear. Extending part way down the front of the leg, on each side, is an ornamental band of white deerskin [caribou] having a seam along the border on one side with a row of small spaced bunches of red worsted. The ornamental band, which extends from the lower edge of the trousers around to the rear, and the short bands in front, are bordered by a strip of wolverine fur. About the waist is a band containing a drawstring for binding the garment around the hips.”(9)
1. Dall 1870:23; Nelson 1899:31; Ray 1966:36
2. Dall 1870:23; Nelson 1899:30-31; Ray 1966:37; Thornton 1931:34
3. Dall 1870:152; Michael 1967:110; Nelson 1899:353
4. Murdoch 1892:110
5. Murdoch 1892:111, 125-126, 129
6. Dall 1870:152; Nelson 1899:353
7. Dall 1870:152
8. Oquilluk 1973:153-54
9. Nelson 1899:420-21