The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing

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Widow's amauti or arnauti
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut
1890-1897, 19th century
Sealskin, seal fur, glass beads, silver?, lead, brass, pewter?, spoons, coins, wool braid, linen? thread
59 x 156 cm
Gift of Mrs. R. Fairbanks and Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Amauti (9)
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Starting in the early 1800s, contact with non-aboriginal explorers, whalers and traders provided the Inuit with an array of trade goods, including coloured cloth, coins, metal utensils and glass beads. As this mid-19th century amauti from the Hudson Strait region demonstrates, Inuit women soon began incorporating these novel materials into the design elements of their garments. American one-cent pieces dating from 1848 to 1855 decorate the back flap of the amauti, while spoons, lead drops and glass beads ornament the front. We know that this is a widow's amauti because it has the small, flat amaut (baby-pouch) that symbolizes a woman's former role as child-bearer.

Keys to History

This finely made widow's amauti, called an arnauti, has a small, flat amaut, the baby pouch on the mother's back symbolizing the widow's former role as a child-bearer. It is elaborately decorated with trade goods. Four spoon bowls drop down the central front of the kiniq (apron). At the centre back, starting at the base of the amaut, the seamstress has attached a brass boss and groups of American one-cent pieces with dates 1848 to 1855. Intricate beadwork embellishes these attachments and also ornaments the amauti front, along with colourful braid and lead drops.

The Nunatsiarmiut, the "People of the Beautiful Land," occupy the southern two-thirds of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island, Nunavut) from north of Kangiqlugaapik (Clyde River) to Nuvummiut Tariunga (Hudson Strait). Starting in the early 19th century, they could obtain European goods from explorers, Hudson's Bay Company supply ships and at HBC trading posts in return for caribou meat, fish, oil, whalebone and furs, primarily those of caribou, fox, wolf and seal. One ship's list included - besides weapons and fishing equipment, tools and tobacco - articles sought by Inuit seamstresses: 15,000 needles, 288 open top thimbles, over 2,000 yards of calico and other cloth, and 475 hanks of beads.

  • What

    This amauti is made of the skin of young ringed seal, fur to the inside. These seals, three to six months old, have thick, soft, silver-tipped hair and are favoured for garments where the fur faces inward. Outlining the face and wrists are narrow bands from the dark skin of adult ringed seal.

  • Where

    This amauti has been identified by Siasi Smiler, Kativik School Board, as coming from the Qikiqtaaluk due to the style of the pointed hood, squared kiniq (apron) and akuq (tail).

  • When

    This amauti was collected by Dr. William Wakeham in 1897, although it incorporates older items. The American coins date from 1848 to 1855. The beads on the amauti feature the beautiful bead called Cornaline d'Aleppo that appeared in the Arctic early in the 1800s, mainly via Hudson's Bay Company supply ships.

  • Who

    It is not known whether the Nunatsiarmiut seamstress from whom Dr. Wakeham acquired this amauti made it for herself or whether she inherited it from an ancestor. In any case, the seamstress was truly a talented artisan - the sinew stitches on this garment are very tiny.