Hunting helmet

Aleut, 19th century AD
From Alaska, North America

The helmet is made of painted bentwood, decorated with sea-lion whiskers, glass beads wound with wire, and ivory carvings.

Such helmets were worn by hunters in their kayaks, shading their eyes against glare and spray, as well as holding the waterproof sea-mammal gut parka hood to the wearer's head.

They also have a more complex, amuletic meaning, by association with the materials used to make them. After steaming, shaping and bending, the visors are usually sewn with the baleen - the plankton sieve from the mouth of a bowhead whale - the very material used in nineteenth-century corsets and called 'whalebone'. For Aleuts the use of this material ensured that the hunter in the kayak moved like a whale, while the use of wood would act as a prayer and expression of hope for a safe return to land, the original source of wood. The use of sea lion whiskers and walrus ivory decoration would have associated the hunter with the marine prowess of those animals.

The light blue glass beads may have been made in China from blocks of glass imported from Venice, and also used by the Chinese in cloisonné enamels.

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Dimensions

Length: 94.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 2240

ENA1395

Transferred from the Royal United Services Institution Museum to the Christy Collection before 1868

Location

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