Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Length: 84.000 cm
Collected by Archibald Menzies
Room 26: North America
Chugach, 18th century
From Alaska, North America
Kayaks were used throughout the North American Arctic and also in eastern Siberia for hunting sea mammals. The Aleut and Chugach or Alutiiq, uniquely, made baidarka, two- and three-man kayaks, for whaling and sea otter hunting. The three man baidarka was an invention used in Russian America to transport an official in the middle space.
The kayak is constructed with a light structure covered with a taut skin. Before drying, the skin is pulled onto the drift wood structure, lightly bound with strips of, for instance, whale baleen (the same 'whalebone' used in Victorian corsets). The shaven skins of bearded seals is used, with great care taken to arrange the skins so that the water would flow in the direction of any remaining hair follicles. Similarly, the double seaming of the skins was always finished with the seam line facing the stern. These precautions would minimise any ripples which might alert the prey to the hunters' presence.
This model baidarka was collected in 1794 by Archibald Menzies on George Vancouver's voyage (1791-95) undertaking the incredible task of mapping the coast of North America between Baja (or Lower) California, and Anchorage, Alaska.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)