Length: 95.000 cm
Width: 40.000 cm (at shoulders)
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Replica of a shaman's parka, made by Rachel Uyarasuk
Inuit, about AD 1989
From Igloolik, Nunavut, eastern Canadian Arctic
This replica of a shaman's parka was made by Rachel Uyarasuk in about 1989. The original, now in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, was collected by the whaler Captain George Comer on the west coast of Hudson Bay in 1902.
In the past, the shaman or angakkuq was considered to have special powers. A powerful shaman could travel to other worlds and communicate with spirits and animals. If animals were scarce, he or she would find out the reasons for their disappearance, which could be due to the breach of a certain taboo. In that case, the shaman would suggest remedies and pacify the spirits, in order that the animals would return.
The parka, it is said, was made for Qingailisaq, a shaman, after meeting a group of ijiqqat (humanlike supernatural beings). The parka's elaborate design, with contrasting white and dark caribou fur, resembles that of the garments worn by these ijiqqat. In one account of the meeting, the hands represent the shaman being attacked by the ijiqqat. In another account, the shaman mistakes the ijiqqat for caribou and kills one of them, who on death transforms into a human woman. Here, the human figure represents the dead baby of this ijiqqat-woman, who had been pregnant.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
B.K. Issenman, Sinew of survival: the living (Vancouver, UBC Press, 1997)
J.E. Oakes and R. Riewe, Our boots: an Inuit womans art (New York, Thames and Hudson, 1996)