Comparative Guts

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Gut skin parka

today stored at the National Museum of Denmark

Source: Nationalmuseum, Danmark, File ID: ES-49677, Photo: Roberto Fortuna CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

This girl’s parka is from Eastern Greenland and was acquired by the National Museum of Denmark in 1854. Survival in the Arctic requires extremely well-made clothing. The skill of producing watertight, lightweight clothing goes back a long way in the history of the Inuit. The material used is seal guts, which were emptied, dried, and cut up in long strips that were then sewn together. This type of clothing, a kind of raincoat-cum-windbreaker, also served as winter underwear for adults. For its use as underwear for small children in East Greenland, the prominent idea may have been that it provided protection against hostile non-human beings. In the traditional Inuit system of thought, transparent intestinal skin can symbolize a boundary between this and the supernatural world. If you are dressed in gut skin, you will thus be protected from evil spirits; and sometimes the angakkuqs (shamans) would wear a gut skin parka during seances.