December 2011 Artifact of the Month
Model of Seal Hunter in a Kayak
Materials: seal skin, wood, muslin, metal, rawhide and ivory
The Arctic's harsh environment makes it difficult for survival without the aid of animals. Therefore, the Inuit people invented the kayak for hunting and transportation in the Arctic's unkind waters. Kayak literally means "hunter's boat" and it is great for hunting on the water. It's almost silent, making it easy to sneak up behind prey. Harpoons and spears were easily stored on these vessels to make the hunting easier. Driftwood or whalebone were used to make a light framework, while stretched animal skins, such as seal skins, were placed over the frame as a cover. As the man is wearing in the model, hunters wore seal skin, or "annuraaq," to keep themselves dry and warm.
Small models of kayaks and other tools are created for several reasons. One primary purpose was as a learning tool for children. Toys were a means to help children understand the adult world. While children played with these toys, they became familiar with the tools needed to build a kayak and learned the skills they needed to be good hunters when they became adults. The Inuit people had no written language and so models and handcrafts were created to pass on history and culture. Therefore, children learned about their heritage, as well as the skills necessary for survival through playing with toy models.
Please visit our exhibit "Games and Toys" to see this artifact and learn more about the games and toys Native Americans used and played.