Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Amauti -- The Arctic Baby Sling!

As I hop around the mommy blogosphere I am constantly inundated with the world of infants. Unlike many of the mommy bloggers I've encountered I no longer have a tiny bundle of joy but rather three independent little grown-ups! I admit I love the baby gear and have seen some very exciting new products I only wish I had access when I was a new mommy. I am particularly impressed by the many versions of baby slings and would probably have been a sling mama had I lived in the south at the time but instead I was an amauti mama and loved it! For those of you without knowledge of the arctic and its people an amauti is the traditional baby packing parka of the Inuit. Working and travelling the tundra through the brutality of an arctic winter's weather required very special protection for an infant.
I imagine... the young woman drops one kamik padded foot off the edge of the komatik, the wooden sled laden with caribou skins and a few cherished tools. Her half-moon shaped knife is tucked safely in a sealskin pouch along side the soapstone seal oil lamp she will use that night to light and heat the newly finished igloo. The dogs whimper and howl as they stop and eagerly turn to chew the sled runners fashioned of frozen fish wrapped in thinning hides. The woman smiles at her man as he smacked wildly at the dogs calling them away from their sled scavenging, her grin marred by teeth dulled from the constant chewing it takes to soften hides for sewing. She turns to place both feet sturdily onto the solidly frozen earth and heaves herself forward hefting the weight of the baby upon her back. The wind is up and she lifts the hood of her amauti up over her head careful to tuck her dark hair under on either side. Her hair is wrapped tightly to sticks on either side of her head with thongs of caribou hides she had cleaned and cut into strips with her sharpened ulu. She pulled the hood down over her tanned forehead and shifted the baby hidden safely in the pocket upon her back. Her man had already cut several blocks of snow and had aligned them. He was cutting the tops diagonally with his puna, the machete-like snow knife he always carried at his side. She must start to unpack the sled. She needed to find the large flat wooden shovel she would soon use to throw snow upon the dome of the snow house her man was constructing. The loose snow she threw would fill the cracks between the snow blocks which would protect them from the elements. She was a strong woman and well schooled in the ways of her people. She knew there was a second puna strapped somewhere onto the sled. Perhaps she would help to cut blocks of snow for the little house they would create to safely keep the sled from the scavenging dogs and hungry wandering animals. Baby on her back she began to work!

I never had to endure the difficult life of an Inuit woman on the land in the Canadian arctic wilds but I love to envision how it must have been. I gained a great respect for how it must have been to travel and work the land with a baby on ones back in the biting cold. I packed my babies, as they say, upon my back walking through the arctic communities in which we lived. I even packed my babies upon my back in the arctic winter upon a skidoo on short land excursions but could never bring myself to go too far for too long. In the summers I was less wary to venture further using a lighter version of an amauti termed a packing shirt. The fear of frost bite and exposure if I decided to "unpack" my babe no longer a concern. My amauti granted me the freedom to venture out of my home with my baby in the winter months without worry and that was a gift of Inuit ingenuity I was very thankful for. Having one's baby on one's back is a very different experience from that of most women in our western society. Women in our society feel comforted by the sight of their baby. In this world view having one's baby strapped to one's belly or chest is felt to be more intimate and protective but for me packing my babies on my back gave me the freedom of movement not easily granted by carrying a baby in front and was still intimate and warming. I would not trade my baby "packing" experience for any western ideal! I now display my amauti proudly in my home as a piece of personal memorabilia and functional art!

1 comment:

  1. wow, that's so cool! We were just talking to the children about how women would have to work and carry their babies in slings on their backs. My mind was full of visions of Chinese Mama's in rice paddy's, and American Indians around campfires. I'd not thought of the harsh conditions of the Inuit people! She couldn't just leave your baby in by the fire alone could she? Thank you for this post, it was really neat!