Kamleikas are outer garments made of sea mammal gut, an extremely light, tough, and waterproof material. They were sewn with grass or sinew threads which expanded when soaked, making the garment waterproof. Among the Aleut, hooded kamleikas were worn as protection against wind and rain over a birdskin or fur parka. These rather sparsely decorated everyday garments usually had drawstrings around the hood and at the cuffs. Although strong, gut can tear, and of course wears out with frequent use. Aleut men, who used their kamleikas almost daily, needed about three new garments each year. Each would take about a month to make.The Aleut also made beautiful kamleikas for festive or ceremonial occasions. These were hoodless, with a high collar and decorative bands of coloured skin at the collar, cuffs, and hem. Such parkas, like this example from the nineteenth century, were extremely valuable status symbols and articles for trading. After contact, they were given as gifts or sold to visiting Europeans and Russian officials, who appreciated them for their beauty and usefulness.Conserving a gutskin parkaDepartment of Conservation, The British MuseumThe gut used to make these kamleikas only stays flexible as long as it is saturated with water. In use, gut parkas were stored by rolling when damp, and were again dampened before unrolling. By the time they are brought to the Museum, they have usually become stiff, brittle and misshapen. Therefore, before display, the hardened gut of this kamleika was relaxed using water vapour. As the garment regained flexibility, it was gradually cleaned and reshaped into its original form. Holes, tears and loose elements of the decorative bands were then secured and supported with an adhesive and tinted Japanese tissue paper.


  • Title: Kamleika
  • Date Created: 1800/1899
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 122.00cm; Width: 81.00cm ((body)); Width: 168.00cm ((arms))
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Am1842,1210.46
  • Place: Found/Acquired North America
  • Peoples: Made by Northwest Coast Peoples. Made by Eskimo-Aleut
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: seal gut; feather; wool
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Belcher, Edward

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