Arctic Babywearing: Amauti (or Baby’s got Back)
When I first arrived in Iqaluit and saw white women carrying their children in their hoods, I thought it was an affectation, like they were trying to be Inuk. More respectful than dressing up like Pocahontas for Hallowe’en maybe, but kind of like introducing yourself to me using your spirit animal name.
I’m usually not a judgmental a person (hormones, maybe?) but the practicality of the Amauti just hadn’t occurred to me yet. And I didn’t yet know anything about living in the north.
The longer I’m here, I realize my airport arrival judgement wasn’t at all valid. A white woman wearing a baby in her Amauti (pronounced Ah-m-OW-ti) just is what it is: A good way to carry a young one around. In most of the world people aren’t using strollers, which require paved level sidewalks free from ice and snow drifts. In the north, everyone is united in the fact that they are dealing with the weather, the isolation and the land on a daily basis.
This means you sometimes eat country food on the floor at a feast, go hunting on the land pulling a sled behind your snowmobile, or wear an Amauti. It’s not trying to be Inuk. It’s living in the North.
The most popular question we’ve asked on our show’s Facebook page is “How do you like your maaqtaq?” Maaqtaq is whale skin/blubber. We innocently posted the question during one lunch hour, and within seconds had 20 responses. Within a few hours, there were hundreds of answers: raw, with soy, with aromat, deep fried, fresh from the kill.
I’m finding another question guaranteed to give you answers is “What was your Amauti like?”
“My mother made it,” “Wolf fur collar,” “It was a vest my cousin sent me that could rotate the child to the front for feeding,” “Burgundy with blue trim, I still use it for my grandchildren.” The question appears to be as universal as pregnancy itself.
The techniques for getting the child in the Amauti are as varied as fastening a bra (do you fasten in the front and spin around, or dislocate your shoulders doing it up behind your back?) People have suggested practicing with a doll over a bed, getting a friend to help, balancing the child on top of your head and easing her down into the hood. I’ve been warned to make sure the tie is done up first, as it supports the bottom of the hood.
And to practice with a doll over a bed.
The Amauti can be worn until the child is one or even two years old. Children ask to be carried this way because it’s cozy and they can hide if they want, or peek out when they’re ready. When one baby was scared to be carried in this way, they added a puppy. Now she’s a ten-year-old dog enthusiast and expert puppy handler, and she recounts that story with great delight.
My husband asked if they come in men’s. I quickly said, “no.” Only to find myself corrected by people here that said they thought it was cool when a guy wore one. Of course, later that same day I saw a dad carrying his baby in what I jokingly referred to as an “A-man-ti.” Clearly, I’m still making judgments — pretty sure having a baby will take care of that!
Part of my job here was to involve a trip to Taloyoak, something I wasn’t looking forward to because of the long, multi-stage flight and the late stage I am in of my pregnancy and the fact that hotels in smaller communities are often shared dorm-style situations. But what I do regret is that I didn’t get to buy any of the packing dolls that community is known for.
While my husband said we probably don’t need a walrus doll carrying a baby walrus in its Amauti, I think it may have been the perfect souvenir of my time here.
Angie Pajek is a freelance producer currently working for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation on the Inuit Youth comedy show “Qanurli?” Read more about the show here. You probably now want a packing doll: buy them direct from the Taloyoak artists here.