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The Women's Boat

The "umiak" is a large open skin boat once widely used throughout the Arctic for whale hunting, or moving materials and groups of people.

It is sometimes called the "women's boat". When people or possessions were moved, women did the rowing or paddling - the man sat aft and steered. Otherwise, men usually used kayaks.

Capable of carrying large loads, these boats allowed whole families to change their dwelling places. Umiaks could carry so many people that when the Russians dominated the Aleutian sealskin trade, they forbade the use of them for fear that armed boarding parties might storm their ships.

Animal skins (usually walrus) were stretched over a wooden (driftwood) frame that had to be skillfully constructed to provide the strength needed for such a large boat.

At between 22-33 feet / 7-10 meters long and about 5 feet / 1.5 meters wide, umiaks could carry 10 to 15 people, and yet they were still light enough to be carried over ice or land by about six people.

Umiaks are rare today, although they have been replaced by motorized boats of umiak-like construction.

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