Three ulus

Iglulingmiut, AD 1980s
From Igloolik, Nunavut, eastern Canadian Arctic

Inuit women use a crescent-shaped knife, the ulu, in most aspects of food and skin preparation: for skinning animals, preparing skins, butchering, eating, and sewing. Different kinds of ulus are used for different purposes:

'The smaller ulu are only for cutting patterns, - they are too small to use for skin preparation. To prepare skins, I usually use the ones that get sharp easily, or the ones that are sharp, that is the way I know it. The largest ulu is the one that removes the blubber from a skin ....'
Rachel Uyarasuk, 1994

Today, ulu blades are usually made of sheets of stainless steel or saw blades. In the past, slate was the material most commonly used.

'There is a stone called uluksarnnak, this was used for ulus. The blade was grounded to thinness; as you file away the stone, you would look up the blade to see if the light is coming through, and when that happens, it is thin enough ... It was said that someone was given a knife, most likely when people were just being introduced to imported goods. This man was given a knife, and he proceeded to sharpen it. He would hold it up to see if the light would go through it, but the light would not go through. So he said: 'Ipiksijunnanngittualuk una' ('This cannot get sharp'). At once he ran the blade through his hand, it went right through.'
Rachel Uyarasuk, 1994

Other views: Removing blubber from sealskin with an ulu, Churchill, Manitoba, 1993. Photograph by Allyson Rae, Department of Conservation, British Museum.

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Three ulus

Three ulus

  • Removing blubber from sealskin with an ulu. Churchill, Manitoba, 1993

    Removing blubber from sealskin with an ulu. Churchill, Manitoba, 1993

 

More information

Bibliography

Dimensions

Length: 11.000 cm (min.)
Length: 11.000 cm (min.)

Museum number

AOA 1986.Am.10.42, 58, 67

ENA21718;ENA21747;ENA21776

Location

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