L61.30.1-3 | Model of lamps

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Model of lamps
Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Nunavimiut
1900-1909, 20th century
Gift of Mr. Hugh A. Peck
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Model (422)
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Keys to History

The qulliq, or soapstone lamp, was probably the most important item any Inuit woman owned. The qulliq was used for heat, light and cooking, and maintaining it was the wife's responsibility. If more than one wife shared a tent or snow house, each wife maintained her own qulliq and her own cooking area.

To make a fire the woman first laid a bit of dried cottongrass or moss around the lip of the lamp. The bowl of the lamp was filled with seal oil or whale oil. She lit the cottongrass with a stone flint or a bowdrill, which required some skill. Once the lamp was lit she had to tend it carefully, since an untended lamp could poison the household. In the autumn each wife had to collect sufficient cottongrass or moss to last the winter.

  • What

    This is an exact model of a qulliq, or lamp, which was used for heat, light and cooking. Cooking pots were also carved from soapstone.

  • Where

    This type of qulliq was used throughout Nunavik. There were only a few soapstone quarries in the territory, and Inuit sometimes traded with other bands to acquire soapstone.

  • When

    Until the Inuit were obliged to abandon their nomadic existence and move to settlements in the early part of the 20th century, the qulliq was the sole source of heat and light inside their snow houses and tents.

  • Who

    Although all men were expected to hunt, and all women to sew, soapstone carving was a specialized skill among the Inuit. There was generally only one individual in any family band with the skill to carve qulliqs and cooking pots. This particular model was made by an unknown artisan and traded at the Hudson's Bay Company in Kuujjuaq (Fort Chimo), where Mr. Hugh A. Peck acquired it.