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© McCord Museum
Central Arctic or Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut or Iglulingmiut
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1930, 20th century
Ivory, glue, baleen?, steel, brass
8 x 8.7 cm
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The Inuit woman's knife, the ulu, is made up of a handle and blade, both transverse. The handle can consist of one to three pieces. The one-piece grip is the simplest, where the blade is set directly into the handle, a form often found in the Western Arctic. A two-piece handle has a stem, called a tang, between the grip and the blade. The three-piece has an intermediate part between tang and blade. The blade can be shallow to deep and of different widths.

The ulu shape brings together a number of factors for maximum efficiency. The length of the handle approximates the width of the hand, providing a secure grip. When the blade is fixed to the handle by a single stem, the pliability of the wrist is fully engaged. The tang allows a space between the handle and cutting edge and protects the fingers of both hands. The deep blade also protects the fingers and lasts longer since the blade wears away with use.


This ulu has an oblong, decorated, ivory handle. The brass tang is glued into the base of the handle and is attached to the steel blade by a single rivet. The blade is semi-lunar with a straight top edge and sharpened on one side only.


The style of an ulu can indicate where it comes from. The right-angled top edge of this ulu's blade, with its deep semi-lunar shape, and the two-piece handle tells us that it probably comes from Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island), Nunavut, inhabited by the Nunatsiarmiut in the southern part or by the Iglulingmiut, who live in the northwestern areas.


The ulu has been in use by Inuit people for thousands of years. This ulu is representative of one of the styles developed by the beginning of the 20th century.


The motifs on this ulu's handle - the cross with splayed blades and the floral pattern - are found on objects in both Qikiqtaaluk and Siberia. Passed on through the millennia and across the vast spaces of the Arctic, these motifs are part of the rich heritage preserved by Inuit, among them the Nunatsiarmiut and Iglulingmiut peoples.

© Musée McCord Museum