The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing [Inuktitut Version]

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M2000.28.1.1-2 ME965.194.1-2 ME983X.69.1-4 ME931.5.2.1-2 ME930.19 ME983X.94 M21015.1-2 ME930.20 M4936
Anonyme - Anonymous
Western Arctic
Inuit: Inuvialuit
1900-1905, 20th century
Ivory, seal oil?, steel
12.5 x 20.3 cm
Forbes D. Sutherland Collection - Gift of Mrs. Margaret D. Sutherland
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Ulu (32)
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Keys to History


The ulu, or woman's knife, sometimes called a semi-lunar knife, symbolizes the Inuit woman and her work. Every girl is given her own ulu to be used by her exclusively. According to the traditional way of life, when a girl marries she takes her ulu and lamp to her husband's tent. When she dies her ulu or its model accompanies her to her resting-place.

The woman uses her uluit (plural) for flensing (removing the skin) and butchering seals, slicing food, and preparing and cutting skins and sinew to make clothing and footgear. A large ulu can be used to butcher game or to scrape skins. According to Leah d'Argencourt Idlout, of Mittimatilik, former Chair of the Arctic Society of Canada, the point of a small ulu can be used as an awl to make loops for boot thongs or for lacing a skin to a drying rack.

  • What

    The crescent-shaped steel blade of this ulu is bevelled on one side. "An ulu honed on one side can be better controlled and is used for scraping. Such an ulu will not cut into the skin during the scraping and cleaning procedures," explained Jeela Alikatuktuk Moss-Davies, past-president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The blade is likely attached to the ivory handle with glue that is a mixture of seal's blood, a kind of clay and dog's hair.

  • Where

    Constable Forbes D. Sutherland collected this ulu at Qikiqtaruk (Herschel Island) in the Yukon.

  • When

    This is an early style ulu, as the blade is set directly into the handle without a stem. It probably dates to the turn of the 19th century because Forbes Sutherland served with the North West Mounted Police on Qikiqtaruk (Herschel Island) from 1903 to 1905, during which time he collected Inuit objects.

  • Who

    The ulu was made by the Inuvialuit, the Inuit living in the western Canadian Arctic. Their homeland stretches from the Alaskan border east to Amundsen Gulf and the western edge of the Canadian Arctic Islands. The three uniform holes drilled through the blade of this ulu indicate that it was adapted from a saw obtained from explorers.