Niġiñiutit: Traditional Nunamiut Household Cooking Utensils

Other household implements

The qulliq or large stone oil-burning lamp was both a source of heat and light and part of the household cooking outfit.  Elders report that before they had wood burning stoves, when stormy winter weather made it impossible to cook out of doors, people would sometimes roast small pieces of meat over their lamps, in a practice known as pasiksisak argiq.

These lamps were made of soapstone and usually traded into Nunamiut territory from Canada. (To go to the Learning Center to read the story of trade between the Nunamiut and Canadian Inuit, click here.) The lamp was filled with oil and burned with the aid of a moss wick (ipigalik) arranged along the outer edge.

The lamp in this illustration was collected by Murdoch.  It measures 16 7/8 inches long by 7 inches wide.

According to elders the much smaller naniq, a traveling lamp, was not as well suited for roasting meat. The larger lamp gave off a larger and hotter flame.

Another indispensable household item was the qiuġvik, the woman’s cutting and scraping board.  The flat hard surface of the board was used to cut up food as well as trimming and working animal skins for clothing.

People preferred cutting boards made of ikkiq, a densely grained, reddish wood that normally forms on the outward curving side of trees with bowed trunks.  These trees, called piginaruq, grow on steep hillsides and river embankments.

Another alternative material for the qiuġvik was tuttuvaum nagrua, moose antler.  Once an antler palm was cut to the desired size and shape, the soft, roughly textured, outer layer was cut away to reveal a much harder inner core that held up well.

In addition to these basic utensils a household also possessed a handful of other special purpose tools, all used in the production of puiñiq or cooking by boiling with fire-heated rocks.  Among them were the kautaq, sometimes also called a qaqsuuqtaaq, the arvik, also known as a kaugvik, the akigaun and the uyaqqiqun.

The kautaq
or bone crushing hammer consisted of a heavy, oblong, flat faced stone mounted on a short, slightly curved handle.

Some families prided themselves on having a jadestone hammerhead, though any rock plucked from a streambed that was of the appropriate size, shape and weight could serve just as well.  Elders stress that the striking face should have a flat, rough-textured surface. This prevented the hammer from slipping off the bone as the crushing blows were struck.  The handle could be made from Dall sheep horn, a piece of caribou antler, spruce, or alderwood.  The handle was less than 6 inches long, and slightly curved to fit comfortably in a person’s hand.  The head and handle were joined by a caribou or sealskin thong that was passed through a hole drilled near the top end of the handle.  A tight fit was obtained by lashing the pieces together with a moistened thong which shrank and tightened as it dried.  Later, as needed, small wooden wedges could be added to shim up the fit.

The bone crushing hammer and anvil (arvik or kaugvik) pictured here are in the Simon Paneak Memorial Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass.

A good stone had a flat, coarse surface that helped keep the bones from slipping about as they were struck by the kautaq.  As a woman prepared to crush a bone, she began by first giving it a few soft taps before striking any crushing blows.  This flattened and seated the bottom of the bone and minimized the chance of it jumping or slipping about.

Some families carried small portable anvils while others searched out rocks of the appropriate nature as needed, using and leaving them behind when finished with them.

Another item in the household outfit was the akigaun, or shovel, used to move heated rocks from the fire to the piqtalik. Shovels meant to be used only once were improvised from a caribou scapula or shoulder blade.  Occasionally a pair of temporary wooden tongs called uyaqqiqun were used.   But a more durable tool, a shovel intended to last through months or years of repeated use, was commonly made from caribou antler.  The sapkutaq or broad front palm of the antlers was perfectly suited for this tool.  Generally the broad, palm portion of the antlers was hollowed out slightly so that the rocks would nest securely.  Then it was joined to a short wooden handle.