Niġiñiutit: Traditional Nunamiut Household Cooking Utensils

Women Owned the Household Implements

Although these implements were all made by men, whether by a husband for his wife, a father for his daughter, or by any other made relative, all of these utensils, except for small personal items like the aluuttaq, were the property of the woman.  If she left her husband the implements went with her.  When she died at least some of them might be left with her body as grave goods and the remainder distributed among her close family and relatives as heirlooms.

When traveling and moving camp, their packing, care, and use were her responsibility.  One elder recalled that his mother carried the household implements on her own small household sled.  When floating down river on their way to the Nigliq trade fair (click here to go to the Nigliq Learning Center), the implements were stowed in the bow, which was set aside for women.  When moving camp in summer by dog pack and on foot it was the woman who supervised the packing and storage of the implements.

Women had a spiritual connection to their household items, reflected in a practice that was a part of agliginaaq, called "Eskimo laws" or "taboos."  According to custom whenever a hunter caught certain spiritually powerful furbearing animals such as the wolf and wolverine, he was forbidden to use or eat from his wife’s food or cooking gear for a period of days, four if the animal were a male and five if female. In this way the hunter showed his respect for the spirit of the animal.  It was firmly believed that if a man’s behavior was in any way offensive to the animal's spirit, that  spirit would withhold any more of its kind from being taken by that hunter.

Human nature being what it is, the faithful and dutiful observation of these restrictions could sometimes lead to rather comical circumstances.  One senior elder recalled, with considerable amusement, an incident that occurred around 1900.  A hunter out checking his trapline found that he had caught a rather large wolf.  Though pleased with his success, his thoughts quickly turned to the dietary restrictions binding him once he returned home, skinned the animal, hung its pelt to dry and set the animal’s spirit free by slitting its throat.  It didn’t take long for this man to decide to return directly home and leave the animal in the trap until the next day so he could enjoy one last, big, full meal of this wife’s good cooking, before having to begin the obligatory food restrictions.