Niġiñiutit: Traditional Nunamiut Household Cooking Utensils


These and many other practices were closely and conscientiously observed for many generations, until, in the early years of 20th century, they began giving away before the dual tides of Christianity and the rise of the commercial fur trapping industry.  Both of these institutions encouraged the abandonment of traditional beliefs, each for its own reasons.  Missionaries saw the Nunamiut traditional spiritual view of the world as the work of the devil and something to be discredited and eliminated before the people could accept Christianity.  Fur traders, motivated by the desire to increase their profits by increasing the fur harvest, actively encouraged trappers to cast aside their longstanding, spiritually imposed, limits on their take of furbearing animals.  These traditional limits had decreed that no man could take more than five animals of any one species of furbearer – wolf, wolverine, lynx, and each of the four varieties of foxes: white, red, cross and silver.

As these examples show, virtually every aspect of traditional Nunamiut life, even things as everyday and outwardly utilitarian as household cooking gear and utensils, carried with it a far deeper significance than one might suspect when viewed from the perspective of the beginning of the 21st century.

This basic household outfit of cooking and kitchen utensils served the Nunamiut well in ancient and into modern times.  All the people required were the raw materials, the tools and the time to make them.  Yet once metal kitchen utensils began to appear, introduced around the turn of the 20th century by New England whalers and shore-based fur trading posts, they were quickly and enthusiastically adopted by the Nunamiut.  The primary qualities that made them so desirable were that they were durable, lightweight, cheap and easy to replace – no more hours or days of work required to make a single item.  Nevertheless, even as recently as the 1950s people used a mixture of modern and traditional items, with horn and wooden ladles retaining an important place in a family kit.