Niġiñiutit: Traditional Nunamiut Household Cooking Utensils


Traditionally, knives came in a variety of forms, from the carefully crafted and highly valued men's and women’s knives to disposable ones which were sometimes improvised from a sharp edge caribou rib or shoulder blade. These temporary knives were usually reserved for small children who were too young to safely handle a true knife.

In earlier times the cutting blades of men’s and women’s knives were painstakingly fashioned from either ground slate or chipped flint, then carefully hafted to a wood, bone or antler handle, as in this picture.

The woman's knife, or ulu, came in two sizes: the large ulupiaq and the much small uluŋuuraq.

The ulupiaq (literally the real ulu), was a heavy-duty knife used for many purposes, including skinning and butchering freshly killed animals, flaying and cutting up meat for drying and cooking, chopping up frozen chunks of meat, cutting willow branches for flooring tents, stripping bark from alder bushes to make dye, and a host of other uses besides.

The smaller uluŋuuruq was made especially for skin sewing, its smaller size giving the woman the more delicate and precise control over the knife that she needed for the exacting job of patterning, cutting and fitting skins for clothing and other items. A typical example might measure 3 ½ inches across and 2 inches deep, crowned with a small horn handle.



In later years when metal handsaws were introduced, they were eagerly acquired by the Nunamiut and reprocessed into metal blades for the woman’s knife, the ulu.

Typically a saw blade ulupiaq, such as this one, measured 8 inches across and 5 inches high.  The handle is fashioned from a Dall sheep horn.

The millik, or men's crooked knife, was an essential tool used in fashioning all the household implements shown in this Learning Center. Each man made his own knife to fit his hand perfectly.