Monday, March 2, 2015

The Unique Ulu


Man has always been creative, finding ways to better his life wherever he may be.  Eskimos were no exception to this statement.

Living in a harsh environment, he had the same basic needs as humans anywhere.  One concern surely was how to harvest the animals they killed for their food, clothing and shelter.  There was a need for something to be used for skinning the pelts, for cutting them into clothing and for the strips utilized in making laces.

They needed to cut the meat into chunks to be transported back to their homes.  They had to cut whale blubber into usable sizes.

At some point an unknown Eskimo had the idea to create a cutting instrument, a knife if you will.  It was dubbed the ulu - pronounced ooh-loo.  It has a wooden handle to allow you to press down on it to facilitate the cut.  The handle was made originally with muskox bone, walrus ivory or moose antlers.  The blade made of slate which could be sharpened to maintain its edge.  Now it is made with steel.

Because it has a curved blade the cut can be made with a rocking motion, allowing the user to push down on the handle with greater force than can be used with an ordinary knife.  Because it pins the meat down solidly onto the cutting surface, it isn't necessary to use a fork to assist in the cutting.

Archaeologists have found an ulu determined to be about 3,000 years old.  The slate curve is still very sharp.

The one above has a design etched into the blade.  There is the word Alaska, in the middle the outline of a ship, and at the bottom it says:  Inside Passage.  It was a gift from my son, purchased when he was assigned to Alaska while in the service.  What a special gift from a very special person.


  1. Yep, that makes it special. :)

    1. Absolutely right, Elsie. One I will cherish forever. - Karen