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  • Anna Chabukina

The Ulu

The ulu has been used to clean skins, cut up meat, filet fish, make clothes, cut hair, trim blocks of ice, and more. There is a deep culture around the ulu we don't hear of often. 

The ulu has a history in the Yup'ik, Aleut, Dene, and Inuit cultures in Alaska, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) and Canada. Their history is said to span from more than 5,000 years ago.

Historically, the ulu was made of slate, quartzite or shale for the blade with ivory, wood, antler, horn, or bone for the handle. Some Canadian Inuit used native copper for the blade. The curve of the ulu blade ensures the force is centered. The shape of an ulu may tell you from what culture or area it originated. In the Alaskan Inupiat style, the centerpiece of the blade is cut out and the handle is fitted to both edges of the blade. Styles found in the West Greenland have the blade attached to the handle by a single stem. In the far north and northwest of Alaska are triangular blades, while in the Northwest Territories and West Greenland ulus may be a combination of triangular blades attached to the handle by a thin stem. In Eastern Greenlandic, styles with pointed blade ends may be found. 

As the ulu was mainly used by women, to get an ulu passed down from your mother and grandmother was an honor. Inuit rights activist Shelia Watt-Cloutier has noted that when an Inuk woman dies, her ulu retains her energy, making ulus powerful spiritual objects. The ulu itself is a unique implement which makes Inuit culture and traditions very rich and very much alive. Using an ulu is one of the ways that Inuit women connect to Inuit culture as well as give back to it.

The ulu has been integrated into the modern day culinary world. Many who use the ulu in their homes or restaurants appreciate the curved blade, which allows for easier handling and chopping, and the comfortable handle allows for less stress and fatigue in the hands.


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