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An ulu in the western Arctic style
West Greenlandic ulu
East Greenlandic ulu
An ulu from Alaska

An ulu (Inuktitut syllabics: ᐅᓗ, plural: uluit, English: woman's knife[1]) is an Inuit all-purpose knife traditionally used by women. It is utilized in applications as diverse as skinning and cleaning animals, cutting a child's hair, cutting food and, if necessary, trimming blocks of snow and ice used to build an igloo.

Traditionally the ulu was made with a caribou antler, muskox horn or walrus[2] handle and slate cutting surface, due to the lack of metal in the Arctic.[3] The handle could also be carved from bone, and wood was sometimes used when it was available. In certain areas, such as Ulukhaktok Northwest Territories, copper was used for the cutting surface.[4]

The size of the ulu would tend to reflect its usage. An ulu with a 5 cm (2 in) blade would be used as part of a sewing kit to cut sinew. An ulu with a 15 cm (6 in) blade would be used for general purposes. Occasionally, uluit can be found with blades as large as 30 cm (12 in).

The ulu comes in two distinct styles, the Inupiat (or Alaskan) and Canadian. With the Inupiat style ulu the blade has a centre piece cut out and both ends of the blade fit into the handle.[5] In Canada the blade more often is attached to the handle by a single stem in the centre. In the western areas of the Canadian Arctic the blade of the ulu tended to be of a triangular shape, while in the eastern Arctic the ends of the blade tend to be more pointed.[6][7]

Uluit have been found that date back to as early as 2500 BC. Traditionally, the ulu would be passed down from generation to generation. It was believed that an ancestor's knowledge was contained within the ulu and thus would also be passed on.

The shape of the ulu ensures that the force is centred more over the middle of the blade than with an ordinary knife. This makes the ulu easier to use when cutting hard objects such as bone. Because the rocking motion used when cutting on a plate or board with an ulu pins down the food being cut, it is also easier to use an ulu one-handed (a typical steak knife, in contrast, requires a fork).

Today the ulu is still made with a caribou antler but the blade is usually made of steel. The steel is quite often obtained by purchasing a hand saw or wood saw and cutting the blade to the correct shape. These uluit are both kept for home use and sold to others. It is also possible to purchase commercially produced uluit, sometimes made with a plastic handle and complete with a cutting board.

Some countries prohibit the possession or carrying of knives where the blade is perpendicular to the handle (intended to limit the use of so-called "Push daggers"). The Criminal Code of Canada, however, contains a specific exemption to this law if the knife in question is an ulu.[8]

In Nunatsiavummiutut used in Nunatsiavut the word is spelt uluk and in East Greenlandic it is saakiq and in syllabics is ᓴᒃᑭᖅ[1]


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