Ulu (knife)

Uknown Maker, Inuit

Alaska, USA

Early 2oth century

Metal, wood


The ulu was developed over 5000 years ago and was primarily used by Inuit women for skinning and cleaning fish, playing an important role in the survival of their people (the term Inuit refers broadly to the Arctic Indigenous populations of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland). These knives were also used for other purposes such as sewing mukluks (boots) and preparing walrus hides for use in the construction of the traditional umiak (skin boat). Uluit (plural of ulu) are very versatile; they can be used to trim hair and break stitches, as well as for commonly known kitchen uses. The ulu is still traditionally used, especially when salmon are abundant in the summer. Not only the Inuit, but people around the world rely on different types of ulu for everyday cutting. Some uluit are now also made for tourist purposes or decor. This knife’s blade is made of steel, though blades are traditionally made of polished slate. They are given a bone, ivory, or wood handle, which is often inscribed with distinctive designs or markings exclusive to the maker. The glue that is used to connect the handle to the blade is a mixture of seal’s blood, clay, and dog hair.

–Daniella Onofre, Colgate Class of 2023