What is an Ulu?

An ulu is a traditional Alaskan knife. Uluit (plural) are a curved single blade with a handle of wood, bone, or antler. Traditionally, women in certain Alaska Native groups use them to complete a number of important tasks including meal preparation.

Key Takeaways

  1. An ulu is a traditional Alaskan knife with a curved blade and handle of wood, bone, or antler.
  2. The word “ulu” translates as “women’s knife”.
  3. Today uluit are available as souvenirs across Alaska.

Understanding Uluit

Other than being fun to say, an ulu is a fascinating tool traditionally used by Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut women; “ulu” literally translates as “women’s knife” in many Alaskan Native languages and dialects.

An ulu is a single curved blade mounted on a handle of wood, antler, or bone. It is used for any number of tasks, including skinning and cleaning animals, cutting a child’s hair, and cutting meat and food. Uluit can even trim blocks of snow and ice used to build an igloo for Alaska Native groups who build these structures.

Globally, uluit come in four main styles; the primary one in Alaska is the Iñupiat design, which has a center piece cut out and both ends of the blade fit into the handle.

Anthropologists have found uluit artifacts that date back to as early as 2500 BCE. Today, ulu are a common Alaskan souvenir. You also may see one if you visit smaller communities in Alaska or watch a culinary demonstration. The best place to purchase uluit is at the Anchorage Market (where you can find more traditionally made ones), and The Ulu Factory in Anchorage, though you’ll find them available for sale across the state.

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