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Old 4th March 2020, 08:20 PM   #1
David
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Default Inuit Ulu Presentation Piece (Musk Ox Horn)

I just acquired this piece yesterday and while it is certainly outside my general area of collection i find it quite fascinating and could not resist it.
This is a ulu that seems to have been a presentation piece. An ulu, for those who don't know, is a traditional inuit multi-purpose tool mostly used for skinning and cleaning hides. Though it can be used as a weapon sometimes it seemed best placed in this Miscellaneous Forum.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulu
This is a rather large example that seems to be made from a circular saw blade. It uses a beautiful musk ox horn carved in the shape of a bird with inset eyes of an unknown material. Also unknown, unfortunately, is the name of the Inuit carver as i have been unable to locate any signature on the horn.
My assumption is that this was presented to a school teacher who spent 3 years in the far north wilderness of Gjoa Haven. I have assumed this because there are over 40 names individually scratched into the blade that all have the look of kid's handwriting. I would image this may have been the entire population of that school since at this time there were barely 1000 people living in Gjoa Haven, a very remote outpost on King William Island in Nunavut, Canada that was founded by the great explorer Roald Amundsen in 1903 when he first transversed the Northwest Passage. After he left the area the Inuit who where drawn to his camp to trade with him made it a permanent settlement.
I can't image the person who was presented with this ulu did not treasure it, so my thought is that they may have passed away and their heirs did not appreciate its value either historically or intrinsically. I got it from a fellow who purchased it in a shop some years ago. Strangely, while signed by all these students, the name of who it was presented to does not seem to be inscribed on the blade.
Anyway, i thought it might be of interest to some.
I included a screen shoot of google maps so that you can see exactly where this piece comes from.
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Old 4th March 2020, 08:52 PM   #2
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Cool

That is a huge example, David.
Biggest one I've ever seen; circular saws are a popular source for the blades.
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Old 4th March 2020, 09:16 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick
That is a huge example, David.
Biggest one I've ever seen; circular saws are a popular source for the blades.

Yeah, that's why i threw in the photo of me holding it. I was surprised when i went to pick it up because there were no size references in the photos i saw. That's a big chunk o' horn there.
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Old 5th March 2020, 08:20 PM   #4
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Interesting piece David. Very nicely carved and finished piece of horn.
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Old 6th March 2020, 03:09 AM   #5
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Hly Crap!

That's huge! And the best example I've ever seen!
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Old 6th March 2020, 07:53 PM   #6
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Thanks for the comments gentlemen. Yes, i was quite surprised when i went to the sellers house to pick it up. The photos (i found this on Facebook marketplace) had no scale in them so i could not tell the actual size. It is a presentation piece so i guess they decided to make it a bit oversized for the occasion. I love the carving of the ox horn. It is simple, but elegant. There is a conservation of execution. Just enough form carved in place to bring the figure to life and no more.
I am a bit obsessed now with trying to find out more about it, but since the name of the person it was presented to is not on the blade it's sort of a dead end. Many of the kid's names that have been inscribed are just first names, but there are a few last names as well, but i'm not sure there are enough clues to figure out how it was gifted to and why. I do know that there are a lot of teachers in Canada who go up to the arctic and teach for a few years for the experience and then return home. My best guess is that the recipient was one of those.
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Old 15th March 2020, 03:47 PM   #7
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The handle is over sized for presentation but big blades for breaking down carcasses are used. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/18/9...e219174fd48.jpg
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Old 15th March 2020, 11:00 PM   #8
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No doubt Mitsu, and thanks for the photo an tutu in use. Utu can come in many sizes depending on the task they are set for and the handles are usually proportionately as well as actually smaller that the one presented here. I'm pretty sure i could successfully sharpen my utu blade for use if i wanted to, but the handle on it would probably present problems for practice use.
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Old 16th March 2020, 07:25 AM   #9
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If you google 'antique herb chopper' you will get a bewildering array of very unusual designs, some even multi-bladed with two handles, and also a number of very ulu-like designs. I've seen Shona war axes made from herb choppers with a single central semi-circular blade 'tang' like the above. I would suspect that larger bladed ones like the OP's may have been repurposed from such a herb chopper. I also suspect many 'herb' choppers' were repurposed circular saw blades. recycling, old style.

see also http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=24004

I have a modern ss 'alaskan' ulu of smaller proportions that makes an excellent pizza cutter - or herb chopper. It gets used a lot.

Some antique ones from google:
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Old 17th March 2020, 02:36 AM   #10
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Kronckew, the photos you post show 19th century examples, but the ulu shown was made in the 21st century and not a repurposed antique. The original ulus were made of slate and Jade, not inspired by steel herb choppers.


QUOTE=kronckew]If you google 'antique herb chopper' you will get a bewildering array of very unusual designs, some even multi-bladed with two handles, and also a number of very ulu-like designs. I've seen Shona war axes made from herb choppers with a single central semi-circular blade 'tang' like the above. I would suspect that larger bladed ones like the OP's may have been repurposed from such a herb chopper.
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Old 17th March 2020, 04:21 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MitsuWa.
Kronckew, the photos you post show 19th century examples, but the ulu shown was made in the 21st century and not a repurposed antique. The original ulus were made of slate and Jade, not inspired by steel herb choppers.

Quite true about original Utu blades, but of course Inuit people have used iron and steel blades ever since European contact. Still, not inspired by herb cutters. Utu are of great cultural importance to the Inuit and are often an object of great craft. These blades performed all important functions and were indispensable to the survival of the tribe.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to start a visual library of examples of Utu. I would encourage others to add to this base.
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Old 17th March 2020, 04:25 AM   #12
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A few more...
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Old 17th March 2020, 04:36 AM   #13
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and some more...
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Old 17th March 2020, 04:39 AM   #14
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Just a few more...
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Old 17th March 2020, 04:44 AM   #15
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Just this last one i'm going to put up for now. This is not a functional blade, of course, but rather a work of Inuit art. I am posting this to show the importance of the Ulu within the culture, because here it has become the subject of Inuit art, transcending it value as a practical tool and elevating it to the level of cultural icon.
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Old 18th March 2020, 01:47 AM   #16
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Inuit were working with iron in the form of the Cape York Meteors to make blades for centuries prior to European contact. Arctic explorers Peary and Rasmussen stole the meteors and brought them back to museums in their countries.


Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Quite true about original Utu blades, but of course Inuit people have used iron and steel blades ever since European contact. Still, not inspired by herb cutters. Utu are of great cultural importance to the Inuit and are often an object of great craft. These blades performed all important functions and were indispensable to the survival of the tribe.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to start a visual library of examples of Utu. I would encourage others to add to this base.
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