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.
Migrating north from Asia came many peoples who settled in that vast territory that stretches from Eastern Siberia to the shores of Greenland. The Algonquin tribe of Native Americans called them Eskimos, which means “eaters of raw meat,” but their own name for themselves was Inuit, which they proudly translate as “men” or “real men” or even “superman.” As the centuries passed, these people developed rites and customs, a particular way of living, clothes that were perfectly suited to the climate conditions and various objects, including knives of course, whose shape and use varied according to gender.
The ulu, or oulou, is actually as womanʼs knife for daily use, but which over time came to be used by men also. The meat that they ate was not cut up on a plate, but carried directly to the mouth and sliced as close as possible to the lips using the blade of the ulu. The half-moon shape of the blade is both practical and symbolic. The symbol is of course that of the moon, of fecundity and of woman.
From a practical point of view, it should be noted that the handle may be firmly grasped even if one is wearing large gloves, and that the shape of the blade is ideal both for scraping a hide before drying it, and then for cutting it. After all, can we not find a very similar tool used by saddlers all over the world to cut leather? The blade was initially made from native copper or else iron from meteorites. The appearance of Russian and European whale hunters enabled the Inuit to barter for good quality steel. As for the handle, it was made essentially from materials originating from animals that the Inuit hunted or fished.
Traditionally the ulu was made with a caribou antler, muskox horn or walrus ivory handle and slate cutting surface, due to the lack of metal smelting technology in the Arctic. 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.
Today the ulu is still often made with a caribou antler handle but the blade is usually made of steel. The steel is quite often obtained by purchasing a handsaw or wood saw and cutting the blade to the correct shape. A hardwood called sisattaq is also used for handles. 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.