One only has to view the birth announcements in the Arctic Sounder (see related links) to discover that naming a child is taken pretty seriously around here. On the North Slope, children are often endowed with multiple names, as many as four or five. It is common practice to name a new baby after a dear or departed relative (or three). In that way, the memory of the loved one is honored throughout the lifetime of the namesake. Children will, without provocation, enthusiastically recite the long list of relatives for whom they were named which, I must admit, can be a fairly impressive feat.
Not long after I moved to Atqasuk, people began to ask me what my Eskimo name would be. My Eskimo name? The question caught me slightly by surprise. I hadn't considered the possibility of choosing a Native name, but after thinking about it, I kind of liked the idea. From that point on, I began paying closer attention to the proper names and common words that were spoken each day within my hearing. I'd repeat one every now and then, trying it on for size. Like shoes, an ill-fitting word can be a little painful to break in.
Inupiaq is an interesting language, but there's nothing easy about it. There are only three vowels (a, u, and i). That seems simple enough. Unfortunately, there are several unusual consonants whose pronunciations wreak havoc with my awkward, mostly English-speaking tongue. They bounce around in my mouth like a size 7 foot in a size 13 shoe! There are four variations of the letter "l" as well as two types of "g" (remember, the one with the dot?). There are three types of "n" and one of those, get this, has a tail! On top of all that, each of the vowels can be doubled (as in, uunaalik) making for some unexpected syllables, to say the least. After a good bit of trying on, my interest in finding a name that I could actually pronounce began to wane.
Then something unexpected happened. The elders of the village have a standing invitation to eat lunch with the students in our school. One day, an elder that I knew fairly well mentioned to me that my name, Kimberlee, reminded him of the Inupiaq word, kimaliuraq. He explained that a kimaliuraq was a little knife, an ulu, smaller than regular ulus. It was designed to fit a woman's hand more comfortably and to be more precise, an important trait for working with skins. From that day on, without hesitation, that was the name he called me...Kimaliuraq.
I don't think the elder had considered the implications of the name he'd given me. I'm sure the sound of my English name simply connected with his native tongue, creating a natural association. But, regardless of how it came about, I have grown to appreciate that association. To be connected with a tool that is sharp and strong, useful and versatile, fitting just right in the palm of a skillful hand. There's just something inspiring about that. I think it's a name that I'd like to live up to. After all my shopping and trying on, my Eskimo name just sort of landed in my lap. Thankfully, though, I couldn't have asked for a more excellent fit.
The small ulu at the top is the kimaliuraq (about 2 1/2 x 4 inches). The one on the bottom is the average size for an ulu (about 5 x 7 inches). These ulus were all made by Natives of the North Slope. The Ulu Factory in Anchorage commercially manufactures a wide variety of ulus that can be ordered/shipped (see related links).
The handle of this kimaliuraq is made of caribou antler.
Meet Mr. Nayukok, another elder in the village. He made the kimaliuraq as well as the larger ulu in these photos. Here you see him holding a decorative ulu (not for use) crafted from whale baleen. The handle is walrus ivory. Notice his mukluks (boots). They are hand-made predominantly of seal skin. They are really very impressive in person.
Another one of Mr. Nayukok's ulus. This one has a walrus ivory handle as well.
This ulu was made by my friend Gail's brother, Leonard Felder, who lives in Barrow. I like the way he mounts the handles on a post. This handle is made from whale bone. He puts a thick layer of sealant on the bone which is good because whale bone smells a lot like cod liver oil...very fishy.
4 years ago