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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Western Thule Fishing Hook
Ivory & Iron, 2” Length, c.1700-1800
Western Thule Fishing Hook

Since time immemorial, Inuit peoples have consumed a diet of foods that are fished, hunted, and gathered locally.

This diet may include walrus, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal, beluga whale, caribou, polar bear, muskoxen, birds (including their eggs) and fish.

While it is not possible to cultivate native plants for food in the Arctic, the Inuit have traditionally gathered those that are naturally available. Grasses, tubers, roots, stems, berries, fireweed and seaweed (kuanniq or edible seaweed) were collected and preserved depending on the season and the location.

According to Edmund Searles in his article "Food and the Making of Modern Inuit Identities," they consume this type of diet because it is believed that a mostly meat diet is "effective in keeping the body warm, making the body strong, keeping the body fit and even making that body healthy."

Fish are a major component of the diet and Inuit consume both salt water and freshwater fish including sculpin, Arctic cod, Arctic char and lake trout. They capture these types of fish by jigging. The hunter cuts a square hole in the ice on the lake and fishes using a fish lure and spear. Instead of using a hook on a line, Inuit use a fake fish attached to the line. They lower it into the water and move it around as if it is real.

When the live fish approach it, they spear the fish before it has a chance to eat the fake fish.

This very old piece is a wonderful, whimsical example of a fishing implement designed to tease and delight its prey, as well as to ensnare it. The delicately carved ivory body of the hook is formed to imitate a tadpole, but is armed with four deadly iron barbs, which would have been invisible to a fish underwater.