Prehistoric Inuit discovered that fleas and lice could be attracted to animal fur.  A tuft of fur on a stick could be handled and probed into clothing and bedding, attracting insects.  In addition to being a public health "tool", the tuft of fur with a loop attached becomes an artistic ornament.  Polar bear hair makes a beautiful artistic object, but other animal furs can be used.
Prehistoric Inuit discovered that fleas and lice could be attracted to animal fur.  A tuft of fur on a stick could be handled and probed into clothing and bedding, attracting insects.  In addition to being a public health "tool", the tuft of fur with a loop attached becomes an artistic ornament.  Polar bear hair makes a beautiful artistic object, but other animal furs can be used.

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.

A tuft of polar bear hair on a stick

Kumak is the Inuktitut name for fleas or lice. The tuft of hair on a stick is easy to handle and rub inside clothing. A kumak stick was an excellent invention by prehistoric Inuit to attract these insects.

John Jamieson,
Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


A small piece of fur is required

Our activity uses tanned polar bear hair which is soft and relatively easy to sew. Rabbit fur is a great substitute.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Cut out a circular pattern

A circle approximately 3 to 4 inches in diameter is cut out of paper and traced on the back of the fur. An ulu or utility knife can be used to cut the hide. Have some bandages ready. It might be advantageous to have a light pair of gloves to protect from the blade.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


The first stitch starts from the inside.

A leather needle and waxed sinew works well for this sewing. Place a knot at the end of the thread. Waxed sinew should be split to make it easier to sew. Start from the inside of the pattern.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Continuing sewing around the hide.

Continue the sewing, using a spacing of approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch, between the stitches, depending on the thickness of the hide. In some cases it is best to thin a thick hide to make it easier to 'pucker'. Some sewers also dampen or wet the hide.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Roll a ball of hollowfill or cloth

Hollowfill, an insulating material used in parkas or pieces of rag cloth can be rolled up and used as the fill in the sphere of the hide.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk
John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Stuff the filling material into the ball

Stuff the hollowfill or cloth into the ball. Add more material if needed as you pull the stitches closer together. It is often easier to wrap the sinew thread around a pencil or other tool to assist in pulling on the thread.

John Jamieson, Mary Kavik, Caroline Iqaluk

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


A loop allows the 'nanook flake' to be hung.

Nanook is Inuktitut for polar bear. This activities recreates the making of a public health tool used in the past. But our final product makes a 'flake' that can be used to hang from various locations, such as a Christmas tree. We found that putting the fur ball on a freshly caught fox does indeed attract fleas.

John Jamieson, Caroline Meeko, Mary Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Fleas and lice have been a problem for all cultures. Inuit devised a unique way to attract these insects from clothing and bedding. A sphere of polar bear hair was attached to a short stick and inserted into clothing. Fleas jumped to the hair and the stick could be placed in the cold to remove the fleas or the fleas could be crushed in the person’s teeth. This activity will make a ’nanook flake’ with a loop that can be hung as a decoration. Other fur, such as rabbit could also be used.

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