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KIVIUQ: As told by Henry Isluanik

It has been said these are Kiviuq's footprints ...  Photo by Pelagie Owlijoot It has been said these are Kiviuq's footprints ... Photo by Pelagie Owlijoot

Kiviuq had special powers and his fame was well known by all Inuit in different regions because he was a talented prosperous man. He was always helping the less fortunate and got along well with everyone. He was a good man and was popular because of his kindness and generosity. It was the time of season when the Inuit were camping on the coastal area as it was the time of year when they were stocking up on sea mammals for the winter for food as well as for oils for their (kudliks) oil lamps. It was spring time.

There was an old woman who lived alone with her grandchild who was a teenager and they were outcasts. She was too old to move around so she stayed mostly around her tent. Her granddaughter was young and she would play with the other young people. They use to make balls out of skins filled with sand and it is called “aataijaq. How it is played is, they had two teams and they threw the ball up in the air and the group that catches the ball the most wins. Every time they played, the girl’s clothes would be torn and her grandmother would sew it when she got home. The other players would bully her and tore her clothes and her grandmother had no skins to repair it so she would sew the torn pieces together. The girl’s clothes were ripped and mended so often that it started to get smaller for her. This was greatly upsetting to her grandmother and she was devastated because she did not have any skins to make her new clothes.

One day the old woman found a seal’s head and made it into a mask that fitted the girl. It fitted so well that she was able to see through the eye holes and breathe through the mouth hole. They had a large wooden plate and the old woman filled it with water. She took her granddaughter’s head and kept her underwater to train her to hold her breath as long as possible. She did not let her up until she was grasping for air. This went on for a while until the girl was able to hold her breath for a long time. She then told her, “Next time they are playing ball do not join them, but instead put on your mask and go in the water near the shore but make sure that they spot you. They will think you are a seal and start following you and make loud splashes as you dive so they can hear it.”

The ball game started and sure enough, someone shouted, “Look a seal.” All the men ran to their qayaqs and started going after it. Whenever the qayaqs got closer the girl would dive under water and come up for air further away from the land. The hunters were so anxious to catch the seal so they kept following further out to sea. Her grandmother had instructed her to take them out in the open sea and once they were far away she ordered her to shout, “Uugaa…where is my wind…” As soon as she said that a strong north wind picked up blowing away the men without mercy. The men struggled to keep their qayaqs upright but they all capsized and eventually drowned. There were only two qayaqs left, and it was Kiviuq and his brother. Kiviuq took his brother’s qayaq and desperately tried to keep it afloat but his brother told let him to let go otherwise they both might not survive. Although he did not want his brother to die he had no choice but to let go. As soon as he did his brother’s qayaq sank below the waves and disappeared.

Kiviuq was the only survival so he just started drifting away, desperately trying to keep his qayaq stable. He had a spirit helper, and it was a sand-piper with a red line around its neck. It sat at the front of the qayaq preventing it from capsizing. Kiviuq was all alone now and there was no land to be seen so he was lost. Some time later the wind died down and the sea became very calm so he told his spirit helper, “I am going to take a nap so I want you to keep a watch on me while I sleep.” He was so tired and went into a deep sleep. Finally he woke up and he was amazed that he was still floating.

He began his journey to look for land using the sun as a guide. Whenever the sun was high he would turn his back from it and paddled hoping to reach the land. At last he though he saw the land but only to find out it was a mirage, this happened a number of times because he was hallucinating in desperation to reach the land. He continued on and eventually he thought he saw the land again. At first he did not believe it was real and said, “It looks like land but it will probably fade again.” It was real so he reached the shore. First he drained the urine from his qayaq. They use to make holes at the back for draining water. He docked his qayaq and started going up a little hill to see if there was any water as he was very thirsty for being lost for so long. There next to a lake was a lone tent he wondered why there were no other tents. He walked over and opened the flaps of the tent and there were two women inside.

He peeked in and on the bed sitting and looking at the doorway were two frightened women. They must have heard him approaching and were sternly looking to the doorway. Because he was so thirsty he quickly asked for water from their pot, forgetting the lake nearby. He told the old woman, “I have been lost for many days and I am very thirsty, can I have a drink please?” The old woman replied, “Only if you will agree to become my son in law then you will drink.” He hesitated for a while but he was really thirsty so again he pleaded, “Can I have a drink please?” The old woman replied again, “Only if you will agree to be my son in law.” Although he did not want to he was so thirsty so he agreed to become her son in law.

Kiviuq was the only man in their camp so he became their hunter. Their camp was on an island so he would cross to the mainland to hunt. He was a good hunter so he provided them with caribou, fish and sea mammals. He continued to hunt for sometime but he was getting homesick too. He came up with a plan that he would one day leave his new family and go home so when he went hunting he pretended to lose a mitten and his other kamik and this continued for sometime. When he reached the mainland he would bury his mittens and one kamik under some rocks. After his hunting trips his young wife would meet him at the beach to help with his catch when he returned. He would place his equipment and his catch on top of the qayaq because that is how it was done.

The old woman normally did not go down to the beach to meet Kiviuq but on this last trip she went down to meet him. While he was out hunting she had killed her daughter by piecing her ear with a sharp object when she was pretending to pick lice from her hair. That killed her instantly and she had done this so she could become Kiviuq’s wife. She took the skin of her daughter’s head and made a mask. The old woman went down to meet Kiviuq and as he came closer to the land pretending to be her daughter. Kiviuq saw her walking to the beach and noticed right away that she was not his wife but he pretended not to know. When she got to the beach she started shouting to Kiviuq, giving him directions where to put his qayaq. Kiviuq recognize her voice right away and knew that she was not his wife so he yelled back, “Take off your (kamiks) boots.” Sure enough he was right, her skinny legs proved that she was not his wife.

When Kiviuq returned from his hunting trips he would paddle in and put his qayaq sideways along the shore. His young wife had no problem in lifting and tossing his catch to the ground, so he asked the old woman to do the same. She was unable to lift the meat but out of pity he pretended not to notice. When they went inside the tent he asked her where his wife was. She answered that she was out egg picking but she had already been buried. Kiviuq went out to look for her and found his wife’s grave but did not say anything. So they lived as a couple for some time although she was his mother in law. One day the old woman asked him if he was planning to leave her because he would return from his hunting trip missing a mitten or kamik. He replied “I will never leave you because I love you very much.” The old woman replied, “If you plan to leave me you will be cursed and face many challenges.”

However one day Kiviuq had made a final decision to leave her. He was getting scared of her too so he started heading to his qayaq. Before he reached the beach he came across a female’s buttocks that would not allow him to pass. It kept going on his way so he pulled down his pants and had sex with it then it disappeared. He then ran to his qayaq and was able to get away. He paddled across to the land and beached his qayaq but came across a huge boiling pot filled with human heads. He tried to walk around it but it kept blocking his way. Kiviuq stepped on the rim of the pot being careful not to tip it and jumped across onto the other side then it disappeared. He continued to travel and came across two grizzly bears and they were viciously fighting and were tearing each other apart in anger. The bears would take several steps backwards and charged towards each other so when Kiviuq saw an opening he quickly ran through as they parted.

He moved on but again came across two mountain cliffs, banging against each other. He put his qayaq sideways on his head and as the cliffs parted he ran as fast as he could and barely made it through, even the back flap of his “atigi” parka was ripped from flapping from the wind when it got caught between the clashing cliffs. Kiviuq was a wise man and if he had not carried his qayaq sideways he would have lost it. He survived these ordeals only because of his wisdom and skills. He was very tired at this point but continued on, and this time he came to a tight rope tied down by poles. Inuit use to challenge each other doing different stunts on these tight ropes so he had to do all kinds of different moves and performances before moving on. He balanced on his knees and stood up and walked the tight rope. He was very skillful and talented at it too so he did all the different stunts and moves that Inuit athletes do and jumped down then went on his way.

At this point he was very tired from trying to overcome all these obstacles that came his way. He travelled on and saw an island. It looked flat but actually it was quite hilly. He rested his qayaq on the rocks and went to find a place to rest and came upon several skulls. There were two ugly beings that ate humans so that is why there were so many skulls. When the people fell asleep they would kill and eat them. Kiviuq did not know about this and he was so tired and he only wanted to rest. As he lay down to sleep, one of the skulls warned him,” Before you fall asleep, find a flat rock and place it on your chest otherwise you will end up like me.” Kiviuq got up and looked for a flat rock and went to lay down placing it on his chest and pretended to sleep. After a while he saw two figures coming closer. They had long sharp tails and they stopped to sharpen their tails on a rock. One of them came towards Kiviuq and with his sharp tail tried to pierce him on his chest but hit the rock instead and accidently hit itself and died. The other one went to do the same but both beings died, all the skulls started laughing but Kiviuq was too tired so he fell asleep laughing with them.

He woke up at sunrise. The weather was warm and the water was very calm. He ate and filled his water bag made out of bearded seal bladder and went on his way. He did not travel far when he saw smoke coming out from a cave that was made into a (qamaq) shelter. He went over to check it so he climbed to the top and looked down the chimney and saw a big woman cooking. Actually it was a spider that had turned into a human being and is known as an Amajurjuk or Ashevak. She was cooking pieces of herself cutting off her ears, eyebrows, nose and cheeks. Kiviuq felt mischievous and started spitting on her head, every time spat landed on her head, she quickly said “ikkikiqiq”. The last time Kiviuq spat again she looked up to see where it was dripping from, she saw his head and grabbing her big ulu then she ran out. Kiviuq knew she saw him so he ran as fast as he can to his qayaq. She almost caught him but he managed to kick off his qayaq and she became very upset and started hitting the ground with her big ulu cutting off big chunks of rocks. Kiviuq started pounding his sealskin float very hard with his paddle and it was so loud it was deafening even killing the big woman.

After overcoming this obstacle he went on his way again. As he was paddling he saw two Inuksuks on top of the hill. They were yelling so loud and he tried to ignore them at first but they continue screaming. “Clams might bite you! Clams might bite you!” Although they were not humans they were bending down and yelling to him. He turned his head to find two giant clams trying to bite his qayaq. If he had not turned to look behind him, his qayaq would have been destroyed and the clams both submerged into the water when they noticed they were seen.

Kiviuq had traveled for so long and through very rough times and he started noticing and recognizing the land that he knew. He started shouting not to alarm his parents and the other people of his camp. His parents recognized his voice and said, “Eeee, Is that Kiviuq’s voice I hear?” Both his parents have been waiting patiently for his return and they were taken to the shore to meet him as he approached the shore. Both of his parents were exceedingly overjoyed to see him and they both died. Kiviuq had two wives and he had loved and favored one more then the other but the one he loved more had remarried. The other woman he did not love much had missed him so much that the front part of her (atigi) caribou parka had no hair left because of being wet from her constant weeping. Kiviuq did not want his first favorite wife back so he continued to live with the faithful woman.




Thank you to Pelagie Owlijoot for preparing this wonderful translation of Kiviuq's story

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