Have you ever found yourself inches from the face of a hungry grizzly bear? Or handling your kayak in waves as high as mountains?
What would you do if a giant bumblebee stole your boots? Do you know how fog was created, or when the first ice appeared in the arctic waters?
Can you talk with animals and sing your way past obstacles?
Kiviuq can, and you can too when you live with him and his wives in story.
Across the arctic Inuit have told the story of the great shaman Kiviuq for thousands of years. No one knows when he was born, but most elders agree that he is still alive today. He is one of Canada’s great heroes.
Each generation finds something inspiring in his story. Some parts are funny and others serious, some parts practical and others magical. There is something for everyone to enjoy and learn from. Whether you find your roots in the north or would like to get acquainted, there is no better entryway than through ancient Inuit stories. The landscapes are both delicate and forbidding, which affects the way Inuit relate to animals, people and the world of spirit. An arctic hero may require different talents and wisdom from a hero in more temperate lands. Life is valued in all its forms, and every being has a role to play, from smallest to largest.
In 2004 filmmaker John Houston* and storyteller Kira Van Deusen** recorded forty Inuit elders telling this ancient tale. It was a privilege and a pleasure to hear these master storytellers. They wanted the story to be available to young people both in Nunavut and beyond, feeling that it has life-giving meaning today in today’s world.
John Houston (www.drumsong.net) has since made a film called Kiviuq, released in January 2007.
Kira Van Deusen (www.kiravan.com) presents Kiviuq in a storytelling performance with original music. She has also published a book called Kiviuq–An Inuit Hero and his Siberian Cousins.
They say Kiviuq was lost at sea during a storm raised by a grandmother and an orphan child who had been abused by members of the community. The child turned into a seal and lured the hunters out to sea. Kiviuq was the only one to survive since he alone had been kind to the orphan. He had many experiences with dangerous non-human beings and got home unharmed with the help of his protective spirits, his observant nature, resourcefulness, shamanic power, and willingness to help others.
Inuit show their heroes complete with their good qualities and their mistakes. Heroes and heroines are human and we listeners must distinguish which parts of their lives we want to follow and which ones not. Kiviuq made a serious mistake when he killed his two human wives in anger after they neglected their work in order to pursue pleasure in the spirit world. At that point he injured a lemming and both these acts seem to haunt him later. He then married a fox woman and followed her to her home. He lost her, created several landforms while escaping and tricking a grizzly bear, and then married a Canada goose woman. He followed her migration south to the land of the white people where he may still be sleeping today.
Regretting that we couldn’t present all forty versions here, we have chosen certain elders to present the different sections of the legend.
Join us living for a while in a world of arctic mystery. On to the story.
Note to parents and teachers: Although Inuit through the ages have told all of this story to their children, some parts may require special care today. Elders and Inuit involved in oral history programs have asked us to tell the story complete, leaving nothing out. We advise adults to read the story through before approaching it with children—and then make your own decisions and be prepared to discuss the issues raised.
A map of Nunavut showing the communities where elders recounted Kiviuq's story.