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KIVIOQ – The greatest hero and monster- slayer of Inuit mythology. The exact structure of Kivioq’s saga varies wildly from region to region, some of them with a fully defined beginning and ending, others that are left open- ended. In some versions when Kivioq grows old he “hibernates” and is youthful again when he wakes up. One version states Kivioq has left the far north and is living in New York City (?) until he is needed again by the Inuit people. Kivioq’s primary weapon is his harpoon and he is able to hurl it with such force that he can split icebergs in two with the impact.
Many sources glibly describe Kivioq as “the Inuit Odysseus” because a number of the variations of his saga depict him trying to return to his wife and son but with various menaces constantly obstructing that goal. In other versions he wanders the Inuit regions trying to find his mother, who was among the people who fled Kivioq’s home village because of a cannibal monster that was eventually slain by the great hero.
The opening episode in the Kivioq saga generally involves him and his mother getting revenge on the gang of men who killed his father by having Kivioq lure their kayaks into a storm at sea that wipes them out. Next he falls into the clutches of one or two (versions vary) cannibalistic witches, but the bones of their previous victims warn Kivioq and he escapes with his life.
The number and order of the remaining adventures vary and are at the discretion of the storyteller relating Kivioq’s tales. In general his further escapades involve: *** a) an island where he must slay two whale- sized caterpillars *** b) a battle with a giant clam that tries to devour him and his kayak *** c) an encounter with the salmon god Eqatlejoq, who carves a giant salmon for Kivioq to ride back to shore after his kayak is destroyed by the giant clam ***
d) killing a katutajuk (Inuit monsters that are literally just big heads on short, stubby legs. They devour everything in their path and they are strong enough to burst through igloo walls ). this creature had wiped out most of the people in Kivioq’s home village and caused the rest to flee to parts unknown *** e) a battle with giant spiders who have the heads of human females and who feed on the Inuit people
*** f) slaying a ten- legged polar bear by concealing himself in one of the food caches the bear was raiding (ten -legged polar bears are one of the most common monsters in Inuit myths and just about every hero in their belief system faces them at some point) *** g) a monster who strangles people with its own intestines *** and h) an encounter with a sinister, magical little boy who draws monsters on the sides of igloos, then brings those drawings to life to do his bidding
The Kivioq saga is also sprinkled through with episodes involving the hero marrying beautiful women who turn out to be various animals in human form. Some of the endings of the hero’s tale involve him at last returning to his wife and full- grown son, who tell him he’s been dead for years, causing Kivioq to realize he is just a wandering ghost. I call that version the Twilight Zone ending.
Other endings find the hero’s wife murdered by her own mother, who desires Kivioq for herself, causing Kivioq to leave in disgust, abandoning the old woman to starve. Still others involve the hibernating and “regenerating” Kivioq, who may or may not be partying in the Big Apple until he is needed again. Oogoon is possibly the 2nd best known hero in Inuit myths, with many adventures paralleling Kivioq’s, leading to the belief that the two heroes were probably interchangeable depending on the region and/or the storyteller’s preference.
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