The Story of Life
The glow to the south was decidedly brighter than it had been at the same time just yesterday. There was just enough light to make out the form of the one next to you and you could see it reflected in their eyes. It brought a luminescence that also warmed the soul or Anirnig as it called in the North. Even so, the temperature was still far below zero. Yet the glow was the promise that the sunlight was once again returning to this dark land of ice.
A father and his young son interrupted their walk for a just moment, to talk. The father, Injuquaq, turned to speak to his son. “The return of the warming sun will bring another good season of fishing and hunting.” He said. The son looked off at the glow beyond the distant hills of ice. The newborn wind racing across the flat ice blew the hairs that protected their faces as K'eyush, the son, looked away from the glow and up at his father.
“Do you think we will see them today father?” K'eyush asked.
“I don’t think we’ll see them before the sun returns my son.” Injuquaq replied.
“So then will we see them tomorrow father?” The boy persisted his questioning.
“I think it will be a few more days until we see any of them.” Injuquaq affirmed.
“How long have they been coming here?” K'eyush asked, unable to quell the typical youngster’s inquisitiveness. That, even more than his small size, defined his status as the son. K'eyush was not just the son of his father however, he was also the student, and in this harsh environment, teachers were just as important as parents, if not more so. Just one missed ‘class’ could result in a quick death.
“Not since the first sun shined here my son. In the beginning there was nothing here, nothing but the ice that is. The ice has always been here, since the beginning of time,” the elder went on, pleased rather than annoyed by the questions posed by his young son. “When the world began it was covered with ice, even more than it is now.”
“What happened then father?” K'eyush asked, turning a bit to keep the ever persistent wind out of his face. His father, close beside him to keep warm, turned with him.
“Then the winds came.” Injuquaq sighed in disgust, being no fan of the wind himself. “The wind was given the name Unalaq, although if I had made the world there would not have been any wind.” Just as he spoke those words, the wind started to die down, as if obedient to Injuquaq’s command. Although the temperature did not change it also started to feel warmer, surprising even Injuquaq himself. “Would you like to hear the story of life my son?” He asked K'eyush who was visibly pleased that the wind had calmed. Injuquaq was pleased that he would be able to communicate the lesson more easily.
“Oh, yes father, please tell me the story.” The eager youngster quickly answered.
The Story of Life
“As I said K'eyush, in the beginning there was nothing here but Ice. Then one day, Unalaq the wind, blew in from the west.” Injuquaq began the tale as well as he remembered hearing it from his own father years ago, who had learned it from his father, and so on. Suddenly a gust came up out of nowhere. It was Unalaq’s way of letting Injuquaq know that, only out of kindness, and not respect that it had calmed. But the wind went away as quickly as it had come and again it was quiet and the story continued.
“Next the sun came and melted some of the ice which turned into water.” Injuquaq said. “But the sun did not stay for the whole year and when it went away, some of the water turned back into ice,” he said rather sadly. “But not all of the water froze, and when the sun came back the next year it melted more ice which added to the water that was there.”
“Why didn’t the sun just stay here father?” K'eyush interrupted.
“It was said by our ancestors that there is another world that the sun warms when it is not here K'eyush.” Injuquaq answered.
“Can we go to the other world?” K'eyush asked excitedly, thinking that it must be warmer there if the sun was shining there right now.
Preferring not to talk about how one goes about getting the other world until K'eyush was older and the lessons about the first world were finished, Injuquaq only said. “The other world is very far away K'eyush, and no one has ever come back from there.” Adding, “your mother and I would be very sad if you went away and never came back.”
“But, back to the story my son. The sun came back every year for millions of years and each year there was a little more water than there had been the previous year. Soon there was so much water that it looked just like the sea as we know it today.” Injuquaq was pleased that he was able to once again tell the story to a youngster as he had told K'eyush’s brother just three years ago. Sadly the brother had died that same year.
“After there was a sea,” he continued, “Sedna, the master of sea animals brought the fish and seals to the new sea that the sun had formed.” Continuing… “Then Tekkeitsertok the master of the Caribou and Reindeer sent those animals across the ice to our world.”
Injuquaq’s eyes lit up at his own mention of the fish and seals that were also their food and drops of saliva formed from the glands just under his tongue. “Then Nanook, the master of Polar Bears saw that there was food in the sea and food on the ice, and he let the Polar Bears come and feast on the food in the sea and on the ice.”
Injuquaq continued the story of life, trying to recite the words exactly as they had been told to him when he was young by his own father. The nostalgic memory of his father caused Injuquaq to quietly wonder to himself if his father and K'eyush’s older brother had reached the other world after they died, but he didn’t say anything to K'eyush.
“How long ago was that?” K'eyush asked, quickly bringing Injuquaq’s thoughts back to the present.
“It was all long before people ever came here my son.” Injuquaq stated with authority.
“And what ‘Master’ sent the people to the world, my father?” K'eyush probed.
Injuquaq thought carefully about the question posed to him by his son, recalling that it was the same question that he had come to his mind when he had been told the Story of Life.
“People have no master, my son. They are their own masters and do what they wish.” Injuquaq stated, visibly agitated as he thought again about K'eyush’s older brother.
“How will I know when I see them?” K'eyush asked, looking first off at the glow behind the hill of ice in the distance where the sun would appear just days from now, and then up at his father.
“In not many days, the people will come, K'eyush. There will be a father and son just like you and me, or they will be in a larger group. But each of them will be holding a long spear that they can use to kill us.
“That is how we Polar Bears go to the other world my son,” Injuquaq sighed, “only when the people kill us.” K'eyush looked up at his father in total disbelief, unable to speak. His brown eyes glistened as they never had before.
“People are their own masters and you must never go near them.” Injuquaq said.
The Inuit name K'eyush means Bear Cub
The name Injuquaq means Old Man
And the Inuit call the wind Unalaq
In Inuit Mythology
Sedna is the Master of Sea Animals
Tekkeitsertok is the master of the Caribou
Nanook is the Master of Polar Bear
The Inuit believed that animals just like people had an Anirnig (breath or spirit.)
They respected that spirit as they hunted the animals, fearing that the Anirnig of the animal could come back to harm them.
But the Inuit simply did not worship any creator god of their own, they were their own Masters in this dark land of ice.