Myths & Legends



Inuit: Kunigseq Visits the Underworld

A tale of a wizard who decides to visit the underworld, a place where the dead face the sun and do not know cold.
— Orly


There was once a wizard whose name was Kúnigseq.

One day, when he was about to call on his helping spirits and make a flight down into the underworld, he gave orders that the floor should be swilled with salt water, to take off the evil smell which might otherwise frighten his helping spirits away.

Then he began to call upon his helping spirits, and without moving his body, began to pass downward through the floor.

And down he went. On his way he came to a reef, which was covered with weed, and therefore so slippery that none could pass that way. And as he could not pass, his helping spirit lay down beside him, and by placing his foot upon the spirit, he was able to pass.

And on he went, and came to a great slope covered with heather. Far down in the underworld, men say, the land is level, and the hills are small; there is sun down there, and the sky is also like that which we see from the earth.

Suddenly he heard one crying: “Here comes Kúnigseq.”

By the side of a little river he saw some children looking for greyfish.

And before he had reached the houses of men, he met his mother, who had gone out to gather berries. When he came up to her, she tried again and again to kiss him, but his helping spirit thrust her aside.

“He is only here on a visit,” said the spirit.

Then she offered him some berries, and these he was about to put in his mouth, when the spirit said:

“If you eat of them, you will never return.”

A little after, he caught sight of his dead brother, and then his mother said:

“Why do you wish to return to earth again? Your kin are here. And look down on the sea-shore; see the great stores of dried meat.[39]Many seal are caught here, and it is a good place to be; there is no snow, and a beautiful open sea.”

The sea lay smooth, without the slightest wind. Two kayaks were rowing towards land. Now and again they threw their bird darts, and they could be heard to laugh.

“I will come again when I die,” said Kúnigseq.

Some kayaks lay drying on a little island; they were those of men who had just lost their lives when out in their kayaks.

And it is told that the people of the underworld said to Kúnigseq:

“When you return to earth, send us some ice, for we thirst for cold water down here.”

After that, Kúnigseq went back to earth, but it is said that his son fell sick soon afterwards, and died. And then Kúnigseq did not care to live any longer, having seen what it was like in the underworld. So he rowed out in his kayak, and caught a guillemot, and a little after, he caught a raven, and having eaten these one after the other, he died. And then they threw him out into the sea.



Source: KR [1]

Culture:  Inuit ("Eskimo")

Language Group:  The two main peoples known as "Eskimo" are: (1) the Alaskan Iñupiat peoples, Greenlandic Inuit, and the mass-grouping Inuit peoples of Canada, and (2) the Yupik of eastern Siberia and Alaska. The Yupik comprise speakers of four distinct Yupik languages: one used in the Russian Far East and the others among people of Western Alaska, Southcentral Alaska and along the Gulf of Alaska coast. A third northern group, the Aleut, is closely related to the Eskimo. They share a relatively recent common ancestor, and a language group (Eskimo-Aleut).


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