Inuit: Kunigseq Visits the Underworld

The Inuit live throughout most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic in the territory of Nunavut; “Nunavik” in the northern third of Quebec; “Nunatsiavut” and “NunatuKavut” in Labrador; and in various parts of the Northwest Territories, particularly around the Arctic Ocean. These areas are known in Inuktitut as the “Inuit Nunangat”.

In the United States, the Iñupiat live primarily on the North Slope in Alaska and on Little Diomede Island. The Greenlandic Inuit are descendants of indigenous migrations from Canada.

A tale of a wizard who decides to visit the underworld, a place where the dead face the sun and do not know cold, as told in Eskimo Folk-Tales Collected by Knud Rasmussen Edited and rendered into English by W. Worster.
— 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.



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