Kunuuksaayuka by Anonymous

This traditional Iñupiaq tale was written by an unknown author and has been passed from generation to generation.  It is presented here as told by Robert Nasruk Cleveland and collected in 'Stories of the Black River People,' published in 1980.


  An Iñupiaq bow drill (ca. 1880–1920) displayed by The National Museum of the American Indian

An Iñupiaq bow drill (ca. 1880–1920) displayed by The National Museum of the American Indian

It is said that a boy and his parent lived alone without any knowledge of anyone nearby. The son, whose name was Kunuuksaayuka, was old enough to hunt and had grown capable of doing many things. They were not in need of food. The son was able to hunt and there were many caribou. Thus was the life of the woman and her son.

One winter day, as they lived in their usual manner, eating caribou as before, there came a blizzard. The weather did not clear up as one blizzard was followed by yet another blizzard. It is said that with each gust of wind, the powdery snow blew in every direction. Following that, it stopped briefly and then became windy all over again.

It was difficult to see anything in the blizzard. The woman’s son was unable to hunt caribou. They began to run out of food. Although Kunuuksaayuka was a good hunter during clear weather, the blizzardy weather simply was not a time to hunt. It was dangerous to travel at any distance. All one could see was a mass of white swirling snow.

Kunuuksaayuka waited day after day for the weather to clear until finally one day, he wondered, “What, oh what, is causing the weather to be like this?” Saying this, he dressed himself properly and went outside. He walked, facing the wind, and began to walk upriver along the bends and steep undercut sections of the riverbank. Meanwhile, the wind blew the snow strongly in the blizzard.

He continued on his way up the river and he hadn’t gone far when he noticed a spot further up the river that wasn’t as blizzardy. It was rather bright and the weather appeared to be clear beyond it. He approached this spot and saw that for some reason, the blizzard seemed to be originating from a small tundra meadow. He looked around carefully as he walked closer to it because he was curious to know what might be causing it. Since light seemed to be filtering through the swirling mass of snow, he grew even more curious and as he looked carefully around, he found what looked like a person, a man, apparently working hard on the flat tundra. He noticed that the man was indeed working hard. It is said that the man used something to mash the snow until it was loose, then he shoveled it off the ground. Each time he did this, a gust of wind came and blew the loose snow in the direction of Kunuuksaayuka’s home. Kunuuksaayuka saw this and said to himself, “So that’s the one who does it.” He had found the source of the blizzard.

He briefly looked at the strange sight, retraced his steps and started to approach the man from behind. The man back there was working so hard that he wasn’t even aware of any approaching strangers.  Apparently he worked this hard all day long with no thought of caution.

Kunuuksaayuka went toward the man, walking closer each time the shoveled snow swirled with the wind.  Every time it calmed down, Kunuuksaayuka hid so that the man wouldn’t see him. This was the manner in which he crept up close behind him.

He had come close enough so that the next time there was a blizzard, he would have been able to reach the man when the man started to mash the snow again.  It is said that he was a big man.  After he had mashed the snow, he grabbed his shovel and as he began to shovel the snow quickly into the air, Kunuuksaayuka ran towards the adze the man had used to mash the snow and grabbed it!  Away Kunuuksaayuka went with the adze as the big man shoveled the snow, creating blizzard after blizzard.

However the big man saw him as Kunuuksaayuka grabbed the adze.  He threw down his shovel, climbed up from the flat tundra and ran after Kunuuksaayuka, but Kunuuksaayuka was too fast.  Off he had run with the adze in his hand. The big man chased him without catching him, until Kunuuksaayuka had successfully entered his home with the adze.

Once inside, Kunuuksaayuka lay down on his bed.  It is said that he was situated across from his mother. Kunuuksaayuka hadn’t lain down long when he heard someone climbing on top of their house to the skylight. Having climbed up to the skylight, the big man could be heard to sing about Kunuuksaayuka.  This is how it went:

Kunuuksaayukamun Atuun

Ku-nuuk-saa-ya-kaa haa ŋia ŋia

Ulimantiga qail li hia ia ia

Uvlaakullia ŋia aniyuvich

Isigaak kisimiaia qiñiqpatiin

English equivalent

Ku-nuuk-saa-ya-kaa haa ŋia ŋia

Give me my adze hia ia

So that tomorrow when you go outside

you will find caribou feet

It is said that the big man sang this song over and over again outside of the skylight. He wanted Kunuuksaayuka to return the adze that he had brought inside the house.

This happened until after listening to him sing all day, Kunuuksaayuka’s mother finally grew tired of him and said to her son, “What oh what did you get that the one up there wants anyway?”  Although she asked him this, Kunuuksaayuka did not answer and only ignored her.

After that, he lay still for a while until he finally stood up.  He then grabbed the adze and began to use it against the stones that surrounded the fireplace.  It is said that by hitting the rocks with it, he ruined the edge of the blade. This done, he then threw it out of the skylight.

The big man had seen his adze being tossed up and out the skylight and because this made him so happy, he burst out laughing like this:

Kunuuksaayuka aŋa ha, iŋi hi.

After this loud laugh, he was quiet for a while when he was again heard to sing from above.  Once again he sang:

Ku-nuuk-saa-ya-kaa haa ŋia ia

Who chipped the blade of my adze ŋia ia

So that tomorrow when you go outside

You will see caribou feet.

It is said that he sang the same song, except that he used kikivauŋ instead of qaiḷḷi, meaning that he changed the words to ‘chip the blade’ instead of ‘give me back.’  It is also said that after singing this song, he left and could no longer be heard.