Those in Greenland, as well as the Central Eskimo of Canada, know numerous tales of the hero Kivioq. Details within the tales vary from place to place but often involve an unfaithful wife, an abandoned son, and many harrowing adventures.

Kivioq mourned for his dead wife and decided to travel to a distant place, leaving his son behind. But one day the boy ran into the house and said that his mother was outside with another man. Kivioq did not believe the son at first but finally went to see for himself. Sure enough, there was his wife embracing another man. Kivioq was furious. He killed them both and buried them together in another grave.

That night when the boy was asleep, Kivioq left in his kayak. As he was hurrying away, he thought he heard his son calling for him, but he kept paddling and narrowly escaped being sucked into a whirlpool. Then his kayak was attacked by sea-lice. Only by covering his paddles with a pair of gloves was Kivioq able to get away. He soon came upon two huge icebergs with a narrow passage between them. As the icebergs moved in the water, the passage opened and closed. Kivioq paddled quickly and just as he got through the passage it closed again.

Kivioq was relieved to reach the shore, but his troubles were just beginning. He met two women and was invited into their house. The old woman offered him some berries mixed with fat. When Kivioq commented that the dish was very tasty, the old woman replied that “the fat is from a very young fellow.” Then Kivioq noticed the row of human heads lined up under the sleeping ledge. Later, Kivioq pretended to be asleep and heard the two women plotting to kill him. The old woman wanted his head, but the younger woman wanted his genitals. At this Kivioq jumped up, ran out the door, and jumped into his kayak.

After some time Kivioq came to another house. A baby with a huge, bloated stomach was the only person in it. When the baby saw Kivioq, he exclaimed, “Grandmother has sent more food!” Immediately, Kivioq ran back to his kayak thinking that the sea was less dangerous than the land.

He paddled on and in time the ghosts of people who had drowned climbed onto his kayak in the hopes of drowning him, too. However, Kivioq kept paddling. Eventually, the ghosts of his wife and her lover attempted to climb onto the kayak, but the other ghosts told them that there wasn’t enough room. The wife and her lover managed to get on board anyway. Kivioq continued paddling and over the years travelled all along the coast and back. His kayak kept getting heavier as more ghosts piled on, and yet he kept going.

Finally, he came upon some other kayaks that were pulling a large whale. Standing on top of the whale was a young man. When Kivioq got close enough, he could see that it was his now grown son. He called out, “My son, I’m your father!” But the young man did not believe him and replied, “That could not be. My father died a long time ago when he was pulled down into a whirlpool. You’re only an old man with a kayak full of ghosts.”

At that, Kivioq’s heart sank, and he wept.

References and further reading:

  • Millman, Lawrence. A Kayak Full of Ghosts: Eskimo Folk Tales. 1987. Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Press, 2004.
  • Norman, Howard, ed. Northern Tales: Stories from the Native Peoples of the Arctic and Subarctic Regions. Selected, edited, and retold by Howard Norman. Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. Originally published as Northern Tales: Traditional Stories of Eskimo and Indian Peoples (1990).
  • Rasmussen, Knud. Observations on the Intellectual Culture of the Caribou Eskimos. 1930. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, vol. 7, no. 3. New York: AMS Press, 1976.
  • Rink, Hinrich. Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, with a Sketch of Their Habits, Religion, Language, and Other Peculiarities. 1875. New York: AMS Press, 1975.


Handbook of Native American Mythology written by Dawn E. Bastian and Judy K. Mitchell – Copyright © 2004