What Is the Inuit Creation Myth?

Cynde Gregory

Since the dawn of human time, people have yearned to know how the world and all the living things it contains were created. Every culture has spun tales rich with symbolic creatures and objects important to that culture in an effort to describe and explain the moment of creation. There are many variations on the Inuit creation myth, but most of them feature a daughter whose fingers are cut off and become the creatures of the sea and air.

When he acts out the Inuit Creation Myth, a father's fingers transform into many different animals, including walruses.
When he acts out the Inuit Creation Myth, a father's fingers transform into many different animals, including walruses.

In one variation of the Inuit creation myth, the daughter falls in love with a bird that fishes in the ocean. The bird lures her away from the human world and marries her. When her father tracks them down and steals his daughter back, the bird husband becomes enraged and creates an ocean storm. To save himself, the father hurtles his daughter over the side, but she clings to the edge and nearly capsizes the boat. The father seizes his hunting knife and cuts the fingers from both hands, and the dismembered fingers transform into whales, walruses, seals, sea birds, turtles, and other creatures.

Another Inuit creation myth variation places a tribe of giants at the beginning of time. At the beginning of winter, one giant gives birth to a daughter. The daughter has an insatiable appetite, devouring all the plant foods her parents can gather and eating all the meat that has been stored for the winter.

The daughter grows and grows, and the bigger she becomes, the bigger her appetite gets. When she depleted the stores of food, she turned on her parents and tried to eat them as well. To save themselves, her giant mother and father trapped her in a blanket and paddled her far from shore and into the sea.

As in the previous version, the girl is again dropped overboard so that the parents can save themselves. In this version, however, the girl is so enormous that she grabs hold of both sides of the boat and stops its forward motion. The parents paddle and paddle, but the boat doesn’t move.

When the daughter tries to tip the boat, the parents realize that, if they don’t cut her loose, they will drown. The mother chops at the left hand and the father at the right hand. One by one, they cut away the daughter’s fingers.

Each finger transforms as it hits the water. Some become mammals such as seals and walruses, while others become salmon and other fish. One by one, the daughter’s fingers populate the world with the animals that are central to the Inuit as food. Thus, in the Inuit creation myth, the hungry daughter ultimately supplies the future with enough food for everyone.

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