Nunani: The likeness of a big person (Part four)



The giants had allowed the man to borrow a large team of their intelligent hunting wolves, so he explained to the wolves that he wanted them to retrieve his son. It was his only son that he missed above all others from his old community. The wolves understood well. They listened obediently as he explained that he wanted them to coax the boy onto the kamotiq and bring him to the land of the giants. If they failed, they were to howl on their way back.

The wolves departed and soon approached the community, where they found the boy playing alone outside. Before the boy could panic, the wolves began to act like monstrous puppies, jumping and licking and rolling over, all the while leading the boy closer to the kamotiq. But the boy noticed what the wolves were doing, and he never quite set foot on it.

The day slowly burned away, and the wolves finally returned to their master. When the man heard them howling on their way back, he knew that they had failed.

Days went on like this, with the wolves trying time and again to retrieve the boy. But they could not. In despair, the man at last gave up, resigning himself to life with the giants. Many years saw him become used to their ways, even to their food. Eventually, he even took a giant wife.

One day, he came across another human being from his old community, and he eagerly asked about his human wife and child. Then his heart broke, for he was told that his wife had waited for him all these years, never realizing that it was he who had sent the kamotiq for his son. So he told the man from his community to go back, to tell his wife to forget about him and to remarry if she could.

This was the last thing he said to any human being. After this, he hopped onto his massive kamotiq and let the wolves pull him back to those misty lands of the giants, his only remaining home.

I have heard different explanations of what this and other giant stories mean. One friend of mine insists that this is a distant memory of Inuit captivity at the hands of Europeans, pointing out the giants’ size, the wall of water (the Atlantic?), food incompatibility, weird butchering practices, and the intelligent wolves (European dog breeds?). While I find this explanation unlikely, if true it would colour the tale with surpassing sadness.

My own feeling, however, is that this is an especially Inuktitut story, especially by way of its protagonist, who demonstrates cunning in trying to escape his situation, but finally resigns himself to it once all efforts fail. It is typical of the Inuit tales that laud ingenuity, but ultimately convey the message that humanity’s powers are limited. Man must accept that he will eventually run out of tricks, that nature will overwhelm him. The giants, in this story as in others around the world, are merely the agents of nature, the forces of the Earth given a face.

Even more, I feel that Inuit giant tales – probably those of other cultures as well – represent mystery. They harken from a time when there were still lands unknown, when people used to thrill in speculating as to what ill-fated travellers might stumble upon. After all, giant tales almost always involve exploration. So if there is any sadness to be taken out of this story, it is not because it is a tale of loss or captivity, but simply because it tells us that the world may be less interesting to us than it was to our ancestors.

Folklorically, there is still a place for ghosts in the ruins of human habitation. There is still a place for vampires in the urban jungles where humanity habitually preys upon itself. There is still a place for demons in the madness, the evil we see in some. But giants? The lack of unknown frontiers has left them behind. We still like to imagine what might dwell at the bottom of the sea, but even this unknown space is rapidly losing its appeal to many. And the giants our ancestors knew have faded from relevance, becoming as banal and unremarkable as stones. Not unlike nature itself.


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