Kiviuq and the Bee Woman
Kiviuq and the Bee Woman
When he awoke, Kiviuq looked around, but the large woman was nowhere to be seen. Looking around the tupiq, Kiviuq was shocked to see human skulls lined up along the back of the sleeping platform.
One skull said to him, “You are going to end up like me if you don’t get away. Put on your clothes and go right now.” The other skulls all spoke at once, chattering in agreement.
Kiviuq didn’t hesitate. Quickly he grabbed his atigi, his jacket, and his qarliik, his pants, and put them on. Then he reached for his kamiik, his boots, but the drying rack kept moving out of his reach. He tried desperately to get to his kamiik but the rack just moved away each time. Kiviuq was desperate to get away before the Bee Woman came back.
In Kiviuq and the Bee Woman, author Noel McDermott continues the adventures of the mythological Inuit hero, Kiviuq, who in his 2016 book, Kiviuq and the Mermaids, had barely escaped from the clutches of attacking mermaids. Now, as Kiviuq stumbles upon a tupiq (tent), he meets Iguttarjuaq, the Bee Woman, “an ancient bee in human form”, who kindly offers to dry and mend his clothes.
But something about the Bee Woman makes Kiviuq uneasy. She already knows Kiviuq’s name. She has no sight because her eyes are completely covered by her eyelids. The story darkens when Iguttarjuaq slices open her eyelids to reveal menacing insect-like eyes and then eats her own eyelids. Even more terrifying, Kiviuq realizes that the Bee Woman is cooking human meat in her pot and intends to kill and cook him too!
Kiviuq faints in horror, and, when he awakens, the Bee Woman is gone. The tent is littered with human skulls which warn Kiviuq to escape immediately. A helping spirit arrives for Kiviuq, but, as he tries to leave, the Bee Woman appears with a knife. Another spirit helps Kiviuq, but Iguttarjuaq gives chase and closes in on him. Only by remembering and singing a magic song, does Kiviuq manage to escape, leaving behind the evil Bee Woman.
McDermott has crafted a tense tale that gripped me completely and made me want to turn the pages as fast as possible to find out Kiviuq’s fate. Throughout the book, as Inuktitut words are introduced, English-language definitions are seamlessly incorporated, and light repetition of some terms helps reinforce language acquisition:
Sometimes strangers can be dangerous, especially if they are tuurngait, spirit helpers, doing mischief on behalf of a malicious angakkuq, a shaman.
McDermott continues the style he used in his earlier book about Kiviuq, and he bookends the story with a first person point of view. He begins with a conversation with his grandchildren who ask to hear another adventure story about Kiviuq:
“Have I told you about Kiviuq’s meeting with Iguttarjuaq, the Bee Woman?”
“No, we have never heard about Iguttajuaq. Please tell us that one!” they beg.
“Naammaktuq, very well. Naalaktiaritsi, listen carefully…” And so I begin.
Following the main narrative written in third person, the story switches back to first person and concludes with a single line that includes the Inuktitut word “taima,” which means “the end”: “That’s all I can remember, for now: taima.”
An effective glossary of terms in the back matter includes a pronunciation guide.
The illustrations by Toma Feizo Gas are rendered digitally in a mixed realistic and fantasy style which would also lend itself to a graphic novel A limited colour palette of muted browns, greys, and blues creates a fitting, ominous mood for this tale. Design-wise, the majority of the font is presented as white text against a dark background.
Because younger or more sensitive readers may find parts of the storyline and some of the illustrations frightening, I would advise adults to review the text and images in advance.
Notably, the independent Inuit-owned publisher, Inhabit Media Inc., aims to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge, and talent of northern Canada. Their mandate includes “the preservation of oral history and traditional knowledge that may otherwise have been lost, in a format that contemporary readers will find engaging, entertaining, and informative.” Author Noel McDermott is a retired professor of literature at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, Nunavut, who taught in Inuktitut and English for thirty-five years. In Kiviuq and the Bee Woman, he has contributed to Inhabit Media’s goal by writing a gripping book that will introduce readers to an important legendary Inuit figure and engage them with the Inuktitut language.
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.