Kim-un Kamui: Ainu Bear God

The bear god. Also known as Metotush Kamui and as Nuparikor Kamui (Mountain God).

An Ainu myth recounts how one day a beautiful young woman went with her baby on her back to collect forest bulbs. While washing them in a river, she started singing a song, and her sweet voice attracted a bear. Frightened, she abandoned her baby and her clothes and ran away. The bear was disappointed that the beautiful singer had stopped her music, but, investigating the pile of clothes, found the baby. He cared for the baby for several days, feeding it from his saliva, which he dropped into the baby’s mouth.

The men of the village came to the place, and discovered the baby alive and healthy. They were immediately convinced that the bear was Kim-un Kamui,
followed its tracks, and shot it dead. They then arranged a feast of the bear’s meat, raised the bear’s head on a stand offering it wine and inau [ritual wood], and by doing so, freed its ramat to return to heaven.

One day the bear god went to visit a friend, leaving his beloved wife and their baby behind. He lost track of time until the crow came to tell him that his
wife had gone down to the village of the humans and had not returned. The bear rushed to his house and, picking up the little one, followed his wife. The fox tried to ensorcel him, and two men shot arrows at him, but he continued on his way unharmed.

He followed the men to the village, where he was greeted by Kamui Paseguru (the aconite poison goddess), who invited him to come and visit Kamui Fuchi, the hearth goddess. While they were speaking thus, the fox continued his enscorcellment. Kamui Paseguru then leapt upon Kim-un Kamui, and he lost consciousness. When he awoke he was high in the branches of a tree. Below him lay the body of an old bear, and a young cub played nearby.

The men returned and captured the bear cub. They then worshiped the dead bear, putting up inau, who protected the meat from predators and demons. The meat was taken down to the village, where the bear god was offered wine, inau, and dumplings made of millet. He also found his wife sitting by the hearth. They feasted for several days with Kamui Fuchi, the hearth goddess, then went back to their home laden with gifts. They threw a feast for the other kamui, and when their young cub later came back, also laden with gifts of wine and inau, another feast.

Bears were not necessarily so benevolent, and another kamui yukar tells of how a bear maiden of evil disposition (an ararush) went down to a human village and killed a woman. Chastised by Kamui Fuchi, she restored the woman to life. She was then entertained by the villagers, and, leaving her earthly covering, returned to the land of the kamui bearing the usual gifts of wine and inau, and told her kinfolk of human generosity. The humans feasted on her discarded mundane form.

Tales of Kim-un Kamui, the Bear God

John Batchelor, The Ainu and their Folk-lore, pg. 11

In very ancient times there lived two people who were husband and wife. The husband one day fell ill, and soon after died, leaving no children, so that the poor wife was left quite alone.

Now it happened to have been decreed that the woman was at some future time to bear a son. When the people saw that the time for the child to be born was nigh at hand, some said, ” Surely this woman has married again.” Others said, ” Not so, but her deceased husband has risen from among the dead.”‘

But the woman herself said that it was all a miracle, and the following is an account of the matter:

One evening there was a sudden appearance in the hut in which I was sitting. He who came to me had the external form of a man, and was dressed in black clothing. On turning in my direction he said—”O, woman, I have a word to say to you, so please pay attention. I am the god who possesses the mountains (the bear god, Kim-un Kamui), and not a human being at all, though I have now appeared to you in the bodily form of a man. The reason of my coming is this. Your husband is dead, and you are left in a very lonesome condition. I have seen this, and am come to inform you that you will bear a child. He will be my gift to you. When he is born you will no longer be lonely, and when he is grown up he will be very great, rich, and eloquent.”

After saying this he left me and by this woman bore a son, who in time really became a mighty hunter as well as a great, rich, and eloquent man. He also became the father of many children. Thus it happens that many of the Ainu who dwell among the mountains are to this day said to be descended from a bear. They belong to the bear clan, and are called Kimun Kamui sanikiri—i.e., ‘descendants of the bear.’

Such people are very proud, and say, “As for me, I am a child of the god of the mountains ; I am descended from the divine one who rules in the mountains.” These people are very proud indeed.

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