Repun Kamuy: Ainu God of the Sea

The killer whale, God ruler of the deep sea. As a young boy he was mischievous and unruly, and his sister, who was raising him, punished him for that.

They went out to hunt whales, and the sister, after harpooning her own whale, came to the young god’s assistance. Finally they filled their house with blubber, staving of famine.

In another kamui yukar, the young Repun Kamui shot a whale and her young, and generously threw them ashore by a village. He then headed for home. The sea wren came to Repun Kamui with the gossip that the people were cutting up the whale using sickles and axes (that is, they were not showing proper respect for the animal, or for the donor). Repun Kamui laughed this off and returned to his home, saying that the meat now belonged to the humans and they could do as they wished with it.

Sitting in his house, the deity then saw that the sea wren had lied: The humans were cutting the meat up with their sacred swords, dressed in their finest clothes (that is, they were properly respecting the gift from the sea). A winged inau [Ainu ritual wood stick] then appeared magically in the deity’s house, bringing with it a metal goblet of wine, sufficient to fill six tubs, and the grateful prayers of the humans. Organizing a feast, the sea god gave gifts to his fellow deities, thus confirming his eminent status, as well as assuring the humans that the bounty of the sea would keep them from famine.

The mutually dependent relations of humans and kamui are well represented in this myth: The humans need food from nature (stranded whales were a major item of food), and the kamui need the prayers and offerings of the humans.

These offerings increased the social position of the recipient, who would then be inclined to provide more food. Repun Kamui was particularly important for the Ainu because the sea presented opportunities for harvests that were not available on land: from food sources such as stranded whales, from fishing and hunting marine mammals, and from trading expeditions.

About Repun Kamui, from The Ainu and their Folk-Lore, pg. 533-534, by John Batchelor

Repun-riri-kata inao uk kamui, can be translated as “the god upon the waves of the sea who receives inao” [Ainu ritual wood stick].

This is the very greatest and most highly esteemed of all the gods of the sea, and to him every other sea [kamui / god] owes allegiance, and is necessarily subject. Whenever he allows himself to be seen by man, it is always in the bodily form of the largest of large whales. As he is said to be well disposed towards mankind, he is very frequently worshipped by those Ainu who dwell upon the sea-coast.

Inao are often presented to him by the fishermen, especially during the fishing season, and much sake is offered to and drunk for him. While the young men are away in their boats pursuing their occupations, the old men may often be seen sitting by the seaside making inao, and praying to this god for fair weather and a large catch of fish. Should the petitions of their prayers be granted thanks are devoutly given, and much sake drunk in honour of him and in praise for his goodness.

This god is said to have two special servants, who are supposed to act as messengers or angels between himself and man-kind. The first of these is called Rep-un-kontukai, ‘the servant in the sea.’

He always appears in the form of a tortoise, and is frequently worshipped. Inao are also made for him, and much sake drunk in his honour, for he is said to be a very important personage in the economy of Providence. He listens to and takes the prayers of the Ainu to his master, and brings back messages of blessing in return.

When seen, he, as indeed is his master Repun Kamui, is caught by the fishermen and eaten, but his head is dried, and kept in the hut for worship. Before going to fish, the men themselves, or one of their relatives who happens to possess one, take it from its resting-place, worship it, and offer it inao.

The other servant is the albatross, which is called by various names, such as isho-kapiu, i.e. ‘sporting seagulls,’ onne-chikap, oshkambe and shikambe. His presence is regarded by the fisher-men as an omen for good.

Like the tortoise, he also is supposed to pass with messages between the chief god of the sea and men, and when it is possible he is caught and his head taken, dried, and kept for worship. Prayers are often said both to the live bird and dried head. Inao also are made for and sake drunk to it. This head is called kamui marapto.

Scroll to Top