tundra the night Taku slipped out the long underground entrance of the house she had shared for many years with her cruel young husband. Tired of being beaten, Taku was leaving and never coming back.
Taku pulled her caribou-skin anorak up around her face and headed west. She traveled for many days and nights, going out of her way to avoid houses and villages, fearing someone might see her and take her home. When she was sure all signs of human life were behind her, Taku slowed down.
Then, a cold wind began to whip her face, and she stopped to look for shelter. A series of large and small hills off in the distance gave her renewed energy, and she began to run toward them. At last Taku reached the smallest hill and made a clearing between two short ridges. She snuggled into the deep snow and fell sound asleep.
The following day, Taku continued to trek along the hills, and in the evening, she nestled down beside two small round hills. Each day, Taku climbed higher and higher along the hilly ridges until one morning a great booming voice awoke her: “Who are you? Humans never visit me. What are you doing here?”
Taku trembled with fright. She told the invisible voice her sad story and how she had been forced to run away from her husband’s constant beatings.
“You may call me Kinak,” said the voice. “My great body spreads out over the tundra, and I have allowed you to sleep between my toes and knees, on my chest, and now on my face. But you must never again sleep so close to my mouth or I will be forced to breathe on you and blow you away.”
Taku trembled. “I did not realize I was traveling on the body of a giant,” said the young wife. “I will leave right away.”
The giant heaved a sigh. “You do not have to leave. Build a house in the thickest part of my beard, far away from my mouth. But go quickly. I must take a breath and clear my lungs right now.”
Taku had barely settled in the giant’s beard when a fierce wind roared out over the hills and heavy snow swirled across the tundra. While she waited for something more to happen, a dark cloud appeared in the sky and moved slowly toward her.
When it was directly overhead, Taku recognized the outline of the giant’s huge fist. The shadow lingered for a moment, then a freshly killed caribou dropped down beside her. Taku was so hungry she thanked the giant out loud. “Thank you. Thank you,” she yelled into the sky.
Taku quickly gathered hairs from the giant’s beard, built a fire with the hairs, and ate heartily. She was pleased to be living with a giant who could stretch his arm toward the land and capture a caribou, or simply reach toward the sea and bring her seals and walruses.
Taku lived happily with the giant for many years. She ate well and fashioned fine clothing for herself from the many animals he brought. She had never been so happy and content.
But one day, the giant called out to her. “Taku?” he asked. “Are you listening to me? I am tired of lying in one place. I must turn over. It is time for you to go home.”
Taku trembled with fear. Her husband would surely inflict severe punishment on her for staying away so long. “I would like very much to go home,” she said, “but I know my husband will beat me for staying away for so long.”
“Do not worry,” said Kinak. “I will protect you. If you are ever in danger, just call my name and I will come. But before you leave, you must cut both ears from each of the animal skins in storage and put them in a container to take home.”
Taku did as she was told without asking Kinak for reasons.
“Now crouch down in front of my mouth and I will send you home,” said Kinak.
Again, Taku did as she was told. The giant took a deep breath and WHOOSH, he expelled a powerfully strong wind that blew the young wife far out over the tundra. And before long, Taku landed in her old village.
She walked slowly toward the house she had shared with her cruel husband, placed the container of animal ears in the storage shed outside the house, and went inside.
To Taku’s surprise, her husband greeted her with great joy. He told her he had mourned her death and believed he would never see her again. Taku’s fears disappeared, and she settled back into her old household routines.
The next day, when Taku’s husband went out to the storage shed, he found piles of fine well-tanned animal hides, one for every ear in Taku’s container. The large quantity of fine furs would make Taku’s husband a very rich man, and thus one of the village leaders.
Taku’s husband was so pleased with his new status in the village that he forgot all about beating his wife.
Then one day Taku’s husband told his wife he wanted a child. “What will become of us if we remain childless into our old age? Who will take care of us?” he argued. And that evening Taku’s husband dipped a feather in oil and drew the form of a baby boy on his wife’s abdomen.
Before long, Taku gave birth to a handsome little boy whom she named Kinak, in memory of the kind giant. Little Kinak soon grew up to be handsome and strong.
But while her son was maturing into a fine young man, her husband was reverting back to his old ways. One day, Taku’s husband got so angry when his food was not prepared on time that he picked up his spear and rushed toward her, intending to strike her.
Taku ran out of the house shouting, “Kinak. Kinak. Help!” Her husband, who believed she was calling their son, ignored her cries and chased her out through the long passageway.
Once outside, a fierce wind blew down from the north, picked up the angry husband, and whisked him off into the clear blue summer sky, never to be seen again. Taku was pleased never to see her husband, and thrilled to have her young son all to herself.
But young Kinak soon developed a cruel and fierce temper. Every day he bragged to his mother that he had killed a hunting companion. Often, the cocky young man boasted of having killed more than one.
“You are endangering both of our lives,” Taku said to her son. “The families of your victims will seek revenge. They will kill both of us,” she warned.
So Kinak behaved properly for some time thereafter, and nothing more was said about his evil deeds. Then, one day when he returned home from hunting, he told his mother he had killed his companion after a quarrel.
Kinak’s mother heaved a heavy sigh. “You are hated and feared in the village,” she said at last. “Soon there will only be women and children living among us. It will be better for all of us if you go away and do not return.”
Then Taku turned and walked away.
Some months later, after Kinak had filled his mother’s storage racks with meat and skins, he said, “I have provided you with food and hides. Now I will go.”
Kinak traveled north in the direction his mother had taken many years before. When he came upon the series of hills where his mother had lived for many years, he immediately climbed the highest one.
No sooner had he reached the top when he heard the booming voice of the giant. “Who are you?” the giant asked the young man who was standing too close to his mouth.
When Kinak the giant learned that the young man was the son of his friend Taku he smiled. “You may settle down on my face,” said the giant. “But you must never climb onto my lips. If you do, evil will befall you.”
Taku’s son thanked the giant and settled down on his long wiry beard. But he was not accustomed to being told what to do, and soon he became restless.
Finally, the bold young man decided to find out why the giant was so protective of his lips. It took a long time for the young man to make his way through the giant’s thick tangled beard, but eventually he landed on the cleft of Kinak’s deep chin.
After he had caught his breath, Taku’s son stepped up onto the giant’s lower lip and looked over the edge. WHOOSH. A blast of ice-cold air whirled up out of the opening, picked up the surprised young man, and hurled him into the air. Round and round he spun until, eventually, he disappeared off into space.
Taku and her son were the last humans to visit the hill giant. But Kinak the giant still lives in the north and breathes out fierce winds and snow in winter to remind the people of his presence.