Etymology: Kamuy (god), Bears and Mountains
Also Known As: キムンカムイ, Metotush Kamuy, Nuparikor Kamuy
Alternate Spellings: Kim-un Kamui, Metotush Kamui, Nuparikor Kamui
Among the Ainu people of ancient Japan, Kim-Un-Kamuy is the god of bears and mountains.
In the Ainu language, the kamuy is a spiritual or divine being in Ainu beliefs and mythology. This term refers to any supernatural entity made of or having spiritual energy.
It should be noted that bears hold a very prominent place in Ainu beliefs and mythology. Among the Ainu, bears were seen as very benevolent.
Ritual Sacrifice – One important ritual held by every village is that they would go out and capture a bear cub. This cub would be fed and taken care of as well as the village could for the period of a year. At this time, a ceremony would be performed in which this bear would be shot to death with arrows. The flesh of this ritually slain bear would be eaten, this would free the bear’s spirit so it could return to the heavens where it would tell Kim-un Kamuy of the humans’ piety in gratitude.
Many of the stories that follow all share a commonality of the bear being killed and eaten so its spirit could return to the heavens.
There are exceptions to the rule, there are stories of Ararush or monstrous bears that do appear.
One story tells of a bear maiden who was particularly mean and went to a human village and killed a woman. The bear maiden was punished by the Kamuy Fuchi and restored the human woman back to life. The bear maiden was to then entertain the villagers before leaving her earthly body behind as she returned to the spirit world with gifts of wine and inau. The bear maiden told of the human’s generosity and villagers feasted on the flesh of her earthly form.
First Story –
This story explains the origin and purpose of the Ainu’s bear ritual.
One day, the bear god, Kim-un Kamuy is told by Crow that his wife has left the heavens to go down to a human village and hasn’t returned. Alarmed, Kim-un Kamuy rushes home to collect up his child and hurry to the human village.
There, Kim-un Kamuy is greeted by Kamuy Paseguru, the goddess of the hunt. She invites Kim-un Kamuy to visit the goddess of the hearth, Kamuy Fuchi. As they are talking, a fox comes in, bewitching Kim-un Kamuy and Kamuy Paseguru seizes the chance to knock him out.
When Kim-un Kamuy comes to, he is hanging up high in the branches of a tree. Below him, Kim-un Kamuy can see the body of an old bear laying down and its cub playing close by. As he watched, he saw humans come to worship the dead bear and make offerings of wine, dumplings, and inau (sacred rods). Eventually, they took the bear meat and the cub back to their village.
Back in the village, the people give the cub more offerings. Kim-un Kamuy finds his wife at the human village sitting near the hearth. They spend several days feasting with Kamuy Fuchi before returning back home to feast with the other kamuy. Kim-un Kamuy’s cub returned a year later with gifts of wine and inau when another feast would be held.
Second Story –
In this story, a young mother is out with her baby collecting herbs and forest bulbs. When the mother was down at the river washing the bulbs, she began to sing and attracted the attention of a bear.
Frightened, the young mother jumped up, leaving her baby and clothes behind as she ran. Disappointed that the woman had run away and ceased her singing, the bear went over to investigate the pile of clothing and found the baby. The bear cared for the baby for several days, feeding it the saliva from its mouth.
The men from the woman’s village came down to the river and found the baby still alive. They were convinced that the bear had been none other than Kim-un Kamuy. The men followed the bear’s tracks and proceeded to shoot it dead. After that, the men then held a feast of the bear’s meat and raised the bear’s head up on a stand offering it wine and inau. By holding this ritual, the men freed the bear’s ramat or spirit to return to the heavens.
Third Story –
Once, in ancient times, there was a couple, husband and wife. One day the husband fell ill and shortly after, died, leaving no children.
As the case was, there had been a decree made that the woman would bear a son at some future date. When that day drew close, the people of the woman’s village began to talk among themselves that surely the woman had married again while others said the husband had risen from the dead.
The woman herself said it was a miracle and related how one evening, when she had been sitting there alone in her home, a man came to her, dressed all in black. When the man turned toward her, he said that he was the god of the mountain, Kim-un Kamuy. That he had come to her in mortal form to let her know, with her husband gone, she would bear a child. That this would be his gift to her and when her son had grown, he would be great, eloquent, and wealthy.
After this, Kim-un Kamuy left her and the woman bore a son. In time, when the child had grown, he became a mighty hunter and indeed a great, eloquent, and wealthy man. He also went on to become the father of many children. Many of the Ainu who live among the mountains claim to be descended from a bear. This bear clan is called Kimun Kamui sanikir, the “descendants of the bear.”
Members of Kimun Kamui sanikir are proud to declare: “As for me, I am a child of the god of the mountains; I am descended from the divine one who rules the mountains.”