Irnakk the Fearsome: As real as pain and death
Although Matoran culture doubtless remains the most widely recognized and influential of the cultural systems which arose within the Matoran Universe, it was not the only culture to exist. The various non-Matoran races created by the Great Beings eventually formed their own individual cultural variations, although the imprint of Matoran culture remained. One interesting example of this interplay between cultural concepts – especially an interplay represented in language – can be identified in the earliest stages of Skakdian society.
While the Skakdi were equipped with their own individual language, they were also competent to communicate in Matoran, and as such there was extensive language contact during the millenia preceding the arrival of Makuta Spiriah on the Skakdian home-island of Zakaz, after which Skakdian society underwent a series of drastic changes, as has been recorded elsewhere.
One of the core principles that characterized Matoran behavior and values – perhaps on par with the Three Virtues – was the concept of "system-normality", expressed in the Matoran language by the morpheme ha. This concept constituted an important lynchpin of early Matoran morality, and it was opposed by an antonymic concept of "system-abnormality", expressed by the complex morpheme ur-ha "not-system-normal" (ur- "negative, not"; ur-ha > rha > ra). This moral binary has observable correlates in most non-Matoran cultures throughout the Matoran Universe, including the Skakdi.
However, the Skakdian variation of ha was slightly different: Some of the central values of early Skakdian society lay in concepts of "power", "strength", and "physical/mental prowess", rather than the more general category of "system-normality". Accordingly, the Skakdi co-opted the Matoran stem na "elemental power/energy" as their own equivalent of Matoran ha-system-normality, with a correspondingly antonymic concept expressed by the complex ur-na (parallel to ur-ha): "powerlessness, wrongness, weakness, fear".
Interestingly, the word-form urna ultimately passed into Skakdi vernacular as the word irna (with unrounding and fronting of Matoran to [i ] in accordance with Skakdi dialects), more commonly as a constituent of a word [i]irnakk [/i]"creature of irna" (irnakk < irna-ki "lit. 'component of powerlessness/weakness/fear'", from irna and the Matoran morpheme ki "piece, part"). Initially, irnakk was used as a general term for "wrongdoer/criminal", "coward", or "dangerous ('fearsome') one". However, after Makuta Spiriah initiated his program of experimental mutation on the inhabitants of Zakaz and Skakdian society quickly dissolved into savagery, the term irnakk took on a different significance as part of a newly-innovated mythology:
Although few historical records survive, it is known that Skakdian rulers developed an extensive mythological tradition designed to enforce a modicum of order and maintain their authority over the populace, primarily through fear of punishment. At the center of this mythology was the figure of (the) Irnakk, a monstrous embodiment of all anti-Skakdian ideals, including "weakness" and "loss of strength/power", but even more centrally, archetypal fear and terror. In some sense, therefore, Irnakk is an etymological parallel to the Matoran word Rahi: rahi < ur-ha-hi "thing of system-abnormality; 'not us'" vs. irnakk < ur-na-ki "thing of fear; 'not us'" (-ki and -hi both originating as noun-markers from a similar source), and as such, Irnakk came to hold a significant place in the Skakdian psyche: a nightmarish reminder of the fate suffered by those who exhibited weakness or succumbed to fear.
A final point of interest comes in the form of a folk-etymology that arose in the period after the Irnakk-myth had been fully established. It involved an almost ritualistic phrase which was used as an imprecation to silence and condemn any Skakdi who expressed doubt about the existence of Irnakk: Ei iradi irai na kho, literally "He is as real as pain and death". Given the brutal societal conditions faced by most Skakdi, concepts of pain and death were familiar and naturally effective as a means of quelling any disbelief, since the expression carried with it an unspoken threat of punishment. Translated into Standard Matoran, the phrase would be glossed as follows:
ai e-rode e-rahu no khu
he as-real as-pain and death
"He (is) as real as pain-and-death."
The folk-etymology is based on the claim that the name irnakk is actually a contraction of the latter portion of this phrase: Matoran e-rahu-no-khu, Skakdi irai-na-kho "(as) pain and death" > iranako > irnakk. Interpreted in this sense, the malediction takes on further dread significance, as it is essentially the equivalent of responding to someone who doubts the existence of Irnakk by saying "He (Irnakk) is as real (as) irnakk".
It is fitting, therefore, that the only eyewitness account of Irnakk – as a manifestation created to test the six Skakdi known as Piraka in the labyrinth beneath Mt. Valmai – reports the following exchange between the creature and the Skakdi Thok and Avak, in which Irnakk symbolically invokes himself as a means of rebuking the Skakdi's expression of unbelief (as witnessed by Toa Matoro and recounted afterward by his surviving comrades):
Dialogue: Skino ei-si? Na skai akoka ski skiro Irnakk-ro!
Translation: "How can this be? Everyone knows there's no such thing as Irnakk!"
Dialogue: Skai roka. Ai skai akokasi ski ei-ro.
Translation: "Tell it that. Maybe you can get it to agree that it doesn't exist."
Dialogue: Skiro, ai roka? Iradi irai na kho, a roka…
Translation: "No such thing, says you? As real as pain and death, says I..."