Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
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[This tale is here somewhat abridged, and derived only from one manuscript, in which the journey across the country is represented as having been achieved from the west to the east coast of Greenland, an idea which can only have originated by transplanting the same story from another Eskimo country, where such a journey might be more practicable than across the frozen, impassable interior of Greenland.]
TWO brothers had taken up their abode at a fiord; there they lived alone, and having no female assistance, they were obliged to cook and make their garments themselves. One day when they were out kayaking, they passed a little rocky point, and turning their eyes landwards, they observed a woman standing on the beach. The eldest brother now said he would go and fetch her, and with this view he went ashore; but when he approached her she fled, at first slowly, till, when he commenced to run, she hurried on so that he gave her up and returned to his kayak. The younger brother now ascended the beach, and as he approached she stood quiet, making no resistance, but let him take her down. They fastened the kayaks together with strings, and when she was seated behind the men, she said to the eldest brother, "I observed thy intention to be bad, so I fled; but thy brother there has a better disposition." They now paddled homewards, all the time keeping a sharp look-out upon her. But it happened that they left off watching her for a moment; and instantly they heard a clattering noise, and there she was gone. They searched all around, thinking she might have fallen into the water, but there were no traces of her to be seen anywhere, and after a while they gave her up, saying, "No matter, perhaps she was not a real woman" (i. e., she had fled from p. 209 mankind, and was a ĸivigtoĸ, endowed with supernatural swiftness). They again untied their kayaks and made for home; but lo! there she was, standing outside the tent mending their boots. They ran up to her in case she wanted to run away; but she said to them, "Pray let go your hold of me, I don't want to leave you." For the first few days they were quite unwilling to leave her alone, lest she should take flight in their absence. Afterwards they started, but did not leave her neighbourhood; and they did not venture to go away from her for any length of time, until she had said, "I like to stop with you, and ye may go as far as ye like." As they could now employ all their time in hunting, having a woman at home to cook and sew for them, they got more prosperous than before. She bore a male child in due time; but from that period her manners were altered, and she grew restrained and silent. The eldest brother proposed to the younger one that he should question her as to the cause. At night when they lay down to rest he did so, and she answered him, "It is because of our baby boy; I would like him so much to go and see his mother's brothers. I cannot forget those dear ones, and that is the reason why I have grown so silent." The brothers agreed that they could not deny her the pleasure of paying a visit to her parents, and said that they would themselves accompany her. Delighted at the prospect of going, she prepared for the journey, and packed up a bundle of boots, as well as several new pairs of soles and other necessaries; and being ready for their departure, they started to cross the country. The wife with the child in the amowt (hood) constantly went ahead of them, and the others could scarcely keep up with her. For several days they wandered on in the same manner, but at last the woman exclaimed, "If my brothers be still alive, and are to be found in the old place, we shall certainly come in sight of their sea tomorrow; I recognise all the mountain-hills of my old p. 210 home." They still wandered on the whole of the next day, and towards evening they sighted an open water. At this they all began crying for joy, and were obliged to stop a little. The wife now said, "If we descend at once we shall not find my brothers; at this time of the day they always used to be out kayaking. Let us therefore stay here till to-morrow, and be down with them before they start." Accordingly they lay down to sleep for the night, and in the morning they descended the hillside together. A great many tents soon appeared in the valley below, and pointing to one among them remarkable for its greater size, she cried, "That is the tent belonging to my relatives, but I would fain go down by myself; meanwhile you must keep behind,"—and so she went. The sun rose bright and warm, and a moment after, an old woman came forth from a tent holding a child by her one arm and in her other carrying a large seal-skin for sole-leather, which she was going to stretch on the ground to dry. All of a sudden the little one turned round, exclaiming, "Why, is not that my aunt coming there?" "No, don't speak such foolish things. Thou knowest very well thy aunt fled away never to return any more, because of these quarrels and fights for her sake." At this rebuke the boy was silenced, but in a little while again went on, "Indeed, indeed, it is my aunt, and there she is coming!" The old woman, however, was still bending over the piece of skin, and busy in fastening it down. She only rejoined, "What stupid nonsense! thy aunt has gone away from us for ever. I only wish I could manage those pegs" (viz., for fastening the skins); but as the boy would not give over chattering about his aunt she got into a passion with him, and tore out the holes made in the skin for the pegs. Then for the first time she looked up and cried out, "That is she, sure enough. Why did not I believe the little one?" she continued, and went on caressing the boy. In the meantime the brothers had also in some way or other p. 211 been informed of what had happened, and each of them cried out, "Oh, my dear sister! ye have not cared so much for her as I have; ye have not missed her so much neither; ye have not longed so much for her as I have done." And each of them wanted to be the first to greet her, and to take hold of her. They all ran towards her, but out of reverence for the eldest they allowed him to be the first to give her welcome. They now began questioning her about her fellow-travellers; and she told them that the men were waiting on the mountainside above, and they ran to bring them down, and the entrance to the tent was soon blocked up with inquisitive neighbours, all eager to see the travellers who had crossed the whole breadth of the country. The brothers stayed at home all day, and for joy at the meeting could do nought but sit down together and regard each other lovingly. In the evening the eldest proposed that some kind of amusements should be got up, and they agreed to try strength with one another at "hook and crook;" upon which one of them drew forth a skin for the purpose, saying, "When strangers meet, one always likes to see which is the better man;" and acting upon his word, he at once undressed and seated himself on the skin. Seeing that none of the visitors moved, one of his own brothers sat down opposite to him, and they hooked each other's arms, and the eldest of the two beat his brother's back vigorously in order to encourage him to pull hard. However, neither he nor any of all the brothers were able to stretch out his arm; but when they had all done, he still retained his place sitting down on the skin. The eldest of the visitors now whispered to his brother, "I shall first take my chance, then thou take thine;" and he likewise undressed and sat down, stretching out his right arm and hooking it inside his adversary's. The visitor, perceiving his strength, thought, "I will try to conquer him before he is tired out, so that it may not seem to be too easy a job for me;" and he p. 212 gathered all his strength, and slowly pulled on the arm of his adversary till it touched his own breast, and the other now tried to draw him back, but his features grew quite convulsed, and the skin came off his arms in the attempt. They changed places and tried the game over with their left arms, but with the same result; and at last the host rose, with these words, "I now see that we have acquired some very strong friends;" and taking his seat on the main ledge, as the principal person of the house, he continued, saying, "We, too, have got a man of great strength among us, and ye will scarcely escape him; I almost fear you won't come off alive." The next morning a call was heard outside the tent, "The visitors are requested to come and fight!" At this summons they quickly dressed and went outside. There they saw a number of people ascending the heights; and following in their wake, they reached a plain, where a still greater crowd formed a circle about a fellow with a frame like a giant: and the elder brother whispered to the younger one, "It won't do for thee to go first—thou dost look so very dejected; I had better go myself." So saying, he suddenly rushed at the champion, and thus took the huge man by surprise. This was at sunrise, and at sunset they were still fighting; and the visitor thought, "I must try to throw him over before I get too tired." Taking hold of him, he slowly lifted him off his feet, and held him swinging in the air. He had noticed a pole stuck up among some rocks. However, he did not choose to knock him down against that, but hurled him right out among the spectators, where he fell down, the blood gushing forth from his mouth. A loud roar was now heard among the people—some rejoiced, others wept; and in descending to the valley below, they all gathered around the eldest visitor, merely to have the satisfaction of having touched him, and some addressed him, saying, "Thou shalt have my windlass in reward for that job." This, however, p. 213 he did not understand at the time. The whole crowd now vanished with one cry, "Ye shall be our masters henceforth;" and for a while they remained at their new station, kayaked, and were always together. When the frost set in, and the sea began to be covered with ice, the men chose a day for putting their hunting and fishing implements to rights; but the brothers did not join their work, because their manner of hunting was quite new to them. The next day they all started, and towards evening the eldest of the men came dragging along two large saddleback seals, others blueside ones,1 while others had caught thong-seals. On the following day the visitors accompanied them to see their ways of hunting. They had left the shore far behind them before they fell in with the frost-smoke and reached the first apertures in the ice, at the edge of which walrus-teeth had been stuck down. These were what they had been calling their windlasses.2 The eldest of the men now said, "Do not try to harpoon the big ones, but aim at the little firth-seals, and leave the others to me." They both obeyed his orders, and as soon as they had each harpooned a small seal, they wound up their harpoon-strings round one of the large walrus-teeth, and made it fast there. When all the seals had been slaughtered they prepared to return, letting the elder take the lead. But he had not gone far when, turning round, he remarked, "Now ye may go on just as ye like;" and so saying, he went off as if carried by the wind. The others followed in due order, but came home late. When they had all entered, the eldest of the men took out the dish with the boiled meat from beneath the ledge, and said, "I am afraid it is not particularly good; it will have lost its flavour, having been ready this long time." They went p. 214 out the same way next morning. That day the visitors each caught a large seal, and the chief of the men said, "They will not get home with these by to-morrow morning." But on their way home the elder brother said, "This won't do; we won't get any credit unless we try to be the first,"—and off they went, in order to forestall the others. The master of the house came in later, and was greatly astonished on seeing their outer clothes hanging outside the hut, but supposed that some other visitors might have arrived. On entering the house, however, the brothers put the supper before him at once, saying, "We fear the meat has got tough, and has lost its flavour; it is ever so long since we boiled it." At first he remained silent, but soon became more talkative, and said he was glad that he had got such able and clever helpmates. When spring came on, the brothers began to long for their own home, and they asked their former companion whether she preferred to stay or go with them. She answered, "I will rather return with you." Her parents making no objections, they went away together, and were never more seen or heard of by any of their kinsmen after the day of their departure.
1 The Phoca Greenlandica in a full-grown and in a half-grown state.
2 This manner of catching seals, noticed by travellers among the nations of Smith Sound, seems to have been known to the narrator of this story only as a very remarkable tradition.