Alaskan Eskimo Songs and Stories - Part 3

Album 2, Side 1

Lorraine Donoghue Koranda with illustrations by Robert Mayokok
Published for the Alaska Festival of Music in Cooperation with BP Alaska Inc. by the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Among the older generation of Eskimos there are numerous highly skilled storytellers, and their art is greatly revered. The stories they tell have been recounted for generations, and they are mainly concerned with supernatural events. The Eskimos believed them to be true, or were willing to "suspend disbelief," and this attitude seems still to prevail among the older Eskimos. Some of the common themes in these stories are the orphaned boy who achieves success; The human being who becomes an animal; the animal that takes human form; and superhuman feats. Many of the stories are known widely. "The Three Brothers," for example, was known from the Seward Peninsula north to Point Barrow. "The Greedy Eskimo Boy" was told by informants from Bethel, St. Lawrence Island, Kotzebuq and Point Hope. Other stories, such as "The Blind Boy and the Loon," have equally wide distribution.

Many of the stories include songs sung by the principal human characters or an animal. It is this type that has been included & this collection. Paul Green tells the story of three brothers who performed a most unusual feat by singing a magic song.

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Native Words



The Three Brothers Paul Green
Music location

Once upon a time there was a family living near the river; and they were three brothers. (They had no sisters living around.) Finally they had some kind of a sickness there at their village. They were the only family living, and their parents were dead.

The three brothers were thinking about becoming some kind of an animal so they could get away from their place, because both of their parents had died. There was nobody left behind. So the older brother was wishing he would become a wolf. He starts singing a song, ending with a wolf call.

So this young man who wished to become a wolf went out from the cabin and became a wolf.

And then the second brother was wishing that he would become a red fox. So he starts singing the same tune of the song, ending with a red fox call.

The second brother went out as a red fox. The two brothers waited for their younger brother. Then the younger brother thought about wishing what he should be. And he thought about the raven, so he wished to become a raven. He started singing the same tune, ending with a raven call.

The third brother went out as a crow [raven].

The three brothers started out. And the first brother who became a wolf and the second brother who became a fox were running. Raven, the youngest brother, was flying over them, watching.

Finally they saw a bunch of caribou. (Raven pointed these out to his brothers.) And Wolf, the older brother, went after them and caught one caribou. He didn't have to go very far. He chased that caribou and caught it. After he killed it, the three brothers got together, and the older brother said: "What are we going to do with this caribou? If we skin the caribou, when the human finds it, he will use that skin for something–for the use of his family."

And Red Fox, the second brother, acting the same, said: "It would be nice if we skinned this caribou so the people can use it."

Finally the youngest brother, who had become a raven, said: If we skin this caribou and lay the skin there at the side after we skin it and eat the meat, when the humans find it they will be just using the skin for nothing. And then what do we get? We get nothing. We'd better just eat that carabou; just tear up the skin and eat it."

So they did.

And they say that if that youngest brother, Raven, had said "Yes" that time to the wolf and the red fox when they first caught a caribou, the people would have found a skin stretched out by those animals. And then it would be useful for the natives. But the youngest brother told his brothers not to do like that; they should just tear up the skin so nobody could use it for anything. So that's the end of the story.

The story of "The Greedy Eskimo Boy," or "The Little Boy Who Swallowed Animals," is rather widely known. This is the version told by Maggie Lind of Bethel.
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Amaguulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Kayuqtuulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Suulunatuuq anilanatuuq
Tuluugaulunatuuq anilanatuuq
What will I be, when I come out?
What will I be, when I come out?
I'll be a wolf when I come out.
What will I be, when I come out?
What will I be, when I come out?
I'll be a red fox when I come out.
What will I be, when I come out?
What will I be, when I come out?
I'll be a raven when I come out.
The Greedy Eskimo Boy Maggie Lind
Music location

One time there was an old lady and her grandson, and they lived all by themselves. So when they had nothing to eat for supper, that old grandma says: "Grandson, you'd better go out and hunt something for our supper because we have nothing to eat"

So the little boy walks along, and he goes down by the beach by the ocean, and he sees a little whitefish. And he jumps around the little fish and sings a song.

And he takes the little fish and he swallows it up, didn't even chew it.

And after a while he goes along and finds a bigger whitefish, and he sings the same little song as before.

And he takes the bigger whitefish and he swallows it whole.

After a while he goes along and he finds a king salmon. So he walks around and sings the same little old song that he was singing, and he swallows up the whole king salmon.

And after a while he goes along and he finds a young seal, and he sings the same little song as before.

And he swallows up the whole seal.

After a while he goes again. He finds a big seal, a mukluk, and he says the same words over and over again. He eats up the whole thing again. When he is through he goes real far away and he finds a big whale. And he goes around singing the same little song.

And he swallows up the whole whale.

While he was walking he got thirsty. So he stoops down to the ocean and he drinks up all the water in the ocean.

After he drank up all the water, then he starts for home. And when he was going into his grandma's house, he says, "Grandma, where can I go into the house?"

And Grandma says, "Through the door."

"But I can't." He says, "Grandma, where can I go into the house?"

And Grandma says, "Through the eye of my needle!"

And he went through the eye of the needle.

And when he got into the house the grandma had a fire in the house, right in the middle of the house. And Grandma says, "Don't get too near the fire." And the little boy goes a little closer to the fire.

Grandma says, "You must go closer to the fire." When she says, "Go closer to the fire," he goes farther away. And when he moved too much, he busted up. And there was fish, and beluga, and whales, and ships.

And the grandma got into one of the ships, and she went outside. And that was the end of the little boy.

The storyteller omitted the detail of the ships having been swallowed by the boy. Other versions of this story include his swallowing a dog team and a whole boat full of whale hunters. In these versions, from Point Hope and St. Lawrence Island it was so hot inside the boy's stomach that the dogs and hunters came out hairless! In another version (Kotzebue) the grandmother saves herself by paddling out of the house in a large bowl.

The following story, illustrating the Eskimo belief in the magical powers of both animals and men, was told at Point Hope.
Ilutacimtun aqsaqitacimtun
Neqastatika eleqem!
[repeated several times]
As much as my stomach will hold
That's how much I'll eat!
Song From The Sea Gull Jimmy Killigivuk
Music location

The Sea Gull

Once, long ago, there was a sea gull who had the power to turn himself into a man. He lived in a far country and was very lonely. He thought of the beautiful land he had come from and wished he could show it to someone. Flying over the seashore, he saw a young girl whom he then decided to invite to see his country. He changed himself into a man and strolled along the shore until they met. "Please come with me to see my country," he asked her.

"No," she replied. "I am afraid to go to a strange place.'

"If you will only come, I shall bring you home right away," the gull-man promised.

The girl thought about this for a moment, then agreed to go and see the new country if the gull-man would return with her immediately.

"Shut your eyes," the gull-man commanded. "Get on my back and hold on to my neck." The girl shut her eyes, and the man changed himself into a sea gull. With the girl holding firmly to his neck, the sea gull took flight. "Do not open your eyes until we have landed safely," he warned. "if you do, we shall die!" The girl obeyed the bird's commands.

When the gull had landed safely, the girl opened her eyes. What a beautiful land she saw! There was no snow, no ice, no wind. Only sunshine, flowers, and beautiful weather. She was happy to see this marvelous sight.

"I must leave you here for a little while," said the gull. "But I shall come back soon."

The girl was not displeased. Everything was so beautiful that she wished to enjoy it a little longer before returning to her land.

The sea gull flew away.

Hours passed. Days, weeks, months, and a whole year. Each day she expected the sea gull to return, but he did not.

She began to worry. She became sorry for herself. What could have happened to the sea gull? Would he never return?

She began to sing and to cry. It was a song of great sorrow. "The sea gull has left me along in a strange country. I shall never see my home again. I am alone."

Jimmy Killigivuk, who told "The Sea Gull" story, sings the girl's song of loneliness and sorrow.
Sea Gull's Game Song Jimmy Killigivuk
Music location

Another Point Hope sea gull story, this one intended to amuse children, was told by Jimmy Killigivuk, who also sings the gull's song.

The Sea Gull's Game

A young sea gull was sitting on the river bank watching the Eskimo children playing a game. "I should make up a game," he said to himself. "What shall I do? Those Eskimo children are playing with rocks. I'll make up a rock game."

So he tied a small stone around his neck and flew across the river.

"That was fun," he said. "But I can carry a larger stone." So he found a larger stone, tied it around his neck, and flew back across the river.

"I am very strong," he boasted, "and this is a fine game. Now I shall find a rock still larger than the others." This he did. He tied a large rock around his neck and flew across the river again. He was now so heavy that his feet touched the water as he skimmed across the river.

"Oh, how strong I am, and what an exciting game this is!" He tied a very large rock around his neck and started back across the river.

Plop! Into the water he fell.

Now he was very frightened. He looked down into the water. "Ah," he consoled himself, "there are two big kayaks coming. They will rescue me."

The bird was fooled. The kayaks were not kayaks at all, but his own two feet.

The poor sea gull drowned.

This is the sea gull's game song.
How The Fox Got His Red Coat Maggie Lind
Music location

The Eskimos have a high regard for the cunning and intelligence of the red fox, which in the north is called kayaktuq. It is said that the red fox can come very close to people without allowing himself to be seen, that he very cleverly avoids traps set for him, and that an Eskimo must be a very good hunter to catch him. Because the red fox frequently outwits the Eskimo hunter, the Eskimos like to tell a story about how the red fox was once outwitted by a goose. This ancient story is told by Maggie Lind of Bethel.

How the Fox Got His Red Coat

One time the fox was going along a lake looking for something to eat, and after a while he sees a goose walking along. And that's the time when the geese are changing their feathers, and they cannot fly. So he sings a song that means, "I'll have a great big lick and I'll never
get full on it."

The goose didn't go very fast so the fox closed his eyes again and started singing. This time he says he's going to eat a big bite.

And he opened his eyes and still the goose wasn't far away. It was taking its time. So the fox closed his eyes again, and he sings that he's going to eat the head this time and never get full on it. So he closed his eyes and he sings.

Then he opened his eyes, and no goose!

He looked in the middle of be lake, and there was the goose, swimming away.

The fox felt so ashamed he got all red; and he went down to the water and looked at himself. He was just red. He thought: "This will never do. I should find some way to change my coat into different colors."

So he walks along, just downhearted, feeling blue. After a while he comes to a place where somebody had made a fire. So he takes some ashes and rubs some ashes on his belly and at the tip of his tail, and put charcoal at the tip of his ears, and on his feet. And ever since, the
fox is like that.
I wonder what I'll eat
I think I'll eat a big leg
I'll never get my fill
I wonder what I'll eat
I'll eat a big [goose] breast
I'll never get my fill
I wonder what I'll eat
I think I'll eat a big [goose] head
I'll never get my fill
How The Crane Got Blue Eyes Maggie Lind Maggie Lind tells another story that explains animal coloration.

How the Crane Got Blue Eyes

One time the crane was walking along. He was going to eat some berries, so he took his eyes off and put them on a stump. And he said, "if someone comes along, you must holler to me and tell me that somebody's coming."

So he went out and started eating berries; and after a while, while he was eating berries, the eyes said, "Master, somebody's coming, and they are going to take us away!"

So the crane quickly ran down to the river and put on his eyes and looked; and it was only a piece of wood drifting along. So he put them back on the stump again and said, "Don't you tell me any more stories after this."

So the crane went back and ate some more berries; but after a while the eyes called again, "Master, somebody's going to take us away." And they got farther and farther away. So after a while he went down and looked for his eyes, and somebody had taken them away.

The crane went back into the tundra and he found cranberries and put them in for his eyes. But everything was too red.

And he took blackberries and put them for his eyes. And everything was too dark.

So he found blueberries, and he put them on. And everything was just nice.

And ever since, the crane has blue eyes.
Needle Fish Maggie Lind
Music location

Maggie Lind next tells "The Needle Fish Story" as it is told at Bethel.

The Needle Fish Story

There were two little old women that lived in a house by themselves. They cooked some fish, and when it was cooked they both wanted to have the most, and they started fighting over their fish. They were fighting and fighting, and after a while, when they got tired, they quit. They looked at the floor and and it was all white. They thought it was snow, but when they looked close, it was their hair! They were pulling out their hair!

And one of them went out. It was toward evening when she went out. She heard something singing from above their place.

"There are two little old ladies over by the bend of the river. I'm going to cut them in half and eat them," sang the fish.

And she got scared. She quickly ran into the house and told the other little old woman to come out and listen to that singing. So she went out, and they sat very still. And afterward they heard that singing again.

And they got very scared. So they went into their house, and they gathered up all their things and went out and got their little old birch-bark canoe. And they took some birch pitch, and they started mending their canoe in the cracks. And when it was all done, they carried their house and put it in the canoe, and all their paths where they go for berries and wood and wild spinach, and they folded them up and put them in their canoe. And one of the old women sat at the bow of the boat, and the other one sat at the end.

While they were paddling away they heard that same voice singing right under their boat. And one of the old women looks down, and she sees a little needle fish singing away with his eyes closed and his mouth wide open. And she says, "Oh, this is the fellow that's been scaring us" So she told the other old woman to give her her Eskimo dipper and she scooped out the little fish.

And she said, "Give me my bread board and my Eskimo knife (ulu)."

So she lays the little fish on the board, and she cuts it in half, and she eats the head, and she gives the tail to the other old woman. So that was the end of the needle fish.

But they went home and put all their things back, and put back their house and their canoe and spread all of their paths.

And they lived happily ever after.

The "Needle Fish Story" is told at Hooper Bay, also, but the characters in the Hooper Bay story are a grandmother and her orphaned grandson.
Agciucilingaa piiriluku
Pinircaareluku Ingum-tuqaa
Qukagenegun kep'arluki
I'm making an oar, making it strong
Making it very strong
At the river's bend
On its other side
The poor old women
I'll eat them
Cutting them in half