Sacred-Texts Native American Inuit
Index Previous Next
[This tale having much resemblance to Nos. 16 and 19, the text is here somewhat abridged.]
THERE were three brothers, the eldest of whom was named Sitliarnat. One day they all went out hunting on the frozen sea, accompanied by a person who was in no way related to them. All of a sudden a south-east storm arose, the ice creaked and gave way beneath their feet, and nothing remained to them but to mount an iceberg. Having got there, they drifted far away out on the great ocean. They were nearly starving with hunger when they at length touched upon an unknown shore and landed there. They now went roaming about the country in search of people, and passed an isthmus on which they observed a little hut with only one window. Sitliarnat then spoke, "Let them make me their first prize;" and he went on and crossed the threshold in front of his companions. Inside the house they only found an old couple, who seemed to be its sole inhabitants. The four strangers seated themselves on the ledge; but finding that nobody spoke, the old man began to eye them more closely, and having breathed upon them, asked them, "Whence do you come?" Sitliarnat answered him, "Some time ago we set off from the land on the other side of the ocean, and went out on the ice to catch seals; but a gale from the south-east came on, breaking up the ice and drifting us across to your country. So here we are; three of us are brothers, and the fourth is a companion of ours." Turning to his wife the old man observed, "After travelling so far people are apt to get hungry," upon which they added some words which the people did not understand. The wife fetched some p. 194 blubber in a pan, put it on to boil, and gave it them served up in a wooden dish; but though they were almost fainting with hunger, they only tasted a very little of it. Soon after, however, a proper meal was set before them, and then the old man said to them, "Our only provider is staying away a long time; we have been expecting him back this last month. He left us to go out hunting, and has not yet returned; we are much afraid he may have encountered some wicked people and have come to grief." While he was thus speaking, the guests began to think, "What sort of people may these be?" Meanwhile the visitors stayed on, and for some time the old man provided food for them. One morning, when they were all sitting together, they heard a voice calling from without, "I want to get in; do let me get in!" whereat the old man rose from his seat and went outside, but soon returned holding his son by the hand, who was looking very pale and haggard. After supper he lay down on the side ledge, and remained thus for several days, until one morning when he rose up very early. He had now recovered his health and strength as well as his appetite, and had regained his former aspect also, and again took up his task as provider of the household; but strange to say, he was never seen to carry any weapons. The visitors meanwhile prolonged their stay for several years; and one evening the old man, addressing the eldest brother, questioned him, "What did they give thee for thy amulet when thou wert born?" Sitliarnat replied, "In my infancy I got a carrion-gull, one of those that always seek the carrion farthest out to sea." On hearing this the old man responded, "So thou mayst be sure of returning to thy own country at some time or other." One of the brothers now put in, "All of us have got the same bird for our amulets;" but when the stranger was asked, he told them that his was a raven, a bird that always seeks his prey landward; p. 195 on which the old man replied, "I doubt if thou wilt ever see thy country again, if it is so." The old man used to rise the earliest of them all, and when the others at length came out, he was always seen to be on some mountain-top, marking the state of the air and the weather. He one day entered with this remark, "When the wind goes down and the weather gets settled, I shall take you across." But they wondered, and said, "How will he manage to carry us yonder, as there is no ice at present, and neither boats nor kayaks are to be seen hereabouts, and we don't even know in what direction our country is situated?" One morning when they were still fast asleep, he cried, "It is no time for sleeping now. Make haste and get up, if ye really long for your homes; I shall see you along myself:" and they now rose as quickly as possible, and followed him down to the steep shore, where they had landed years ago. Here the old man said, "Now watch me!" Then taking a run, he leapt into the sea, dived down, and reappeared in the shape of a bear, saying, "If Sitliarnat really has a gull for his amulet, it will soon appear to him. Do as I have done, and throw thyself into the water." Sitliarnat, however, still lingered a little; but the bear went on, "If thou dost not follow me into the ocean, thou wilt never get home." Sitliarnat now ran on and took the leap; and as soon as he had plunged down, he again rose and merely touched the surface with his feet, gliding along as if he were on solid ice, instead of being on the waves of the sea. At the same time the gull also made its appearance, and a large iceberg was seen which he climbed, both his brothers following him. The old man now turned to the fourth, saying, "Thou, too, wouldst like to return, I know; now try thy wings!" He, too, plunged into the sea, trying to fly, but went right down instead, and would have lost breath but for the bear, who put him on shore, saying, "No, thou wilt never get home, because thou p. 196 hast got a raven for thy amulet; thou canst return to my house as before." The bear now spoke to the three, "Shut your eyes and sit close together. If ye open your eyes, ye will never get home. I shall now put my shoulder to the iceberg, and push you away." Presently their place of refuge began to shake beneath them, and they had started on their journey. Thus they moved onwards until they at last felt a quake as if they were touching something hard. Here the bear ordered them to open their eyes, and they beheld a country spreading before them, and recognised it as their own. They had landed just a little south of what had been their former habitation. They asked the bear to enter, that they might recompense him in some way or other; but he said, "No, I don't care for being paid—I merely intended to do you a good turn; but when in winter-time ye should happen to see a bear with a bald head, and your companions prepare to hunt him down, then try to make them desist, and put some food before him." After these words he plunged into the sea, and instantly disappeared. The brothers now went up to their former house, and knew it to be inhabited because of some little boys who were seen at play outside. These children had been named after them by their parents, in remembrance of their lost friends. Their wives had all married again; but their other relatives rejoiced greatly at receiving those whom they had given up for lost a long time ago. Inquiries were also made about their companion, but they answered that they had left him "on the opposite shore." Perceiving that the husbands of their own former wives feared them, they reassured them, saying, "We don't intend any harm towards you. Many thanks to you that ye have provided so well for our relatives." But the wives, nevertheless, were given back to them. During the winter the bear was almost forgotten, till one evening, when they were all at home, some of the men exclaimed, "A bear is making for the p. 197 shore!" When they were collecting their arms, the brothers interfered, crying, "Just wait a little; we must first have a look at him." They instantly recognised their own bear, and said to the others, "Without his good aid we should never have reached home again. Don't hunt that bear; make haste and give him a feast." When the bear had got on shore, he went right up to the house, sat down on his haunches before the entrance, his head turned towards it. The people put several entire seals before him, and beckoned him to eat; and all the men gathered round him. When the meal was ended, the bear lay down to sleep, while the children played round him. After a while he awoke, and having eaten a little more, he arose, and following his own traces back to the beach, leapt into the sea, and was never seen any more. It is said that the descendants of Sitliarnat were very prosperous and multiplied greatly.