Eskimo Folk-Tales: The Eagle and the Whale

This story is part of the Eskimo Folk Tales unit. Story source: Eskimo Folk-Tales by Knud Rasmussen with illustrations by native Eskimo artists (1921).


The Eagle and the Whale

IN a certain village there lived many brothers. And they had two sisters, both of an age to marry, and often urged them to take husband, but they would not.

At last one of the men said: "What sort of a husband do you want, then? An eagle, perhaps? Very well, an eagle you shall have."

This he said to the one. And to the other he said: "And you perhaps would like a whale? Well, a whale you shall have."

And then suddenly a great eagle came in sight, and it swooped down on the young girl and flew off with her to a high ledge of rock. And a whale also came in sight, and carried off the other sister, carrying her likewise to a ledge of rock.

After that the eagle and the girl lived together on a ledge of rock far up a high steep cliff. The eagle flew out over the sea to hunt, and while he was away, his wife would busy herself plaiting sinews for a line wherewith to lower herself down the rock. And while she was busied with that work, the eagle would sometimes appear, with a walrus in one claw and a narwhal in the other.

One day she tried the line, with which she was to lower herself down; it was too short. And so she plaited more.

But as time went on, the brothers began to long for their sister. And they all set to work making crossbows.

And there was in that village a little homeless boy who was so small that he had not strength to draw a bow, but must get one of the others to draw it for him every time he wanted to shoot. When they had made all things ready, they went out to the place where their sister was and called to her from the foot of the cliff, telling her to lower herself down. And this she did. As soon as her husband had gone out hunting, she lowered herself down and reached her brothers.

Towards evening, the eagle appeared out at sea, with a walrus in each claw, and as he passed the house of his wife's brothers, he dropped one down to them. But when he came home, his wife was gone. Then he simply threw his catch away and flew, gliding on widespread wings, down to where those brothers were. But whenever the eagle tried to fly down to the house, they shot at it with their bows. And as none of them could hit, the little homeless boy cried: "Let me try too!"

And then one of the others had to bend his bow for him. But when he shot off his arrow, it struck. And when then the eagle came fluttering down to earth, the others shot so many arrows at it that it could not quite touch the ground.

Thus they killed their sister's husband, who was a mighty hunter.

But the other sister and the whale lived together likewise. And the whale was very fond of her and would hardly let her out of his sight for a moment.

But the girl here likewise began to feel homesick, and she also began plaiting a line of sinew threads, and her brothers, who were likewise beginning to long for their sister, set about making a swift-sailing umiak.




And when they had finished it, and got it into the water, they said: "Now let us see how fast it can go."

And then they got a guillemot which had its nest close by to fly beside them, while they tried to out distance it by rowing. But when it flew past them, they cried: "This will not do; the whale would overtake us at once. We must take this boat to pieces and build a new one." And so they took that boat to pieces and built a new one.

Then they put it in the water again and once more let the bird fly a race with them. And now the two kept side by side all the way, but when they neared the land, the bird was left behind.

One day the girl said as usual to the whale: "I must go outside a little."

"Stay here," said her husband, that great one.

"But I must go outside," said the girl.

Now he had a string tied to her, and this he would pull when he wanted her to come in again. And hardly had she got outside when he began pulling at the string.

"I am only just outside the passage," she cried. And then she tied the string by which she was held, to a stone, and ran away as fast as she could down hill, and the whale hauled at the stone, thinking it was his wife, and pulled it in.

The brothers' house was just below the hillside where she was, and as soon as she came home, they fled away with her. But at the same moment, the whale came out from the passage way of its house, and rolled down into the sea. The umiak dashed off, but it seemed as if it were standing still, so swiftly did the whale overhaul it. And when the whale had nearly reached them, the brothers said to their sister: "Throw out your hairband."

And hardly had she thrown it out when the sea foamed up, and the whale stopped. Then it went on after them again, and when it came up just behind the boat, the brothers said: "Throw out one of your mittens."

And she threw it out, and the sea foamed up, and the whale pounced down on it. And then she threw out the inner lining of one of her mittens, and then her outer frock and then her inner coat, and now they were close to land, but the whale was almost upon them. Then the brothers cried: "Throw out your breeches!"

And at the same moment the sea was lashed into foam, but the umiak had reached the land. And the whale tried to follow, but was cast up on the shore as a white and sun-bleached bone of a whale.



(1000 words)

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