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The Eagle and the Whale

In a certain village there lived many brothers. And they had two sisters, both of an age to marry. The brothers often urged them to take husbands, but they would not. At last one of the brothers said:

"What sort of a husband do you want, then? An eagle, perhaps? Very well, you shall have an eagle."

This he said to the one. And to the other he said:

"And you would perhaps like a whale? Then a whale you shall have."

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. A whale appeared too. He bowed his head and carried off the other sister, carrying her to a ledge of rock at the edge of the sea.


The large-headed Bowhead whale is a large whale that lives only in the Arctic. It grows to become 15m to 18.5m (female larger than male) and weighs between 60 and 80 tonnes. At least some species live to get 150 to 200 years. In 2015 scientists discovered two alternative gene forms (alleles) in them, which could be responsible for the longevity. (Wikipedia, "Bowhead whale").

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 she could lower herself down the rock with. While she was busy 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 lowering line, but it was too short. So she plaited more.

Meanwhile the brothers had begun to long for their sister, and set to work making crossbows. 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. She did as soon as her husband had gone out hunting. Then she lowered herself down and reached her brothers.

Towards evening, the eagle appeared with a walrus in each claw. As he passed the house of his wife's brothers, he dropped one down to outside it. 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.

As none of them could hit, a little homeless boy cried, "Let me try too!"

One of the others had to bend his bow for him. But when the boy shot off his arrow, it struck. The eagle came fluttering down to earth. Then they killed it by some more shots, their sister's husband, a mighty hunter.

The other sister and the whale lived together likewise. The whale was very fond of her and would hardly let her out of his sight for a moment. But she too began to feel homesick. She started to plait a line of sinew threads.

Meanwhile, her brothers started to long for her as well, and set about making a swift-sailing skin boat*. When they had finished it, and got it into the water, they said:

"Now let us see how fast it can go."

They got a guillemot that had its nest close by to fly beside them while they tried to outdistance it by rowing. It flew past them, and they cried:

"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. Thus, the boat seemed fast enough for them.

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

"Now again? Stay here," said her husband, that great one.

"But I must outside," said the girl.

Then he tied her with a string. When he pulled it, he wanted her to come in again, he explained. Hardly had she got outside when he began pulling at the string.

"I am only just outside the passage," she cried. Then she tied the string to a large stone and ran away downhill, while the whale hauled at the stone, thinking it was his wife, and soon 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 passageway of its house and rolled down into the sea. The skin boat dashed off, but it seemed as if it were standing still, so swiftly did the whale overhaul it.

When the whale had nearly reached them, the brothers said to their sister, "Throw out your hair band to stop him."

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, one by one.

When they were close to land, the whale was almost upon them. Then the brothers cried, "Throw out your breeches!"

At the same moment the sea was lashed into foam, but the skin boat reached dry land. The whale tried to follow, but was cast up on the shore and ended as a heap of whitish, sun-bleached whale bones.

[West Greenland, A Rasmussen tale]

NOTE * The skin boat is an umiak, an open skin boat that is larger than a kayak. The umiak has traditionally been used in summer to move people and possessions to seasonal hunting grounds and for hunting whales and walruses. The umiak was usually rowed by oars (women) or paddles (men), and sometimes sails made from seal intestines were used.


The Marmot and the Raven

Once a raven was flying over some reefs near the shore of the sea when some sea-birds perched on the rocks saw him. They began to revile him, calling him disagreeable names: "Offal eater! Carrion eater!"

The raven turned and flew away, crying, "Gnak, gnak, gnak! Why do they call me such names?"

He flew far away across the great water until he came to a mountain on the other side. There he stopped. Just in front of him he saw a marmot* hole. He said to himself: "If it is a disgrace to eat dead animals, I too will eat live ones. I will become a murderer."

He stood in front of the hole watching, and very soon the marmot came home, bringing some food. The marmot said to the raven, "Please stand aside; you are right in front of my door."

"I don't have in mind to stand aside," said the raven. "They called me a carrion eater, and I will show I am not: I will eat you."

"If you are going to eat me, you ought to be willing to do me a favour," answered the marmot. "I long to see you dance before I die. If you will dance, I will sing, and then you may eat me."

This pleased the raven so much that he began to dance.

"The raven dances!" the marmot hummed. "The raven dances! Ho-ho-ho!"

After some time they stopped to rest. The marmot said, "I have seen you dance. Now shut your eyes and dance your best one more time while I sing."

The raven closed his eyes and hopped clumsily about while the marmot sang, "The raven dances! Ho-ho-ho!" With a quick run, the marmot darted between the raven's legs and was safe in his hole.

There he turned, putting out the tip of his nose and laughing mockingly as he said, "Chi-kik-kik! Chi-kik-kik! Chi-kik-kik I could barely sing for laughing."

He laughed at the raven till the bird flew away. He was not pleased at all.

[An Alaskan Inuit tale retold from Bayliss No. 28]

*Marmots are large squirrel that dig tunnels underground.


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