Native American Legends
An Eskimo Legend
Âtârssuaq had many enemies. But his many enemies tried
in vain to hurt him, and they could not kill him. Then it happened
that his wife bore him a son. Âtârssuaq came back from
his hunting one day, and found that he had a son. Then he took that
son of his and bore him down to the water and threw him in. And
waited until he began to kick out violently, and then took him up
again. And so he did with him every day for long after, while the
child was growing. And thus the boy became a very clever swimmer.
And one day Âtârssuaq caught a fjord seal, and took
off the skin all in one piece, and dried it like a bladder, and
made his son put it on when he went swimming.
One day he felt a wish to see how clever the boy had become. And
said to him therefore: "Go out now and swim, and I will follow
And the father brought down his kayak and set it in the water,
and his son watched him. And then he said: "Now you swim out."
And he made his father follow him out to sea, while he swam more
and more under water. As soon as he came to the surface, his father
rowed to where he was, but every time he took his throwing stick
to cast a small harpoon, he disappeared.
And when his father thought they had done this long enough, he
said: "Now swim back to land, but keep under water as much
as you can."
The son dived down, but it was a long time before he came up again.
And now his father was greatly afraid. But at last the boy came
up, a long way off. And then he rowed up to where he was, and laid
one hand on his head, and said:
"Clever diver, clever diver, dear little clever one."
And then he sniffed.
And a second time he said to him: "Now swim under water a
very long way this time."
So he dived down, and his father rowed forward an the time, to
come to the place where he should rise, and feeling already afraid.
His face moved as if he were beginning to cry, and he said: "If
only the sharks have not found him!" And he had just begun
to cry when his son came up again. And then they went in to land,
and the boy did not dive any more that day.
So clever had he now become.
And one day his father did not come back from his hunting. This
was because of his enemies, who had killed him. Evening came, and
next morning there was a kayak from the north. When it came in to
the shore, the boy went down and said: "Tomorrow the many brothers
will come to kill you all."
And the kayak turned at once and went back without coming on shore.
Night passed and morning came. And in the morning when the boy
awoke, he went to look out, and again, and many times. Once when
he came out he saw many kayaks appearing from the northward. Then
he went in and said to his mother: "Now many kayaks are coming,
to kill us all."
"Then put on your swimming dress," said his mother.
And he did so, and went down to the shore, and did not stop until
he was quite close to the water. When the kayaks then saw him, they
all rowed towards him, and said: "He has fallen into the water."
When they came to the place where he had fallen in, they all began
looking about for him, and while they were doing this, he came up
just in front of the bone shoeing on the nose of one of the kayaks
which lay quite away from the rest. When they spied him, each tried
to outdo the others, and cried: "Here he is!"
But then he dived down again. And this he continued to do. And
in this manner he led all those kayaks out to the open sea, and
when they had come a great way out, they sighted an iceberg which
had run aground. When Âtârssuaq's son came to this,
he climbed up, by sticking his hands into the ice. And up above
were two large pieces.
And when he came close to the iceberg, he heard those in the kayaks
saying among themselves: "We can cut steps in the ice, and
climb up to him."
And they began cutting steps in the iceberg, and at last the ice
pick of the foremost came up over the edge. But now the boy took
one of the great pieces of ice and threw it down upon them as they
crawled up, so that it sent them all down again as it fell. And
again he heard them say: "It would be very foolish not to kill
him. Let us climb up, and try to reach him this time."
And then they began crawling up one after another. But now the
boy began as before, shifting the great piece of ice. And he waited
until the head of the foremost one came up, and then he let it fall.
And this time he also killed all those who had climbed on to the
iceberg, after he had so lured them on to follow him.
But the others now turned back, and said: "He will kill us
all if we do not go."
And now the boy jumped down from the iceberg and swam to the kayaks
and began tugging at their paddles, so that they turned over. But
the men righted themselves again with their throwing sticks. And
at last he was forced to hold them down himself under water till
they drowned. And soon there were left no more of all those many
kayaks, save only one. And when he looked closer, he saw that the
man had no weapon but a stick for killing fish. And he rowed weeping
in towards land, that man with no weapon but a stick. Then the boy
pulled the paddle away from him, and he cried very much at that.
Then he began paddling with his hands. But the boy gripped his hands
from below, and then the man began crying furiously, and dared no
longer put his hands in the water at all. And weeping very greatly
he said: "It is ill for me that ever I came out on this errand,
for it is plain that I am to be killed."
The boy looked at him a little. And then said: "You I will
not kill. You may go home again." And he gave him back his
paddle, and said to him as he was rowing away: "Tell those
of your place never to come out again thinking to kill us. For if
they do not one of them will return alive."
Then Âtârssuaq's son went home. And for some time he
waited, thinking that more enemies might come. But none ever came
against them after that time.
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