Native American Legends
The jealous uncle
A Kodiak Legend
In a village lived a man, known to his neighbors as "Unnatural
Uncle." When his nephews became a few years old, he would kill
them. Two had already suffered death at his hands.
After the second had disappeared, his wife went to the mother of
the boys, and said: "Should another boy be born to you, let
us conceal the fact from my husband, and make him believe the child
a girl. In that case he will not harm him, and we may succeed in
bringing him up."
Not long after the above conversation another nephew was born.
Unnatural Uncle, hearing that a child was born, sent his wife to
ascertain the sex of the child. She, as had been agreed upon, reported
the child a girl. "Let her live," he said.
The two women tended and dressed the boy as if he were a girl.
When he grew older, they told him to play with the girls, and impressed
upon him that he should at all times imitate the ways, attitudes,
and postures of the girls, especially when attending to the calls
of nature. Unnatural Uncle watched the boy as he was growing up,
and often wondered at his boyish looks. One day the boy, not knowing
that his uncle was about and observing him, raised up his parka,
and so exposed his body.
"Ah," said Unnatural Uncle to his wife, on reaching home,
"this is the way you have fooled me. But I know everything
now. Go and tell my nephew I wish to see him." With tears in
her eyes the poor woman delivered the message to the nephew, told
him of the disappearance of his brothers, and of his probable fate.
The father and mother of the boy wept bitterly, for they were certain
he would never return. The boy himself, although frightened, assured
his parents to the contrary, and begged them not to worry, for he
would come back safe and sound.
"Did my brothers have any playthings?" he asked before
He was shown to a box where their things were kept. In it he found
a piece of a knife, some eagle-down, and a sour cranberry. These
he hid about his person, and went to meet his uncle. The latter
greeted him, and said: "Nephew, let us go and fetch some wood."
When they came to a large forest, the boy remarked: "Here
is good wood; let us take some of it, and go back."
"Oh, no! There is better wood farther on," said the uncle.
From the forest they stepped into a bare plain. "Let us go
back. There is no wood here," called the boy. But the uncle
motioned to him to come on, telling him that they would soon find
better wood. A little later they came to a big log. "Here is
what I want," exclaimed the uncle, and began splitting it.
"Here, nephew, jump in, and get that wedge out," called
the uncle to the boy, as one of the wedges fell in. When the boy
did so, the man knocked out the other wedges; the log closed in
on the boy, and held him fast. "Stay there!" said Unnatural
Uncle, and walked off.
For some time the boy remained in this helpless condition, planning
a means of escape. At last he thought of his sour cranberry, and,
taking it in his hand, he rubbed with it the interior of the log
from edge to edge. The sourness of the berry caused the log to open
its mouth, thus freeing him.
On his way back to the village, he gathered a bundle of wood, which
he left at his uncle's door, announcing the fact to him: "Here,
uncle, I have brought you the wood." The latter was both surprised
and vexed at his failure, and determined more than ever to kill
the boy. His wife, however, warned him: "You had better not
harm the boy; you have killed his brothers, and if you hurt him,
you will come to grief."
"I will kill him, too," he savagely replied.
When the boy reached his father's home, he found them weeping and
mourning. "Don't weep!" he pleaded. "He cannot hurt
me; no matter where he takes me, I will always come back."
In the morning he was again summoned to appear at his uncle's. Before
going, he entreated his parents not to feel uneasy, assuring them
that no harm would befall him, and that he would be back. The uncle
called the boy to go with him after some ducks and eggs.
They passed several places abounding in ducks and eggs, and each
time that the boy suggested, "Let us take these and go back,"
the uncle replied: "Oh, no! There are better ducks and eggs
farther on." At last they came to a steep bluff, and, looking
down, saw a great many ducks and eggs. "Go down carefully,
nephew, and gather those ducks and eggs. Be quick, and come back
as soon as you can.
The boy saw the trap at a glance, and prepared for it by taking
the eagle- down in each hand, between thumb and finger. As the boy
took a step or two downward, the uncle gave him a push, causing
him to lose his footing. "He will never come back alive from
here," smiled the uncle to himself, as he walked back. If he
had remained awhile longer and looked down before going, he would
have seen the boy descending gently instead of falling.
The eagle-down kept him up in the air, and he lighted at his own
pleasure safe and sound. After gathering all the ducks and eggs
he wanted, he ascended by holding up the down, as before, and blowing
under it. Up, up he went, and in a short time stood on the summit.
It was night before he sighted his uncle's home. At the door he
deposited the birds and eggs, and shouted: "Here, uncle, are
the ducks and eggs."
"What! back again!" exclaimed the man very much mortified.
His wife again pleaded with him to leave the boy in peace. "You
will come to grief, if you don't," she said. "No; he cannot
hurt me," he replied angrily, and spent the remainder of the
night thinking and planning.
Although he assured them that he would return, the boy's parents
did not have much faith in it; for he found them on his return weeping
for him. This grieved him. "Why do you weep?" he said.
"Didn't I say I would come back? He can take me to no place
from which I cannot come back."
In the evening of the third day the aunt appeared and said that
her husband wished the boy. He told his parents not to be disturbed,
and promised to come back soon. This time the uncle invited him
to go with him after clams. The clams were very large, large enough
to inclose a man. It was ebb tide, and they found plenty of clams
not far from the beach.
The boy suggested that they take these and go back, but the uncle
put him off with, "There are better clams farther out."
They waded into the water, and then the man noticed an extraordinarily
large clam. "Take him," he said, but when the boy bent
over, the clam took him in. So confident was Unnatural Uncle of
his success this time that he uttered not a word, but with a triumphant
grin on his face and a wave of his hand he walked away.
The boy tried to force the valves apart, but not succeeding, he
cut the ligament with his piece of a knife, compelling the clam
to open up little by little until he was able to hop out. He gathered
some clams, and left them at his uncle's door as if nothing had
The man, on hearing the boy's voice outside, was almost beside
himself with rage. His wife did not attempt to pacify him. "I
will say nothing more," she said. "I have warned you,
and if you persist in your ways, you will suffer."
The next day Unnatural Uncle was busy making a box.
"What is it for?" asked his wife.
"A plaything for our nephew," he replied.
In the evening the boy was sent for. On leaving his parents he
said: "Do not feel uneasy about my absence. This time I may
be away a long time, but I will come back nevertheless."
"Nephew, here is something to amuse you," said his uncle.
"Get inside of it, so that I may see whether it fits you."
It fitted him; so did the lid the box; and the rope the lid. He
felt himself borne along, and from the noise of the waves he knew
it was to the sea.
The box was lowered, and with a shove it was set adrift. It was
stormy, the waves beat over the box, and several times he gave himself
up as lost. How long he drifted he had no idea; but at last he heard
the waves dashing against the beach, and his heart rejoiced.
Louder, and louder did the joyful peal sound. He gathered himself
together for the sudden stop which soon came, only to feel himself
afloat again the next moment. This experience he went through several
times, before the box finally stopped and he realized he was on
land once more.
As he lay there, many thoughts passed through his mind; where was
he? was any one living there? would he be saved? or would the flood
tide set him adrift again? what were his people at home doing? These,
and many other thoughts passed through his brain, when he was startled
by hearing voices, which he recognized, a little later, as women's.
This is what he heard:
"I saw the box first," said one.
"No, I saw it first," said the other.
"I am sure I saw it before you," said the first speaker
again, "and, therefore, it is mine."
"Well, you may have the box, but its contents shall belong
to me," replied the other.
They picked up the box, and began to carry it, but finding it somewhat
heavy and being anxious to know what it contained, they stopped
to untie it.
"If there are many things in there, I shall have some of them,"
said the first speaker, who rued her bargain. The other one said
nothing. Great was their surprise on beholding him. He was in turn
surprised to see two such beautiful girls, the large village, the
numerous people, and their peculiar appearance, for he was among
the Eagle people in Eagle land.
The full grown people, like the full grown eagles, had white faces
and heads, while those of the young people, like those of young
eagles, were dark. Eagle skins were hanging about all over the village;
and it amused him to watch some of the people put on their eagle
skins and change to eagles, and after flying around, take them off
and become human beings again.
The girls, being the daughters of the village chief, led the boy
to their father, each claiming him. When he had heard them both,
the chief gave the boy to the older girl (the second speaker). With
her he lived happily, but his thoughts would very often wander back
to his former home, the people there, his parents; and the thought
of his uncle's cruelty to them would make his heart ache. His wife
noted these spells of depression, and questioned him about them
until he told her of his parents and uncle.
She, like a good wife, bade him cheer up, and then went to have
a talk with her father. He sent for his son-in-law, and advised
him to put on his (chief's) eagle skin, soar up high until he could
see his village, fly over there, visit his parents, and bring them
back with him. He did as he was told, and in a short time found
himself in the village. Although he could see all other people,
his parents were not in sight.
This was in the evening. During the night he went out to sea, brought
back a large whale, and placed it on the beach, knowing that all
the villagers would come out for the meat. The first person to come
to the village beach in the morning was Unnatural Uncle; and when
he saw the whale, he aroused the village, and a little later all,
except the boy's father and mother, were there, cutting and storing
up the whale.
His parents were not permitted to come near the whale, and when
some of the neighbors left some meat at their house, Unnatural Uncle
scolded, and forbade it being done again. "I can forgive him
the killing of my brothers, the attempts on my life, but I will
revenge his treatment of my parents." With these thoughts in
his mind, the eagle left his perch, and flew over to the crowd.
He circled over its head a little while, and then made a swoop at
his uncle. "Ah, he knows that I am chief, and the whale is
mine, and he asks me for a piece of meat." Saying this, he
threw a piece of meat at the eagle.
The second time the eagle descended it was still nearer the man's
head, but he tried to laugh it off, and turn it to his glory. The
people, however, did not see it that way, and warned him to keep
out of the eagle's clutches, for the eagle meant mischief. When
the eagle dropped the third time, it was so near his head that he
fell on his face. The fourth time the eagle swooped him, and flew
off with him.
Not far from the shore was a high and steep rock, and on its summit
the eagle put down the man, placing himself opposite. When he had
taken off the skin, and disclosed himself, he said to his trembling
uncle: "I could have forgiven you the death of my brothers,
the four attempts on my life, but for the cruel treatment of my
parents you shall pay.
The whale I brought was for my parents and others, and not for
you alone; but you took entire possession of it, and would not allow
them even to approach it. I will not kill you without giving you
a chance for your life. Swim back to the shore, and you shall be
spared." As he could not swim, Unnatural Uncle supplicated
his nephew to take him back, but the latter, putting on the eagle
skin, and hardening his eagle heart, clutched him, and from a dizzy
height in the air dropped him into the sea.
From the beach the crowd watched the fatal act, understood and
appreciated it, and, till it was dark, continued observing, from
the distance, the eagle. When all had retired, he pulled off the
skin, and set out for his father's barrabara. He related to his
parents his adventures, and invited them to accompany him to his
adopted land, to which they gladly consented. Early in the morning
he put on again his skin, and, taking a parent in each claw, flew
with them to Eagle land, and there they are living now.
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