Ainu legend: Salmon — the divine fish that came down from Paradise



Why you should always use a willow stick to kill this revered fish
Among freshwater fish the salmon and salmon-trout hold the highest place. This is what one would expect, inasmuch as these are the largest and most useful fishes to enter the rivers. The true salmon is called shibe, and this word means either “the great thing” or “the chief food.” It is also known as kamui chepbesides, and that means “divine food” or “divine fish,” and it is reported to have originally come down from Paradise….

When the Ainu go salmon fishing they always provide a thick willow stick about two feet long with which to strike the salmon’s head and kill it. This stick is called isapa-kik-ni, “the head-striking wood” …. The Ainu say that the salmon do not like being killed with a stone or any wood other than good sound willow, but they are very fond of being killed with a willow stick. Indeed, they are said to hold the isapa-kik-ni in great esteem. If anything else is used, the fish will go away in disgust.”

Source: NOVA Online: Ainu LegendsSalmon

Further readings:

Ainu legend of the trout that founded the world

Compare the Ainu legend with other fish progenitor legends of the peoples of adjacent territories such as the Anga clan of the Amur River region.

See First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim by Judith Roche, Meg McHutchinson, p. 94

A very long time ago, there lived a young woman on the banks of the Amur River. She was an only child when tragedy struck her life. Her parents died suddenly leaving her alone to fend for herself.

One day a great rain storm came up from the river. She looked out to the Amur and saw a great large fish head rising up from the waves. First she gave a head then a tail. The storm grew stronger and stronger as she watched the fish moving toward the shore. The fish came out of the water and began to roll uphill toward her home.

The younger woman thought to herself, “This must be the master of the river!” The great fish rolled up to the threshhold of the home and spoke to her in a human voice. “Cook me quickly, eat me and go to sleep!” This young girl, too frightened to disobey the river master, did what was instructed of her. She cooked and ate this fish and fell fast asleep.

Later, she woke up in the middle of the night. The house was almost completely dark. A small fire was burning in the hearth. The girl thought she had an unusual dream. As she looked around her home, there standing in the corner, was a great large fish. She watched it transform into a handsome young man.

He entered her bed and they became as man and wife. The couple lived together and gave birth to three sons.


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