(Ainu) Song of a Bear / Kimun Kamui Isoitak

This selection was recorded in writing by Kubodera Itsuhiko in 1932 from the female reciter Hiraga Etenoa of Shin-Piraka village in the Saru river region of Hidaka.
The song was sung with the burden H owewe hum, which obviously is an imitation of the sound of a bear’s growling.
The speaker in the selection is a bear who calls himself “mountain god” (nupuri-kor-kamui, “god ruling the mountain”). These gods are benevolent bears with black fur who dwell deep in the mountains. They are gentle, wise, and friendly towards the humans. When they appear in human form, they are dressed in black robes. Such bears are capable of imparting profound blessings to the humans. Other types of bears may be ferocious, unreasonable, and violently inclined towards the humans; these bears are feared and called “monster bears” (arsarush). However, even bears of the benevolent type could behave violently towards the humans under certain circumstances, as we see in this particular song.
The selection is especially interesting because it presents the unfolding of the entire relationship between bears and humans. The hunting magic practiced by the Ainu hunters in the mountains, the eery night spent by the bear’s soul by the fireside in the mountains, the trip down to the human village, the welcome given to the visiting deity by the Fire Goddess, the magnificent bear ceremony, the delivery of piles ofpresents from the humans, and the feast held by the god after his return to his own country are all depicted ~ith great beauty. One can well understand the central role played by bear ceremonialism in the life of the Ainu people.

[Excerpt of translator’s notes here:

Uncle Crow- In Kubodera’s manuscript, the words kararat kamui? are inserted in parentheses after the words paskur keushut. Probably this means that the reciter, or Kubodera himself, thought that “Uncle Crow” might mean the “carrion crow deity.” On the other hand, Chiri Mashiho says that paskur keushut means raven.

the human village – Ainu kotan means either “human (Ainu) village” or the “human homeland.” In either case, the place inhabited by the humans (the Ainu) is meant.

Light-footed-one/Swift-footed-one -Names applied to fox (chironnup kamui). Foxes are known to have the ability ofbewitching by barking. Here the fox is try- ingto bewitch the bear, for reasons which are explained later on.

God of Aconite Poison – Aconite poison, obtained from the root of the wolfbane (Aconitum subcuneatum Nakai) is used to make poisoned arrows (see Guss, above). The poison god (or goddess?) enters the hunted animal, depriving him of freedom of move- ment. The Poison God is here depicted as a messenger dispatched by the Fire Goddess.

The Fire Goddess- Here she formally invites the bear god to come to pay her a peaceful visit. She will entertain his spirit while he is visiting the humans.

I am
a Mountain God.
My wife,
so much did I respect her
that I would not even allow her to draw water or to kindle a fire.
We lived
on and on
in this way,
and finally
beautiful baby
was born between us. On and on
we continued to live in this way.
Then, one day,
this is what
I thought to myself:

“If I were to leave home,
I would be worried
about things at home in my absence. Still,
I want to go and visit
the god ruling
the lower heavens,
for he and I
have gotten to be
the greatest of friends.”

I gave parting instructions
to my wife,
I went
to pay a visit to
the god ruling
the lower heavens.
I arrived
at the abode
of the god ruling
the lower heavens.
Then we began
to enjoy
pleasant conversation together,
and we remained
day in
and day out
occupied in this way.
As time went on,
even though I was worried
about things at home in my absence, the god ruling
the lower heavens
was so exceedingly talkative
that I
continued to put off leaving for home, and I still
remained there.
Then, one day,
all of a sudden,
Uncle Crow [appeared and] kept pecking
and scratching
at the post by the doorway. This is what he said:
“0 Mountain God,
o most weighty deity,
are you blind
to such a degree?
After you left,
your wife,
decided that she wanted
to visit the humans.
she left behind
your little baby.
She closed up tightly
the windows
and the door
and tied them shut
with leather thongs,
and left him behind.
Ever since then,
that little baby,
your little baby
has been jumping at the windows and jumping at the door,
the sound of his weeping
ringing out noisily.
He continues to
scream out in distress
calling out for his mother
both night
and day.

While he continues
to do this,
can it be,
o Mountain God,
that you are blind
to such a degree as this?”
When I heard Crow Boy, Uncle Crow,
say these things, I flew into
a frenzied rage at the mere hearing of them. Therefore,
I sprang up.
I got up
from the head of the fireplace
and went rushing
towards the doorway.
I plunged head first
through the middle of the door [hangings] . After that,
Icould feel blasts of wind
whirling in my ears
as I went down.
I darted down
onto the clearing outside
my own house.
This is what
I heard then.
Inside the house
my little baby
was crying,
his cries ringing out noisily.
Just then
I headed
toward the doorway. When I tried
to go inside,
the doorway
had been tied shut with leather thongs. Then
I cut
the leather thongs. Breaking down the doorway,
I went inside.
My little baby
was shrieking wildly
and jumping about as he cried. He was jumping
at the windows.
Just then,
I rushed towards him.
Picking up
my little baby,
I tossed him up
onto my back
and tied up tightly
the carrying cords.
After that,
I went outside,
togo down to
the human village and to ravage
the human village. After this,
I went down along the course of our native river,
and I could feel blasts of wind whirling in my ears.
As I was going down, Light-footed-one, Swift-footed one
came dashing out
from somewhere.
He went running around and around at a distance from me
and stretched his tail
far out
while barking to bewitch me.
Just then,
from behind a tree,
the top of a bow
could be seen sticking up. Overjoyed,
I rushed
Towards it.

A pretty little arrow
lodged itself with a thump on my body.
‘!\vo young men
went running away
from behind the tree.
After that,
I began to chase
right after them.
As I went on, Light-footed-one, Swift-footed-one
stretched his tail
far out
while barking to bewitch me. He slipped through
right under my neck
and keep running in circles around and around me.
I got angry
at this
and began to try
to strike at
Light-footed-one, Swift-footed-one,
but he slipped
between my hands.
I continued to strike at him and miss him again and again. I was quite unable
to get at him.
When I had been doing this for some time,
the God of Aconite Poison came dashing out [and said] :
“The Fire Goddess has sent me
to bear this message:
‘0 weighty deity, please come peaceably to pay me a visit,
and let us meet
and enjoy
peaceful conversation.’
I have come
because the Fire Goddess sent me to bring
this message.”
The God of Aconite Poison
spoke these words, but
I still continued to strike out violently. Light-footed-one,
still continued
to stretch his tail
far out
while barking to bewitch me
as he ran around and around
at a distance from me
and came dashing up
closer and closer to me.
Just then,
the Resin God
came dashing out.
He and the God of Aconite Poison, working together,
wrapped themselves around
my hind limbs
and my fore limbs
and seized me with their hands.
I tumbled down
and lay outstretched
majestic and godlike.
I lost all consciousness
of what was happening.
After sleeping for a while,
I opened my eyes,
and this is what I saw.
I was sitting
on a tree branch.
with my hands and legs
hanging down limply, and just at this point
I regained consciousness. Underneath me,
ofall things,
a big old he-bear
was lying outstretched majestic
and godlike.
On top of
that he-bear
a little bear-cub was playing.
Just then
those same
[two] young men came walking back together.
They whispered
to each other, saying:
“It seemed
as if this was
a benevolent deity,
but what was the meaning of his behavior just now?”
As they were
whispering these things
to each other,
the dogs
went chasing after
the bear-cub, but
those young men
beat them off soundly.
The bare-fanged ones [the dogs]
went running away.
they picked up
the bear-cub.
Then they began
to prepare
the he-bear
and worshipped him.
Then they whittled wing-shaped notches on a stick of wood
with sharpened endings.
They stood it up
by the side of
that bear.

The men worshipped it
by running their hands together [saying:]
“Do you deities enjoy yourselves
by conversing together by yourselves! I t has already
become dark by now,
and since it is
too late
to move
the bear,
we will leave him here.
When morning comes,
we will come back.
Then we will bring
the weighty deity [the bear]
down to the village.
Do you deities both
watch over each other by yourselves!”
While saying
these things,
they cut
a stick of wood
with sharpened endings, stood it up
by the side of
that bear,
and worshipped it by rubbing their hands together Then
they put the bear-cub
on their backs
and went down the mountain.
Mter they were gone,
I wondered
what was the purpose
for which they had
made this [stick of wood]
and left it there.
I continued
to look steadily
at it, but
once, for a moment,
I looked away.
Then [when I looked back],
a blazing bonfire
had been kindled and was burning by the side of that bear.
A young man
was sitting
by the fire.
He began to speak, saying these words:
“0 weighty deity, comedown
beside the fire,
and let us enjoy ourselves in conversation!”
So he said.
I went down
beside the fire,
and we began
to engage in pleasant conversation. While we were conversing,
and different evil spirits
would come up
to steal the meat.
Then that young man
would stand up
with a club
and would go running
all around me,
beating off soundly
those creatures which had come
to steal the meat,
and chasing after them.
We continued to do this
for a long time, until
morning came.
Just then,
the fire
was gone,
though I was sure
that a fire had been burning there. That young man
was gone too.
There was. standing there [only]
a stick of wood with sharpened endings. Thus,
I went [back up]
onto the tree branch
and remained there.
Just then,
many people were heard coming this way with a noisy clamor.
A large crowd of people
came walking up.
Then they began
to skin
that bear.
When they had finished,
the large crowd of people
went down the mountain
bearing the meat on their backs.
The elder one
of those [two] young men
carried on his back
the bear’s head
with the fur still attached to it. So I jumped down
from the tree branch
onto the bundle
of the man who was carrying the bear’s head.
When I did this,
he could hardly walk,
and he was having such a hard time that I [got off his back and] went walking down
by his side.
We walked downhill until we came upon
a human village,
a populous village.
At the center of the village an immense house
was seen standing majestically.
I was seated
in the midst of the spirit fence,
inau fence
just east of the house. After I had remained there for a while,
the Fire Goddess, wearing sixfold layers
of magnificent robes fastened under her girdle and sixfold robes hanging loosely,
came outside
hobbling along
on a crooked staff,
a magnificent staff.
“I thank you.
for having come to pay me a peaceable visit,
for it is
just such conduct
for which
a weighty deity
wins praise!”
Speaking these words, she came outside. Mterthat
I was invited inside.
I went inside
and was seated
under the sacred window.
My wife
was already there
before me.
crowds of young men
and crowds of young women gathered together.
Those who were making dumplings went running about
this way and that.
Those who were whittling inau were plying their whittling knives together this way and that.
They continued making inau
until now finally
was time
for me to be dismissed.
I was given
one bundle of inau
and one bundle of dumplings
and went outside.
After that
I went on my way
and finally came back
to my own house.
I went inside.
Before my arrival
bundles of dumplings
and piles of inau
had already been delivered in
through the window,
and the floor at the head of the fireplace was filled up
with all the many dumplings
and all the many inau.
After that
I remained there
for two or three days.
Then my wife,
came along
after me.
She came back
laden with
much wine,
and dumplings too.
After that
I sent out messages everywhere
to the gods dwelling nearby
and the gods dwelling far away,
and invited them [to the feast].
The invited deities
were ushered in with much ceremony. Then we began
to celebrate
the delightful
My wife
spoke these words:
“So exceedingly
did I long to have the human wine and the human inau that
I went to visit
the humans.
Then my husband, getting angry, came down intending
to ravage
the human village.
Were he ever
to do such a thing,
no matter how weighty
a deity he might be,
he would be kicked down to the dank country,
to the underworld.
The Fox God,
worried about this, bewitched
my husband,
and thanks to this
his heart was calmed. Since I was afraid of him, he was given dismissal first,
and after he had left
I requested
the humans
to raise
our little baby.
For this reason,
I had to wait
while the wine was being brewed, and I was delayed
because of that. This is why
I have come back after [the return of] my husband.
We are now
holding this banquet for all of the gods.

Tr. Donald L. Philippi /  alcheringa ethnopoetics.com new series vol.3, no. 1


Further readings:

Tracing the Bear Myth in Northeast Asia

Bear worship and bear cults

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