The Aino tale of the Man who Married the Bear-Goddess, and the Tale of the Hunter who followed the Bear into Hades

The Man who Married the Bear-Goddess.

   There was a very populous village. It was a village having both plenty of fish and plenty of venison. It was a place lacking no kind of food. Nevertheless, once upon a time, a famine set in. There was no food, no venison, no fish, nothing to eat at all; there was a famine. So in that populous village all the people died.

Now the village chief was a man who had two children, a boy and a girl. After a time, only those two children remained alive. Now the girl was the older of the two, and the boy was the younger. The girl spoke thus: “As for me, it does not matter even if I do die, since I am a girl. But you, being a boy, can, if you like, take up our father’s inheritance. So you should take these things with you, p. 13 use them to buy food with, eat it, and live.” So spoke the girl, and took out a bag made of cloth, and gave it to him.

Then the boy went out on to the sand, and walked along the seashore. When he had walked on the sand for a long time, he saw a pretty little home a short way inland. Near it was lying the carcase of a large whale. The boy went to the house, and after a time entered it. On looking around, he saw a man of divine appearance. The man’s wife, too, looked like a goddess, and was dressed altogether in black raiment. The man was dressed altogether in speckled raiment. The boy went in, and stood by the door. The man said to him: “Welcome to you, whencesoever you may have come,” Afterwards a lot of the whale’s flesh was boiled, and the boy was feasted on it. But the woman never looked towards him. Then the boy went out and fetched his parcel, which he had left outside. He brought in the bag made of cloth which had been given to him by his sister, and opened its mouth. On taking out and looking at the things inside it, they were found to be very precious treasures. “I will give you these treasures in payment for the food,” said the boy, and gave them to that divine-looking man-of-the-house. The god, having looked at them, said: “They are very beautiful treasures.” He said again: “You need not have paid me for the food. But I will take these treasures of yours, carry them to my [other] house, and bring you my own treasures in exchange for them. As for this whale’s flesh, you can eat as much of it as you like, witnout payment.” Having said this, he went off with the lad’s treasures.

Then the lad and the woman remained together. After a time the woman turned to the lad, and said: “You lad! listen to me when I speak. I am the bear-goddess. This husband of mine is the dragon-god. There is no one so jealous as he is. Therefore did I not look towards you, because I knew that he would be jealous if I looked towards you. Those treasures of yours are treasures which even the gods do not possess. It is because he is delighted to get them that he has taken them with him to counterfeit them and bring you mock treasures. So when he shall have brought those treasures and shall display them, you must speak thus: ‘We need not exchange treasures. I wish to buy the woman!’ If you speak thus, p. 14 he will go angrily away, because he is such a jealous man. Then afterwards we can marry each other, which will be very pleasant. That is how you must speak.” That was what the woman said.

Then, after a certain time, the man of divine appearance came back grinning. He came bringing two sets of treasures, the treasures which were treasures and his own other treasures. The god spoke thus: “You, lad! As I have brought the treasures which are your treasures, it will be well to exchange them for my treasures.” The boy spoke thus: “Though I should like to have treasures also, I want your wife even more than I want the treasures; so please give me your wife instead of the treasures.” Thus spoke the lad.

He had no sooner uttered the words than he was stunned by a clap of thunder above the house. On looking around him, the house was gone, and only he and the goddess were left together. He came to his senses. The treasures were there also. Then the woman spoke thus: “What has happened is that my dragon-husband has gone away in a rage, and has therefore made this noise, because you and I wish to be together. Now we can live together.” Thus spoke the goddess. Afterwards they lived together. This is why the bear is a creature half like a human being.—(Translated literally. Told by Ishanashte, 9th November, 1886.)


xxxv.—The Hunter in Hades.

   A handsome and brave young man, who was skilful in the chase, one day pursued a large bear into the recesses of the mountains. On and on ran the bear, and still the young fellow pursued it up heights and crags more and more dangerous, but without ever being able to p. 41 get near enough to shoot it with his poisoned arrows. At last, on a bleak mountain-summit, the bear disappeared down a hole in the ground. The young man followed it in, and found himself in an immense cavern, at the far end of which was a gleam of light. Towards this he groped his way, and, on emerging, found himself in another world. Everything there was as in the world of men, but more beautiful. There were trees, houses, villages, human beings. With these, however, the young hunter had no concern. What he wanted was his bear, which had totally disappeared. The best plan seemed to be to seek it in the remoter mountain district of this new world underground. So he followed up a valley; and, being tired and hungry, picked the grapes and mulberries that were hanging to the trees, and ate them as he trudged along.

Happening suddenly, for some reason or other, to look down upon his own body, what was not his horror to find himself transformed into a serpent! His very cries and groans, on making the discovery, were turned into serpent’s hisses. What was he to do? To go back like this to his native world, where snakes are hated, would be certain death. No plan presented itself to his mind. But, unconsciously, he wandered, or rather crept and glided, back to the entrance of the cavern that led home to the world of men; and there, at the foot of a pine-tree of extraordinary size and height, he fell asleep.

To him then, in a dream, appeared the goddess of the pine-tree, and said: “I am sorry to see you in this state. Why did you eat of the poisonous fruits of Hades? The only thing you can do to recover your proper shape is to climb to the top of this pine-tree, and fling yourself down. Then you may, perhaps, become a human being again.”

On waking from this dream, the young man,—or rather snake, as he still found himself to be,—was filled half with hope and half with fear. But he resolved to follow the goddess’ advice. So, gliding up the tall pine-tree, he reached its topmost branch, and, after hesitating a few moments, flung himself down. Crash he went. On coming to his senses, he found himself standing at the foot of the tree; and close by was the body of an immense serpent, ripped open so as to allow of his having crawled out of it. After offering up thanks to p. 42 the pine-tree, and setting up the divine symbols in its honour, he hastened to retrace his steps through the long, tunnel-like cavern, through which he had originally entered Hades. After walking for a certain time, he emerged into the world of men, to find himself on the mountain-top, whither he had pursued the bear which he had never seen again.

On reaching his home, he went to bed, and dreamt a second time. It was the same goddess of the pine-tree, that appeared before him and said: “I have come to tell you that you cannot stay long in the world of men after once eating the grapes and mulberries of Hades. There is a goddess in Hades who wishes to marry you. She it was who, assuming the form of a bear, lured you into the cavern, and thence to the under-world. You must make up your mind to come away.”

And so it fell out. The young man awoke; but a grave sickness overpowered him. A few days later he went a second time to Hades, and returned no more to the land of the living.—(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 22nd July, 1886.)

Source: Basil Hall Chamberlain’s “Aino Folk-Tales

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