The Ainu’s “Moses”-like legend – the Baby in the Box that floated away

The Baby in the Box.

   There was once a woman who was tenderly loved by her husband. At last, after some years, she bore him a son. Then the father loved this son even more than he loved his wife. She therefore thought thus: “How pleasant it used to be formerly, when my husband loved me alone! But now, since I have borne him this nasty child, he loves it more than he does me. It will be well for me to make away with it.”

Thus thinking, she waited till her husband had gone off bear-hunting in the mountains, and then put the baby into a box, which she took to the river and allowed to float away. Then she returned home. Later on, her husband came back; and she, with feigned tears, told him that the baby had disappeared—stolen or strayed,—and that she had vainly searched all round about the house and in the woods. The man lay down, like to die of grief, and refused all food. Only at length, when he saw that his wife, too, went without her food, did he begin to eat a little, fearing, in his affection for her, that she too might die of hunger. However, it was only when he was present that she fasted. She ate her fill behind his back.

At last, one day, not knowing what to do to rouse him, she said to him: “Look here! I will divert you with a story.” Then she told him the whole story exactly as it had happened, being herself, all the while, under the delusion that she was telling him an ancient fairy-tale. Then he flew into a rage, took his bludgeon, beat her to death, and then threw her corpse out-of-doors. This was the way in which the gods chose to punish her.

Then the husband, knowing now that his search must be made down the stream, started off. At last, after seeking for a long time, he came to a lonely house, where he found a very venerable-looking old man, an old woman, and their middle-aged daughter, and also a boy. He said to the old man: “‘I come to ask whether you know p. 47 anything of my little boy, who was placed in a box and set to float down the stream.” The old man replied: “One day, when my daughter here went to draw water from the river, she found a box with a little boy in it. We knew not whether the child was a human creature, a god, or a devil. So doubtless he is yours. We have kept the box too. Here it is. You can judge by looking at it.”

It turned out to be the same box, and the same boy. So the father rejoiced. Then the old man said: “Remain here. I will give to you for wife this daughter of mine, my only child. Live with us as long as my old wife and I remain alive. Feed us, and then you shall inherit from me.” The man did so. When the old people died, he inherited all their possessions; and then, with his new wife and his beloved son, returned to his own village. So you see that, even among us Ainos, there are wicked women.—(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 17th November, 1886.)

 

Source: Basil Hall Chamberlain’s “Aino-Folktales”

 

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