An Inuit Myth
Long ago, near the mouth of the Copper Mine River, which flows into the Arctic River, there lived an enormous giant. His cave was not far from an Inuit village, and he kept the people of that village in constant terror because when he could not get enough whale meat, or seal to eat, he would capture the little children and eat them up.
One fine day in the autumn a band of children went out from the village to gather berries. There were different sorts of berries all about there that were good to eat: blueberries, lowbush cranberries, salmon-berries and still others. The mothers put these berries away, so that they would all have something good during the long cold winters.
Before starting, the children had been cautioned not to go near the giant’s cave; but the sun was bright and warm, and the farther they got from home, the bigger and sweeter the berries seemed to grow. Then, too, they grow close to the ground, so that the children were looking down, and not noticing where their footsteps were leading them.
There was great rivalry as to which one would get the most berries.
One little girl said, “Look at my basket. It is nearly full!” And another one said, “Mine are the biggest berries!”
Then they all fell to quarreling about their berries, and no one thought of the giant; until suddenly a big voice roared at them, and there he stood.
Before they had time to recover from their surprise and run away, the giant gathered them all up in his immense hands and popped them into his big parka. Then, laughing loudly, he threw the coat over his shoulder and carried them to his cave. Poor little things! They writhed and wriggled and screamed and cried, but it did them no good at all.
The giant only laughed the louder.
“Oh, if we had only paid attention to our parents,” cried one little boy, “we would not have come near the cave! Now the giant will eat us up!”
They all fell to weeping bitterly, saying they would never be disobedient again, if only they could get away from the giant.
Just outside of the cave was a tall post with the giant’s totem, which was a large whale. The giant tied the parka to the post and left it hanging there.
Pretty soon, one of the children saw a bird fly by. They all began to sing:
“Please come and set us free,
For if we must stay here,
Then eaten up we’ll be.”
But the bird was a sea gull, and flapping his beautiful gray wings he sailed past them as though he heard nothing. Then they all fell to crying again.
After a while a weasel came along, and they started again to sing:
“O Weasel, if you are kind,
Please come and set us free.
For if we must stay here,
Then eaten up we’ll be.”
But the weasel went along about his business, and never even turned his head around.
Then the children spied some little mice playing around the foot of the post, and sang their song to them; but the wretched little creatures only frisked their little tails and scampered away.
At last a fox came by, the kind called “cross fox” because he has a beautiful dark cross on his back.
When the fox reached the post, he stopped and sniffed the air and looked up.
Then the little children sang their song once more, and the fox freed them by biting the rawhide rope with which they were tied to the post. But there was one little girl who had fallen asleep, way down deep in one of the sleeves of the parka, and didn’t hear the others when they tumbled out, which they did in such a hurry that they did not notice her absence.
The fox, who was very wise, suggested that they fill the coat with the white reindeer moss which grew so abundantly about them, so that the giant, seeing the coat so full, might think the children were still inside of it. Quickly they set to work and stuffed it out; then, hearing the giant coming, hid themselves behind a clump of low bushes nearby, and watched.
Pretty soon he came striding along with a huge jade knife in his hand which he was busily sharpening on a great boulder he had picked up in front of his cave.
He smacked his lips as he walked along, just as if he were tasting something good.
When he came to the post, he raised the knife and slashed open one of the sleeves, saying, “Now, my little birds, you are going to make me a fine dainty for my dinner!”
When a bunch of moss fell out of the sleeve instead of a nice, tasty baby, the giant flew into a rage, and stormed about the place and stamped his foot until the earth shook.
Well, then the angry giant tore at the coat, and the moss fell out and got into his hair and eyes, it blew about so, when suddenly out tumbled the frightened little girl from the end of the sleeve. The giant picked her up by the back of her dress and held her out with her legs and arms waving in the air.
“Ha ha!” roared the giant. “Now I’ve got you! But there’s so little of you, I couldn’t even make one good bite out of you.”
The little girl squirmed and kicked, and then she said, “O please, Mr. Giant, if you only won’t eat me, I will be good and work for you all my life, and keep your house clean, and do the cooking.”
So the giant carried her in and put her down on the floor.
“If you dare to try to run away, I will throw you into the soup,” he said, pointing to a huge stone pot.
Then he made her take off her little parka and put on one of his, which dragged about her feet so that she could hardly move at all without falling down. After that he tied her by a long rope made of walrus hide, which is very strong, so that she could go out of doors but could not possibly get away.
While the giant was off hunting one day, the little girl’s parents came looking for her, and wanted to take her home at once; but she told them that the giant would surely come after her and destroy the whole village, if they did that; so the parents planned a trick to fool the giant.
The father and mother hid behind some bushes, and when the giant came home with a seal on his back, the child began to cry pitifully.
“What is the matter with you?” said the giant. “You squeak like a mouse!”
“Oh, some of my old friends, the little children I used to play with, passed by picking berries, and they made fun of these clothes.” Then she cried some more.
“Well,” said the giant, “stop that silly squalling, and put on your own parka. You can’t get away from me anyway, for I keep you tied all the time. But give me my dinner first. I am hungry, and would eat you, if you were fat enough.”
The little girl placed a whole cooked seal before him, which he devoured as though it were a dainty lamb chop, then she sang a little song, and he went to sleep. He snored so loud that the people thought it was thunder, which is very seldom heard so far north.
Softly slipping into his hand a tiny seal-skin pouch containing some “sleep charms” the medicine man had given her father, the little girl slipped out of the giant’s clumsy parka into her own small one. Taking a last look at the giant, to make sure that he was fast asleep, she ran out to her father, who cut the rope with his hunting knife. Lifting the little girl to his back, he started for the village as fast as he could go. The mother trotted along behind, keeping a sharp lookout over her shoulder to see if they were being followed.
Before they got out of sight, the giant snored so loud that the bag shook out of his hand and he awoke. Loudly he called for the little girl. No one answered. Muttering angrily, he rushed outside, and saw them hurrying away.
With a howl of rage, he strode after them, gaining rapidly upon them at every step.
When the little girl saw that he was catching up with them, she slipped down from her father’s back and struck the ground with her little fingers, saying some magic words that just came into her mind. Immediately a deep river flowed between the giant and her. It was so deep and wide that he could not cross it.
The little girl and her parents sat on their side of the river to rest, and watched the giant, who tried in vain to get across.
After a while he called out to the little girl to tell him how to get over.
She told him to get into a mussel shell, so he looked and found a mussel shell, but as soon as he touched it, the shell sank.
Then he called over to the child again, commanding her to show him a way across, and she told him to drink up the river and walk over.
Stooping down, the giant began to drink. He drank and drank until he was so full of water that he rolled right over into the river and was drowned.
Then the little girl and her parents went home, and the people of the village were safe and happy once more.
Citation: Riggs, Renee Coudert. Animal Stories from Eskimo Land. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1923. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.