Image: Nunivak native playing a very large drum. Public domain photo by Edward Sheriff Curtis In The Library Of Congress.
An Inuit Myth
Long ago, in a village in Alaska, there lived a man with his wife and five sons, of whom they were very proud.
One day the oldest son came to his father and said, “Father we have always been in the same place and seen the same kind of people. I think it is time for me to go in search of another village and see something of the world.”
So, bidding them all goodby, he took his hunting knife and his strong bow with a quiver full of arrows and went away.
The next day the second son said that he must go after his brother. So, he went too; and after him the third. At last, the fourth followed the others and the parents found themselves alone with the youngest son, who was only a boy. He of course wanted to go to find his brothers, and the father and mother, who were already very sad at losing four boys, had hard work to keep him at home. They shut him in the house and took turns watching that he did not get away.
One day, however, the mother fell asleep and the boy, who had been waiting for a chance, slipped out of the house and ran as fast as he could go. After he had run far enough to feel sure they could not catch him, he made the image of a man out of birchbark and fastened it to the top of his parka hood, where it stood up very high and white. Having done this, he went merrily on his way.
After walking a long time, he saw a huge house, with an enormous giant standing out in front of it. Beside the giant hung a drum. This drum was a big box, with seal intestine stretched over the ends, and all around the edge of it was bone, as sharp as a knife. The Inuit use drums for their ceremonial dances, but the boy had never seen such a big one as this. On the ground all about the giant were the bones and skulls of the men he had devoured.
The little fellow was so frightened he wanted to run away, but it was too late, for the giant had already seen him and shouted to him that he must dance. The boy obeyed, and while he was dancing the giant beat upon the drum and sang a long song. When he came to the end of the song, he gave a mighty shout and hurled the drum at the boy’s head. Whizzing through the air, the drum struck the arm of the birchbark image and broke it off; then the boy took the drum and sang the giant’s song. When he had finished, he threw the drum back and it cut off one of the giant’s arms. They kept throwing the drum back and forth at each other until at last the image was broken, and the giant fell dead. The birchbark image had saved the boy’s life, because the giant mistook it for the boy and threw the drum at it every time.
The boy was terribly proud of himself; indeed, he could hardly believe he had killed that great giant, and he waited a little way off until he saw that the giant did not move; then he went into the house. When he got inside, he heard a sound of crying that seemed to come from under the floor. There, in a deep pit, he found his four brothers, who were being kept by the giant for a great feast that was to take place the next day. If the boy had come two days later, he would have found nothing left of his brothers but their bones.
You may be sure the four boys were happy to be saved from such a cruel fate, and they could not praise their brother enough for his cleverness and courage.
Bringing the great drum with them, they hurried back as fast as they could to their parents.
After that they were all content to stay at home and hunt walruses and whales; for they had had enough of going abroad in search of adventure.
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.