The Woman Who Adopted a Bear

Long ago, there lived a successful hunter with a reputation for generosity. Hungry strangers came from far and wide to request meat and skins from Angudluk, the great hunter.

Angudluk packed the strangers’ sleds with seal meat and skins and sent them away, saying, “I am sorry I have so little to give. These provisions are from spoiled animals, and my wife has done a poor job of preparing them. They are yours if you will accept them.”

Angudluk’s wife watched as her husband’s chest puffed out with pride when the strangers thanked him for his generosity. She remembered the long nights she spent removing blubber from the sealskins to make them soft and pliable.

Angudluk’s wife envied the wives of unsuccessful hunters who did not have to work so hard, and she sulked about her own predicament. The more she sulked, however, the more choice pieces of seal meat she popped into her mouth. Soon she became very fat, and people stopped to stare at her as she passed.

“Why should we work so hard for those women whose husbands cannot bring home seals?” she asked her mother-in-law.

“My son is a great hunter,” replied the mother-in-law. “And he is a generous man who gets pleasure from sharing his surpluses.” Angudluk’s wife frowned and walked away.

One day a stranger named Tuku came to their village. Tuku had recently lost his wife in a sledding accident and wanted to find another. “I will inquire for you on my journeys,” Angudluk told Tuku.

A man was not allowed to hunt for one month after he had touched a corpse; therefore, the stranger was prevented from joining Angudluk on his upcoming hunting expedition.

One day, while the women of the village played a game of toss-ball, Tuku stopped in to see Angudluk’s wife. She was still working, cleaning animals from her husband’s latest hunt. “I am sorry that you are not playing games with the other women,” Tuku said. “I would so enjoy seeing your pretty movements jumping and chasing the ball.”

Angudluk’s wife grew sad and told the stranger, “I have not played ball since I was a girl. Instead, day after day I must stay indoors scraping blubber off all these sealskins. My fingers were once long and thin. Now they are stubby and scarred from so much scraping. I do not play any more.”

Tuku pretended to be sympathetic. He had learned what he had set out to know—that Angudluk’s wife was dissatisfied with her life. They chatted and laughed together until evening. Then Tuku set out to meet Angudluk and help him bring home his catch.

Tuku walked until he heard the sounds of the proud hunter’s sled gliding across the snow with its load of seals. He waited until Angudluk came within close range, then raised his harpoon and thrust it straight into the hunter’s chest.

“You make your wife work too hard,” he shouted as Angudluk fell onto the frozen ice. “You will never do that again.”

When Tuku returned to the village driving Angudluk’s sled, the people understood at once what had happened. But they were afraid of the stranger and said nothing.

At last, the villagers went to Angudluk’s house and found only his mother and his young son, Ituko. The stranger, Tuku, had run away with Angudluk’s fat wife.

The villagers, fearing they might go hungry without Angudluk to feed them, now boldly raided the meat racks behind his house. Since they could not take all the meat at once, they returned day after day for more.

One day, the old grandmother greeted one of the women who came to take meat. “Oh, if only there will be enough meat left to feed young Ituko until spring when I can go up into the cliffs and catch young auk birds,” she sighed.

The woman went home and repeated the grandmother’s words to her husband. “She is right,” he said. “Soon there will be no meat for any of us. We must find that stranger who killed Angudluk and ended our plentiful supply of meat. We must seek revenge.”

So the woman’s angry husband organized the men of the village, and together they set out to find the stranger. Barely had they left home when they found Angudluk’s frozen body lying on the ice. Nearby, they discovered two seals that the murderer had thrown from the sled to lighten his load.

Even though it was customary to bury a person on land under a pile of stones, the men agreed not to bring Angudluk’s body back to the village where seeing it would renew everyone’s sorrow and anger.

So they stuffed the frozen body down within a large crack in the ice, loaded the two discarded seals onto the sled, and returned to the village. The men were ashamed at the untraditional way they had disposed of Angudluk’s body, but they were pleased that they had two fat seals to take home.

As the men came into the village, the women ran out to greet them. “I see there was good luck hunting seals today,” cried one of the women. The men smiled proudly.

The women had not noticed that the seals their husbands carried on the sled were frozen. Seals must come up to breathe at regular intervals during the day. To do so, they make holes in the ice and keep the holes open by breaking each new layer of ice that forms on top.

It would have taken several days for a freshly killed seal to freeze once it had been harpooned and taken out of the water. If the women had looked, they would have seen that the seals the hunters brought home had not been freshly harpooned.

Suddenly, however, a small voice came from the crowd. “It is not often that the seals come frozen to their blow holes.” It was Ituko, Angudluk’s young son, who had spoken. Ituko had the wisdom of a great hunter even though he was still a young boy.

The “hunter” whose chest was most puffed up by the delivery of two large seals now became enraged. He took out his snow knife, rushed over to the boy, and struck him in the head. Ituko fell dead on the ground.

“You have taken all I have in life,” cried Angudluk’s mother. “First my son disappears, and now my only grandson is killed.” The old woman picked up the little boy’s limp body, carried it home, and sang the boy’s favorite songs for five long days.

Finally, the old woman laid her grandson on the little sled that he had used to bring home chunks of freshwater ice from the fjords to be melted for cooking and drinking. She pulled the little boy’s body far up a nearby fjord where she buried his small body under a pile of rocks.

The old lady returned home at the same time hunters arrived with a sled carrying a live polar bear cub and the carcass of a large adult bear. When the old lady saw the little cub, she pleaded with the hunters to let her adopt him. “Please give me the bear cub. He will be my adopted grandson.”

The hunters mumbled among themselves. “Let’s give her the cub until he is big and fat. Then we will take him back,” whispered one of the men, and the others agreed. The old lady went home, hugging the little cub against her body.

Thereafter, the furry white cub and the old lady were inseparable. They ate, played, and slept together. In the evening, Angudluk’s mother sang to the cub the songs her son and grandson had loved to hear.

Before long, Angudluk’s great store of meat began to run out, and the old lady worried that she and her cub would soon have nothing left to eat. Then, one day the old lady heard the hunters complaining. “That cub eats too much,” said one of the men. “It is time we added him to our store of meat before he eats up all the rest.”

After supper that night, the old lady wrapped meat in a large sealskin pouch and said to the cub. “We must leave the village right away. We will go far up into the fjord on the opposite side of the bay where the men cannot find us.”

The old woman and the young bear cub traveled all night under a bright star-lit sky. Finally, they settled into a shallow cave high up in the steep rock walls of the fjord.

Each day the young cub went hunting and brought home a seal. Soon the old woman had so much meat that she took only her favorite parts from the animals: fresh warm livers, brains, and hearts. And the pile of decaying carcasses grew higher and higher.

But one day, when men from the village were passing some distance below the cave, their dogs smelled the decaying meat and led them up the side of the fjord. “Well,” said one of the men, spying the pile of dead animals, “someone eats very well.”

The old lady stood up straight and tall and planted her thin arms firmly on her hips. “Go away,” she commanded defiantly. “This is our home now. We want to be left alone.”

A thin scraggly man, his head hung downward, spoke in a quiet voice. “We are all very hungry. Angudluk took such good care of us and fed us so well that we do not remember how to hunt. Perhaps if you return to the village the young cub will teach us.”

The old woman could see that the men were starving, and she felt sorry for them. She also missed her old home. So she agreed to return.

Shortly after the old lady and her cub settled into their old home, a man from the village came. He told the bear it was time for him to go hunting. Dutifully, the young cub headed off onto the sea ice, but none of the men ever joined him.

That evening he brought home two fat seals. Every day thereafter men from the village came and told the cub to go hunting. Each day the little cub went hunting alone.

Soon the villagers grew fat and lazy. Men played games and gossiped with the women while the young cub did the work of feeding the villagers.

Despite all the cub’s work, however, the old lady was given only a small portion of each day’s catch, and she missed her favorite foods. One day she asked the young cub to bring her the fin of a narwhal, which she had not tasted for a long time.

The cub returned early that day dragging a huge narwhal behind him. He lumbered on past the villagers and went straight home. He dropped the narwhal in front of his grandmother’s little stone house and stood guard over it until she came out to claim her favorite fin.

“He has become too impertinent,” said one of the men. “And he is so big that he can hurt us if he gets angry. I think it is time to kill him.”

Forgetting that without the bear they would all starve to death, the men agreed to kill him. The idea excited them so much, in fact, that they rushed at the young cub and hurled spears into his back, head, and chest. The poor young animal toppled over onto the ground and stopped breathing.

When the old lady saw what had happened she rushed out the door and threw herself on top of her precious cub. “Oh,” she sobbed. “Now I have lost my dear adopted son. I am too old to live alone. Kill me,” she begged the hunters. “Kill me, too.”

For a brief moment the hunters felt shame. But the feeling quickly passed, and they ran home to get their knives to cut up the carcass of the young bear. The first hunter drove his knife into the bear’s chest to get his heart, but quickly jumped backward in horror when he saw Ituko emerge from inside the bear’s skin.

“I took the shape of a bear to feed my grandmother,” said Ituko to the hunter. “And I have fed all of you as well. But you were so greedy you killed me all over again. Have you no shame?”

Then Ituko grabbed a spear and thrust it clear through the chest of the man who stood before him. When the others started to run away, he speared them, too, three and four at a time.

“We were only playing a joke,” said one of the remaining men. “Please do not kill all of us. We will throw a big party and welcome you home.”

The man’s whining only made Ituko angrier, and he raged through the village killing all the inhabitants, even the dogs who had nipped at his paws when he was a young cub.

Ituko was so furiously filled with anger and revenge that when his grandmother came out of the house to greet him, he accidentally killed her, too. As soon as he realized what he had done, Ituko fell onto his knees and wept.

The following day Ituko took his grief up into the cave in the fjord where as a young cub he had lived with his grandmother. He mourned for many days to dispel his emotions. Then, he began to hunt.

When peace finally came to Ituko, his cave was filled with meat. But he realized he needed a wife to scrape and sew his animal skins. So one day he set out and walked until he came upon a small settlement.

The people were kind but old, and he did not see a wife among them. As he prepared to leave, an old man spoke, “My son is coming home with his new wife tonight,” he said. “They are young like you. You should stay and meet them.”

Ituko agreed to go out and meet the bride and groom. Not far from the settlement he saw the couple’s sled approaching. “Get out of my way, “ cried the proud young man whose sled was pulled by many dogs. “Can’t you see I have brought home a new wife?”

Ituko ignored the brash groom’s warning and stared at the beautiful young girl on the sled. He suddenly wanted her more than he had ever wanted anyone in his life.

Without warning, Ituko pulled out his knife and, with one powerful jab, drove it into the chest of the arrogant young groom and killed him. Ituko jumped onto the sled, turned it around, and headed back to his old village, pulling the young bride, now a widow, along with him.

After they pulled up in front of the house Ituko had shared with his parents and grandmother, the young bride spoke for the first time, “Where have you taken me?” she asked. “This place is deserted. It is a terrible village.”

Ituko showed the girl the cache of meat and animal skins he had accumulated while mourning, and she realized at once that she was in the presence of a great hunter.

The beautiful young girl and Angudluk’s son raised a family and lived in the village for many happy years.

1 komentar:

Norma Currin said...

very useful

thank
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