Ol-an-uk The Orphan

Ol-an-uk lived alone on a small island where the wind blew day and night all year long. On the day that his parents did not return home in the evening, Ol-an-uk went down to the shore. His parents, their tools, and fishing nets had all been swept out to sea and vanished without a trace.

Ol-an-uk mourned the loss of his parents throughout the long winter. In spring, he walked aimlessly along the rocky shore tossing rocks into the water and calling out to the whales. “Come,” he called. “It is spring and I am hungry.” But Ol-an-uk knew that the whales would not come to him.

He would have to muster the courage to go out into the fog-enshrouded sea and hunt the great beluga, or white, whales that had already begun to migrate north. But now, without his father, the excitement of chasing a pod of beluga whales was gone. He would really have to force himself to go hunting.

The day Ol-an-uk set out to hunt, the wind blew fog and mist in circles around his sturdy kayak. He paddled hard around the tiny island and out into the current. He would not be able to see the whales through the fog.

Instead, he would have to detect their presence by listening as they splashed rhythmically through the water. At last, Ol-an-uk heard their sound and paddled quickly in their direction.

He grabbed his harpoon in one hand, and with the other hand he maneuvered the kayak until he was gliding silently beside a young beluga. He raised his harpoon into the air and threw it with all his might. The young whale stopped just long enough for Ol-an-uk to know he had made a direct hit. His father would have been proud.

The years passed, and soon Ol-an-uk became a young man in need of a wife. One day, when the wind slept and the sea rested, Ol-an-uk filled a small sealskin pouch with seal oil. He would use it to flavor dried roots and unpalatable fish in case he had trouble finding fresh food. Ol-an-uk tucked the pouch of oil into his kayak and left his island.

Suddenly, a strong current pulled him out into the swiftly running water. Ol-an-uk paddled furiously to break the current’s grip: first on one side of the little boat, then on the other.

He held his head high to determine the wind direction, and sat perfectly still to feel the current. Ol-an-uk’s strong even paddle strokes kept him balanced and upright, even though he did not know where the current would take him.

At last, Ol-an-uk saw the outline of an island through the fog and paddled hard to break free from the fast-moving current. He headed toward a large grassy swelling that appeared to be a dugout house rising above the rocks at the south end of the island.

As he pulled his kayak up onto the shore, a beautiful young girl came down to greet him. She had smiling brown eyes and three perfectly spaced lines tattooed on her chin.

“You are a stranger,” she said smiling. “Why have you come?”

Ol-an-uk stammered. “I, I, I, was lonely.”

“You will not be lonely here. We have many families on the island. They are up in the meadow playing games before it is time to go whale hunting.” The beautiful young girl turned and walked toward the house, “Come. I will feed you,” she said.

Before long, the local chieftain, hearing that a stranger was among them, came to the young girl’s house and invited Ol-an-uk to compete in the village games. “Samik, our village champion, is eager for a new challenge,” said the chief. “Please come.”

The young girl was not fond of Samik and wished to see him beaten. “You must accept the challenge, Ol-an-uk,” she said. “It is our custom. Besides, you are stronger and more clever than he,” she said with a sly smile.

Reluctantly, Ol-an-uk went with the chief to meet the village champion. Their first contest was to hunt for a beluga. Ol-an-uk smiled as he stepped confidently into his long thin kayak. He was already an expert whale hunter.

After he and the village champion had lined up their kayaks side by side, the chief rested a bow and arrow on the gunwales between them. “The winner is to use this on the man who loses,” he said.

Ol-an-uk paddled cautiously behind Samik who seemed to know in which direction to paddle to find whales. But the two hunters had barely lost sight of shore when high waves in the open sea began to toss their kayaks from side to side. Ol-an-uk tried desperately to keep his opponent in sight.

But the familiar silence of fog and the strong water current in which Ol-an-uk was used to hunting whales had been replaced by blowing winds, wet heavy mist, and tall waves. Ol-an-uk struggled for many hours to keep himself afloat in the angry sea, but eventually he had to turn around and go back to the island defeated.

His skin beneath the waterproof anorak turned cold at the thought of facing Samik who would be waiting for him on shore ready to use the victor’s bow and arrow. Slowly, Ol-an-uk paddled toward the island. He wanted only to see the beautiful young girl with brown eyes one more time before he died.

But when Ol-an-uk arrived on shore, only Samik’s kayak rested on the rocky shore. Ol-an-uk walked slowly through the thick silence toward the house of his beautiful hostess. “Do not be afraid,” she said cheerfully as she stepped out of the door. “Samik did not harpoon a whale, either. He has gone inside to sulk.”

Several days later, the village chief asked Ol-an-uk to compete in a kayak race with Samik. They were to race their kayaks around a large island just offshore. The first one around the island and home again would be the winner.

Villagers came down to the shore to watch the two young men start out. At first the race was very exciting. The village champion took the lead, and cheers rose up from his friends on shore.

But when Ol-an-uk passed Samik, the cheering on shore died down. Eventually, Samik paddled faster and faster until he left Ol-an-uk far behind him. Villagers clapped and cheered for their kinsman, all except the beautiful young girl with smiling brown eyes who wanted Ol-an-uk to win.

Before long, Ol-an-uk fell so far behind Samik that the villagers lost interest in the race and went home. Ol-an-uk realized it was time to talk to his little beluga-skin boat. “Become a beluga whale,” he said to the little boat. “And swim fast.”

Then the beluga whale dove under the water, passed beneath Samik’s kayak, and swam swiftly toward shore. As the whale approached the island, it rose to the surface and assumed the form of the young man, Ol-an-uk.

In the meantime, Samik paddled leisurely toward shore, confident that he had left the young stranger far behind. But when he finally arrived home, Ol-an-uk was waiting for him on the shore with his spear raised above his head. As Samik stepped out of his kayak, Ol-an-uk hurled the spear at the cocky young man and killed him.

This time, the villagers did not cheer, and the beautiful young girl covered the broad smile on her face with both hands. That evening when Ol-an-uk and the young girl were eating, the chief came to their door. “We cannot remove your spear from the body of Samik,” he said. “Will you come down to the shore and remove it?”

Ol-an-uk followed the chief out of the house and down to the shore. But as soon as Ol-an-uk removed his spear from Samik’s chest, the village champion smiled, stood up, and walked away.

The next day, the chief returned once again. “Samik, our village champion, challenges you to a wrestling match.”

Ol-an-uk was growing tired of his cocky competitor’s challenges and regretted having removed his spear from Samik’s chest. But he did not want to disappoint his hostess and accepted the challenge.

Ol-an-uk followed the chief to a large house that had an indoor pit filled with black worms that squirmed among piles of old bones. “You must wrestle until one of you throws the other into the pit to be eaten by the worms,” said the chief.

Ol-an-uk’s arms were strong from paddling against the tough currents around his small island. This time he was confident he would compete for the last time with the cocky village champion. But as they began to wrestle, Samik caught Ol-an-uk off guard and quickly pinned his arms behind his back. Ol-an-uk struggled until he got a foot between Samik’s legs.

Then he curled it around one of Samik’s legs and pried himself loose. Quickly, Ol-an-uk got behind the village champion and wrapped his strong arms around Samik’s chest. The village champion tried desperately to wrench himself free, but Ol-an-uk had pinned his arms to his sides leaving only his feet free.

Samik twisted first one leg and then the other around and between Ol-an-uk’s legs but could not throw him off balance. Slowly, Ol-an-uk began to squeeze the cockiness out of Samik’s broad chest. He squeezed and squeezed while Samik gasped for breath and pleaded to be released.

When Ol-an-uk could feel that Samik was totally limp, he shoved him face-down onto the ground. Before Samik could catch his breath, Ol-an-uk picked him up by the seat of his pants and collar, lifted him into the air, and hurled him into the worm pit.

At last, the villagers cheered for the young stranger. “You are indeed a true champion,” said the village chief to Ol-an-uk. “Now you may claim the spoils of your victory: Samik’s two wives, many fine weapons, and a storage room filled with meat.”

Ol-an-uk accepted his victory prizes and returned to the house of the beautiful brown-eyed girl. “Will you come home with me?” he asked. “I have won two wives who will do all the work around our home. You shall be my traveling companion.”

The beautiful young girl had already placed her belongings in a sealskin pouch and was ready to leave. “I will go with you,” she said.

Thereafter, the young orphan boy, Ol-an-uk, was never alone again on his little island.

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