Myths & Legends



Inuit: Itataujang

The tale that follows is recorded by Franz Uri Boas (July 9, 1858 – December 21, 1942) anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the “Father of American Anthropology”.

Among his many accomplishments, Franz Uri Boas introduced the ideology of cultural relativism which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture, and judge it according to their own culturally acquired norms.

The legend of Ititaujang was published by the Smithsonian Institution - Bureau of Ethnology, Central Eskimo, edited by Franz Boas.
— Orly

A long, long time ago, a young man, whose name was Ititaujang, lived in a village with many of his friends. When he became grown he wished to take a wife and went to a hut in which he knew an orphan girl was living. However, as he was bashful and was afraid to speak to the young girl himself, he called her little brother, who was playing before the hut, and said, “Go to your sister and ask her if she will marry me.” The boy ran to his sister and delivered the message. The young girl sent him back and bade him ask the name of her suitor. When she heard that his name was Ititaujang she told him to go away and look for another wife, as she was not willing to marry a man with such an ugly name. But Ititaujang did not submit and sent the boy once more to his sister. “Tell her that Nettirsuaqdjung is my other name,” said he. The boy, however, said upon entering, “Ititaujang is standing before the doorway and wants to marry you.” Again the sister said “I will not have a man with that ugly name.” When the boy returned to Ititaujang and repeated his sister’s speech, he sent him back once more and said, “Tell her that Nettirsuaqdjung is my other name.” Again the boy entered and said, “Ititaujang is standing before the doorway and wants to marry you.” The sister answered, “I will not have a man with that ugly name.” When the boy returned to Ititaujang and told him to go away, he was sent in the third time on the same commission, but to no better effect. Again the young girl declined his offer, and upon that Ititaujang went away in great anger. He did not care for any other girl of his tribe, but left the country altogether and wandered over hills and through valleys up the country many days and many nights.

At last he arrived in the land of the birds and saw a lakelet in which many geese were swimming. On the shore he saw a great number of boots; cautiously he crept nearer and stole as many as he could get hold of. A short time after the birds left the water and finding the boots gone became greatly alarmed and flew away. Only one of the flock remained behind, crying, “I want to have my boots; I want to have my boots.” Ititaujang came forth now and answered, “I will give you your boots if you will become my wife.” She objected, but when Ititaujang turned round to go away with the boots she agreed, though rather reluctantly.

Having put on the boots she was transformed into a woman and they wandered down to the seaside, where they settled in a large village. Here they lived together for some years and had a son. In time Ititaujang became a highly respected man, as he was by far the best whaler among the Inuit.

Once upon a time the Inuit had killed a whale and were busy cutting it up and carrying the meat and the blubber to their huts. Though Ititaujang was hard at work his wife stood lazily by. When he called her and asked her to help as the other women did she objected, crying, “My food is not from the sea; my food is from the land; I will not eat the meat of a whale; I will not help.”

Ititaujang answered, “You must eat of the whale; that will fill your stomach.” Then she began crying and exclaimed, “I will not eat it; I will not soil my nice white clothing.”

She descended to the beach, eagerly looking for birds’ feathers. Having found a few she put them between her fingers and between those of her child; both were transformed into geese and flew away.

When the Inuit saw this they called out, “Ititaujang, your wife is flying away.” Ititaujang became very sad; he cried for his wife and did not care for the abundance of meat and blubber, nor for the whales spouting near the shore. He followed his wife and ascended the land in search of her.


After having traveled for many weary months he came to a river. There he saw a man who was busy chopping chips from a piece of wood with a large hatchet. As soon as the chips fell off he polished them neatly and they were transformed into salmon, becoming so slippery that they glided from his hands and fell into the river, which they descended to a large lake near by. The name of the man was Eχaluqdjung (the little salmon).

On approaching, Ititaujang was frightened almost to death, for he saw that the back of this man was altogether hollow and that he could look from behind right through his mouth. Cautiously he crept back and by a circuitous way approached him from the opposite direction.

When Eχaluqdjung saw him coming he stopped chopping and asked, “Which way did you approach me?” Ititaujang, pointing in the direction he had come last and from which he could not see the hollow back of Eχaluqdjung, answered, “It is there I have come from.” Eχaluqdjung, on hearing this, said, “That is lucky for you. If you had come from the other side and had seen my back I should have immediately killed you with my hatchet.” Ititaujang was very glad that he had turned back and thus deceived the salmon maker. He asked him, “Have you not seen my wife, who has left me, coming this way?” Eχaluqdjung had seen her and said, “Do you see yon little island in the large lake? There she lives now and has taken another husband.”

When Ititaujang heard this report he almost despaired, as he did not know how to reach the island; but Eχaluqdjung kindly promised to help him. They descended to the beach; Eχaluqdjung gave him the backbone of a salmon and said, “Now shut your eyes. The backbone will turn into a kayak and carry you safely to the island. But mind you do not open your eyes, else the boat will upset.”

Ititaujang promised to obey. He shut his eyes, the backbone became a kayak, and away he went over the lake. As he did not hear any splashing of water, he was anxious to see whether the boat moved on, and opened his eyes just a little. But he had scarcely taken a short glimpse when the kayak began to swing violently and he felt that it became a backbone again. He quickly shut his eyes, the boat went steadily on, and a short time after he was landed on the island.

There he saw the hut and his son playing on the beach near it. The boy on looking up saw Ititaujang and ran to his mother crying, “Mother, father is here and is coming to our hut.” The mother answered, “Go, play on; your father is far away and cannot find us.” The child obeyed; but as he saw Ititaujang approaching he re-entered the hut and said, “Mother, father is here and is coming to our hut.” Again the mother sent him away, but he returned very soon, saying that Ititaujang was quite near.

Scarcely had the boy said so when Ititaujang opened the door. When the new husband saw him he told his wife to open a box which was in a corner of the hut. She did so, and many feathers flew out of it and stuck to them. The woman, her new husband, and the child were thus again transformed into geese. The hut disappeared; but when Ititaujang saw them about to fly away he got furious and cut open the belly of his wife before she could escape. Then many eggs fell down.



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