Myths & Legends



Inuit: Origin of the Narwhal

The Inuit legend of the origin of the Narwal fits into the “why” legend pattern. Not spiritual per se, it speaks of how it came to be that Narwals are on Earth.
— Orly

A long, long time ago a widow lived with her daughter and her son in a hut. When the boy was quite young he made a bow and arrows of walrus tusks and shot birds, which they ate. Before he was grown up he accidentally became blind. From that moment his mother maltreated him in every way. She never gave him enough to eat, though he had formerly added a great deal to their sustenance, and did not allow her daughter, who loved her brother tenderly, to give him anything. Thus they lived many years and the poor boy was very unhappy.

Once upon a time a polar bear came to the hut and thrust his head right through the window. They were all very much frightened and the mother gave the boy his bow and arrows that he might kill the animal. But he said, “I cannot see the window and I shall miss him.” Then the sister leveled the bow and the boy shot and killed the bear. The mother and sister went out and took the carcass down and skinned it.

After they had returned into the hut they told the boy that he had missed the bear, which had run away when it had seen him taking his bow and arrows. The bad mother had strictly ordered her daughter not to tell that the bear was dead, and she did not dare to disobey. The mother and the daughter ate the bear and had an ample supply of food, while the boy was almost starving. Sometimes, when the mother had gone away, the girl gave her brother something to eat, as she loved him dearly.

One day a loon flew over the hut and observing the poor blind boy it resolved to restore his eyesight. It sat down on the top of the roof and cried, “Come out, boy, and follow me.” When he heard this he crept out and followed the bird, which flew along to a lake. There it took the boy and dived with him to the bottom. When they had risen again to the surface it asked, “Can you see anything?” The boy answered, “No, I cannot yet see.” They dived again and staid a long time in the water. When they emerged, the bird asked, “Can you see now?” The boy answered, “I see a dim shimmer.” Then they dived the third time and staid very long under water. When they had risen to the surface the boy had recovered his eyesight altogether.


He was very glad and thankful to the bird, which told him to return to the hut. Then he found the skin of the bear he had killed drying in the warm rays of the sun. He got very angry and cut it into small pieces. He entered the hut and asked his mother: “From whom did you get the bearskin I saw outside of the hut?” The mother was frightened when she found that her son had recovered his eyesight, and prevaricated. She said, “Come here, I will give you the best I have; but I am very poor; I have no supporter; come here, eat this, it is very good.” The boy, however, did not comply and asked again, “From whom did you get yon bearskin I saw outside the hut?” Again she prevaricated; but when she could no longer evade the question she said, “A boat came here with many men in it, who left it for me.”

The boy did not believe the story, but was sure that it was the skin of the bear he had killed during the winter. However, he did not say a word. His mother, who was anxious to conciliate him, tried to accommodate him with food and clothing, but he did not accept anything.

He went to the other Inuit who lived in the same village, made a spear and a harpoon of the same pattern he saw in use with them, and began to catch white whales. In a short time he had become an expert hunter.

By and by he thought of taking revenge on his mother. He said to his sister, “Mother abused me when I was blind and has maltreated you for pitying me; we will revenge ourselves on her.” The sister agreed and he planned a scheme for killing the mother.

When he went to hunt white whales he used to wind the harpoon line round his body and, taking a firm footing, hold the animal until it was dead. Sometimes his sister accompanied him and helped him to hold the line.

One day he told his mother to go with him and hold his line. When they came to the beach he tied the rope round her body and asked her to keep a firm footing. She was rather anxious, as she had never done this before, and told him to harpoon a small dolphin, else she might not be able to resist the strong pull. After a short time a young animal came up to breathe and the mother shouted, “Kill it, I can hold it;” but the boy answered, “No, it is too large.” Again a small dolphin came near and the mother shouted to him to spear it; but he said, “No, it is too large.” At last a huge animal rose quite near. Immediately he threw his harpoon, taking care not to kill it, and tossing his mother forward into the water cried out, “That is because you maltreated me; that is because you abused me.”

The white whale dragged the mother into the sea, and whenever she rose to the surface she cried, “Louk! Louk!” and gradually she became transformed into a narwhal.

After the young man had taken revenge he began to realize that it was his mother whom he had murdered and he was haunted by remorse, and so was his sister, as she had agreed to the bad plans of her brother. They did not dare to stay any longer in their hut, but left the country and traveled many days and many nights overland. At last they came to a place where they saw a hut in which a man lived whose name was Qitua´jung. He was very bad and had horribly long nails on his fingers. The young man, being very thirsty, ent his sister into the hut to ask for some water. She entered and said to Qitua´jung, who sat on the bed place, “My brother asks for some water;” to which Qitua´jung responded, “There it stands behind the lamp. Take as much as you like.” She stooped to the bucket, when he jumped up and tore her back with his long nails. Then she called to her brother for help, crying, “Brother, brother, that man is going to kill me.” The young man ran to the hut immediately, broke down the roof, and killed the bad man with his spear.

Cautiously he wrapped up his sister in hares’ skins, put her on his back, and traveled on. He wandered over the land for many days, until he came to a hut in which a man lived whose name was Iqignang. As the young man was very hungry, he asked him if he might eat a morsel from the stock of deer meat put up in the entrance of the hut. Iqignang answered, “Don’t eat it, don’t eat it.” Though he had already taken a little bit, he immediately stopped. Iqignang was very kind to the brother and sister, however, and after a short time he married the girl, who had recovered from her wounds, and gave his former wife to the young man.


Source:  C.K.B. [1]

Culture:  Inuit ("Eskimo")

Language Group:  The two main peoples known as "Eskimo" are: (1) the Alaskan Iñupiat peoples, Greenlandic Inuit, and the mass-grouping Inuit peoples of Canada, and (2) the Yupik of eastern Siberia and Alaska. The Yupik comprise speakers of four distinct Yupik languages: one used in the Russian Far East and the others among people of Western Alaska, Southcentral Alaska and along the Gulf of Alaska coast. A third northern group, the Aleut, is closely related to the Eskimo. They share a relatively recent common ancestor, and a language group (Eskimo-Aleut).

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