2: The Song the Fox Sang

Towa towa to!
One day I went out
To look for food by the sea.

Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
And as I went along what I saw in front of me looked like this:
On the beach a whale had been washed up
And humans were dressed up in fine clothes
Dancing and singing to celebrate the sea’s bounty,
And some cut the meat,
And some carried it back and forth,
And the nispa recited their prayers of gratitude.[1]
And there were others who sharpened the knives,
And the beach was black with them.
And seeing all that I was ecstatic!
“Oho, I’ve got to get there quickly
And beg a bit – nothing wrong with that!”
I thought, and yelling “Onnono! Onnono!”[2]
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
I ran and I ran and I got a close look
And it wasn’t like I’d thought at all.
Cause the thing I thought was a beached whale
Was actually a great big heap of dog shit on the beach
Yes, a mountain of enormous turds
That’s what the thing turned out to be
That I thought was a whale.
What I thought were people dancing and singing
And cutting up the meat and so forth
Were actually crows
Having fun among the shit on every side –
I was furious.

“Blind moron
Myopic idiot
Stink-bottomed fool
Smelly-assed twit
Incontinent oaf
What on earth was I thinking?”

And then once more
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
I turned slightly inland
And what I saw in front of me looked like this:
There was a boat, and in that boat
There were two people, who were offering condolences to each other.
“Oho, this must mean
There’s been a horrible disaster
Maybe it’s a shipwreck or something
Oh, I’ve got to get there quickly
And hear what’s wrong!”
I thought, and yelling “Hokokes!”[3]
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
I rushed over there like the wind and saw that really
What I thought was a boat was a rocky outcrop and
What I thought were people were two outsize pelicans.
And when these two big pelicans stretched their necks
It looked sort of like two people consoling each other –
At least to me.

“Blind moron
Myopic idiot
Stink-bottomed fool
Smelly-assed twit
Incontinent oaf
What on earth was I thinking?”

And then once more
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
I ran, and I turned to go up the river
And directly upstream I saw two women
Standing in the shallows and weeping together.
I was quite shocked.
“Oho, something sad has happened
Someone has brought news of a death
And they’re clinging together in grief[4]
Oh, I’ve got to get there quickly
And hear all the gossip,”
I thought, and
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
I rushed, and when I got there I saw that really
There were two poles for holding fish-traps
Standing in the river, shaking with the current
And honestly they looked just like women shaking with tears.

“Blind moron
Myopic idiot
Stink-bottomed fool
Smelly-assed twit
Incontinent oaf
What on earth was I thinking?”

And then I went on upstream
Hopping among the stones, towa towa to!
Hopping among the twigs, towa towa to!
And ran like the wind all the way home.
But this is what I saw in front of me:
My house was on fire and smoke rose into the sky
A column of smoke like a thundercloud.
Seeing that, I was so horrified
I panicked completely. Screaming like a woman[5]
I leaped toward my house – from which
Someone else called back at me and ran to my side.
Taking a careful look, I realized it was my wife.
“Gracious me, darling,” she said, breathless with worry,
“Whatever’s the matter?”
So I took a closer look around and I realized
Although I thought I’d seen my house on fire
There it was still looking about the same as ever.
There was no fire or smoke.
It turned out my wife had been pounding grain
And the winnowed husks of millet
Were what I’d thought was smoke.
I’d gone out looking for food but I still had none,
And worse yet, when I’d shouted so loudly,
My wife jumped with surprise and the grain she was pounding
Went flying off in the wind along with the husks.
And the result was that I had nothing at all to eat.
And I was so furious I threw myself to the floor
Crashed to the ground, and just lay there.

“Blind moron
Myopic idiot
Stink-bottomed fool
Smelly-assed twit
Incontinent oaf
What on earth was I thinking?”

So said the Chief of Foxes.



[1] It was believed that when whales were washed up on the coast, they were thrown up onto the shore by the sea god specifically for the benefit of humans. Therefore, on such occasions august persons would dress in the finest clothes and, facing the sea, give ritual thanks. For the first of three times, the impetuous fox mistakes something quite different for Ainu ritual gestures.

[2] The cry used by Ainu hunters when returning from a successful hunt. [Chiri]

[3] The cry used by Ainu men to call on divine aid during disasters. [Chiri]

[4] News of a death was carried from village to village by a special messenger, the ashurkorkur, whose title means ‘the one whose speech is mixed up’. The messenger would cry “Hokokes!” and announce the news in purposefully distorted speech. The local women might exchange hugs and tears in the ritual called uchishkar – this is the conclusion the fox jumps to when he sees the swaying poles.

[5] It isn’t mere panic that makes the fox scream like a woman. In times of disaster, Ainu men called on the gods as loudly as possible; but women, with their more piercing voices, could make much softer sounds and still get a response. In times of trouble, therefore, men would imitate women in order to be better heard by the kamui. It is to this measure that the desperate fox resorts. [Chiri]