8: The Song the Sea God Sang

Atuika tomaomaki kuntuteshi hm hm
Tall brothers, six brothers, tall sisters, six sisters,
Short brothers, six brothers, short sisters, six sisters,
Here is how I was raised:
Near where the treasures were piled, a dais was provided;
Sitting on that dais, carving new knife-sheaths:
That was how my days were spent.

Every day, when morning came the brothers
Took their quivers on their backs, and departed with the sisters;
When twilight came, with tired faces
Empty-handed the sisters returned
Tired though they were they prepared a meal, offered me a tray
And they too ate, and cleared up, and
The brothers then employed their hands busily in making arrows.
When the quivers were full again, everyone was so tired
That they slept with mighty snores that echoed around.

When the next day came, once again, while it was still dark,
Everyone got up, and once again the sisters made food and offered me my tray
Everyone finished their meal, and once again took their quivers on their backs
And out they went.  And once again, when evening came
With empty hands and tired faces they came back
The sisters prepared a meal, the brothers prepared arrows
Always it was the same thing.

One day, the brothers and the sisters
Took up the quivers and went out.
I who had been making carved treasures, finally
Got up from the dais, to my little golden bow
Fitting my little golden arrows, and I went outside.
I saw that far and wide the sea was calm
And from the eastern sea to the western, the whales
Were playing, splash splash!  Then, in the east
Tall sisters, six sisters joined their hands to make a ring,
Short sisters, six sisters, chased the whales into the ring,
Tall brothers, six brothers, short brothers, six brothers,
Aimed and fired at the whales in the ring,
And the arrows passed above the whales and below the whales.
Every day, they must have been doing this!
I saw that in the center of the ocean
A huge whale, a parent and child, up and down
Splash splash, could be seen playing, so
From a distance,
I fitted a little gold arrow to the little gold bow,
Took aim and fired, and with a single arrow
I shot through both parent and child.

There, splitting one whale down the middle,
I took half of it, and into the ring of sisters
I hurled it.  Then placing the whale-and-a-half
Under my tail, I headed for the land of humans
To the village of Otashut;
I cast the whale-and-a-half
Up on the village beach.
And having done so, diving lazily into the sea
I swam back home.
As soon as I arrived, somebody
Came running, out of breath.
I looked and it was a sea-wren.
And out of breath, it gasped:

Tominkarikur Kamuikarikur Isoyankekur
Valorous God, Great God,
For what possible reason have you,
For mere humans, for horrible humans,
Offered this great bounty of the sea?
Mere humans, horrible humans, axes in hand,
Sickles in hand, are chopping, are jabbing,
Are carving and slicing this great gift;
O brave God, O Great God, make haste
And withdraw your sea-bounty!
Even for such an extravagant bounty
Mere humans, horrible humans,
Will feel no gratitude!”

So it said, and I, laughing, replied:

“Since this is something I have decided to bestow on the humans,
Since it’s theirs now and not mine, the humans
May slice it with sickles, may chop it with axes
May consume it entirely or whatever they want;
They have a right to eat what is theirs, do they not?
Is that all right with you?”

The sea-wren loitered around, but
Not caring about it whatsoever,
Lazily diving in and out of the sea, I swam slowly away
And before twilight came, I reached
My own sea.  I saw that
The twelve brothers and the twelve sisters,
Instead of hauling their half-whale home,
Had raised their voices to the eastern sea, and were loudly complaining.
At this point I gave up on them completely.
Not caring about them whatsoever,
To my house I returned and sat down on the dais.
There, looking back at the world of humans, I saw
The whale-and-a-half that I had cast up
Was surrounded by splendid men and
Splendid women in magnificent clothes,
Dancing with happiness, leaping with joy, and on the sandy beach
Rich rugs were laid, and on them stood the nispa of the village of Otashut;
Wearing six robes, binding with a sash six robes,
A holy crown, an ancestral crown, on his head,
Girding on the sword of divine right
Raising his hands high in worship
In a manner as beautiful as a god’s.  With loud cries
The people rejoiced in the sea’s bounty.

That stupid seagull had said that the humans
would hack at my gift with their axes, but instead
The chief first
Took up a long-revered sword
Greatest of the village’s treasures,
And with that he cut and apportioned the meat.

Still, my brothers and sisters
showed no sign of returning.
After two or three days, at the window
Something could be seen, and
Turning to look closely, on the east window
I saw a golden dish overflowing
With salmon, and on top
An inau and ritual chopsticks were stood[1]
As a messenger, which carried back and forth this message:[2]

“On behalf of the people of Otashut
In a spirit of reverence I offer this ritual sake.”

As the representative
Of the nispa and people of Otashut
It uttered a prayer of thanks to me
whose burden was thus:

Tominkarikur Kamuikarikur Isoyankekur
Great god, valorous god
Our village suffered a famine
So bad that nothing could be done.
When there was no food you took pity on us.
You gave life to our village for which
We offer the deepest thanks, we rejoice in the sea’s bounty
Brewing a modicum of sake, adding a small inau,
Our thanks to the great god
We humbly express.”

With which, an inau-topped portion of sake
Was offered.

Thereupon I rose, took the golden dish,
Accepted the offering,
Uncovered the six sake barrels at the high seat
Added the liquor bit by bit
And placed the dish over the window.
When this was done, I rested on the dais.
I saw that the dish had vanished along with the chopsticks. Then,
I went back to carving knife-sheaths, decorating knife-sheaths…
After a while, happening to look around, I saw
The house was full of beautiful inau
The house was full of white swirling clouds, with white lighting
Sparkling and flashing.  “How beautiful,” I thought.

After that, two or three days went by
And at last, the brothers
and sisters with loud voices
came hauling their whale homeward.
I had no more patience for them.
Seeing what was inside the house,
The brothers and sisters were terrified, and their faces drooped.
Everyone came in and saw all the inau
And in shock they prostrated themselves again and again
Meanwhile, the six sake barrels at the east seat
Were overflowing, so that sake (beloved of the gods!)
Flowed through the house.
Then I decorated the inside of the house with lovely inau
And gods from far and near I invited
And gave a great banquet.  The sisters
Boiled whalemeat and served it up
And the assembled gods smacked their lips with pleasure.
When the party was at its height i got up
And told the tale of how I,
Concerned lest there be famine in the world of humans
Caused sea-bounty to be cast ashore;
And of how the envious gull complained, and how
The chief of Otashut spoke grateful words,
Raised prayers to me, sent a messenger in the form of
Sake and inau with pleasing words, and the assembled gods
Spoke as with one voice
Praising me.
Then returning to the feast
The company raised a clamour of dancing and leaping
With my sisters passing among them as cup-bearers
Voices raised in beautiful song.

Two or three days passed and the feast ended.
Each god took two or three beautiful inau
And bowing at the waist prostrated themselves again and again
And all returned to their own houses.
Since that time, without fail,
Whenever people make sake
They send sake and inau to me and my
Tall brothers, six brothers
Tall sisters, six sisters
Short brothers, six brothers,
Short sisters, six sisters.

And now, with no shortage of food
With no troubles to beset them
People live their tranquil lives;
And my mind is at peace.

[1] Chopsticks decorated with little inau were used when offering sake to the gods.  This ‘kike-ush-pashi’, acting as a sort of agent, goes to the place of the gods when people have something they would like to say, and delivers the message. [Chiri]

[2] The Japanese has ‘corpse’ rather than ‘messenger’ – these words happen to sound the same, and this is probably a mistake in the Japanese text.