Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Wainamoinen's Boat-Building

WAINAMOINEN started to build a boat from the Rainbow-maiden's distaff, but he had soon used up all his timber, and the boat was far from finished. So he asked Sampsa (the planter of the first trees that grew on earth) to go and search out the needful timber in order to finish the boat.

               Sampsa started off with a golden axe upon his shoulder and a copper hatchet in his belt. He wandered through the mountain forests, and at length came upon a great aspen, and was just going to cut it down, when the aspen asked him what he wanted. 'I wish to take your timber for a vessel,' Sampsa replied, 'that the wise magician Wainamoinen is building.' Then the aspen answered: 'All the boats that have been made of my wood have been but failures; they float but a little way, and then sink to the ocean's bottom, for my trunk is full of hollow places, where the worms have eaten my wood.'

               So Sampsa left the aspen and searched still further, until he came to a pine-tree that was even taller than the aspen was. Sampsa struck a blow with his axe, and at the same time asked the pine-tree if it would furnish good timber for Wainamoinen's boat. But the pine-tree answered: 'All the ships that have been made from me are useless. I am full of imperfections, for the ravens live among my branches and bring ill-luck.'

               And Sampsa was obliged to leave the pine-tree and go on until he came to a tremendous oak-tree, whose trunk was thicker than the height of even the tallest men. And he asked the oak-tree if it would furnish wood for Wainamoinen's boat. 'I will gladly furnish the wood,' replied the oak-tree, 'for I am tall and sound and strong. The warm sun shines upon me for three months in the summer, and the sacred cuckoo dwells in my branches and brings good fortune.' So Sampsa quickly felled the oak, and brought the timber, skilfully hewn, to Wainamoinen.

               The wise magician Wainamoinen then began to put his boat together by the aid of magic spells. The first magic song that he sang joined the framework together, and the second song fastened the planking into the ribs, and the third put the rowlocks in place and made the oars. But, alas! when all this was done, there were still three magic words needed to complete the stem and stern and bulwarks.

               Wainamoinen saw that all his labour was in vain unless he found the three magic words, for unless the stern and stem were fastened and the bulwarks built, the boat could never put to sea. He pondered long over where he might find the lost words, and after a while he concluded that they might be found in the brains of swallows and the heads of swans and the plumage of the sea-duck. But though he killed great numbers of these birds, he could not find the three lost words. Then he thought that he might find them on the tongues of reindeers or of the squirrels; but though he killed great numbers of them, and found many words on their tongues, the three lost words were not there.

               Then he said to himself: 'I will seek the lost words in the kingdom of Manala; there are countless words to be found there in the Deathland.' So off he went, travelling for three weeks over hill and dale, through marshes and thickets, until at length he came to the river of Tuoni. There he called out in a voice like thunder: 'Bring a boat, O daughter of Tuoni, and ferry me over this black and fatal river.'

               Tuoni's daughter, a wee little dwarf, but very wise and ancient, bade him first say why he wished to come into the Deathland while he was still alive. And first Wainamoinen answered that Tuoni himself, the death-god, had sent him. But the maid replied: 'Had Tuoni brought thee, he would now be with thee, and thou wouldst be wearing his cap and gloves.' So Wainamoinen answered again: 'I was slain by an iron weapon.' But the maid would not believe him, because he had no bleeding wound. Then he said the third time, that he had been washed there by the river. But still the maid would not believe him, for his clothing was not wet. And the fourth time he said that fire had burnt him. But the maid replied: 'If the fire had brought thee to Manala, thy hair and eyebrows and beard would be all singed and burnt. But now I ask thee for the last time what it is that hath brought thee, living, hither. Tell me the truth this time.'

               Then Wainamoinen told her that he had been building a boat by magic, but that he yet lacked one spell, and had come thither to seek it. When he had said this, Tuoni's daughter came across and rowed him to the opposite side, having first tried to dissuade him from coming. But Wainamoinen was not afraid; and when he had landed he walked straight up to the abode of Tuoni.

               There Tuonetar, Tuoni's wife, gave him a golden goblet filled with beer, saying: 'Drink Tuoni's beer, O wise and ancient Wainamoinen!' But he carefully inspected the liquor before he tasted it, and saw that it was black and full of the spawn of frogs and poisonous serpent-broods; and he said to Tuonetar: 'I have not come hither to drink Tuoni's poisons, for they that do so will surely be destroyed.'

               Tuonetar then asked him why he had come, and he told her of his boat-building, and how he still needed the three magic words, and that he hoped to find them there. 'Tuoni will never reveal them,' Tuonetar said; 'nor shalt thou ever leave these gates alive;' and as she spoke she waved the slumber-wand over Wainamoinen's head, and he sank into a deep sleep. And to make sure of his not escaping, Tuoni's son, a hideous wizard with only three fingers, wove nets of iron and of copper, and set them all through the river, to catch Wainamoinen if by any chance he should get so far.

               But Wainamoinen soon freed himself from Tuonetar's slumber-spell, and knowing in how great danger he was, he instantly transformed himself into a serpent, and wriggled his way to the river, and through the nets that had been set to catch him, until at length he came out safe into the land of the living again; and the next morning, when Tuoni's wizard son went to look at his nets, he found all kinds of evil fish and serpents, but not the wise old magician.

               But Wainamoinen prayed to Ukko: 'I thank thee, O Ukko, that thou hast protected me; but never suffer any other of thy heroes, not even the wisest, to go against the laws of nature to the awful Tuonela. For there are but few who return from thence.'

               And then Wainamoinen called together the people on the plains of Kalevala, and spoke to the young men and maidens, saying: 'Listen, all ye young people. Never disobey your parents; never harm the innocent, nor wrong the weak, nor utter falsehood, else ye will pay the penance for it in the gloomy prison of Manala; for there is the dwelling-place of the wicked, and a place for the guilty. Beneath the burning rocks there are fiery couches, with pillows of hissing serpents, and coverlets of green writhing vipers. And the wicked there drink the blood of adders, but have nothing to eat at all. If ye would be happy, shun this abode of the wicked ones in Tuonela.'

               'But I thought Wainamoinen wasn't to use any wood for his boat except the pieces of the distaff,' said Mimi.

               'Well, you see,' said Father Mikko, 'the main thing was to build the boat by magic, and we'll see now how he did that. I don't believe a little extra wood made any difference.' So he went on:

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Wainamoinen's Boat-Building
Tale Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Book Title: Finnish Legends for English Children
Book Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1893
Country of Origin: Finland
Classification: unclassified

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