Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Kullervo's Birth

MANY ages ago there was a mother who had three sons, and one of them grew up to be a prosperous merchant, but the other two were carried off--one to distant Pohjola and one to Karjala. And the one in Pohjola was named Untamo, but the one in Karjala was called Kalerwoinen.

               One day Untamo set his nets near Kalerwoinen's home to catch salmon, but in the evening Kalerwoinen came by and took all the fish out of the nets and carried them off home. When Untamo found it out he went to his brother, and soon they fell to blows; but neither could conquer the other, though they gave one another sound beatings. After this had happened, Kalerwoinen sowed some barley near Untamo's barns; and Untamo's sheep broke into the field and ate the barley, and then Kalerwoinen's dog killed the sheep. This made Untamo so angry that he collected a great army and marched against his brother to put him and all his tribe to death. And when they reached Kalerwoinen's home they burned all the houses and killed every one except Kalerwoinen's daughter Untamala.

               Now not long after this a child was born to Untamala, and she named him Kullervo. Then they laid the fatherless infant in the cradle and began to rock him, but he began at once to make the cradle rock without assistance, and he rocked for three whole days, so hard that his hair stood quite on end. On the third day he began to kick until he had burst his swaddling clothes, and then he crept out of the cradle and broke that also in pieces. When Kullervo was only three months old he began to speak, and the first words which he uttered were these: 'When I have grown big and strong I will avenge the murder of my grandfather Kalerwoinen and his people.'

               At this Untamo was greatly alarmed, and took counsel with his people as to what should be done with the child. At length they hit upon a plan. They took the child and bound him firmly in a willow basket and then put him in the lake among the bulrushes. After three days had passed they went to see if he were dead, but he had broken loose from the basket and was sitting on the waves, fishing with a copper rod and a golden line; so they took him back again to the house. Next Untamo ordered a great heap of dried brushwood to be collected together, and a pile was made higher than the tree-tops; on the top of this they set the boy and then set fire to the pile. It burned three whole days, and then Untamo sent men to see if the child was dead; but they found him sitting in the middle of the fire raking the coals together with a copper rod, and not a hair of his head was even singed.

               Then they took him home and considered again how they should kill him, and this time they took him and crucified him on an oak-tree. And on the third day they came and found that he had painted an armed warrior on every leaf, made fast though he was to the tree, and so they took him down and brought him home again. This time they saw that they could not harm him, so Untamo told him that he would take him as a servant, and that if he did well he should be paid well.

               When Kullervo had grown a little, he was set to take care of a baby, and was given very careful instructions as to how to rock it and attend to all its wants; but the cruel Kullervo treated it harshly, and in the evening killed it and burned the cradle in the fire. So Untamo was afraid to give him any further employment about the house, but bade him go out and cut down the forest on the mountain side. Then Kullervo went to the smith and bade him make a huge axe of copper, and when it was ready he spent one day in sharpening it and another in making the handle, and then hastened off to the forest. There he chose the biggest tree on all the mountain side and felled it at one blow. Six more huge trees were cut down just as easily, but then Kullervo grew disgusted with the work, and pronounced a curse over the whole mountain, and stopped working.

               So when Untamo came in the evening to see how he was getting on, and found only seven trees felled, he saw that he must set Kullervo to some other task. The next day, therefore, he took him into a field and bade him build a fence round it. As soon as Untamo was gone, Kullervo set to work, using whole trees and raising the fence higher than the clouds; and when he had finished there was no gate to enter by, and the fence was so high that no one could climb over it. When Untamo came and saw what he had done, and that no one could now get into the field, he told Kullervo that he was unfitted for such work, and must go and thresh the rye and barley.

               Then Kullervo made a flail and set to work. And he threshed so hard that all the grain was beaten to powder and the straw was broken up into useless pieces. But when Untamo saw this, he grew very angry, and cried out that Kullervo was a wretched workman who spoiled whatever he touched, and the next day he took him off and sold him to the blacksmith Ilmarinen in distant Karjala. And the price Ilmarinen paid was three old worn-out kettles, seven worthless sickles, and three old scythes and hoes and axes, surely quite enough for such a fellow as Kullervo.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Kullervo's Birth
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

Back to Top