Eskimo Folk-Tales | Annotated Tale

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Dwarfs, The

A MAN who was out in his kayak saw another kayak far off, and rowed up to it. When he came up with it, he saw that the man in it was a very little man, a dwarf.

                "What do you want," asked the dwarf, who was very much afraid of the man.

                "I saw you from afar and rowed up," said the man.

                But the dwarf was plainly troubled and afraid.

                "I was hunting a little fjord seal which I cannot hit," he said.

                "Let me try," said the other. And so they waited until it came up to breathe. Hardly had it come up, when the harpoons went flying towards it, and entered in between its shoulder-blades.

                "Ai, ai--what a throw!" cried the dwarf in astonishment. And the man took the seal and made a tow-line fast.

                Then the two kayaks set off together in towards land.

                "Hum--hum. Wouldn't care to ... come and visit us?" [1] said the dwarf suddenly.

                But this the man would gladly do.

                "Hum--hum. I've a wife ... and a daughter ... very beautiful daughter ... hum--hum. Many men wanted her ... wouldn't have them ... can't take her by force ... very strong. Thought of taking her to wife myself ... hum--hum. But she is too strong for me ... own daughter."

                They rowed on a while, and then the little one spoke again.

                "Hum--hum. Might perhaps do for you ... you could manage her ... what?"

                "Let us first see her," said the man. And now they rowed into a great deep fjord.

                When they came to the place, they landed and went up at once to the house of the little old man. And those in the house did all they could that the stranger might be well pleased. When they had been sitting there a while, the old man said:

                "Hum--hum ... our guest has made a catch ... he comes to us bringing game."

                Now it was easy to see that they would gladly have tasted the flesh of that little seal. And so the guest said:

                "If you care to cook that meat, then set to work and cut it up as soon as you please. Cut it up and give to those who wish to eat of it."

                The little old man was delighted at this, and sent out his two women-folk to cut up that seal. But they stayed away a long while, and no one came in with any meat. So the little old man went out to look for them.

                And there stood the two women, hauling at the little fjord seal, which they could not manage to drag up from the shore. They could not even manage it with the old man's help. They hauled away, all three of them, bending their bodies to the ground in their efforts, but the seal would not move. Then at last the stranger came out, and he took that seal by the flipper with one hand, and carried it up that way.

                "What strength, what strength! The man is a giant indeed," cried the little folk. And they fell to work cutting up the seal, but to them it seemed as if they were cutting up a huge walrus, so hard did they find it to cut up that little seal.

                And people came hurrying down from the houses up above, and all wished to share. The women of the house then shared out that seal. Each of the guests was given a little breastbone and no more, but this to them was a very great piece of meat. When they held such a piece in their hands, it reached to the ground, and their hands and clothes were covered with fat.

                Inside on the bench sat an old hag who now began trying to make herself agreeable to the guest. She squeezed up close to him and kept on talking to him, and looking at him kindly. She was old and ugly, and the man would have nothing to do with her. Suddenly he gave a loud whistle.

                "Ugh--ugh!" cried the old hag in a fright, and fell down from the bench. Then she stumbled down into the passage way, and disappeared.

                And now after they had feasted on the seal meat, those from the houses up above cried out:

                "Let the guest now come up here; we have foxes' liver to eat!"

                And as he did not come at once, they cried again. And then he went up. The house was full of people, all busy eating foxes' liver.

                "It is very hard to cut," said the dwarfs. "It is dried."

                And the dwarfs worked away as hard as they could, but could not cut it through. But the guest took and munched and crunched as if it had been fresh meat.

                "Ai, ai--see how he can eat," cried some.

                But all those in the house were very kind to him, and would gladly have seen him married into their family. And the young women had dressed their hair daintily with mussel shells, that the guest might think them the finer. But he cared for none of them, for the little old man's daughter was the most beautiful.

                And therefore he went down to that house again when it was time to go to rest. And he said he would have her to wife.

                And so they lived happily together, and soon they had a child.

                And now the man began to long for his own place and kin. He thought more and more of his old mother, who was still alive when he started off.

                And so one day he said he was going to visit his home.

                "We will all go with you," said the little old man; "we will visit your kinsfolk."

                And so they made ready for the journey, and set out.

                Now when they came to the place of real people, all these were greatly astonished to find their old comrade still alive. For they had thought him dead long since.

                And the dwarf people lived happily enough among the real men, and after a little time they forgot to be troubled and afraid.

                But one day when the little dwarf grandmother was sitting at the opening of the passage way with the little child, she dropped the child in the passage.

                "Hlurp--hlurp--hlurp," was all she heard. A great dog, his face black on one side and white on the other, lay there in the passage, and it ate up the child on the spot.

                "Ai--ai," she cried. "Nothing is left but a little smear on the ground."

                And now the dwarf folk were filled with horror, and the little old man was for setting off at once. So they gathered their belongings together and set out.

                And whenever they came to a village, they went up on shore, and the old man always went up with his tent-skins on his back.

                "Are there any dogs here? Is there a great beast with a black-and-white face?" was always the first thing he asked.

                "Yes, indeed." And before they could turn round, the old man was back in his boat again, so great was his fear of dogs.

                And at last the skin was worn quite away from his forehead with carrying of tent-skins up on to the shore in vain. [2]

                One day they were lying-to, when a wind began to blow from the north.

                "Are there dogs here?" asked the old man, and groaned, for his forehead was flayed and smarting, so often had he borne those tent-skins up and down. But before any could answer, he heard the barking of the dogs themselves. And in a moment he was back in his boat again.

                The wind had grown stronger. The seas were frothing white, and the foam was scattered about.

                Then the old dwarf stood up in his boat and cried:

                "The sky is clearing to the east with crested clouds."

                Now this was a magic song, and as soon as he had sung it, the sea was calm and bright once more.

                Then the old man went on again. So great was the power of his magic words that he could calm the sea. But for all that he had no peace, by reason of the dogs.

                And he went on his way again, but whither he came at last I do not know.


The particular source of this tale is South-East Greenland.


[1] The story-teller speaks the dwarf's part throughout in a hurried and jerky manner, to illustrate the little man's shyness.

[2] A heavy burden carried on the back is supported by a strap or thong passing over the forehead.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Dwarfs, The
Tale Author/Editor: Rasmussen, Knud
Book Title: Eskimo Folk-Tales
Book Author/Editor: Rasmussen, Knud
Publisher: Gyldendal
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1921
Country of Origin: Greenland
Classification: unclassified

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