Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sivuqaq - the wrung out island

Dark, still water.

Then Raven flew up and pierced the back skein of the sky with his black beak.

All was silent.

Raven burst from the heavens, holding in his beak the golden ball of the sun, stolen from the upper god. Moments later, the upper god appeared, bright and radiant and the world was born.

Raven reached into the waters and drew up a handful of rich dark earth - the Americas.

Raven reached into the waters and drew up cold, glittering rocks - Russia

He created the blessed tribes - Inhuit, Yupik, Chuckhi, Sami. The Upper god saw their beauty and strength and gifted his reindeers to these tribes, that they may be well fed and warmly clothed. With that the Upper God returned to the heavens and was gone.

Raven smiled over what he had made, stretched and spread himself for a float on the surface of the sea for a little nap. It had been a long day.

“And it’s not over yet,” the rays of the sun he had stolen and set in the blue tickled him awake again. 'There were a few hours of daylight left to make something', he supposed.

So Raven reached down into the waters of the ocean, but there wasn't much left. He reached and with his finger tips drew up a scrap of damp, squeezed the water out and what was left he sprinkled onto the sea and an island was made, if an island it could be called. It was small and barren and rocky and cold. Raven took some pebbles and spread them over the island and they were men, if men they could be called - they were weak of will and weak of body.

“Oh. Oh dear. I cannot ask the reindeer to give themselves to you,” spoke Raven “No. The Upper God would not have it; you are not good enough for Reindeer. No - you'll just have to eat what you can find.”

And so Sivuqaq - the wrung out, strung out, twisted out island - was born. The people stood on the barren shore and watched Raven fly up and disappear into the endless black sky.
The people were hungry. They caught a thong seal. They caught a ringed seal. They caught a walrus. But it was not enough.


Then there was just one boy left. He was covered in scabs and scars. He was skin stretched over bone. He lay on the floor of what had once been a sleeping room and watched his breath cloud in the frozen air.
He waited to die, lying underneath a blanket of bird skins, but all the feather had fallen off and floated away just like the Gods that had left him there. Eyes pinned open by the bony fingers of hunger, he shivered and shook.
In a dry whisper he began to pray. He prayed for sleep. He prayed for food. He prayed for death.


Far across the world, Raven heard the boy’s cries. Out of the frozen sea he sent a barking, roaring walrus, long ivory tusks.
“Problem solved. There’s food for the boy” Raven smiled happily to himself.

Two tons of walrus stormed into the sleeping room, crashing and cracking the floors and walls. The boy lay helplessly on the floor, unable to move, let alone kill this great creature. And then it was gone and in its wake, all along the ground, were jellyfish - food! In a great burst of anticipation, the boy grabbed one jellyfish and ate it whole and another and ate it whole and another and at it whole! “The Gods are good!” he cried “The Gods are good!”

Just at that moment, Raven happened to be flying over and thought he’d pop into see how his walrus gift had helped the boy.

The boy was lying dead on the ground, surrounded by half-digested jellyfish.

So Raven brought the boy back to life. The boy shook himself and began to grab at more jellyfish, eating one, two, three, four, five.

Raven smiled, satisfied to himself.

The boy died again.

And Raven brought him back again. The boy shook himself and grabbed at more jellyfish. One, two , three, four, five.

The boy died again.

And Raven brought him back again and THIS TIME the boy’s stomach was stronger. He ate more jellyfish and felt stronger.

Raven smiled and off he flew once more.

The boy prayed for sleep and the Upper God heard him and sent him sleep. He slept a heavy, deep sleep for three days and two nights and then he dreamed.

Six women - five young and one old - came into the room. They glowed like sun on snow, their eyes were black as Raven’s wing and bright tattoos ran in intricate lines and circles across their faces. They cleaned the room, repaired the walls, sowed thick blankets of seal skin, lit the lamp. He wished to move nearer the golden light of the  lamp but just as he moved he woke up.
The room was cold, dark and empty.

For three days and two nights he prayed for the dream to return, shivering and alone until his sobbing brought sleep and sleep brought the women! He lay, eyes peeping open, terrified to move in case the dream disappeared again.

“Shhhh,” one old woman said “We musn’t wake him. The Upper God was clear. All must be ready. Go prepare the food!”

The boy’s nostrils flared and he breathed a rich breath of seal blubber, hot fish, walrus meat.
“Get up,” the Old Woman nudged him, “The meal is ready.”

As he ate, the old woman urinated into a pot and rubbed the hot liquid into his sore, blistered skin. It burned and stung and healed. Then she breathed softly on him and he felt his limbs grow stronger and stronger until he felt stronger than a bull walrus! Filled with life and joy, he took each of the younger women into his arms and onto the floor of the sleeping room and from that day on he would be called “The One who Loved 5 Divine Women”.

After that he was different, after that he would not wait for jellyfish or divine women. After that, the man set off himself in search of food for his island. He journeyed into the endless expanse of cold blue sky to find the Gods who abandoned his people.
Sitting in the rays of the sun, was Raven. “Give us reindeer,” said the Sivuqaq man.
Raven looked awkward, “I cannot. The Upper God rules the Reindeer and he would be angry… and he’s already pretty angry. But here” his face lightened “how about this.”

Raven gave the young man a handful of pebbles. “Throw these into the sea. They will be your food.”

Back on the cold shores of Sivuqaq, the young man threw the pebbles into the sea. Each pebble grew and grew, with shining blue and grey skin. The whales were born.

The Sivuqaq man walked over the island and as he did the island became brighter, stronger. He lived on the surface of the sea and the sea became full of fish and food. He lived among the walrus and their numbers swelled. The Yupik people settled on the island. But the Yupik people did not see the Sivuqaq man clearly and did not know their food came from his bright presence. On one hunting trip, a short-sighted tribesmen loosed an arrow and the Sivuqaq man was killed. With his last breaths he spoke: “Such are you, and such shall be your fate. When you go out to sea, you shall be drowned. When you stay ashore, you shall die of starvation. When you have food enough, you shall be visited by to´ṛnaṛaks, the spirits, of disease” and finally he died, but this time there was no Raven to bring him back.

And it was as he said. Life on Sivuqaq was hard. Life on Sivuqaq is still hard. And yet, held between sea and rock, the people survive and live. Between cold rock and cold sea, the people live and love. The Yupik tribe still live there today.
And that is all there is to say about that.

This origin story from Sivuqaq has been retold by Abbie Palache from a which was, in turn, told to the writer by Ale'qat.

This version Copyright Abigail Palache 30/04/2015

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