STORYTELLING

 

Blind Boy

Agnes Nanogak Goose (1925-2001)
Printmaker: Harry Egotak, b. 1925
Blind Boy 1975

There are many common stories in the Arctic including "The Blind Boy." The story in its entirety is reproduced below from Tales From the Igloo, ed. by Maurice Metayer and illustrated by Agnes Nanogak, published by Hurtig Publishers.

 

THE BLIND BOY AND THE LOON

A woman lived with her son and daughter in a far away land. The son, although young in years, was already a skillful hunter and the four storage platforms built around the igloo were always filled with meat. His success at hunting was so great that the family never wanted for anything.

The young hunter’s sister loved him dearly but his mother gradually grew tired of his hunting activities. Each time her son returned home with some game she would have to work hard at cleaning and skinning the animals and in preparing the meat for storage. As time went on the woman wished more and more to be able to rest but as long as her son continued to hunt this was not possible. Eventually her weariness turned to hatred.

One day, while her son was sleeping, the woman took a piece of dirty blubber and rubbed it on his eyes, wishing as she did so that he would become blind. When the young man awoke his eyesight was gone. Try as he might he could see nothing but a dim whiteness.

From that day on increasing misery became the lot of the family. The son could do nothing but sit on his bed. His mother tried to provide food for the family by trapping foxes and hunting ptarmigan and ground squirrels. Yet when food was available the woman refused to give her son anything to eat or drink but the worst parts of the meat and some foul drinking water brought from the lake. Throughout the spring and summer the three people lived in this manner.

One day shortly after the arrival of winter, the young hunter heard steps on the snow. It was a polar bear trying to get into the igloo through the thin ice-window. Asking for his bow, he told his mother to aim the arrow while he pulled back the string. When all was in readiness the son let fly the arrow. Hearing the sound of the arrow as it thudded into the flesh of the bear, the son was confident that the kill had been made.

"I got him!" he cried.

"No," retorted his mother, "you merely struck an old piece of hide."

Shortly thereafter the smell of bear meat boiling in the cooking pot filled the igloo. The son said nothing but kept wondering why his mother had lied to him.

When the meat was cooked the woman fed her daughter and herself. To her son, she gave some old fox meat. It was only when she had left the igloo to get water from the lake that the young hunter was brought some bear meat by his sister.

Four long years went by while the son remained blind. Then one night, as the fluttering of wings and the cries of the birds announced the coming of spring, the son heard the call of the red-throated loon. As had been his habit during his blindness he began to crawl on his hands and knees to the lake where he knew the loon would be found.

When he arrived at the water’s edge the bird came close to him and said, "Your mother made you blind by rubbing dirt into your eyes while you slept. If you wish, I can wash your eyes for you. Lie flat on my back and hold me by my neck. I shall carry you."

The son doubted that such a small bird would be able to perform such a feat, but the loon reassured him.

"Don’t think those thoughts. Climb onto my back. I am going to dive with you into deep water. When you begin to lose your breath shake your body to signal me."

The young man did as he was told and down into the lake dove the loon with the hunter on his back. As they descended into the water the son could feel the body of the loon growing larger and larger and between his hands the neck seemed to be swelling. When he could hold his breath no longer he shook his body as he had been instructed and the loon brought him up to the surface.

"What can you see?" the loon asked.

"I can see nothing but a great light," replied the son.

"I shall take you down into the water once more," said the loon. "When you begin to choke, shake your body a little."

This time the dive lasted a long time but when they finally surfaced the young man could see clearly. He could distinguish the smallest rocks on the mountains far away. He described what he could see to the loon.

"My blindness is gone! My sight is sharper than before!"

"Your eyesight is too sharp for your own good," the loon told him. "Come down with me once more and your sight will be restored as it was before your blindness."

And it was so. When the young man came out of the water for the last time his eyesight was as it had been. Now the hunter could see the loon clearly and he realized that the bird was as large as a kayak.

When they had reached the lake shore the son asked the loon what he could give to him in return for his kindness.

The loon replied, "I do not want anything for myself other than a few fishes. Put some in the lake for me once in a while. This is the only food that I look for."

The son agreed and proceeded to return to his home. He was painfully surprised to see the wretched conditions in which he had been forced to live while he was blind. The skins he had used to sleep in were filthy with dirt and bugs. His drinking water and food were crawling with lice. Nevertheless he sat down in the corner and waited for his mother to awaken.

When his mother awoke the young hunter asked for food and drink. "I am hungry and thirsty. First bring me something to drink."

His mother did as she was told but the water she brought was so dirty that her son handed the cup back to her saying, "I will not touch such filth!"

"So you can see, my son," said the woman. She went then to fetch some clean food and water.

In time the young hunter was his old self again and was able to resume his successful hunting trips as before. A year went by during which time the storage platforms were once more filled with an abundance of game.

The following spring the hunter made ready to go whale hunting. He put a new skin cover on his whale boat, made lines, harpoons and spears. When the sea was free of ice he launched his boat and took his mother with him in search of whales.

"Mind the helm," he told her. "I shall look after the harpooning."

Here and there they saw a few whales blowing but the young hunter was waiting until they found a big one close to their boat. Eventually he called out to his mother who, not knowing what her son was about to do, came to assist him. He threw his harpoon, making certain that its head had caught in the flesh of the whale and then quickly tied the other end of the line to his mother’s wrist and threw her overboard.

Caught as she was the woman was dragged through the water, bobbing up and down in the waves. She cried out and reproached her son saying, "When you were young I gave you my breast to suckle. I fed you and kept you clean. And now you do this to me!"

Finally she disappeared from sight. For years to come hunters claimed that they saw her in the waves and heard her song of despair as it was carried far and wide by the winds.

 

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