Tuesday's Tales - an Eskimo story

The Crow and the Daylight 

Long ago, when the world was new, there was no daylight in Alaska.  It was dark all the time, and the people did the best they could for they had no light but the flame of their seal-oil lamps.  They used to quarrel about whether it was day or night.  Half the people slept while the other half worked. 

In one village lived a crow.  The people liked this crow because they thought him very wise.  The crow used to talk a lot and tell of all the wonderful things he had seen in distant lands.

One evening the crow seemed sad and did not speak.  The people, missing their lively crow, asked him why he was sad.

“I am sorry for the people of Alaska,” said the crow, “because they have no daylight.”

“What is daylight?” they asked.

“If you had daylight, you could go everywhere and see everything, even animals from far away.”

This seemed very wonderful to them, and they asked the crow if he would try to get them this ‘daylight’.  At first he refused.  “I know where it is,” he said, “but it would be too hard for me to get it here.” Then they begged and begged him to bring them some.  In the end he agreed.

The next day he started on his journey.  It was dark, but it was not stormy, and when he had said good-bye, he spread his wings and flew towards the East.  He flew on and on, until his wings ached and he was very tired, but he did not stop.  After many days he could see a little bit, then more and more, until the sky was flooded with light.

Perching on the branch of a tree to rest, he looked about to see where the light was coming from.  At last he saw that it was shining from a big snow-house in a village nearby.

In that snow-house lived the village chief and his daughter.  The daughter came out every day to fetch water from the ice-hole in the river.  After she had come out, the crow slipped off his skin and hid it in the entrance of the house.  Then he covered himself with dust and said magic words to make himself into a tiny speck of dust that no one would notice.

He hid on a sunbeam near the door and waited for the chief’s daughter.  When she had filled her seal-skin water-bag, she came back from the river, and the crow, who looked like nothing but a speck of dust floating in the sunbeam, lighted on her dress and passed with her through the door into the house where the daylight came from.

Inside, it was bright and sunny, and there was a little dark-eyed baby playing on the floor, on the skin of a polar bear.  The baby had lots of toys, carved out walrus ivory.  He kept putting the toys into an ivory box with a cover, then spilling them out again.  The chief was watching the baby very proudly, but the little one did not seem satisfied with his toys.

When the chief’s daughter came in she picked the baby up, and a little speck of dust drifted from her dress to the baby’s ear.  The dust was the crow, of course.

The baby began to cry and fuss, and the chief said, “What do you want?”  The crow whispered into the child’s ear, “Ask for the daylight to play with.” The baby asked for the daylight, and the chief told his daughter to give the baby a small, round daylight to play with.

The woman unwound the raw-hide string from his hunting bag and took out a small wooden chest covered with pictures, which told the story of the brave things the chief had done.  From the chest she took a shining ball, and gave it to the child.

The baby liked the shining ball, and played with it a long time; but the crow wanted to get that daylight, so he whispered in the little one’s ear to ask for a string to tie to his ball.  They tied the daylight to some string; then the chief and his daughter went out, leaving the door open behind them, much to the crow’s delight, for here was his chance.

When the little boy got near the door, the crow whispered again in his ear, and told him to creep out with his daylight.  The baby did so, and as he passed the spot where the crow’s skin was hidden, the speck of dust slipped out of the child’s ear back into the crow’s skin, and the crow was himself again.  Seizing the end of the string in his beak, the crow flew away, leaving the howling baby on the ground.

The chief and his daughter, and all the people of the village came rushing to see what was amiss.  They saw the crow flying away with their precious daylight.  In vain they tried to shoot him down with their arrows, but he was too quick and flew out of sight.

When the crow came near the land of Alaska, he thought he would try the daylight to see how it worked, so when he passed over the first dark village, he scratched a little bit of the brightness off, and it fell on the village and lighted it up beautifully.  He did the same to every village he flew over until at last, he reached his home village.  Hovering over it, he shattered the daylight into little bits, and scattered them far and wide.

The people greeted him with shouts of delight.  They were so happy that they danced and sang, and prepared a great feast in his honour.

The crow told them that if he had taken the big daylight it would never be dark in Alaska, even in winter, but he said that the big daylight would have been too heavy for him to carry.

The people have always been thankful to the crow since then, and never try to kill him.