Sunday, April 5, 2009

the swamp mussel's song

This is the second of the Ainu folk tales that were published in the September 2007 issue of World Literature Today. It is my abridged translation of the original Ainu yukar, and like The Fox's Song (see previous blog), we hope to get it published as a storybook for young readers of English and students of English as a second language. This tale provides an intriguing peek into the daily life of Ainu women of long ago. The accompanying illustration is the work of Stephanie Gagnepain.

The Swamp Mussel's Song

The sun was so hot and intense that my home in the swamp was drying up. I was almost dead, but I called out, “Please, someone, please give me a drink of water.”

A woman carrying a basket was passing close by, so I called to her. But she snorted and said “Quit making such a racket, you disgusting swamp mussel!” She kicked me and my kin, and then she ground us into the mud with her foot. After that, she stomped off toward the hills.

As I was crying out from the terrible pain and begging again for water, another woman with a basket was passing close by. I called out to her for help. This woman was beautiful, and she came quickly to my side. “Oh, you poor mussels. You are all dried out, and it looks like you’ve been stepped upon!” She picked us up, placed us on a big butterbur leaf, and gently put us into the clear water of the lake.

When we were refreshed and had regained our strength, we studied the two women. And we learned that the first woman, the one who had treated us so cruelly, was the sister of Samayunkur. The second woman, the one who had treated us with kindness, was the sister of Okikurumi, the valiant warrior. Because the sister of Samayunkur had been cruel, I caused her millet field to wither. And because the sister of Okikurumi had been kind, I caused her millet field to prosper.

Later the same year, Okikurumi’s sister had a splendid harvest of millet. When she found out that it was my doing, she honored us by using our shells as clippers to harvest the ripe millet. Human women have used mussel shells to harvest the ripe grains of millet ever since. [the end]