The Epic of the Ainu (part three)

The Epic of the Ainu (part three)

“Silence had fallen in the great hall, and she spoke.

“My brothers, listen to me. The gods came to assail us from the sea and I drove them back with my breath, to the very corners of the sea. But now the gods have come down from the mountain and I am unable to assuage them.

Battle is coming. I foretell by my witchcraft that none will be able to face this enemy that now comes; save the man who is named Shinutápka; our little brother and the heir of this castle. He alone will live. But even I cannot see whether this battle will go well; for on the sword our godlike brother Otópush wears the jewels do not shine. I do not know whether he will live or die.”

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The Epic of the Ainu (part two)

The Epic of the Ainu (part two)

“Once again the golden sea-otter came in upon the tide, and I plunged into the surf after it. It fled before me, but relentlessly I pursued it. I dived again like a sea-bird and caught it with my foot. The otter looked up and, knowing me for who I was, was not scared of me. It came up and floated in my arms.

My prize was won. With a great leap the wind took me once more; I flew back across the land with the golden otter in my grasp. Soon, I saw my home – the castle Shinutápka. It was surrounded by mists, and I was overawed at its beauty. Gently I pulled aside the door flap and entered; my brother and sister had slept all of the night. But day was coming soon; so I placed the otter on top of the baskets and flung myself into my bed, as if I had been there the whole night.

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The Epic of the Ainu (part one)

The Epic of the Ainu (part one)

The Ainu [アイヌ] are the indigenous peoples of Japan and far east Russia. Although the true number of Ainu descendants living in Japan is unknown, it is believed that only 200 pure blood Ainu remain, most of these upon Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

Though the Ainu have their own language, they do not have a written alphabet. Even the spoken language is becoming much rarer. It is feared that slowly but surely the Ainu way of life is dying out; that soon the only records of their culture, their wisdom and their stories will lie in the hands of anthropologists.

Kutune Shirka is the most well-known story of the Ainu (you can read the original translated version by Arthur Waley here). It is an epic poem about an Ainu hero who catches a golden sea-otter in order to win the hand of an Ainu princess and is written, as is Ainu tradition, from the viewpoint of the protagonist of the story.

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