Dancing Brown Bear Cub (photo by Mark Sisson from DailyMail.com)
The book I talked about yesterday featured a seagull in the opening scene, so today I went searching for a seagull story. This tale comes from the Innu people of Canada.
When spring came, the bear woke from hibernation and came out of her den. She went for a walk to the place where most of the snow had melted so that she could eat berries. She left her children behind where they were still asleep. After she had finished eating, she went back to her den and took a nap. While she was sleeping, her children woke up and saw that their mother’s mouth was purple from eating berries.
The cubs decided to follow her footprints and try to find berries too. So they followed their mother’s footprints until they reached a patch of berries and started eating too. After they had eaten enough berries, they both went home. When they had nearly reached their den, they heard their mother making desperate cries.
It was too late. A greedy monster had killed their mother and had eaten her. This monster knew that there were cubs around because he had seen their footprints in the snow. He was very excited because he knew that baby cubs are very tasty and tender to eat. He started to run as he chased after the baby cubs.
The cubs had taken off running when they heard their mother screaming. After running for a long time, they met grandmother porcupine along the trail. They said to her, “Grandma, please let us pass. We are running away from someone who has killed our mother. Will you try to stall him while we run again?”
“Yes, I will,” replied the grandmother porcupine. “You have another grandmother who can kill this monster. You will find her. Just follow this trail,” pointing to the path ahead. And so the cubs ran again.
Shortly thereafter, the monster got to the grandmother porcupine. He said to her, “Please move out of the way grandma. I’m looking for our grandchildren. They have run away from me.”
Grandmother porcupine said, “I will not move out of the way unless you can do what they have done for me.”
The monster replied, “What did they do?”
She said, “They built me a fire and they rubbed their faces on my tail.”
The monster replied, “Oh, that’s easy. I can do that for you.” And so he built her a fire. He was very happy thinking that she would soon let him pass.
After he had finished making a fire, he rubbed his face on her tail. But while he was doing this, grandmother porcupine swung her tail very hard on his face. Quills were lodged all over his eyes and mouth.
“Now I will move out of your way so you can pass,” she said to the monster.
The monster passed, taking his time to pull the porcupine quills out of his face. After he had finished picking the quills out, he was on his way again. He saw the cubs’ prints on the ground.
The cubs were still following the trail that the grandmother porcupine had shown them. They finally reached their other grandma’s house. This grandma was a giant seagull. They said, “Grandma, we are running away from someone who has killed our mother. We are afraid he might try to kill us too.”
The grandma said, “Don’t be afraid. I have killed this kind of monster before.” The cubs were no longer afraid.
She said, “I will take both of you across to where you can stay safely.” She took them across the water in her boat.
The cubs said to their grandmother, “Will you kill this monster, Grandma?”
“I will,” she replied.
When she got back to her boat, she painted it with dirty, smelly fish. When the monster reached the crossing place, he called out to the seagull, “Grandma, please come help me get across!”
The seagull paddled her boat to the monster.
“Did you see our grandchildren? I have been running after them. I was thinking of eating them because they are still very tender.”
The seagull said, “Yes, I have seen them. I took them across. Would you like to go across too?”
“Yes,” said the monster. And he got into the boat. When he got into the boat, he couldn’t stand the smell of it.
The seagull said, “If you can’t stand the smell, hang your head over the side instead.” And so the monster held his head over the water to avoid smelling the stinking boat. While he was doing this, the seagull took a huge knife out from hiding and cut his head off. It fell into the water.
After she had killed the monster, she went back to the bear cubs. “I have already killed the monster who killed your mother,” she said. “You can both stay here, and I will make you toys to play with.”
The bear cubs played with their boat on the river, and they had a lot of fun. They stayed there forever.
Both the porcupine and the seagull are brave and clever. I’m not quite sure what kind of monster it was though.
Seagulls play a variety of roles in the folklore of different Native American tribes. In some cases, seagulls are antagonists criticized for their noisy, aggressive, and greedy behavior, which totally makes sense. In others, they are noted for their endurance and perseverence. In some Northwest Coast tribes, Seagull was said to have powers over storms and weather.
Seagulls are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Seagull Clans include the Ahtna tribe and the Chippewa tribe (whose Gull Clan and its totem are called Gayaashk.) Seagull is used as a clan crest in some Northwest Coast tribes (especially the Nuu-chah-nulth), and can sometimes be found carved on totem poles.
Totem at Stanley Park in Vancouver
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.