Ihonka

Ihonka

Once upon a time, a Samar tribesman named La lived in a Nanai village. He had a wife and several children, but one daughter, name Ihonka, was the apple of his eye. A village visitor once said that no girl in the entire world was as beautiful as La’s daughter. Ihonka got filled with pride. She took a shiny copper basin in her hand and started gazing at her reflection. She liked it so much that she could not take her eyes away from it.

Everyone in La’s family was busy running various errands, but Ihonka just sat idle, doing nothing and admiring herself. Once her mother told her, “Ihonka, please go to the riverside and fetch us some water.”

Ihonka replied, “I might fall into the water.”

“Well, hold on to a bush.”

“The bush might break off.”

“Find a strong one,” replied her mother.

“I’ll scratch my hands.”

“Then put on your mittens.

“They might get torn,” answered Ihonka, admiring her reflection in the copper basin.

Her father then told her, “If they get torn, mend them with a needle.”

“I may break that needle.”

“Take a thick one.”

“I might prick my finger with it.” 

“Put on a deerskin thimble.”

“It’ll get punctured,” replied Ihonka, still looking at her reflection.

A neighbour girl happened to be walking by and offered to fetch some water for La.  She went to the riverside and brought back some water.

Ihonka’s mother kneaded some dough and made hackberry pancakes. Ihonka sensed the delicious smell and cried out to her mother, “Give me a pancake, Mum!”

The mother responded, “It’s very hot – you might burn your fingers.”

“No, I’ll put on my mittens.”

“They’re wet,” replied her mother.

“I’ll put them out in the sun – they’ll dry quickly.”

“They might warp in the sun.”

“I’ll knead them and make them soft.”

“But you might get tired and ruin your beauty! I think I’d better give the pancake to the girl who brought us water.”

Ihonka got very angry and ran away to the river. She sat on the bank, looking at her reflection in the water. The neighbour girl sat nearby, eating the pancake. It angered Ihonka even more. She started casting glances at the girl, stretching her neck until it became very long.

The girl said to Ihonka, “Would you like a piece of pancake?”

Ihonka got furious: after all, she, the most beautiful girl in the village, would not lower herself to eating remnants of someone’s food.   She turned white with anger, her neck stretching even longer, and started to wave her hands at the girl – and suddenly they turned into wings.

“I want noth-th-th-ing,” hissed Ihonka and flapped her hands-turned-wings so violently that she fell into the water, swimming and crying, “I’m so beautiful! I’m I-honk-honk-a, the prettiest girl in the world!”

She swam in the river for a long time, so long that she forgot how to speak.  She remembered only her name, so that no-one would confuse her, such a beauty, with anyone else. Now, when she sees people, she just cries, “I-honk-honk-honka! I-honk-honk-honka!”