The wise twins

The wise twins

The elders still remember this story, though only a few of them are still alive.

Once upon a time, two twin brothers, Udoga and Chubak, were born in the village of Beldy.  Everyone knows that twins bring good luck and happiness to their families and their people, and these twins were no exception. People noticed that, even though Udoga and Chubak looked just like other little boys in their early years, they were smarter and wiser that village elders.  When the twins turned five, they went on their first hunt, and what a good hunt it was! Everyone loved the twins and helped them out, and the twins brought good luck to their tribe.

One year, though, turned out particularly bad for Beldy. There were fewer animals to hunt in the woods, there were fewer fish in the river. The council of the elders decided that the tribe had to move to a different place. They blamed their misfortunes on an evil spirit that scared away the animals and the fish.

Udoga listened to the elders and said, “There is no need to move, this is a good place. We shall not want for food.”

He pulled the string of his bow, shot an arrow, and the arrow flew away into the taiga. After a while, people suddenly spotted his arrow flying back, and a multitude of ducks, geese and quail following in its wake. The arrow returned to Udoga’s quiver, and the birds, all shot through their right eye, fell down by Udoga’s feet. The elders of the tribe exchanged glances and realised that, should it go on like that, the villagers will always have bird meat to eat.

Then the other twin, Chubak, cast a fishing net into the river with one hand. The net disappeared. The elders started whispering, “The evil spirit of the water stole our net…”

But then the water started bubbling up, and Chubak put his hand into the water and pulled out the net. The elders were struck with awe, for there were as many fish as there were knots in the net. People realised that, should it go on like that, the villagers will always have fish to eat.

Chubak then asked the village women, “On which side of keta salmon did you find more roe last year?”

“On the left side,” replied the women.

“It’s all clear now”, said Chubak. “This year, the salmon go upstream along the left bank, and you were fishing from the right bank – that’s why you thought there were no fish left in the river.”

Then, Udoga added, “Birds and forest animals follow the fish. Start hunting on the other side of the river, and you will succeed.”

The tribesmen did as they were told, and their good fortunes returned. From then on, the villagers sought advice from the twins and admired their wisdom.

One day, however, misfortune struck the village again. A powerful noion, a Manchurian warlord, arrived there with his cannons and warriors and demanded that tribute be paid. Each Beldy tribesman was to give him a fox, an otter and a sable. This saddened the villagers, for they had never paid tribute to anyone before; however, the big-nosed noion was too powerful to ignore. He had twice as many cannons and warriors as there were people in the Beldy tribe. So, the village elders decided to seek advice from the twins.

The twins exchanged a glance and told the elders, “We shall not pay tribute to anyone! This is our land and our water. We will go and have a talk with the noion.”

The village women started weeping and imploring the twins, “Please don’t go! The noion is evil and terrifying! If he kills you, our tribe’s good fortune will be killed too.”

The twins, however, were adamantly resolved to visit the noion. As they got closer, they saw him sitting in a sampan – a large, ornately painted boat, with a silk canopy fluttering in the wind above his head. He was surrounded by guards, and an executioner was standing by a chopping block, sharpening his curved blade.  The noion’s right hand was placed on a silk cushion, revealing extremely long nails, so long they reached the boat floor, each nail covered by a silver sheath.  Five bondmaids were by his side, cleaning the nails on the noion’s other hand.  A fat scribe with a large book was seated by the noion’s feet.

The noion spotted the twins and asked them, “Hey, Nanai twins, what are you here for?”

The brothers remained silent, rendered speechless by what they saw there. The fat scribe broke the silence, “O illustrious noion, these children came here to tell you that their elders would soon arrive and bring you the tribute they have collected.”

The noion then put on an air of importance, expecting to meet the Nanai elders soon. He waited and waited, but the elders did not arrive. His strained neck started to ache. Then, Chubak spoke.

“O illustrious noion, our elders will not bring you any tribute. Our people have never paid tribute to anyone. From the beginning of time, we have been fishing in our rivers, hunting in our woods, breathing in our air and watching our stars in our sky. The elders will not arrive, but we, the little ones, decided to visit you. But it is not tribute that we brought you, illustrious noion, but our gifts.”

Having said this, Udoga took out a pouch filled with soil and emptied it in front of the noion. “Take this piece of our land as a gift if all the land you already own is not enough for you,” said Udoga. 

Then, Chubak took an owl’s eye out of his chumashka shoulder bag and presented it to the noion. “Take this owl’s eye as a gift, too. With it, you will be able to clearly see the bravery of the people who live here even in the dark of night.”

After that, Ugoga plucked a feather out of a red-billed eagle’s tail and said, “Take this feather as gift, and may your life be as long as an eagle’s. May everyone fear you, just like every creature fears this bird of prey. But remember that our people will never be afraid of you!”

Following that, Chubak spilled some ash before the noion and said, “May all you enemies turn to ashes; however, may all your evil schemes against people of this land be buried under ash, too.”

The noion was surprised and thought, “Since little boys of this tribe are so wise and fearless, one can only imagine how strong and determined their grown-up warriors could be!” The noion got scared, but his appearance did not betray his fear. He shouted out to the twins, “Tell you people that I will arrive at Beldy tomorrow, burn you houses and turn your living into dead.”

Udoga replied, “If that is what you want to do, do it today, for tomorrow you won’t be able to.”

However, the noion would not listen to the twins and waited until the next morning to set out. As soon as his army left the camp, it started raining so hard that the river’s banks disappeared from sight and the roads became so muddy that his warriors almost drowned. Their gunpowder got wet and they could no longer shoot their rifles. The army had to get back to camp.

The noion got angry and asked the twins, “How did you know that my warriors would have no luck?”

Udoga responded, “The sun was setting into a dark cloud last night – that was a sure sign heavy rain was coming.”

Eventually, it stopped raining and stars appeared in the night sky. The noion then said, “I myself will sail to Beldy tomorrow, burn you houses and turn your living into dead.”

Chubak responded, “Do it now, for tomorrow will be too late.”

The noion, however, waited until dawn and then ordered all of his sampans to sail to Beldy at full speed. Suddenly, immensely strong wind started to blow, the sky darkened, white-lined dark clouds appeared, and the noion found himself and his army in the midst of a hurricane so strong he has never seen anything like that before. The waves reached the sky, the wind tore all the sails apart and smashed all the masts and oars into splinters.

The noion got angrier still and asked the brothers, “How come you knew that I would have no luck this time either?”

Chubak responded, “The stars were blinking last night – it’s a sure sign of a coming hurricane!”

So, the noion just sat there, sulking, covering himself with a gown.  He broke off all his fingernails in a fit of anger, turned away all his bondmaids, and beat his scribe with a stick.

The twins approached him and said, “Noion, don’t you see that we know our land well, and that’s the reason we can collect tribute from this land, be it the fish we catch, the fur animals we hunt, or the birds we shoot. Think about it – how would you collect tribute form a land of which you have no knowledge?

The noion thought long and hard. “How can I conquer these people when even their little boys are smarter than myself?” And so, he went back to Manchuria.

The elders still remember this story about the Beldy twins, though only a few of our elders are still alive…