Three disobedient youths

Three disobedient youths

In olden times, the Nivkh people lived in pit-house villages. One of such pit-houses was a home to three young men. They had a mother, a father and a sister, but they built themselves the pit-house to live on their own.  The boys would do as they pleased, they would not listen to old people nor take pity on them, and they would ignore any advice from elders. Many times, their parents would admonish them against committing sins, but the brothers would continue doing things their own way.

They would fish, and they would hunt.  When they caught a fish, they would cut its head or tail off while the fish was still alive and eat the fish. Sometimes, they would catch a taimen, a large salmon that the Nivkh people used to call toi, or oiso.  The Nivkh believed that cutting a taimen in half was a terrible sin.  Knowing this, one of the brothers once took out his knife and cut a taimen in half, laughing. He immediately fell ill. He lay on a trestle bed for a few days, and then he grew a hump on his back. Old people told him then, “See, you did what you wanted with the taimen, even though we told you it was a sin, and look what happened to you.” He would say nothing in response.

The second brother once sailed off in his logboat to hunt for seals. He caught one, brought the animal to the village, wounded, but still alive, and started dressing it.  His father told him, “Kill the animal first before you dress it.” The boy, however, continued to torture the animal, laughing at his father’s words. One month later, his hand started to ache. It hurt so much he could not sleep at night or do any work.  Everyone saw bones sticking out of his right hand, and his grandfather said, “I told you many times not to sin, but you wouldn’t listen. See what happened to your hands!” But the youth remained silent, for he could not say a word.

Then, one spring, the third brother went hunting into the woods and killed a bear. He dressed it there alone, took the choice parts, left the carcass in the woods and went home.   His grandmother told him, “You shouldn’t have done this, it’s a terrible sin.”  The youth just laughed and said, “There’s no sin in it at all!” Then, his grandfather learned that the boy had killed a bear and left some of the meat to rot in the woods, and said, “We do not waste good meat like that here. Beware, the bear will punish you.” Five days passed, and the boy told his grandfather, “Look at me, I’m exactly the same as I was, no bear had punished me.” His grandfather said, “Do not mock the bear.”  In about a month’s time, the boy started complaining about pain he felt in his face, neck and jaws, to which his grandfather replied, “Perhaps it is the bear punishing you.”  The boy’s face got distorted, he started to cry and weep.

The council of elders then convened and decided to appease the land and the water. As was the custom, they slaughtered two dogs and gave them to the water as sacrifice; then they slaughtered three dogs, one black, one red and one white, and gave them to the land as sacrifice. After that, the paid receded, but the boys’ faces and bodies remained distorted for the rest of their lives.  And the village elders told them, “We hope you understand now why this happened to you. You shouldn’t have laughed at people, and you should have observed our customs.”