The Deserted Woman And Her Foster Daughter
Here we are! Back, with the first retold myth of 2021.
Twice a month we scour the globe in search of some of our favourite myths. We then write a short "bina" version of the story which you can read below or listen to on Instagram.
Today's story is from Greenland and is simply called "The deserted woman and her foster daughter".
About The Woman And Her Foster Daughter
The story of ‘The Deserted Woman And Her Foster Daughter’ is one of the many indigenous folk tales collected by Danish explorer Dr Henry Rink in his book ‘Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo’ between 1866 and 1875. Originally Kalaallit myths were passed by word of mouth as they had no written language.
Image adapted from: Papers of Russell W. Porter, 1893-1949 (XRWP), National Archives and Records Administration
Greenland / Kalaallit Nunaat
The Kalaallit are the indigenous Greenlandic Inuit people from the country's western region. In the 10th century, the southwestern coast was settled by Icelandic Vikings. The area was apparently uninhabited when they arrived. The fierce viking Eric the Red named the island Greenland (Grœnland) in hopes of inspiring more settlers to come from Iceland! The country is 80% covered by an ice sheet so the majority of habitation is along the coastline. The languages commonly spoken in Greenland are Greenlandic, Danish and English.
The Woman And Her Foster Daughter In a winter village on the frozen tips of Kalaallit Nunaat, a woman watched her foster daughter glide up the path to the great seal-hunters house. The woman smiled to herself, thinking how clever and lucky she was to adopt her wonderful girl. A large shadow crossed the pathway. Her grin faded as her eyes turned to the refrigerator shaped hunter striding up from the dock.
The man was the boneheaded owner of the aputiak-- the house in which they lived. To live in his large warm place, and eat his prey, the woman and girl had to cook and clean. He forced his way through the doorway, carelessly tracking icy mud into the home on his enormous boots. His face was pressed into a permanent scowl.
'The fleet is ready, and I will not wait for anybody, especially not those wearing skirts!' The blood drained from her face until she was as pale as winter snow 'You told me we are all leaving for the new hunting fields next week!'
'Did I? Silly me..' Said the man carelessly as he grabbed the last of his tools from the wall. 'The boats are leaving now, on my orders!'
Her daughter looked across the room in horror. As the man blustered out the door, the woman exploded into motion. 'Pack only the things you need, quickly!' They bustled down the beach with their most essential possessions and saw the last boat about to leave, with the hunter perched on its edge. Awkwardly the woman passed their meager possessions into the boat as the rowers' beat began, loud and clear. Boom ba doom!
She lifted the girl towards the boat. The hunter aggressively pushed her back, shoving both mother and daughter into the shallow, frozen waters. As the woman surfaced, she heard the hunter laughing 'You only eat my food; We are leaving you here, let’s see how you fare by yourselves.'
Their tribespeople in the boat turned their gazes downwards in fear and shame. Not only did they like the woman and her daughter, they also knew what an exile meant for their chances to survive. Too afraid to be left behind, they began to work the oars, pushing them out to sea.
Shivering, the woman and child sat on the beach in each other's arms crying in despair. Everyone they knew and everything they owned was gone in those boats. The daughter wept "Will we starve?". The woman stroked her daughter's hair and bundled her for warmth 'My sweet girl, there is nothing as powerful as a mother protecting her child'.
They gathered everything they could use from their abandoned village. There was almost no food left. Though the woman and girl were not hunters, they knew well that their chances are slimmer out of season.
'Sweety, you are young and strong. Go outside and dig a hole by our window ledge'. Confused, the girl dug a hole as instructed. 'Fetch water to fill the pit”
Completely perplexed, the girl asked '`Remind me; why are we making the world's smallest dam outside our house?' Her mother chuckled 'My mother taught me a song that could help, I am out of practice, but I will try to sing in tune' The daughter was stunned 'What?! You're going to sing a lullaby to a pond for which I wasted my last ounce of energy making?'
Her mother said with a smile 'just pour the water and then rest some.'
The girl filled the hole and then sat next to her foster mother. Her mum held her 'Listen carefully, in case you need this charm when I am not near.' She sang to the water, to the abandoned village, to her child. Her warm voice seemed to add chill in the vibrating air.
The girl heard splashing from the pond and raced outside. A frogfish was swimming around in the shallow pool and jumped right into her lap. They cooked the delicious fish and went to sleep with full bellies and a hug.
Each day the mother and daughter repeated their evening song for food. With their confidence in their ability to self-sustain, their pond grew. One day they captured a lumpfish, the next a duck, then a seal, a dolphin, a white whale and finally a narwal!
They began to heap provisions outside the house as the cold weather would keep it well. With their skilled craftswomanship, they made tools and clothes to keep themselves warm and safe.
Giggling together outside their home while tightly pulling thin skin over the girls' new small drum, the child exclaimed 'is that a kayak on the horizon?'
A man from their village couldn't live with the idea of leaving them behind. He had taken a kayak to search for the pair. He hoped they survived and brought some food along to save them if on the brink of starvation. As he pulled onto the shore, he noticed all the skin and fish drying in the sun. He couldn't believe his eyes!
The mother and daughter cautiously made their way towards the man, though he barely noticed. 'I thought I would come and rescue you, but it seems you can easily rescue me instead' The woman laughed and offered him his choice of dinner and a place to stay the night.
Near the fireplace, he told them that the fishing had not gone well and that the terrible hunter lost his mind, swam out to sea and never returned. The next day, the man left to get more kayaks to bring back to the women and their much-needed supplies. Their tribe needed them and they wanted their tribe.