Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko
A myth “How human appeared on earth” about a maiden and an eight-legged reindeer was written down in Chubukulakh, Mid-Kolyma district of Yakutia, in 1978 by professor Vasily Afanasievich Robbeck according to a story told by Even Semyon Egorovich Dyachkov, born in 1919. The English translation is published by Yuri Klitsenko according to book V.A. Robbeck, E.K.Tarabukina, Folklore of the Even People of Berezovka. Samples of Masterpieces, Yakutsk, 2005.
A maiden, expelled from heaven, descends to the surface of the sea riding an eight-legged reindeer. On the reindeer's advice the maiden threw flocks of reindeer’s fur on water that turned in no time into wooden logs, out of which she made a raft. On strong request of the reindeer she sacrificed it and carved it, as it willed. At once the reindeer's skin turned into earth, skull and bones into mountains, hair into forests, lice into wild reindeer. When she broke its bones, the crackle turned into thunder, and death sigh - into wind. The reindeer's heart turned into a hero, lungs - into a boy and a girl.
The Evens told that before dry land appeared first humans had to float on the waters on rafts: "The Evens floated in the sea on a raft. One of them saw land on the bottom of the sea. At request of people Sun evaporated Sea… Earlier this earth was all water, without firm ground. One lad with his sister floated on a raft… Earlier the land was covered with ice. When it gradually got warmer, ice started melting, and heroes commenced floating on a raft. There appeared animals and fish… Diver (loon) brought from sea floor a hardly visible fleck of clay. God took this fleck of clay with his finger and put on the edge of the raft. In the morning the Even sees: his raft stands berthed to the bank of an island" (V.А.Robbeck, Kh.I.Dutkin, Myth about the origin of earth and human in the Even folklore. Epical art of Siberian and Far East peoples. Materials of All-Union folklorist conference, Yakutsk, 1978).
Wooden decorations of the Evenk shaman's tent include rafts floating along cosmic rivers, as well as monumental images of sacred kalirs – elks, reindeer and mammoths.
In a number of Tungus myths the primeval elks and reindeer are identified with mammoths: "When rocks appeared from under water, wild reindeer gradually came out of water. They were called mammoths. Tracks of those wild reindeer (mammoths) turned into rivers. Where they stepped, lakes appeared. Place of their pasture turned into sea" (V.A.Robbeck, Descriptions of reindeer in Even myths. Folklore and Etnography of indigenous peoples of the North, Leningrad, 1986). “The great elk cow got from the sky to the sea. The elk became mammoth and remained in the sea” (G.M.Vasilevich, Evenk Concepts about the Universe, Studies in Siberian Shamanism, edited by Henry N. Michael, Toronto, 1963).
How human appeared on earth
Earlier there were no people on earth. All of them lived in heaven and lived very well.
Once the parents of one maiden died. She went to work to one rich man. This rich man decided to marry her to an old man. But the maiden loved a youth and did not agree. Such refusal was a great sin for heaven dwellers. That is why they decided to expel her from heaven. She had an old reindeer of her father, an eight-legged one.
They set her on this reindeer and lowered down on earth. The maiden set off. All the way she wept and wept and fell asleep with no notice. When she felt hungry, the reindeer gave her its fore horn. The girl sucked it and was filled. Beneath there appeared sea. The reindeer was very tired and they started falling down. The maiden got frightened and started crying. Suddenly the reindeer spoke to her with a human voice:
- Pull out my hair quickly and strew it around.
The maiden did as it said. The hair turned into wooden logs. The reindeer landed on the biggest log and said:
- Gather all logs and put them together.
The maiden gathered all logs, the logs joined each other and made a raft. And they floated on the raft. There was nothing around them, only water was everywhere. The maiden took reindeer's hair from the neck and made nets and loops. Then she caught fish in these nets, and they ate. Thus they lived feeding on fish alone. One day the reindeer said to her:
- I have grown too old; I will die soon, so kill me now. If you do not kill me, you will die yourself.
The maiden wept and did not want to agree with the reindeer, but after thinking for quite a time she agreed. The reindeer lay down and said:
- Make a cut on the back, and then I will die. Lay my skin on water - it will turn into ground, throw my hair around - there will be forest, put my head in the middle, and put my bones after breaking them around it. But do not kill my lice, they will be reindeer. Without reindeer you cannot live a single day. Put heart and the lungs near you, when you go to sleep, do not forget - heart on the left, lungs on the right.
The maiden listened to it for long; she hated to part with the reindeer. She lay with the reindeer and wept. The reindeer asked her to slaughter it at once. The maiden wiped tears and did what the reindeer asked her about. The reindeer breathed the last time, and its breath turned into wind.
Evenkis and Evens are Tungusic folks - there are some similarities and some differences in their cultures and languages. Soon I will get a book from Yakutia with similar Evenki stories about primeval waters and rafts.
Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow. He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.