The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Aino Folk-Tales

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This incomplete version was reprinted, unexpurgated, by the Society as Aino Folk-Tales (see note 1 below)


By Basil Hall Chamberlain.

Prefatory Remarks.

I VISITED the island of Yezo for the third time in the summer of 1886, in order to study the Aino language, with a view to elucidate by its means the obscure problem of the geographical nomenclature of Japan. But, as is apt to happen on such occasions, the chief object of my visit soon ceased to be the only object. He who would learn a language must try to lisp in it, and more especially must he try to induce the natives to chatter in it in his presence. Now in Yezo, subjects of discourse are few. The Ainos stand too low in the scale of humanity to have any notion of the civilised art of "making conversation." When, therefore, the fishing and the weather are exhausted, the European sojourner in one of their dreary, filthy seaside hamlets will find himself,—at least I found myself,—sadly at a loss for any further means of setting his native companions' tongues in motion. It is then that fairy-tales come to the rescue. The Ainos would not suggest the idea themselves. To suggest ideas is not their habit. But they are delighted to follow it when suggested. Simply to repeat something which they have known by heart ever since the days of their childhood is not such an effort to their easily-tired brains as is the keeping up of a conversation with one who speaks their language imperfectly. Their tongues are at once loosened.

In my own case, I found myself, after a short time, listening to the stories for their own sake,—not merely as linguistic exercises; and I ventured to include a few of them in the "Memoir on the Ainos" which was published a few months ago by the Imperial University of Japan. Some remarks in a review of this "Memoir," contained in Nature of the 12th May, 1887, have encouraged me to believe that anthropologists and comparative mythologists may be interested in having laid before them something more than mere samples of the mental products of a people which is interesting for three reasons, —interesting because its domain once extended over the entire Japanese archipelago, interesting because absolutely nothing certain is known as to its origin and affinities, interesting because it is, so to speak, almost at its last gasp. I have, therefore, now collected and classified all the tales that were communicated to me by Ainos, in Aino, during my last stay in the island, and more latterly in Tokyo, when, by the kind assistance of the President of the University, Mr. H. Watanabe, an exceptionally intelligent Aino was procured from the North, and spent a month in my house. These tales form the paper which I now have the honour to offer for the acceptance of your learned Society.

It would, no doubt, be possible to treat the subject of Aino folklore in great detail. The gloss might easily be made longer than the text. Each story might be analysed according to the method proposed by the Folk-Lore Society; a "survey of incidents" might be appended to each, as in Messrs. Steel and Temple's charming "Wide-Awake Stories," from the Punjab and Cashmere. More interesting to the anthropologist than such mechanical dissection of each tale considered as an independent entity would be the attempt to unravel the affinities of these Aino tales. How many of them, what parts of them, are original? How many of them are borrowed, and whence?

To carry out such an investigation with that completeness which wotild alone give it serious value, would necessitate a greater expenditure of time than my duties will allow of, perhaps also a fund of multifarious knowledge which I do not possess. I would, therefore, merely suggest in passing that the probabilities of the case are in favour of the Ainos having borrowed from their only clever neighbours, the Japanese. (The advent of the Russians is so recent that they need hardly be counted in this connection.) The reasons for attributing to the Japanese, rather than to the Ainos, the prior possession (which, by the way, by no means implies the invention) of the tales common to both races, are partly general, partly special. Thus it is a priori likely that the stupid and barbarous will be taught by the clever and educated, not the clever and educated by the stupid and barbarous. On the other hand, as I have elsewhere demonstrated, a comparative study of the languages of the two peoples shows clearly that this a priori view is fully borne out so far as far as the linguistic domain is concerned. The same remark applies to social customs. Even in religion, the most conservative of all institutions, especially among barbarians, the Ainos have suffered Japanese influence to intrude itself. It is Japanese rice-beer, under its Japanese name of sake, which they offer in libations to their gods. Their very word for "prayer" seems to be archaic Japanese. A mediaeval Japanese hero, Yoshitsune, is generally allowed to be held in religious reverence by them. The idea of earthquakes being caused by the wriggling of a gigantic fish under the earth is shared by the Ainos with the Japanese and with several other races.

At the same time, the general tenour and tendency of the tales and traditions of the Ainos wear a widely different aspect from that which characterises the folk-lore of Japan. The Ainos, in their humble way, are addicted to moralising and to speculating on the origin of things. A perusal of the following tales will show that a surprisingly large number of them are attempts to explain some natural phenomenon, or to exemplify some simple precept. In fact they are science,—physical science and moral science,—at a very early stage. The explanations given in these tales completely satisfy the adult Aino mind of the present day. The Aino fairy-tales are not, as ours are, survivals from an earlier stage of thought. They spring out of the present state of thought. Even if not invented of recent years they fit in with the present Aino view of things,—so much so, that an Aino who recounts one of his stories does so under the impression that he is narrating an actual event. He does not "make believe" like the European nurse, even like the European child, who has always, in some nook or corner of his mind, a presentiment of the scepticism of his later years.

So far as I can judge, that "disease of language" which we call metaphor, and which is held by some great authorities to have been the chief factor in the fabrication of Aryan myth, has no place in Aino fairy-land; neither have the phenomena of the weather attracted more attention than other things. But I speak subject to correction. Perhaps it is not wise to invite controversy on such a point unless one is well armed for the fight.

Failing an elaborate analysis of the Aino fairy-tales, and a discussion of their origin and affinities, what I venture to offer for your Society's acceptance is the simple text of the tales themselves, rendered into English. Nine of them have already been printed in the Aino "Memoir" already referred to. One has been printed (but not quite in its genuine form, which decency was supposed to forbid) at the end of Mr. Batchelor's grammar included in the same "Memoir." All the others are now given to the world for the first time, never having yet appeared in any language, not even in Japanese.

I would draw special attention to the character of the translation, as being an absolutely literal one in the case of all those stories which I originally wrote down in Aino from the dictation of native informants. As time pressed, however, I sometimes had the story told me more rapidly, and wrote it down afterwards in English only, but never more than a few hours afterwards. In such cases, though every detail is preserved, the rendering is of course not actually literal. This, and the fact that there were several informants, will account for the difference of style between the various stories. I have appended to each story either the words "translated literally," or the words "written down from memory," together with the date and the name of the informant, in order that those who use the collection may know exactly what it is that they are handling. In all such matters, absolute accuracy, absolute literalness, wherever attainable, is surely the one thing necessary. Not all the charm of diction, not all the ingenious theories in the world, can for a moment be set in the balance against rigid exactness, even if some of the concomitants of rigid exactness are such as to spoil the subject for popular treatment. The truth, the stark naked truth, the truth without so much as a loin-cloth on, should surely be the investigator's sole aim when, having discovered a new set of facts, he undertakes to present them to the consideration of the scientific world.

Of course Aino tales, like other tales, may also be treated from a literary point of view. Some of the tales of the present collection, prettily illustrated with pictures by Japanese artists, and altered, expurgated, and arranged virginibus puerisque, are at the present moment being prepared by Messrs. Ticknor & Co., of Boston, who thought with me that such a venture might please our little ones both in England and in the United States. But such things have no scientific value. They are not meant to have any. They are mere juvenile literature, whose English dressing-up has as little relation to the barbarous original as the Paris fashions have to the anatomy of the human frame.

The present paper, on the contrary, is intended for the sole perusal of the anthropologist and ethnologist, who would be deprived of one of the best means of judging of the state of the Aino mind if the hideous indecencies of the original were omitted, or its occasional ineptitude furbished up. Aino mothers, lulling their babies to sleep, as they rock them in the cradle hung over the kitchen fire, use words, touch on subjects which we never mention; and that precisely is a noteworthy characteristic. The innocent savage is not found in Aino-land, if indeed he is to be found anywhere. The Aino's imagination is as prurient as that of any Zola, and far more outspoken. Pray, therefore, put the blame on him, if much of the language of the present collection is such as it is not usual to see in print.[1] Aino stories and Aino conversation are the intellectual counterpart of the dirt, the lice, and the skin-diseases which cover Aino bodies.

For the four-fold classification of the stories, no importance is

brought here. You think this is a human village; but it is the village of me, your master the mole. It seems you constantly do all sorts of bad things. If you do so, it is very wrong; so do not assume human shape any more. If you will cease to assume human shape, you may henceforth eat your fill of these mulberries and grapes. You and your companions the crows may eat together of the mulberries and of all fruits at the top of the trees, which the crows cause to drop down. This will be much more profitable for you than to assume human shape." Thus spoke the mole.

Owing to this, the foxes left off assuming human shape, and, from that time forward, ate as they pleased of the mulberries and the grapes. When the crows let any drop, they went underneath the trees and ate them. They became very friendly together.—(Translated literally. Told by Ishanashte, 11th November, 1886.)

xii.—The Stolen Charm.

A very rich man kept a puppy and a fox-cub. Besides these he possessed a tiny silver model of a ship,—a charm given to him by some god, what god I know not. One day this charm was stolen, and could nowhere be found. The rich man was so violently grieved at this, that he lay down and refused all food, and was like to die. Meanwhile the puppy and the fox-cub played about in his room. But when they saw, after some time, that the man was really going to die, the fox-cub said to the puppy: "If our master dies, we shall die of hunger too; so we had better search for the charm." So they consulted as to the best way to search for it; and at last the fox-cub was struck by the idea that the ogre who lived at the top of the large mountain that stands at the end of the world might have stolen the charm and put it into his box. The fox-cub seemed to see that this had really happened. So the two little animals determined to go and rescue the charm from the ogre. But they knew that they could not accomplish this alone, and resolved to add the rat[-god] to their number. So they invited the rat, and the three went off, dancing merrily.

Now the ogre was always looking steadily in the direction of the sick rich man, hoping that he would die. So he did not notice the approach of the fox-cub, the dog, and the rat. So when they reached the ogre's house, the rat, with the help of the fox-cub, scooped out a passage under and into the house, by which all three made their way in. They then decided that it must be left to the rat to get hold of the charm by nibbling a hole in the box in which it was kept. Meanwhile the fox-cub assumed the shape of a little boy, and the puppy that of a little girl,—two beautiful little creatures who danced and went through all sorts of antics, much to the amusement of the ogre. The ogre was, however, suspicious as to how they had come into the house, and whence they had come, for the doors were not open. So he determined just to divert himself awhile by watching their frolics, and then to kill them. Meanwhile the rat had nibbled a hole in the box. Then getting into it, he rescued the charm, and went out again through the passage in the ground. The little boy and girl disappeared too; how, the ogre could not tell. He made to pursue them through the door, when he saw them fleeing. But on second thoughts he came to the conclusion that, having once been taken in by a fox, there was no use in further endeavours. So he did not follow the three animals as they fled away.

They returned to the village; the puppy and the fox-cub to their master's house, the rat to its own place. The puppy and the fox-cub took home with them the charm, and placed it by their master's pillow, playing about near him, and pulling his clothes a little with their teeth. At length he lifted his head and saw the charm. Then he worshipped it with great joy and gratitude. Afterwards the fox-cub and the puppy caused him to see in a dream how the charm had been recovered through the rat's assistance. So he worshipped the rat also.

For this reason the Ainos do not think so very badly of the rat after all. The fox, too, though often pursued by dogs, will sometimes make friends with them; and even when a dog is pursuing a fox, it will not bite the latter if it turns its face towards the pursuer.—(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 21st November, 1886.)

  1. [The tales in this collection which are not fit to publish are omitted from these pages. The omissions can readily be detected by the numbers of the tales not running consecutively. It seemed to the Council that for scientific purposes the complete collection should be preserved, and they accordingly decided to print a limited number to be issued to Members of the Society only. This limited issue is accompanied by an introduction by Professor E. B. Tylor.— Ed.]