Today we travel North and East from Japan to the Kamchatka peninsula and pay a visit to the Koryak people.


The name Koryak was from the exonym word ‘Korak’ meaning ‘with the reindeer (kor)’. Koryaks practice a form of animist belief system especially via shamanism. Koryak mythology centres around the supernatural shaman Quikil (Big-Raven) who was the first man and protector of the Koryak and who features prominently in their stories. Big Raven myths are also found in the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast Amerindians (Canada and Alaska) suggesting a broader monoculture cultural area stretching from current day Kamchatka across the Bering Strait into Alaska and Canada.


Their cultures only really started diverging when the land bridge across the Beiring Strait between Russia and Alaska was submerged, at about the same time the land bridge between England and France disappeared also leading to a divergence between the European cultures. Coincidentally the land bridge between New Zealand’s North and South Islands also disappeared with the rise in sea levels but this did not have the same divergent effect on the Polynesian Maori culture. However, I digress. Back to the Koryaks……..


Today’s tale is titled “How a Small Kamak was transformed into a Harpoon-Line.”

A small kamak said to his mother, “I am hungry.” She said to him, “Go and eat something in the storeroom behind the sleeping-room!” He said, “I do not want to. I want to, go to Big-Raven’s house.” The mother said, “Do not do it! You will die. You will be caught In a snare.” She said, “Go to the upper storeroom (in the porch) and eat something!” He said, “What for? Those provisions taste of the upper storeroom.” She said, “Go to the cache and eat something!” He said, “What for? Those provisions taste of the cache.”

Big-Raven spread a snare close to his elevated storehouse (raised on supports). The small kamak ran there, and was caught in a snare. He began to whimper; “Oh, oh, I am caught, I am caught!” Big-Raven said, “It came to my mind to go and to look at this snare.” He came to it, and wanted to enter the storehouse, but stumbled over something lying in the way. “What now, what is it?”–” It is I. I am caught.” The small kamak was crying, and brushing away his tears with his small fist. “Stop blubbering! I will take you to Miti’.” He brought the small kamak to his house, and said, “O, Miti! dance in honor of (our) catch!” She began to dance, “We have a small kamak, we have a small kamak!” Big-Raven said, “You dance in a wrong way. Ġa’na, step forth and dance in honor of (our) catch!” She came out and began to dance, “We have a small ma’kak, we have a small ma’kak!” Big-Raven said, “Really this is right.”

They took him into the house. The house-master said, “What shall we make out of you, a cover for the roof-hole?”–“Not this. If I am made into a cover for the roof-hole, I shall feel smoky, I shall feel cold.” The house-master said, “What shall we make out of you, a plug for the vent-hole?”–“Not this. If I am made into a plug for the vent-hole, I shall be afraid of evil spirits passing by.” The house-master said, “What, then, do you wish us to make of you? Perhaps a work-bag for Miti’.” He said, “Not this. I shall feel smothered.” The house-master said, “We shall make you into a thong.” The small kamak began to laugh and said, “Yes!”

They made him into a thong, they cut him duly, then they carried the line out and began to stretch it (tightly). Thus stretched, they (left it there). Big-Raven’s people went to sleep. Frost-Man and his people said,

“Big-Raven has caught a small kamak. They made him into a thong. Let us go and steal it!” They found it, and began to untie it. Then it cried aloud, “Quick, get up! Already they are untying me!” Big-Raven said, “What is the matter with our small line? It wants to awaken us. Quick, let us get up!” They woke up, and said to the small kamak, “What is the matter with you? Why were you crying so loudly?” The small kamak said, “Frost-Man’s people wanted to carry me away.”

The people living down the coast heard (about the thing),–how Big-Raven caught a small kamak; and how they made him into a thong; and how no one succeeded in carrying it away, it was so watchful. Those people began to say, “We will go and carry it away.”

They said, “Surely we will carry it away.” Big-Raven’s people went to sleep. The people living down the coast came and took the line. It wanted to awaken the other people, but it was unable to awaken them. “Oh, they are untying me already, they are carrying me away!” Indeed, they untied it and carried it away; they stole the line.

The others woke up, but there was no line whatever. It had been taken away. Big-Raven said, “People living down the coast have committed this theft. Indeed, they took it, nobody else.” Eme’mqut said, “A very good line was taken away, still we will bring it back.” Eme’mqut made a wooden whale and entered it. He went away and came to the people living down the coast. Those people were walking around. They were saying, “This is the first time that such a whale has come near to us. It is a very good whale.”

They attacked the whale, came near to it, and threw at it a harpoon with a new line. The small kamak lustily bit into the whale. Eme’mqut said to him under his breath, “Why are you biting me? I have come to fetch you home.” Eme’mqut threw into the boat of the whale-hunters some berries of Rubus Arcticus, and they began to eat them. Meanwhile Eme’mqut fled in all haste to his house. He carried away the new line, and took it home. They ceased carrying the line out of the house. They kept it always in the inner room, so the others could not steal it. That is all.


From “Koryak Texts” ISBN – 978-1-907256-43-1. Currently only available as an eBook