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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/636

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626
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

he threw her into the water. She held on to the gunwale; then the father took his hatchet and chopped off the first joints of her fingers. When they fell into the water they were transformed into whales, the nails becoming the whalebone. Still she clung to the boat; again he took his hatchet and chopped off the second joints of her fingers. They became transformed into ground seals. Still she clung to the boat; then he chopped off the last joints of her fingers, which became transformed into seals. Now she clung on to the boat with the stumps of her hands, and her father took his steering-oar and knocked out her left eye. She fell backward into the water and he paddled ashore.

"Then he filled with stones the boots in which the dog was accustomed to carry meat to his family, and only covered the top with meat. The dog started to swim across, but when he was halfway the heavy stones dragged him down. He began to sink and was drowned. A great noise was heard while he was drowning. The father took down his tent and went down to the beach at the time of low water. There he lay down and covered himself with the tent. The flood tide rose and covered him, and when the waters receded he had disappeared."

This woman, the mother of the sea-mammals, may be considered the principal deity of the Central Eskimo. She has supreme sway over the destinies of mankind, and almost all the observances of these tribes are for the purpose of retaining her good-will or of propitiating her if she has been offended. Among the eastern tribes of this region she is called Sedna, while the tribes west of Hudson Bay call her Nuliayuk. She is believed to live in a lower world, in a house built of stone and whale-ribs. In accordance with the myth, she is said to have but one eye. She cannot walk, but slides along, one leg bent under, the other stretched forward. Her father lives with her in this house, and lies covered up with his tent. The dog watches the entrance, being stationed on the floor of the house.

The souls of seals, ground seals and whales are believed to proceed from her house. After one of these animals has been killed its soul stays with the body for three days. Then it goes back to Sedna's abode, to be sent forth again by her. If, during the three days that the soul stays with the body, any taboo or prescribed custom is violated, the violation becomes attached to the animal's soul. Although the latter strives to free itself of these attachments, which give it pain, it is unable to do so, and takes them down to Sedna. The attachments, in some manner that is not explained, make her hands sore, and she punishes the people who are the cause of her pains by sending to them sickness, bad weather and starvation. The object of the innumerable taboos that are in force after the killing of these sea animals is therefore to keep their souls free from attachments that would hurt their souls as well as Sedna.