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The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Some Specimens of Aino Folk-Lore


By the Rev. J. Batchelor.

AN interesting paper on the above subject was recently read before the Asiatic Society of Japan at Tōkyō. These specimens had been taken down as they were sung, chanted, or recited by the Aino bard or story-teller. In all, seven legends were given in the original Aino, accompanied by a literal translation and commentary. The first was the legend of a famine, which Mr. Batchelor seemed to think was kept alive simply to show how good a thing is wine. The second legend also bore upon the same subject of famine, and had a somewhat curious moral to the effect that, as the gods had, in extending food to the Aino race, shown that they had been pleased by offerings of wine and inao (whittled wood), why then should the form of religion be changed?

The third legend was an account of a great trout that quite filled a large lake, and proved such a scourge to the people of Aino-land that the gods at last took pity, and, descending, killed it. It is to the action of such a fish that the Ainos refer all earthquakes, the land indeed being supposed to rest on its back. The fourth legend relates how Okikurumi and Samai (that is, as Mr. Batchelor believes, Yoshitsune and his servant Benkei) harpooned a large sword-fish, and, after long struggling, finally conquered it. The tale seems intended to preserve the fame of Yoshitsune as a benefactor to the Ainos, and point the moral that a new comer or stranger should not be despised. The fifth legend tells of Yoshitsune in love—how, through taking just one glance at a beautiful woman, he got exceedingly love-sick, retired to his hut in sullen despair, and would not be comforted. "Though two bad fish and two good fish were put before him he could not eat." The news of his condition is brought to the beautiful woman by a water-wagtail, which called upon her to have mercy upon Aino-land; for, if Yoshitsune should die, the soul of Aino-land will depart. So an unreal woman is made in the likeness of the beauty, and introduced into the hero's hut, where she proceeds to put things in order. "Then Yoshitsune looked through his sleeve and saw the beautiful woman. He got up greatly rejoiced, he ate some food, strength came back to his body, and the woman was gone. Yoshitsune saw he had been deceived, but there was nothing to be done, and nothing to say, so he got well." The moral the Aino draws is, "Be not too easily deceived by woman's love, for it soon passes away like a mere unsubstantial phantom or shadow." The sixth legend recounts the exploit of Yoshitsune and his wife in cutting down a "metal pine-tree" which had resisted all the strokes of the Aino ancients. The moral the Aino teach from it is, let not the younger laugh at the elder, for the very old people can teach their juniors a great deal, even in so simple a matter as felling trees.

The seventh legend was of a very different style from the preceding ones. It was called by a name which indicated the subject-matter, whereas the titles of the others all seemed to refer to the tune or tone in which the legend was chanted. To the philologist the legend was especially interesting, as it contains many old and now disused words. The younger Aino indeed require to be specially taught by their elders before they can understand the allusions and idioms which occur in this and other legends of a like character. Old men listen with rapt attention to the recital of this really exciting tale, so pathetic and graphic as it is in the original—qualities, however, which are much lost in the translation. The title Poiyaumbe means literally "little beings residing on the soil"—"little" being probably meant to express endearment or admiration. The heroes of the people seem to be meant, or simply the brave Aino. The tale is one of invasion and war. The enemy invade the land in the form of deer, male and female, a large speckled buck, speckled even to its horns, leading the male herd, and a speckled doe leading the female. The reciter, who is aided by his younger sister and elder brother, sends a poisoned arrow into the thickest of the herd, slaying multitudes with one shot. The speckled buck took then his true form of a man, and a fierce duel followed between the two. Meanwhile both the brother and sister were slain by the woman who had been the doe, and, in the quaint phrase of the Aino, "rode upon the setting sun." The malignant man and bad woman then set fiercely upon the Aino, who, after vanquishing the latter, swooned under a blow from the former. On his recovery he set out to discover the path by which the deer had been seen to come, and after six days' travelling came to a tall mountain with a beautiful house built on its summit. Descending — for his path had always been through the air—by the side of the house, and looking through the chinks of the door, he saw a little man and a little woman sitting beside the fireplace. At the request of the man the woman proceeds to prophecy. She tells of the fight that had just been in the distant land, and of the victory of the single Poiyaumbe over their elder brother, who had without cause been the aggressor. She cannot clearly see what is next to happen, but there is clashing of swords and spurting forth of blood. As she ends her prophecy the Aino enters, fiercely curses the Sematuye man and his people, and chases him about the house with intent to kill. The noise attracts the multitude, who swarm as thick as flies, but are mown down like grass. The little woman curses her people for their wickedness in attacking the Poiyaumbe without a cause, and throws in her lot with the stranger. Side by side they fight until all are slain, the little Sematuye man last of all.

Among the Aino there are still prophets and prophetesses, who limit their powers now, however, to telling the cause of illness, prescribing medicine, charming away sickness, and such like. A person when prophesying is supposed to sleep or otherwise lose consciousness, and to become, so to speak, the mouth-piece of the gods. The prophet is not even supposed to know what he himself utters, and often the listeners cannot understand the meaning of the utterances. The burden of prophecy sometimes comes out in jerks, but more often in a kind of sing-song monotone. It is difficult to imagine a more solemn scene than that of an Aino prophet prophesying, as once witnessed by Mr. Batchelor. Absolute silence reigned around, old men with grey beards sitting with eyes full of tears, in rapt attention, the prophet himself, apparently quite carried away with his subject, trembling, perspiring profusely, and beating himself with his hands. At length he finished exhausted; though, as he opened his eyes for a moment, they shone with a wild light.