This tale about how the Narwhal got its tusk is known in many areas of the North American Arctic.
Once there was a blind boy whose mother was very cruel to him. Even though he helped kill a polar bear that wandered by, his mother would not let him have any of it to eat. He could smell meat cooking, but his mother denied it. The boy’s sister, however, hid some of her supper and later gave it to him while their mother was out. The boy decided to ﬁnd an opportunity to kill his cruel mother.
Sometime later, when the boy was outside, a large loon carried him off to its nest on the edge of a cliff. The loon then dove into the water with the boy. They did this several times until the boy’s eyesight was restored. His vision was so good that he could see far in the distance to where his mother was. When he returned to his home, his mother realized that she must be careful and from then on she treated him more kindly.
One day the mother and son were hunting narwhal. The mother held the end of the harpoon rope by tying it around her waist, but she feared that a large narwhal would drag her into the sea. So she asked her son to aim for only the small ones. This he did, and they soon were feasting on the blubber. Another time they saw a large narwhal and a smaller one. The mother again asked her son to aim for the smaller narwhal, as she still feared being pulled into the sea. However, the boy aimed at the large narwhal and his spear struck deep. The narwhal struggled to get free and pulled away from shore. It was too strong and the mother was dragged into the water. She yelled for the boy to toss her a knife so she could free herself, but he refused, and the cruel woman was drowned.
Then the woman became a narwhal herself. Her hair, which was worn in a twisted knot on top of her head, became a tusk. From then on, narwhals have had twisted tusks.
References and further reading:
- Kroeber, A. L. “Tales of the Smith Sound Eskimo.” Journal of American Folklore 12, no. 44 (January-March 1899): 166–182.
- Nungak, Zebedee, and Eugene Arima. Inuit Stories: Povungnituk. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, National Museums of Canada, 1988.
- Seidelman, Harold, and James Turner. The Inuit Imagination: Arctic Myth and Sculpture. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001. First published 1994 by Thames and Hudson.