How the animals brought old age to the Taiga

Once upon a time, the trees and other plants of the Northern Taiga knew not of old age. They came into being and stretched their saplings towards the warming sun, seeking to soak in its life-giving rays and, having gathered power, passed it on to others. During hot summer days they gave earth, the First Mother, cooling shade. In the winter, people gathered healthy sap from the trees. Having fulfilled their mission, the plants turned into humus, only to grow again in due time. Leaves, flowers and grass never quarrelled or argued. They merely rustled in anxiety before a storm began or when a predator hid nearby.

In the beginning, similar laws applied to the animals, too. They never fell sick or become old. But on one occasion, all the animals met in the Taiga for a big council - chakabak. They had to decide which one of them should erect a food stock for the winter. Everyone knows - the summer is plentiful, berries and mushrooms to be had without end. The rivers are full of fish. Only really lazy animals could have trouble finding food. But in the winter earth is hardened by frost and the rivers covered by a thick layer of ice. A food stock would be good to have.

Amakan the bear disagreed and roared with anger: «The winter is meant for sleeping, not for eating!» And turned his back to the animal chakabak.

The hare flapped his ears and said: «That food stock? There is enough tree bark around. Chew some and be satisfied.»

Oron the deer stomped the ground in indignation and said: «Dry moss is no good. You have to kick away the snow and eat it fresh.» His words were accompanied by a lively demonstration of the process.

Chapakan the squirrel weaved her tail as if flirting: «Oh no, my friend. You won’t survive a long, cold winter without a stock of dry mushrooms and cedar nuts, and your fur will be dull.»

Ergechi and sluki, wolf and fox, smiled to each other saying, «Fresh flesh for us.»

The raven sighed; he knew his dependence on ergechi and sluki in the winter and on amakan during summer. If they are unsuccessful in their hunt, he must hover in hunger over the Taiga. Still, he decided to contribute to the discussion: «Why? I have nothing against some carrion. I recommend it to everyone - it even holds longer in the cold.»

The meeting would have ended in peace, but sluki unintentionally hurt the raven: «What are you, utakan, doing on the chakabak? We are all here self-sustaining - even little tarbagan can dig out some roots by himself. Only you eat the leftovers of others.»

The raven was quite offended and left the council without a word. Still, he stayed nearby to see the outcome.

But the debate in the chakabak became even hotter. The animals could not decide who should collect the winter food stock.

«Let the hare do it,» said ergechi, «He’s got nothing better to do in the Taiga but run around confusing trails.»

«At least I don’t slaughter», snapped the hare. All the animals broke with each other on that chakabak. It all ended when the angry ergechi jumped on the hare, tore him to pieces in front of everybody and ate his guts.

The other animals left the chakabak in fear and dismay. That was unprecedented - evil at a chakabak, where wolf and hare, bear and tarbagan are equal. Only the raven was delayed in the glade. He stopped to eat some leftovers and then flew over to the moon rocks. He knew that Black Illness dwelt on top. She had nothing to do in the Taiga as long as the animals lived in peace and harmony. But quarrels, fights and dark intentions gave her a chance to advance. Now that uman, murder, had been committed, or hunting without purpose, she could spread her deadly venom across the Taiga.

The raven took Black Illness on his back and flew down from the moon rocks to the valley. And illness came to the animals that disregarded the laws of chakabak.

Ever since, illness and death inhabited the Northern Taiga. People who have eaten of a quarrelsome oron or mad boar, started quarrelling or became easily irritable. And on those occasions, even the good spirit Fire, keeper of the hearth, could not avert the penetration of illness into their chums.

N. Koledneva rewrote this tale told by Maria Spiridonova Kurbaltunova 1978 in Chapo-Ologo, Kalar Rayon of the Chitinskaya Oblast. Maria Kurbaltunova was Evenki. She passed away in 1980 at the age of 64. The tale is translated from «Мир коренных народов - живая арктика» (Indigenous Peoples' World - Living Arctic) No. 5, 2001.