Sunday, August 2, 2015

Another oral variant uncovered!

Another oral variant of the Blind Man and the Loon uncovered! Last night I discovered this variant, told by the late Chief Peter John of Minto, through a Google key word search. To my pleasant surprise, it was recorded by James Kari in Fairbanks on March 7, 1990, accompanied by Jeff Leer and Elsie John.

There are two sound clips. On the first clip (ANLC2522A) Peter tells the story in English, and then at the end, Jim asks him to tell it in Lower Tanana. He does so (but only after expressing his displeasure about not being asked to tell it in his Minto language first). The second or Lower Tanana telling (ANLC 2522B) is continued in the second sound clip. Both are available for listening at the Alaska Native Language Archive site ( You may need to boost your volume to max to hear them clearly.

Peter John's variant is quite similar to other Tanana River variants, like the one told by Walter Titus in Nenana (see, but there are a couple of traits here worth commenting on. For one, the hunter in Peter John's variant kills a moose, while the hunter in Walter Titus's variant kills a caribou. Now Minto and Nenana are only a few miles apart on the Tanana River, so this is a surprise.

As I noted in my book, the Tanana River area displays some interesting mixing between a moose (Regional Group G) or a caribou (Regional Group F), as the animal hunted by the blind man. Peter John's blind man shoots a moose (a trait distinctive of Group G) but he rewards the loon with a beaded necklace (a trait distinctive of Group F). For the location of these groups see my map below in an earlier posting.  For the location of these groups see my map below in an earlier posting.

The Peter John variant also injects a new twist on the wicked wife's final insult. Instead of giving her blind husband the usual ladle of bug-infested water when he finds his way back to her camp, here the wife gives him some sinew to eat. In both the John and Titus variants the storytellers quote the hunter's final words to his wife as "Naduya' ole'!" ('You will become an ant.')

Another unique trait of Peter John's variant is that at the beginning of the story the blind man positions himself next to a game trail and ties a string or rope across the trail. When he feels the rope get taut, he uses that as a sensory signal to shoot his arrow and kill the moose. In all the other Indian variants I know of (including the one by Walter Titus) he depends on his wife to tell him where to aim and when to shoot.