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Concerning the Origin of the Ainu

That the Ainu inhabited Japan long anterior to the Japanese is a well-known fact. The names of many places all over the Empire, from Satsuma in the south to the Kurile Islands in the north, are of Ainu origin, and therefore go a long way towards proving this. The old histories of Japan also form another link in the chain of evidence. These tell us that on coming to Japan the ancient Japanese often made war upon the Ainu living at that time upon the mainland, and state that while many of them were slain in battle, others saved themselves by fleeing to the mountains. But do not let it be supposed for a moment that the Japanese were always the aggressors, for the Ainu of olden times were undoubtedly a very savage people, and sometimes provoked the wars by their barbarity and unruliness.

Nor must it be imagined that they were cowards, for there are strong grounds for believing that they fought many hard battles, and that the Japanese, even with their superior arms and armour, found them very difficult to subdue.


That the Japanese really found the Ainu a very uncivilised race may well be believed, for Ainu tradition itself tells us the same thing. From it we learn that the Ainu forefathers were so far down in the human scale as to be given over to cannibalism, and cannibalism of the very lowest type. Thus says their legend on this point:

'The Ainu were formerly cannibals. Not only did they eat the flesh of bears, deer, and other animals in its raw condition, but they used to kill and devour their own relations also. They even ate them without first cooking the flesh. But when the divine Aioina descended from heaven he taught the people to make fish-spears, bows and arrows, pots, pans and such like useful articles. He also commanded them to cook every kind of fish and all kinds of flesh before eating it. He furthermore warned them against the habit of devouring one another.'

The name Aioina mentioned in the above tradition is an important one, and will frequently occur between the covers of this book. Many of the people think that they are descended from the person represented by it, not in every case by way of natural generation, but by way of being created by him. He, indeed, is supposed to be the deity who made the first ancestors of the race. They tell us that he was sent down from above by the supreme God, with full instructions to first form people, then teach them how to make various useful implements, and after that to tell them how to hunt and fish, worship the gods and perform religious rites and ceremonies. The tradition respecting these matters runs thus :

'The divine Aioina is called by some people by the name Ainu rak guru (i.e., " a person smelling of the Ainu "). This is the way in which he came by that name. After he had descended from heaven and made the first Ainu (Ainu means "man"), he stayed upon the earth with him for a very long time, and taught him and his children how to hunt and get their living. Whilst in the world he lived just as the Ainu did, and dressed in the same kind of clothing they wore. When he had finished all that had been given him to do he returned to heaven.

Before setting forth, however, he quite forgot to divest himself of his garments. On reaching Paradise all the deities came sniffing with their noses, and, looking in one another's faces, said, "Dear, dear, what a smell of Ainu (men) there is! Whence can it come?" On making a closer search for the cause they found it to come from Aioina who had still his earthly garments on. He was therefore requested to go back to the earth and take off his clothes. After he had done so he returned once again to heaven, and, lo, the smell of men had departed from him.'

Notwithstanding the above legend, however, there are many people who say that the name Aioina does not come out of Ainu, but that, on the contrary, Ainu is derived from it. This opinion must certainly be rejected, for neither is really derived from the other. Both the words Ainu and Aioina have their own special meaning, and therefore need no deriving such as the above legend indicates. Ainu means 'man,' for which there is no other word in their vocabulary, and Aioina carries the meaning of ' teacher ' in it. I therefore conclude from this and other facts that Aioina was some great person who in very ancient times acted as an instructor to this people. But as it will be necessary to say more about him later on, let us leave him for the present.

There is another myth very similar to the above, in which one called Okikurumi and his son, Wariunekuru, are spoken of as being the first of the race. But against this there is another story, which tells us that these two persons were some Japanese, who fled to Yezo from the main island of Japan many years ago. This matter is so obscure, however, that one can make neither head nor tail of the legends, and they often give me the impression that they are nothing more than made-up stories.

The shortest and in some ways the most interesting legend of the Ainu origin I have so far heard runs thus:

'When God made man in the beginning, He formed his body of earth, his hair of chickweed, and his spine of a stick of willow. When, therefore, a person grows old, his back bends in the middle.'

Another legend on the same point says:

'After the world had been created and put in order, God made many of the herbs and trees to grow out of the ground When this had been done, He proceeded to make man. In forming him He took a piece of wood to use as the spine and framework, and filled in the spaces with earth. Hence it happens that when a person becomes very old his back bends like an ancient tree ; yea, it sometimes bends so much that he becomes as stooping as a deer.'

During my sojourn among this people, I have often heard the men and women calling one another such bad names as 'crooked back,' 'aged, mangy deer,' and so forth. Before hearing the above legends, I was at an utter loss to understand why such names were used, but read in their light it is easy to see wherein the sting lay. The words would equal some such expressions as 'block-head' and 'beast' in English.

The Ainu have another tradition respecting their creation, by which they inform us that the first man was not fashioned so perfectly as the Creator at first intended him to be. He would, it is said, have been made in a much more comely manner had it not been for the extreme carelessness of the river otter. Part of the folk-lore concerning this matter runs as follows:

'When God was in the act of making the first man, and had nearly finished His task, it happened to be necessary for Him to unexpectedly return to heaven on important business. Before setting out for the return journey, He called an otter, which happened to be near at the time, and told him that He was going away, but would quickly send another deity to finish the work He Himself had already begun, and he (the otter) was to deliver a message to him, explaining what to do. Now, although this animal said he would deliver the message without fail, he grew careless, and did nothing but amuse himself by swimming up and down the rivers, catching and eating fish; he fixed his whole attention on this, and thought of nothing else.

So intent was he on his fishing that he entirely forgot the message God gave him to deliver; yea, the otter forgot all about it. This is the reason why the first man was made so imperfect, and why all human beings are not quite in the fashion God originally intended. As a punishment for this delinquency and astonishing forgetfulness, God punished the otter with a bad memory; yea, he took his memory completely away. This is why no otter can now remember anything.'

It has been remarked by some travellers that the Ainu consider themselves to have had a dog as their ancestor. But this is pure fiction, for I am well assured by the people themselves that they think nothing of the kind. Nor do dogs in any way figure among them as totem animals, as they certainly would do, did they consider themselves to be their descendants. The Kalangs, indeed, who are supposed to be the aborigines of Java, really appear to think that they themselves are descended from a princess and a chief who had been transformed into a dog.

It is not at all impossible, therefore, that travellers may have brought this myth thence, and transferred it to the Ainu. Nothing could be easier, seeing that the native name Ainu (pronounced i-nu in English) looks so very like the Japanese word Inu (pronounced e-nu in English) which means 'dog.' But to say that the myth is in any way of Ainu origin is a purely gratuitous assertion, without the least foundation in fact.

John Batchelor, The Ainu and Their Folk-Lore (London: Religious Tract Society, 1901), 1-7.

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