Note: This article has been excerpted from a larger work in the public domain and shared here due to its historical value. It may contain outdated ideas and language that do not reflect TOTA’s opinions and beliefs.

"Bird Cultus," from The Ainu and Their Folk-lore by John Batchelor, 1901.

There have been very few nations in the world which have not had their bird cultus, some more, some less developed. The Egyptians of old held the ibex sacred, called him "Father John" and worshipped him. When he died they made a mummy of him, and they considered it a crime worthy to be punished with death to kill him. The peculiar ideas they entertained about the phoenix, as to its birth and longevity, for example, will also be remembered. The owl and the raven gave both been regarded as birds of evil omen by widely distributed nations, while the stork is held in great esteem by the Japanese. The tale of the Jackdaw of Rheims will not be forgotten, and all will remember how the little robin redbreast is dearly beloved by the children of Old England.

I very much doubt, however whether any nations have ever had so much to say about the feathered tribe by way of cult and folk-lore as the Ainu. They appear to have something to say about almost every kind of bird which comes under their notice, from the little wren up to the great eagle, and from the bird of paradise down to the common house sparrow.

According to their way of thinking, there are birds which rightly belong in heaven above, birds which may only dwell on the earth below, and birds which have their proper home in Hades under the earth. There are divine birds and demon birds, birds good, birds bad, and birds indifferent. One kind of bird is supposed to be a good gardener (the cuckoo to wit). Another kind is a clever boat-builder (the woodpecker for example), and yet others (the snipe and also the albatross) splendid physicians. The author proposes to treat of this subject in the present and three following chapters, therein giving what he has so far been able to collect from the people regarding the feathered tribe. Some of the matter will be found to be altogether unique, and much quite absurd, while all, it is hoped, will be found to be interesting.

An Ainu, speaking to me about birds, told me of certain taboos regarding their cry. He said:-"There are five special birds whose cry should not be imitated by anyone. They are the cuckoo, the woodpecker, nighthawk, goatsucker, and owl. These birds have power to bewitch people by means of their cry, and sometimes do so. Their cry ought therefore not to be imitated. To do so, indeed, would be a direct calling in of misfortune. But the eagle owl is a deity. To imitate his cry would therefore be rank blasphemy. Nor should one imitate the cry of any unknown bird. Strange birds are often sent by the devil, and carry the seeds of disease hither and thither. For these reasons one should exercise are in all these respects. So taught the ancients."

Eagle Owl

The Ainu give this bird as many as five different names, each of which has a particular meaning, and which in its degree tends to show the very special regard in which it is held by them. Among the whole Strix family the owl holds the chief place in their minds, and in their bird cult is accordingly treated with the greatest esteem and care. There is, indeed, another kind of owl which is looked upon with suspicion, distrust, and fear, and which, because considered to be a bird both causing and forerunning misfortune, is very much hated, and called a demon by them: but the eagle owl is regarded as divine, and hence in every way good ant to be beloved. This divinity does not bring evil into the world, but when he sees evil near he very kindly forewarns men of it, and in his good-will defends them against it. For these reasons he is loved, trusted, and devoutly worshipped

An examination into the names by which this bird is known among the Ainu, clearly shows in what light he is regarded by them, and why he is worshipped. I will examine them in the order given me by the Ainu who furnished me with the information on the subject, and deal with them in turn.

  1. The first name to be considered is the most ordinary one, namely, humhum okkai kamui, "the divine male who calls hum hum." This last word, hum hum, is simply an onomatopia for the sound the eagle owl is supposed to make when crying at night. Kamui also forms part of this name, and that means "divine;" while the fact of his being called an okkai, "male," determines him to be, from their point of view, of the very highest importance, for the male always takes an higher place than the female, not only in the mind of the people but also in their actual daily practice.

  2. The second name is kamui ekashi, i.e. "the ancestor of the gods." That the gods of whom the eagle owl is supposed to be the ancestor are all little birds, goes without saying, for and every deity is only looked upon as a god among its own kind, and is always conceived of as having the bodily form of his own kind when making himself visible to human beings, unless it indeed be in dreams. The word ekashi, i.e. "old man," "ancestor," as applied to him, also goes to show his importance in Ainu bird cult and mythology, for among this people old men are thought most of, and are treated with the greatest deference, respect, and consideration. When the younger men go to visit them, or a son returns from a journey, a present is always looked for, and who neglects to bring one is not thought much of. I have often found this custom a nuisance among the aged sick, for, in spite of all that once can do or say, they will bring saké as a present for them to drink, thus in many cases counteracting the effects of the medicine given by our medical men. The word too of the ekashi has a great deal more weight than that of the younger members of the race. Nothing, it seems to me, could rightly be done in ancient times without first consulting them. Hence then we may fairly conclude that the name "divine ancestor" as applied to the eagle owl shows him to be held in high esteem. In fact, it may direct us back to the time when he was regarded as a totem god.

  3. A further name is kamui chikappo, and that signifies "divine little bird." The word chikap means "bird," and po is a diminutive particle meaning "little," and is a term implying kindly regard and endearment, and shows him to be looked upon with affection. He is so esteemed because he is thought to be of great service to man, and to be of an essentially benevolent disposition. The particle is often heard in recitation of traditions, and is always uttered in an affectionate way and pleasing attitude. In no way, therefore, do we find this kind of owl to be looked upon with fear and dread.

  4. The fourth name given him is ya un kontukai, and that means "the servant of the world." This term declares him to be in the world for the purpose of ministering to the wants of men, and we are accordingly told that he is especially sent by the Creator for this very object for though he is divine, yet, like all other divinities, he is subject to the Creator of all things. All of the deities are in the first instance subject to one another according to their order and rank, but ultimately they are responsible to the Creator alone as head of all.

But it may well be asked in what way this bird is supposed to minister to the wants of men. Certainly not by being eaten, because he is not an article of diet. But he assists men, so it is believed, in supplying the larder with animal food. In some unexplained way he directs the movements of the hunters, and leads them to the place where the quarry lies. Not only so, but by calling out humhum he considerately warns the hunter when danger is near. Further, he is said to help with his favour in times of sickness, and to be specially useful in preserving from accident.

As regards giving warning to people, the Ainu say that if this bird hoots very loudly it is a sure sign that danger is close at hand; but if the hoot be quiet and regular then it means peace and good fortune. The day before going to the mountains the hunters make several inao fetiches, and place them outside the hut towards the east. If during the night an owl of any kind comes and sits upon them and makes a great noise, nothing on earth will make the men stir from their villages, for they regard it as an undoubted sign of danger; but should the owl come and call softly, nothing would please them more, and they would go off with alacrity, feeling certain of success.

  1. The last name of this bird is known by is ya un kotchane guru, i.e. "the mediator of the world." By this term we have another of his special duties pointed out. He mediates between the Creator and men, and is supposed to take the requests of men directly to Him. It will therefore be readily perceived that he holds a very high place in the mind of the Ainu hunters, and we are not surprised to hear that he is devoutly and often worshipped by them.

When in pursuit of game the hunters very often worship this bird. Inao are offered him, prayer is said, and his assistance and watchful care earnestly solicited, while, when possible, saké is drunk to his honour. In their feasts also some of the men wear crowns ornamented with the head and beak of these birds. The inao they receive are of three kinds, viz., "the fetich with curled shavings," "the fetich with the shavings spread out" and the "bush fetich," described in previous chapters.

When obtainable the eagle owls are brought up in cages the same way as other birds and animals are. One would naturally suppose that these were for worship. But this, I am assured, to my great surprise, is not the case. They are indeed called while in their cages chiomap kamui, "Beloved god," and kamui opoisam, "dear little divinities." but they are not, certainly as a rule, worshipped by the people who profess such a kindly regard for them. Some may of course be found who will take into their heads to say prayers to them, but such an attitude is the exception.

By and by the horrible time comes when the bird is to be throttled; then it may be said to be worshipped, not, let it be remarked, as a god, but simply as a supposed mediator between gods and men. All manner of birds and animals are treated in the same way as the eagle owl when brought up by hand. They are not always kept as gods to be worshipped, but nourished against the time when they will be required to act as special messengers from men to the gods they are supposed to represent, that these may in their turn carry the request or message on to the Creator of all Himself.

The following is the prayer said to an eagle owl when it is about to be sacrificed:-

"Beloved deity, we have brought you up because we loved you, and now we are about to send you to your father. We herewith offer you food, inao, wine, and cakes; take them to your parent, and he will be very pleased. When you come to him say, "I have lived a long time among the Ainu, where an Ainu father and an Ainu mother reared me. I now come to thee. I have brought a variety of good things. I saw while living in Ainu-land a great deal of distress. I observed that some of the people were possessed by demons, some were wounded by wild animals, some were hurt by landslides, others suffered shipwreck, and many were attacked by disease. The people are in great straits. My father, hear me, and hasten to look upon the Ainu and help them." If you do this, your father will help us."

Thus does the cry Ora pro nobis go from the Ainu to the owl.

There is a legend about the origin of the eagle owl, but it is , quite contrary to expectation, very short and simple. It runs thus:-

"God, the Creator, made the first eagle owl in Paradise, and after a time sent him down to the world of men to act as mediator between Himself and them. He was also commanded to be their help and guide in weal and woe. He is called mediator for this reason. He has the name servant given him because, besides rendering assistance in hunting, he gives men warning of danger by his hoot, and helps the people to keep in good health. Should he come near a village or dwelling and call very loudly, it is to be regarded as a sign of evil: but should his voice be soft and gentle, it is to be looked upon as an omen indicating prosperity and good luck."

The Screech Owl

In the preceding chapter I dealt with one kind of owl exclusively, namely, that known as the eagle-owl. It is now proposed to pursue the same subject and treat of other members of the Strix family.

I will commence with the screech owl, for this kind appears to stand next in order, according to Ainu ideas.

Now, although this bird, inasmuch as he is an owl, he is of very great importance in Ainu bird cult, yet his not so highly regarded as that last mentioned. He has indeed three special names given him to show the great esteem in which he is held, but as a rule fewer inao are presented to him, and less saké drunk in his honour. I have not often heard of the chief inao, i.e. the inao with curled shavings mentioned in the last chapter, being made for and offered to him, but standing next in order to the eagle owl the people often offer him some of the lesser kinds mentioned in Chapter X. He is said to have special power to give success to hunters when engaged in their occupation, and to warn them of the approach of danger. In all great and difficult matters, however, he is supposed to go to the father of his own family as mediator, and thence he may be sent further on towards the Creator himself.

  1. The first name given to the screech owl is yuk chikap kamui, i.e. "the divine deer bird." This designation determines him to be very closely connected with deer in some way or other, and we accordingly find that the Ainu consider him always to know the exact spot where these animals are to be found. I am informed that he was made by the Creator, and sent by him to watch over the wants of deer under the superintendence of the eagle owl, in the same way, indeed, as the goddess of fire is said to watch over the welfare of men.

  2. He is next called isho sange kamui, i.e. "the deity who bestows success in hunting." The idea here set forth seems very naturally to follow the name "divine deer bird." As governor of the deer among the mountains, he of course should know exactly where those animals should live, and as all things are conceived of as having been sent into this world for the general good of mankind, he will, when reverently asked point out their whereabouts to those who wish to hunt. In this way he helps men to procure food, and this is said to be the reason for worshipping him.

  3. The third name is hash inao koro kamui, i.e. "the deity who has bush fetich." this refers to the fact that the Ainu imagine him to take special delight in this kind of inao, and it is to him they are chiefly offered. Sometimes, though not very often, I am informed that the people may be found presenting him with several of the more important kinds of inao, and saké may also be occasionally drunk in his honour. But this, I am assured, is not the rule, for his greatest delight is in the bush inao, described in Chapter XII. The reason for this preference is to be found in the legend which now follows.

Legend of the Screech Owl

"The ancestor of the screech owl resides far away in the mountains, and the origin of worship being paid him as follows. In very ancient times a certain Ainu went to the mountain to hunt, and while there he saw a bird. It was quite white in colour, and very beautiful to look upon. It was also extraordinarily large. The Ainu there for hastened to make some inao out of a bush near at hand and offered them to him with a prayer. After this he fell asleep and had a dream. In his dream he saw a man clothed in pure white who came to him and said, "Listen to me; we made inao out of a shrub and offered them to me. I thank you very much indeed for them. Henceforth I will bring you good luck in hunting; I will also command my children and they shall direct you to where the animals are to be found and shall also warn you when danger is near." Upon this the man awoke and it was midnight as still quite dark.

After a short time a bird came and sat upon his inao and gave a most beautiful hoot. By-and-by the Ainu got up and, thinking over the bird's hoots in connection with his dream, worshipped God. When it became daylight he set out on a hunting expedition, and very soon came across and killed a great number of deer. He was thus able to feed the people of his village. Therefore the name of this bird became hash inao koro kamui, "the deity who has bush fetich," and isho sange kamui, "the deity who gives success in hunting." He has the name yuk chikap kamui, "the divine deer bird," given him because he hoots when deer are close by."

With regard to this legend I would draw the reader's attention to the fact that some of the Ainu imagine owls, like all other deities of a bird nature, only to have their present bodily form, i.e. the form of birds, when they appear to the eyes of men. In the spirit world they are said to have the bodily shape of human beings; the chief of the owls is here represented as appearing to the subject of the dream in a body like that of a man. A reference to the chapter on serpent cult will show that snakes also are looked upon in the same light. Booth gods and demons appear to be conceived of in the Ainu mind as having the shape and language of men in the kingdom of the spirits.

It should also be noted that the chief owl himself and the deity who appeared in the dream were dressed in pure white. This colour is regarded as a sign of purity. The writer has discovered during his work among the Ainu that he can give a person no greater pleasure that by presenting him with an old cast-off white garment to be buried in when he dies. No doubt the charm lies in the fact that some of the gods are supposed to be dressed in white robes, and we may therefore safely conclude that this colour represents purity in their eyes.

The Little Horned Owl

In a general way owls of any kind are called ahunrasambe, and yet, unless particularly specified this term may be found to refer to the little horned owl specially. This is perhaps so because this kind is more often seen than the others. The Ainu look upon him as a demon who really desires to harm mankind, and they naturally consider him to be a bird of evil omen. He is also said to be able to tell a good man from a bad one at sight. W-hen caught, the people say that he will not look at a person if that person be of a bad disposition, but will keep his eyes merely closed, just peering through the slits between the lids. This act is called ainu eshpa, i.e. "man ignoring," If the person before whom the bird is brought be of a good character, he will stare at him open-eyed. This act is called ainu oro wande, i.e. "searching out the man."

I should not at all wonder if in the ancient days the owl was used, when available, by the chiefs in trying persons for some supposed crime. This, however, is mere conjecture on my part, and I have just mentioned it as a possible or even probably explanation of a term meaning "pointed out by the bird," for which I can as yet get no other explanation.

I once had the misfortune to catch an owl of this kind in the daytime, and so unwittingly went through the ordeal of having one of these birds before me. It looked at me with eyes nearly closed and at an Ainu by my side with them wide open. The word was whispered among the people nishpa eshpa, i.e. "the master is ignored." I then and there went down in the Ainu estimation about ninety-nine per cent. But the man who was stared at by the owl was lord of all he surveyed for a time, for had not the owl "searched him out" and shown him to be a good man and the better of the two" Surely so.

Even this very day, while penning these words, my manservant proudly informed me that owls always looked at him with eyes wide open. He leaves me to draw the inference. It will be seen by the legend given below that some kinds of birds, though originally made good, did not always maintain their integrity. In fact, like human beings, they degenerated. The one now under discussion is a case in point.

The little horned owl was originally sent to benefit the Ainu, but he once mischievously played a practical joke upon them by feigning death and so bringing misfortune. He was the cause of many deaths by famine and disease. For this reason he was cursed by God, and made to lose many of his feathers, and to this day he is very thinly clad. Indeed, he reminds one at once of the Jackdaw of Rheims. This refers the the fact that the feathers are not so thickly grown as those of most other birds. He is therefore glad to seek shelter in the holes of trees or even in the abodes of men for warmth.

Whatever of good was originally in his heart has all been taken away so that he is now as bad as a noxious weed, and has become a very demon. Moreover, the people always try to kill him when he comes across their path, but curiously enough he is sometimes brought up in cages, worshipped like the two kinds of owl already treated of, and offered in sacrifice. This, so I am told, is the only owl whose flesh is eaten, it being considered wrong to eat the flesh of either the eagle or the screech owl. The legend will help to explain many of these points.

Legend of the Little Horned Owl

The little horned owl was sent down from heaven by God. He lived in Ainu-land many years ago, where he bore children, multiplied greatly and was very happy. After a long time had elapsed some Ainu went to the mountains to hunt animals. Upon seeing this the owl mischievously deceived them and rendered them altogether unsuccessful. When they met the hunters they all fell upon their backs, and held their claws straight in the air, thus pretending to be dead.

Then, although the men hunted most assiduously and for a long time, they were unable to take even so much as one animal, and the consequence was a famine and disease, so that many people died. Thereupon God came down from heaven and passed judgement on the owls. He said to them: "As you have done this evil deed your clothes and goodness of heart shall be taken from you. You shall henceforth possess hearts like noxious weeds, you shall shed many of your feathers, and suffer much from the cold. You shall live in the holes of trees, desire to enter people's homes, and be tormented by man."

After God had said this the little horned owls, though formerly of great importance, became insignificant birds. Still, when they are sacrificed, and their flesh eaten, inao are offered them by way of compassion. They are called ahunrasambe because they desire to enter human dwellings, and also rasambe, because their hearts became evil like the blades of noxious weeds. They are also called makotari, i.e. "fallers upon the back," because when they were first seen by men they fell upon their backs and held their claws in the air."

I have merely to add to this legend that, as regards then name, the word ahun means "to enter in," ra is a blade of grass, and sambe means "heart"; hence the latter part of the account. It is not good philology, perhaps, but it shows great ingenuity. My own belief is that he is called by this name because he has a trick of getting under the grass when chased in the daytimes, and I have myself caught no less than three of these creatures through a knowledge of this habit of theirs. Ahunrasambe may possibly mean, and very likely does mean, "the creatures which get among the blades of grass."

Superstition Concerning Owls

I find that the people are very superstitious about seeing owls flying during the night. Moreover, it is considered to be a very unfortunate thing for one to pass in front of or immediately over a person. The same is true also of the night hawk. Ill fortune or danger is certain to be near at hand in such a case, and the only way to avoid the impending evil is to expectorate as much and as fast as is possible for a time. By doing so the demon of evil foreshadowed by the owl may be thrown out of the mouth instead of being swallowed. But woe betide the man who should be unfortunate enough to see an owl or any kind of night bird cross the moon's face! In such a case the intending evil is very serious and great and the only way of avoiding it or its demon is to change one's name, so that when he comes for a certain individual named so and so who saw the bird cross between himself and the moon, he may not be able to find him.

The little horned owl is not the only bird which fell from original goodness, for his brother, the brown owlet, which they call chiteshkop, also had the misfortune to do so. Like the former, he also was badly cursed for his wickedness and was made into a demon, and is now regarded as the servant of Satan himself. He has become a bird of undoubted evil omen, and he flies only at night. Should he pass over a house it is supposed that there is certain to be either a death or a conflagration there in a very short time. The legend concerning this bird is as follows: The brown owlet is now a true servant of the devil. But he was a very good bird in the beginning, and was made by God upon this earth.

Once upon a time there was a famine in Ainu-land, and there was neither fish, flesh, nor grain to eat, and it seemed as though the entire race would die of starvation. Then all the great ones of the earth met together and decided to send the crow off with a message to the Creator. The eagle owl had him brought in and gave him a command, saying, "Go to the God of the heavens and deliver this message to Him, There is a grievous famine among the Ainu, and the people are all about to die. Please make haste and send help to them. Please cause the deer and fish to abound." So commanded he. But the crow hung his head down and fell asleep by the doorpost.

The eagle owl became very angry at this, and snatching a firebrand, beat him severely and sent him out in a hurry. After this the brown owlet was brought in and the message entrusted to him. This bird went away, but not to heaven. Instead of this he flew over the huts of the people and made known to men and demons alike the message with which he was entrusted. After this he went and hid himself during the day, but came out again at night and repeated the message in the same way. Then the gods were very angry and caused the jay to take the message to God. At the same time he was to tell of the evil deeds of the owl. He did so. Then God arose and filled two bags, one with fish bones and the other with the bones of deer. He commanded the jay to take them down to the earth and empty them, that containing the deer bones upon the mountains and the other upon the rivers. Then, said He, there will be deer and fish in plenty and the Ainu shall live.

But as for the brown owlet, inasmuch as he did not do as he was commanded he shall henceforth be a demon. Then the jay took the bags and emptied them as told, and, as God had said it would be, deer and fish multiplied and the Ainu were saved. The brown owlet became a servant of the devil and flies about and cries only at night. And so, although this bird was good to begin with, he afterwards degenerated and became a bird of evil omen. He is sent by the devil with all kinds of evil tidings and is called okep, i.e. "the bearer of bad news." As he is the bird of evil omen it is a bad thing and very hateful for him to pass over a house. If he does so it means either a death or a conflagration.

The various portions of the deer's body seem to have played a considerable part in creation. We are told that the dry picked bones and the hair of some of these animals, which had supplied the viands of a heavenly feast, were distributed over the mountains and changed into living creatures of this species. We are now about the be taught that the bladder of a deer was turned into a barn owl.

The name of this bird is ni-kotuk, and that means "sticking to the trees." Though made out of a part of the deer he is considered by the people to be a demon, and is accordingly looked upon as a bird of ill omen. Like that of some few other birds his cry may by no means be imitated, for should a person be indiscreet enough to mock him he will be punished with sickness and a lingering death. The history of his origin will be found set forth in the fable next to be given, in which it will also be seen how the name ni-kotuk, i.e. "sticking to trees," came to be applied to him.

Legend of the Origin of the Barn Owl

The origin of the bird called by the name "sticking to trees" is as follows. In ancient times, when the divine Aioina was living in the world, he one day went hunting in the mountains and killed a fine fat deer. After he skinned it and cut it up, he took the useless parts and threw them away. The bladder left his hand with a whirl and struck against the stem of a tree, where it adhered fast. But inasmuch as it was a thing thrown from the hand of such a deity, it considered itself of too great importance to remain there and be decomposed. It therefore immediately turned itself into a bird. A voice was also given to it which, when it cried, sounded like one saying "ni-kotuk, ni-kotuk," i.e."sticking to trees, sticking to trees," and this is why it is called by that name.

The cry of this bird must not be imitated, for if he hears himself mocked in any way he will inflict severe punishment for the insult. However, if a person should happen to imitate him ignorantly and and unintentionally and so unwittingly incur the penalty of owl possession, he should proceed to repeat in the bird's hearing the way in which he came into the world. As soon as he finds out that the history of his birth is known by the person possessed he will undo the mischief and fly away post haste and hide himself for shame. Inao are not offered to this bird nor should his flesh be eaten; this is because he is a demon. As he has his home far away in the mountains, he is very rarely seen. His cry is only heard at night, for like other demons he prefers night to day. The ancients have said that he is a very dreadful creature and is to be hated.

Eagles and Hawks

After the eagle owl mentioned in chapter XXXVI. I find the eagle itself to be most thought of, for he is also a guardian, friend and helper, having been specially sent to this world to assist in governing the Ainu. It is the firm belief of my informant that this bird once saved the people from extinction by disease and famine through his kindly assistance, and that he will even at this present day help all those who honour him by calling upon him in prayer. They regard it as his special province to help whenever such calamities as sickness and famine overtake them.

The following legends not only show this to be so, but they also give further instruction indicating in what light the people look upon worship. In the first place they seem to imagine that they favour the gods by ascribing worship to them, and, as a corollary to this, conclude that the gods are pleased with worship and ought and will favour men as a sort of recompense especially if they kindly and reverently offer them inao. They also think that the gods reward all kindnesses shown them when they appear in the bodily form of either bird or beast, and are fed in cages and offered in sacrifices. An example of this is shown in the second legend given below, for it is there seen how after having had his wants duly attended to and worship paid him during the time of famine, particularly when the people lacked sufficient for themselves, the eagle god was grateful and saved the people by providing food in plenty.

Legend of the Eagle

In ancient times there was a famine among the Ainu so that they were all about to die of starvation. This being so, the people went down to the sea shore to pick up what they could find there to eat. While there they one day saw something dark, very far away, floating upon the waves of the sea. The people carefully kept their eyes upon it and would not let it out of their sight. By-and-by, when the object came closer to the shore it was seen to resemble a large bird. However the wings could only be seen and nothing whatever of the body. When it had now come close in, riding upon the surf, it was discovered to be a very large eagle holding something in his claws, which after careful inspection, turned out to be a dolphin. The people were very pleased when they saw what it was, and when they had taken it they divided it up and ate it. In this way, then, did the eagle save their lives. The ancients tell us that this is how it came to pass that the people first knew this bird to be a god, and why he is worshipped. This is also the reason why many inao are offered to him and saké drunk in his honour.

A Second Legend of the Eagle

A great many years ago a certain Ainu caught a young eagle and brought him up in a cage. Not long after taking him, disease broke out among the people and a great famine arose, so that they were all in dire distress.

Nevertheless, the Ainu, being a very good man, continued to carefully feed his eagle. When the distress was at its height this bird kept wide awake, and day and night alike incessantly walked up and down in his cage, calling out "Amkit, amkit." This had the effect of driving the calamity away, for sickness then ceased and food became very plentiful. This is how the eagle saved the people. As a return for his goodness the ancients determined that he was to be worshipped. Hence it is that the people rear this bird in cages, worship him, and ask him to defend them from evil.

When the eagle is offered in sacrifice the following prayer is said to him: "O precious divinity, O thou divine bird, pray listen to my words. Thou dost not belong to this world, for thy home is with the Creator and His golden eagles. This being so, I present thee with these inao and cakes and other precious things. Do thou ride upon the inao and ascend to thy home in the glorious heavens. When thou arrivest, assemble the deities of thy own kind together and thank them for us having governed the world. Do thou come again, I beseech thee, and rule over us. O my precious one, go thou quietly."

It was shown in Chapter XXI. that the crane is supposed to have a very fierce temper; the fish hawk also, which the Ainu call Yattui chikap, is said to be of a like disposition. Like the eagle, the fish hawk is also worshipped, and has to be approached with a greater amount of care and more thoughtful reverence than many other kinds of birds. It appears that he was once insulted and has never forgotten the fact. The insult offered him was very deep and touched him in a very tender place, so that he grew angry beyond measure. However, having once had his revenge, he will now, if properly treated, behave kindly to people; but if not, then be prepared for squalls. In his presence one must always behave in a seemly manner, and be careful as to what is said in his hearing. The following legend will explain this.

Blakiston's fish owl. Image by J.G. Keulemans 1884.

Legend of the Fish Hawk

The fish hawk originally came down from heaven and ought therefore to be worshipped and have inao presented to him. But it must not be forgotten that he is a very hot-tempered bird, and ought therefore to be treated with great care and deference. His violence of temper is thus accounted for: A very long time ago a certain Ainu brought up a young fish hawk in a cage but unfortunately neglected either to worship it or present it with inao. Nay, he went even further than this, for in the end he summarily killed it and cast away. The bird was exceedingly angry with this treatment and sought revenge. After a while the little son of the aforesaid Ainu went to play in front of the hut. In a short time a fish hawk swooped down and pecked at his head till he died. This is how it is known that this bird has a quick temper.

There is a kind of night hawk on this island which goes by the name of erokroki, and is regarded as a bird of good omen. When his cry is heard it is supposed to indicate that there will be an abundance of salmon trout in the rivers. I cannot quite make out which night hawk is intended by the name, because the next one mentioned is also a night bird.

Erokroki is simply an onomatopiia of his note, which is supposed to resemble the sound of knocking salmon on the head when dragged ashore, the dead thud of which may be said to be somewhat like toktok-tok, toktok-tok, or erokroki, erokroki in sound. To understand this, one must remember that salmon are always knocked on the head with a willow stick, and so killed when caught.

Legend of the Erokroki

The bird called erokroki was made by God in this world; for in the beginning God made both birds and beasts, some to work by day and others to work by night. The erokroki was made for night work only. This bird catches and feeds on trout and salmon trout, but he only catches them during the night. And so it happens if the old people hear his cry they say, "there will be plenty of salmon trout next season, for the divine cry is good; moreover, we hear the sound of his knocking." How enviable! The erokroki alone is the first knock the fish on the head and feed. Has he got a river trout or a salmon trout, I wonder? This will be a good year. We will also kill plenty of salmon. The reason of this is that the sound of his voice resembles that caused by knocking fish on the head. The voice says, Toktok-tok, toktok-tok, and it is a very good omen when the cry is heard, for it foretells a good season. But it does not appear that this bird kills the large salmon, but only the salmon trout.

Akin to the last bird spoken of there is another night bird which goes by the name of hochikok. He is so named because his cry is thought to resemble that word in sound. I believe a kind of night hawk is meant. He is supposed to be a bird of good omen so long as his cry is some distance away. However, as he is supposed to be a demon, his cry must not be lightly imitated, for he will not put up with that insult. When his note is heard, indeed, a person should look in another direction for it is very unlucky to catch a glimpse of him as he flies along in the dark.

Legend of the Hochikok

The hochikok is so called because when he cries his voice has the sound of some one calling, "Hochikok, hochikok." As he flies only by night, his body is not seen, so that he is known only by his cry. If the bird comes down to the seashore, and there cries, Hochikok all night long, the next day is certainly to be fine and calm. And hence it is that when the fishermen hear his cry they pay great attention to it and rejoice, for they know that calm weather is at hand, and that there will be a large catch of fish, since it is a fact that this bird never cries upon the seashore when the weather is going to be bad.

It is very unlucky to see one of these birds. The ancients therefore tell us that if a person should hear the hochikok cry, he should by no means look in his direction, but carefully turn his eyes away. Should he be mocked, he will come down to the villages and cry so vehemently all night that no one will be able to sleep. And so it is that the people are afraid to mock him, for if he is mocked he requites by preventing sleep. He is truly a demon and must be therefore left alone."

The legend of the hawk now to be given is chiefly of interest because it shows that the Ainu look upon this bird as good, even though he be the devil's chief cook, or caterer for his wants. The albatross, treated of elsewhere, is supposed to be a servant of the sea gods, while the bird now under discussion is servant to a land demon, for both gods and devils, let it be understood, have their servants. The hawk's master resides in the forest, and his real homes is in the valleys which run across the mountains. He cannot be seen, indeed, but he is there nevertheless. The hawk's business in the world is to hunt for this demon, and so provide him with sweet and dainty viands. Hence, when one of these birds is seen flying towards the mountains with its prey in its claws, it is said to be going to its master, the demon, with his dinner.

A very remarkable thing about the legend is the direct reference it makes to prayer to the devil. Demons are ever ready to hear prayer and render help directly they are called upon to do so. But it is very dangerous to seek their assistance, because they always come for their reward after a time, and that is death itself.

Hence, although the hawk is to be worshipped and inao offered him and saké drunk in his honour, yet his master is to be left severely alone. It is not a case of "like master like man" in this instance, for though the master is a demon the hawk is a god.

Legend of the Hawk

The hawk was made by the true God in the beginning. Now among the mountains there is a demon whose name is Kutkoro kamui, i.e. "the demon of cross valleys." The hawk is his servant and provides him with food. This demon lives in a great many places among the mountains, and is always attended by hawks which fly hither and thither to find delicious food for him to eat. Not only do they kill land birds for him but sea birds also. They are very clever indeed at catching birds. They are called Inumechiri, i.e. "birds which strike with the breast bone," because they have protruding breast bones which they strike the quarry and kill it. The demons of the cross valleys are very numerous, but as they are demons they never show themselves.

If a hawk is killed he must be worshipped and saké drunk to him, but inasmuch as the Kutkoro kamui whom he serves are all demons, they must not be worshipped. For if those demons be worshipped they will help very quickly indeed, but after a time come for their reward for assistance rendered. The reward they exact is the life of the individual. Therefore they should not be worshipped at all.

The hawks, both the large and the small kinds, are to be brought up in cages and offered in sacrifice. At the time of killing them the following prayer should be used: "O divine hawk, thou art an expert hunter, please cause thy cleverness to descend on me." If the hawk is treated well when being brought up and is thus prayed to when offered in sacrifice he will surely send help to the hunter.

The wren is a very tiny bird, but it is thought a very great deal of by the Ainu, though more especially perhaps by the hunters. The people seem to think as much of him as the English do of the robin redbreast. Whenever he appears he is supposed to bring good fortune, and his presence is much to be desired for that reason. Many people salute him when he comes into view, and their faces beam with delight when they see him. The legend of this bird is as follows.

When the hunters went first to the mountain to hunt they made lodges to sleep in, Inao also were made, some to be placed outside, and others in the windows.

When the Ainu saw this they said to one another: "that tiny bird has been sent down from heaven and is a tiny god. And as he has acted thus in this matter, it is an omen indicating that we shall kill many animals." They were very glad at this pleasant prospect and worshipped the wren. After this they went to the mountains and in truth caught a very great number of animals.. For this reason, then, the dear little wren has since that time been worshipped by the people. The legend given below shows that the Ainu are sometimes a little selfish in their religion and, in a way, very practical.

The quail, no doubt, is very pleasant eating, and so it comes to pass that it is against the Ainu religion to give this kind of bird away when they manage to kill one. A man must keep it for his own eating alone. The old Ainu idea of riches appears to have been nothing more than the possession of plenty of food and clothing. That was all that he needed, and so long as he had plenty of food and drink and lots of good clothes he was quite content.

Legend of the Quail

The quail (Pepepkere chikap) was made upon the earth by God, and therefore did not descend from heaven. He is very quiet and tame, and being a rich bird has plenty of food, and is also very well clothed. Once upon a time an Ainu found a quail's nest. It was made of a variety of fern leaves mixed with soft hair and was very beautiful. The man therefore took it home and used it as his charm, the consequence being that he became very rich, so rich indeed, that he could hardly move about in his home. And so it is that even now when a person kills a quail he always eats it himself, and will not allow another to have it, for that bird is good at making men rich. Should a person secure one of them he must first kill him, then, after having asked him to make him rich, eat him clean up. For this reason he is called Ie-ikoshinninup, "the charm which is eaten." He is called Pepepkere because the call of his voice resembles the sound of this word."

The starling (called Shirush-chiri) appears to be looked upon in two lights. According to one he is thought to be a sure forerunner of evil, that is, if he goes to the rivers to bathe; and according to the other he is regarded with favour (that is to say, so long as he keeps away from the rivers). For he is supposed to call for rain when there is likely to be a dearth in the land. Being forbidden to drink from the rivers by God he may only quench his thirst from the rainwater as it drips from the lichen growing on the trunks of trees. Hence it is that he is supposed to call so often for rain. The cry of the starling is said to sound like Apto, chik-chik-chik, i.e. "rain, drop, drop, drop." and whenever he is thus heard crying we may expect rain to fall very soon. But I can do no better than let the legend speak for itself.

Legend of the Starling

The starling was made upon the earth by God, and the ancient tale about him is as follows: Once upon a time an Ainu went to the river to fetch water, but when he began to dip it up he found that it was very dirty indeed, and quite unfit for use. Upon looking round to discover the cause of this he saw a little way off a starling covered with filth washing in the river. He was very angry at this, and most vehemently cursed him, and laid the matter before God in prayer. God also was very angry and, descending from heaven, said to the starling, "Why have you done this" Why have you come and spoiled the water in which men and the goddess of fire drink; As you have done this bad deed you shall not henceforth drink river water, but whenever it rains you shall drink from the water which drips from the lichen growing on the trunks of trees.

After having said this God returned to heaven, and from that time starlings have never tasted river water. When it rains, however, and the water drips from the lichen on the trees, they get under it and there stand with their mouths wide open for it to drop in. It is for this reason that this bird is called sirush-chiri (shinrush-chiri), i.e. "the lichen bird." If it has not rained for some time, and the starling wishes to drink, he calls for rain saying, Apto, chik-chik-chik, i.e. "rain, drop, drop, drop."

It is said by some that he is called shirush-chiri because, when he was discovered washing in the river, he was covered with shi, i.e. "filth." Again, if this bird is seen to come down to the river bank it is for some evil purpose, and his entrance into the water to bathe is much to be feared.

There does not appear at first sight to be much in the story of the woodcock, but a closer inspection shows that the Ainu know a little about the habits of this bird. The expression, "I sport with my wife," found at the end of the account, has reference to the fact that these birds are said to have been seen to form a circle, in which some of them dance before the others. As to whether they eat arrowroot or not I cannot say, but I have certainly found them where arrowroot grows.

The Legend

The woodcock was made by god and placed upon this earth. He feeds on turep, i.e. "arrowroot." He does no manner of work, but spends the whole of his time in the mountains in an idle manner. These birds always live in pairs, and spend their time in picking the insects out of one another's feathers. When night comes and it is dark, they fly down from the mountains and cry to one another Ku machi ku rarachik, ku machi ku rarachik, "I sport with my wife, I sport with my wife." They are called turep ta chiri, i.e. "birds which dig up turep," because they live by digging up arrowroot for food.

In the legend concerning the green pigeon which is next given, we have one phase of the transmigration of souls clearly stated, for we are told by it that this bird is neither more nor less than the soul of a Japanese man. The Japanese are fond of salt food, and the soul of the man supposed to be resident in the pigeon retains that liking, and this is said to be the reason why this bird only drinks sea water. The Ainu do not kill and eat the green pigeon, which they call wawo chikap, though he is a plump and fat bird, and the reason given me for this is that they consider him to be the ghost of a Japanese.

Legend of the Green Pigeon

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a number of Japanese went into the mountains to cut timber for building purposes. When there they separated from one another and went their various ways searching for what they wanted. One man got quite lost and went about calling for his companions. But he could not find them and so at last died of hunger. As he died his soul changed into a green pigeon. As therefore this bird was originally a Japanese he is very fond of salt things, and so goes down every day to the seashore and drinks a lot of salt water. So say the ancients. Again, when this bird cries his note is exactly like one Japanese calling for another.

The Domestic Fowl

It is generally supposed that the domestic fowl was introduced among the Ainu by the Japanese. The word now invariably used to designate him is niwatori chikap, which is a hybrid compound word: niwatori being the Japanese for "domestic fowl," and chikap the Ainu for "bird." But twenty years ago some of the old men might be heard calling them by the purely Ainu words Nisheran chikap, i.e. "birds of the clouds." The following is a legend as it was given me some time ago.

Legend of the Domestic Fowl.

In the country beyond the sea (probably Manchuria) there is a place called "the land of birds." In this district there is a very large lake called "the lake where the birds descend." Now, in the beginning, the true God made very many birds, such as ducks and geese, and placed them upon and about this lake: this is why that spot is called "the place where the birds descend." Among these birds is also the domestic fowl, and he is the chief of them all. His name is "bird of the clouds," and he is so called because when he crows his voice is answered back from the skies.

There is a kind of reed warbler found in Yezo which is said to have been changed into its present form by way of a curse for idleness. His original home was in a place above the clouds, but he was banished thence as a punishment. The myth concerning him is sometimes recited to children who are inclined to be idle, as a warning to them against that vice. The story is as follows: "In very olden times there lived a deity whose name was Shinish-oran-guru, i.e. "he who came down from the highest clouds." This deity had his home in the clouds, but once came down to this earth to make some villages. He had a very big body and was very tall. When upon the earth executing his business, the other gods used to poke fun at him and call him E-nishikere guru, i.e. "the one who carries much luggage."

His heavenly home was a very bright and beautiful place, and he had an excellent garden, in which grew all kinds of fine things for food. He kept a manservant with his wife and family, whose duty it was to attend to the garden. The youngest son of the family was very lazy indeed, and would not do any work. As a punishment for this he was turned out of the kingdom in the clouds and sent to this earth, where he was turned into a bird called popoki-chiri, or reed warbler. When this bird remembers what he once was, and thinks of his elder brethren and parents, he calls out amid many tears, popo michi, habo michi, i.e. "my elder brethren and father and mother." Now, if this bird calls out popo-michi-tuk, popkituk, it is a good omen; but if his cry be pokiyak, pokiyak, it is a sign of evil: it means that the year's crops will be a failure.

It is superfluous to add that the Ainu name of this bird is simply an onomatopiia for its song.

One of the finest birds for table use on the island is the tree grouse or hazel hen. When cooked its flesh is quite white, and whole body plump and juicy. But the small quantity of blood there is in the flesh has formed a subject of thought among the Ainu, and they have as usual given rein to their fancy in accounting for the cause. The story given below not only explains his birth into the world, but also, as the Ainu think at least, satisfactorily accounts for this apparent lack of blood. This bird, like our partridge, makes a great noise with its wings when rising from the ground, and hence its name is humui-rui chikap, i.e. "the bird of great sound."

Legend of the Origin of the Hazel Hen

In very ancient times, when the divine Aioina was upon the earth, he went hunting in the mountains and killed a great many deer. After he had skinned them he spread the skins out to dry in the sun. Upon cutting out the bare places under the belly and throwing them away, they made a sound as they left his hands like the rushing wind. But as they were cast from the hands of such a deity, they could by no means decay and come to nothing, and so they changed themselves into humui-rui chikap, i.e. "birds which make a great sound," or hazel hen. This is the origin of these birds, and it is because they were originally made out of deer's skins that they are so very dry and have such a small quantity of blood, for skin is naturally a dry kind of thing.

It will probably have been noticed, and if not I will now draw attention to the fact, that according to Ainu ideas there were not many things in this world which were not placed here for some purpose. Thus, for example, deer, it was clearly stated, together with fishes were made to provide food for men, rates were created to punish the devil, while cats were brought into existence to keep rats and mice from becoming numerous. It is my intention to conclude this part of the subject by giving some folk-lore in illustration of this fact, and I will begin by mentioning the rook.

Under the term rook I include both the rook and the raven, because the word paskuru, by which these birds are generally known by the Ainu, includes both of them; indeed, for the mater of that, this name embraces the jackdaw also. But as there are separate legends for each, I shall speak of the rook first, and then of the raven, for this is the order in which my informant gave them me.

Legend of the Rook

Very long ago, when the Ainu saw rooks for the first time, they thought that as they had descended from the heights above and were clothed in such beautiful and glossy dresses they must be gods. And so when spring time had arrived and the young rooks were hatched, the people went and took one from the nest. This they carried home and brought up in a cage made for the special purpose. By-and-by they made him a great feast of saké and cakes, and offered him in sacrifice with much worship and joy: they also gave him many inao.

At this time they prayed to him, saying: "O rook, we are sending you off with a splendid feast: if thou art a god please in return for this give us something by which we may know that thou art divine." So saying they strangled him and sent him away. After this had taken place the Ainu went to the mountains to hunt and took a large number of deer and bears which made them very happy indeed. The men were now quite sure that the rook was divine and had helped them as a return for what had been done for him. While thinking the matter over and remembering that until that time there never had been such a grand catch, they fell asleep and had a dream. In their dream they saw a person clothed with many black garments who looked at them with smiles upon his countenance and said: "Ye are good men, ye did sacrifice me and send me to my people with many delicious things, and they are all very delighted with you for this. I will now help you so that you will kill many animals when you hunt, and henceforth whosoever shall make offerings to me I will cause him to be strong and prosperous." After this the hunters awoke and made their dream known to the people, and from that time to this the rook has been an object of worship.

In this legend we get an inkling as to how the Ainu look upon taking life in sacrifice. In the first place it is thought to be pleasing to the object offered, for he is sent to the ancestors of his own kind. Then, again, it is pleasing to his relations, for the victim is supposed to take the essence of the good things provided in the feast to his forefathers. Thus all are made so happy that they as a reward for this bless the Ainu. As these matters will be more fully treated of in another place, particularly when animal cult and sacrifice is considered, no more will be said on this subject now.

The Swan

The following legend of the swan teaches us that while man is busy destroying his fellows, gods and angels are earnestly engaged in scheming for his preservation. The swan, as will be found in the myth now to be produced, had her form changed to that of a woman, and thus figures as a saviour of man from extinction. It should also be noted that the Ainu suppose their women got the peculiar wail they are addicted to at the time of death from the cry of the swan. And truly the sound, when heard from a distance, is very like it.

Legend of the Swan

God originally made the swan, and kept it in Paradise as one of his angels. Now, after having lived a long time in the world, the Ainu became degraded and wicked, and did nothing but quarrel among themselves and fight and slay one another. In after years people came from a certain country and made war upon them. The inhabitants of Takai Sara in the Nikap district were in those days very numerous, but the warriors came and exterminated them. At this time one poor little lad, and one only, escaped by hiding among the grass. He hid in fear and trembling, and he alone was left alive in the whole district. But he was such a little child that he was quite unable to procure food to keep himself alive. He therefore sat down and wept sorely.

Now there were no people anywhere near the place to help him, and so he came very near starving to death. He wept and wept till he had no more strength left him even to cry. When he was at that last extremity, a woman came suddenly from somewhere, took him up, loved him much, and comforted him. She carried him away and built a beautiful house and lived there with him.

After a time, when the child was fully grown, he and the woman were married. They reared a very large family and in this way repopulated the district which had been so grievously destroyed. The woman who saved this lad and afterwards became his wife was a swan, and formerly had her home in Paradise. She turned herself into a woman and came down to preserve the Ainu race alive in that district. God also saved the child for this purpose. While the woman was alive she used to weep and lament for the people if any of them became ill or died. And so it is at the present day, when the swan's cry is heard it is found to resemble the weeping and lamentations of the women. This then is the beginning of these things, and swan worship is called "the ceremony of the worship of Mistress Swan."

Now, although swans are called Peket chikap, i.e. "bright birds" by some, the true name is Pepep chikap, i.e. "water-ladle birds," and this is because the swans' feet are formed like water ladles. Moreover, they are also called Retat chiri, i.e."white birds," because their feathers are white. Having once descended from Paradise the swan did not return thither after having saved mankind, but stayed in the world and increased mightily. After she had married and borne many children she returned to her proper form, an by and by took wings and went elsewhere to dwell among the marshes and lakes where she also had a large family of cygnets.

The Woodpecker

The woodpecker appears to be in a peculiar way the boat-makers' bird. The name Chipta chiri, by which he is known, means "the bird which digs out boats," and he came by this designation because he is always to be found pecking at the branches and trunks of trees with his bill, in the same way the Ainu hack at them with their tools when making their dug-outs. He is thought a good deal of by some people, and his skin and head are kept for worship. This fetich is supposed make the possessor thereof rich as well as clever in shaping out boats. Some Ainu say that he was originally sent by God to teach them how to make boats.

Legend of the Woodpecker

The woodpecker was made by God upon this earth. When the divine Aioina came down to the world of men, he caused the woodpecker to come and help him hollow out a boat. The bird did so well at this work that when he had finished Aionia killed him and made him a great feast. The woodpecker is a truly clever bird and a fine gentleman. And so it happens that, if a person should kill one of this kind of bird, he must make him a feast and send him a feast and send his spirit off well and happy. If this be done, the worshipper will become rich, as well as most skilful in making boats. The woodpecker ought therefore to be treated with reverence."

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

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