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Ȟmeŋ was a Mnesesan hero of antiquity, though the life his story describes persisted in Mnese till only a few centuries ago.

The Mneseans number their generations; according to their reckoning Ȟmeŋ lived 226 generations back, which would be roughly 7500 years ago.

Here’s the story as we have it from a Mnesean interviewed by a Ťrimese researcher two centuries ago.

The story of Ȟmeŋ

I will tell you about Ȟmeŋ, as I heard it from my father, and he from his father, back to Ȟmeŋ’s own son. Ȟmeŋ was an orphan, you know. His parents, nobody knew them. He lived in the band of Grandfather Miȟi, who was already an old man, but still ruled the band with a hard fist. He was feared, because he had magic. He didn’t like Ȟmeŋ, and because of that everyone gave him a hard time, especially his three sons, Ruč, Üskir, and Luŋ.

He also had a daughter called Üka, and she was very pretty, with glossy hair and a nice smile, chubby like a seal. Naturally Ȟmeŋ fell in love with her. She liked him too; Ȟmeŋ was a strong, handsome boy, and kind. The sons see this and tell Grandfather Miȟi, so he knows about it. He is angry. Ȟmeŋ is unworthy of the daughter of a chief; he’s an orphan. Besides, Miȟi just didn’t like him. He tells Ȟmeŋ to stay away from his daughter.

But what could he do? He saw her every day, and he was in love with her. He kept talking to her. Finally the sons came to him and challenged him to a fight.

They went to a valley away from the rest of the band and they fought. Only they cheated; they said they would fight one at a time, but they came at him all at once. Ȟmeŋ hurt them all badly, but the three of them together defeated him and tied him up. He was still a young man, you know.

They took Ȟmeŋ to Miȟi and said, look, he attacked us and tried to kill us. Ȟmeŋ can’t say anything, because they bound up his mouth. Miȟi sees his sons’ wounds and gets furious. He comes at Ȟmeŋ to punish him: he tears out his eye and eats it. That’s what happens when you cross a man who has magic.

Nonetheless Ȟmeŋ still loved Üka. He came to her and suggested that they go away together. She was willing, but she wanted to say goodbye to her brothers. He let her go, and she foolishly told them everything. They beat her and told her to go back to Ȟmeŋ and agree to what he said, but to take him to a certain place, a small stand of trees. She was afraid and agreed.

Üka goes to Ȟmeŋ and says she’s ready. They take their blankets and go away. She says she knows a good place to go, and she takes him to the stand of trees. He hunts a rabbit and she cooks it for dinner, and then they get into their blankets and make love.

Now Ruč and his brothers come upon them. They beat them both and then take them, still naked, to Grandfather Miȟi. Look, they say, you punished him severely but he is still shameless; he slept with your daughter, our sister. Miȟi is angrier than he ever was before. He beats up Ȟmeŋ and his daughter, and then he tears out Ȟmeŋ’s other eye and eats it.

He exiled Ȟmeŋ from the tribe, blind and naked. He couldn’t kill him, because it’s bad fate to kill an orphan. But it was about the same thing. He wouldn’t last long.

Ȟmeŋ walked a long time, on the snow, shivering and bleeding. He goes up into the mountains, where it’s even colder and he would die sooner. When he can’t walk any further, he hears a growling noise. It’s a bear.

Kill me quickly, brother bear, he says.

I’m not going to kill you, says the bear. Now Ȟmeŋ knows that it’s not a bear; he’s a bear spirit. He’s even more afraid, but in a different way.

You’ve been wronged, says the bear. But this man has magic, he can’t be defeated normally. You must go into the spirit realm.

The bear spirit gave him a bear eye so he could see, and he put it in his face. Because of this, he learned the hunting secrets of the bears, and he would be able to defeat five men. The bear spirit told him to go into his cave, all the way to the end, where the entrance to the spirit realm was. It was dark; there was not even a fire, and the cave was full of skeletons. He made his way through them and walked into the spirit realm.

It was like going back out of the cave, only now the skeletons were spirits, who jostled or attacked him as he went. But he had the strength of five men now, and he got past them and into the open.

It was like the mountain he was on, but everything he saw was alive: the stars, the trees, even the mountain itself.

He walked a long time, maybe it was hours, maybe it was years. Finally he saw a bird flying towards him, and as it came closer it flew at him and attacked him. It was an eagle spirit.

I don’t want to fight you, sister eagle, he says.

But you must, she says.

So they fight, and it isn’t easy, because she can fly at him and it’s hard to reach her; his strength is no help. But finally he makes a great leap and catches the eagle, and holds it by the wings so she can’t move or attack.

She changed into the form of a woman, and he let her go. She didn’t attack, but touched his face, and gave him an eagle eye. Because of this, he learned the tracking secrets of the eagles, and he was able to see into people’s hearts.

You have what you need now, she says. You may return to the world.

He thanked her, and walked back the way he had come, and back into the world. When he came back, he lived in the mountains for five years. He became a great hunter, because he had the skills of the spirit bear and the spirit eagle; and people came to him for advice, becuase he could see into hearts and had been to the spirit world. But he lived alone, and if any woman wanted to sleep with him he sent her away, though sadly.

Now, at this time Miȟi became deathly ill. He could hardly move; he could barely eat. He went to the shaman, and the shaman looked at him and said he was going to die. He went to a greater shaman, a fearsome old lady who lived alone by the sea, and she told him to sacrifice a bear.

There was no way Miȟi could hunt a bear by himself, so he calls his three sons and says, you must hunt a bear for me. Then bring it back here so we can make the sacrifice.

So his sons go out hunting for bear. They go into the mountains and they find the bear that Ȟmeŋ met. They don’t know that it’s a bear spirit. They surround the bear and try to kill him. But he’s a bear spirit;, you know he’s too much for them. He kills the oldest son Ruč, and he captures Üskir. He leaves the youngest son Luŋ to return to his father.

Luŋ runs all the way back to his father and tells him what his happened. Miȟi is grieved over the loss of his son.

Now, he had heard of a great hunter and seer who lived in the mountains. This was Ȟmeŋ, but he didn’t know it. He sends Luŋ to find him, and Luŋ brings him back to Grandfather Miȟi.

Ȟmeŋ is an imposing figure now: clothed in furs, with a hard face, a beard, and two terrible, nonhuman eyes. Miȟi tells him, you can have anything you want, but please find this bear and bring my son back.

Ȟmeŋ agreed to do this, and tracked the bear spirit. He could do this easily, because he had the skills of the eagles. He finds the bear spirit, and he’s taken aback, because he recognizes him. Father bear, he says, I don’t wish to fight you, but I have promised to return Miȟi’s son to him.

The bear spirit growls, if you want that, you must fight me.

Ȟmeŋ nods, and they fight. It takes a long time, more than a day. The bear spirit is very strong, but Ȟmeŋ has the strength of five men. He kills the bear spirit, but he is gravely hurt himself. He lies down in the snow, and Üskir cries at his feet.

When the sun comes up, the bear spirit is resurrected. He heals Ȟmeŋ, and tells him that because he was willing to fight to the death for someone who had done him harm, he can take the boy home, and moreover he will have the power to undo the wrong that was done him.

Ȟmeŋ thanked the bear spirit, and returned home with Üskir. Miȟi was overjoyed, and told him that he could have anything he wants, including his daughter. Üka was brought out, and Ȟmeŋ accepted her. She was very frightened, because of his appearance, but it was the will of her father, and the man had saved her brother, so she knew she had to accept.

Ȟmeŋ tells Miȟi, I know what is wrong with you, because I can see into people’s hearts. It’s the eyes that you took and ate, many years ago. You took them unjustly, and that is why they have not settled in your stomach. If this is not fixed, you will die.

But I took them from an evildoer, says Miȟi.

Üskir and Luŋ become pale, and they stammer out the true story; that they had snared Ȟmeŋ with deceit.

Miȟi is abashed, and tells the seer to do what is necessary. Ȟmeŋ opens up his stomach with a knife and takes out the two eyes. He washes them with water, and then he replaces his borrowed eyes with his own eyes.

Now they can recognize that he is Ȟmeŋ. Miȟi and his sons are terrified. But Ȟmeŋ says that he will not take vengeance, as this would displease the bear and eagle spirits who had helped him. He sews up Miȟi’s stomach with deer sinew and applies silver knobby leaf to heal him. Miȟi now revealed that Ȟmeŋ was not an orphan after all. He was the son of the previous chief; Miȟi had taken his place when he died, and Ȟmeŋ was still a small child. He had intended to take over permanently, but now he had changed his heart, and Üskir could not become chief in place of the man who had saved his life.

He made Ȟmeŋ the new chief, and he and his sons promised to serve him loyally. Ȟmeŋ and Üka were married in the presence of the band and the shaman, and Ȟmeŋ ruled for a very long time, and had three fine sons of their own as well as three beautiful daughters.

My father told this story many times, so that I learned it perfectly, just as he had learned it from his father, and so on, back 219 generations to Ȟmeŋ’s own eldest son.

Cultural and linguistic notes

We don’t know how accurate the date or the story is, but it’s worth noting that the Mneseans distinguish between mythology, tales of fancy (e.g. stories of talking animals or extended jokes), and family annals, and Ȟmeŋ’s story belongs to the latter.

The changes in tense reflect the original Mnesean— though poorly; Mnesean has an array of verbal forms signalling relative time, type of narrative, evidentiality, and purposiveness.

“He saw her every day”: because he lived in a family band of no more than twenty or so persons, who camp together and don’t build houses (except in the darkest of winter). He could hardly avoid her if he wanted to.

When Ȟmeŋ thinks he is addressing a bear, he calls it “brother”; this becomes “father” when he knows that it’s a bear spirit.

“Silver knobby leaf”: the Ťrimese’s attempt to render some Mnesean name. The Mneseans have names for hundreds of plants— almost everything that grows in the tundra is used in one way or another.