The Story Of Djun

: The Strange Story Book

Once upon a time a famine broke out among the tribe of the Tlingits, and

one of their girls, who was an orphan and had to look after herself,

would have fared very badly had she not now and then been given some

food by her father's sister. But this did not happen often, for

everybody was almost starving, and it was seldom that they had any food

for themselves, still less for anyone else.

Now the girl, who
e name was Djun, heard some of the women planning to

go to the forest and dig roots, and though she wished very much to

accompany them, they would not take her.

'You will bring us bad luck,' they said, and struck her fingers when, in

despair at being left behind, she grasped the side of the canoe. But

though the girl was obliged to loosen her hold from pain, she was so

hungry that she would not be beaten off, and at last her father's

sister, who was one of the party, persuaded the others to let her go

with them. So she jumped in and paddled away to the forest.

All that day the women hunted for roots till they had collected a large

pile, and had even caught some salmon in the river as well, and as

evening drew on they prepared to encamp for the night, and built a fire

to warm them and to cook some of the roots. But the girl, who had

wandered away by herself as soon as they had landed, did not return, and

the women were angry, and said that if she did not choose to come back,

she might stay in the forest for ever. And the next morning, when they

started for home, they threw water on the fire so that Djun might not be

able to cook her food, if she had any to cook. However, the girl's aunt

managed to steal a burning coal which lay on the fire, and, unseen by

the rest, threw it into a deserted brush-house where they had slept,

and put a piece of dried salmon with it. Just as she had done this she

caught sight of the girl hiding behind the brush-house, and went to

speak to her; for the other women were too busy packing the food into

the boat to notice what she was doing.

'Are you not coming with us?' she asked, and Djun answered:

'No; as they don't want to take me, I had better stay here.'

'Well, I have put a live coal in that brush-house for you and a piece of

salmon,' said her aunt, 'so you will have something to eat for a day or


* * * * *

The girl did not leave her hiding-place till the boat was out of sight,

and then she made a big fire from the burning coal, and cooked her roots

and her salmon; but though they smelt very good, and she was hungry, she

did not somehow feel as if she could eat. So she soon got up and went

farther into the forest and dug some more roots.

'I shall be almost starving by the evening,' thought she, 'and I will

eat them then;' but when evening came she had no more appetite than in

the morning, so she curled herself up in a corner and fell asleep, for

she was very tired.

She was awakened early next day by a rushing of wings, and, looking out

of the door, found a flock of birds sweeping by. But there was nothing

very uncommon in that, and she lay down again and slept for several

hours longer. Then she got up and walked some distance till she reached

a flat plain, where the best roots grew, but the flock of birds had

found them out also, and were feeding upon them.

When they saw her they flew away, and she went to a spot covered with

dead grass, for she expected that would be a good place to dig in. To

her surprise, under the dead grass lay several big canoes filled with

oil, dried halibut and dried salmon.

'How lucky I am!' she said to herself; 'it was well indeed that I did

not return with the others,' and she broke off a piece of salmon and

tried to eat it, but she could not.

'What is the matter with me?' she wondered. 'I wish my aunt were here,'

and she felt rather frightened. And the next day she grew more

frightened still, for she found out that the birds were spirits, and it

was they who were preventing her from eating food, so that she might

become a great shaman or medicine-man. After a little while her eyes

were opened, and she understood many things she had never guessed at,

and the spirit-birds she had seen took possession of her, and others

came from the woods and the sea, and sang to her.

At first she went two or three times every day to visit the buried

canoes and to dig for roots, but she quickly gave that up, for she had

nothing with which to sharpen the sticks she used instead of spades; and

besides, what was the use of digging for roots if you could not eat

them? Meanwhile, in the village the girl's aunt mourned for her, as she

felt sure Djun must by this time be dead of hunger.

* * * * *

'I am very lonely: I wish some of my old friends would come to see me,'

thought Djun when she had been living by herself for several months, and

the next morning a canoe appeared in sight, and in it were seated some

people whom she knew. Then Djun was happy indeed, and she bade them

follow her to the brush-house, and gave them food out of the canoes; for

two or three days they stayed, digging for roots and for anything else

they could get, and at the end of the time Djun said to them:

'It is well that you should go again, but be careful not to take with

you any of the food that I have given you. Tell my friends that I am

alive, and beg my aunt to come and visit me.'

So the people of the canoe returned to the village, and told such tales

of the food they had received from Djun that all the townsfolk hastened

to get into their canoes and paddled straight off to the place where she

was living. When they drew near enough to see the brush-house, they

beheld it surrounded by thousands of birds that seemed to stretch right

upwards from the earth to the sky. They also heard the shaman's voice

and the sound of singing, but as soon as they approached closer to the

brush-house, the birds flew away.

After that the shaman went out to meet them, and she asked:

'Where is my aunt? I want her;' and when her aunt came Djun gave her

everything that was stored in one of her buried canoes, and then she


'I should like two of the women to stay with me and help me with my

singing,' and one after another the chief women of the tribe, with their

faces newly painted, rose up in the canoes; but she would have none of

them, and chose two girls who were orphans like herself, and had been

treated very badly by their kinsfolk.

'The rest can come ashore,' she said, 'and camp out here,' but she took

the orphans and her aunt into the brush-house.

Now these high-born women had brought their slaves with them, and Djun

took the slaves in exchange for food, and put necklaces and paint and

feathers and fine robes upon the orphans. And the whole of the village

people stayed with her a long while, and when they got into the canoes

again they were fat and strong with all that Djun had given them.

* * * * *

For some time Djun lived quite happily in the brush-house now that she

had some companions; then a longing took hold of her to go back to her

own village, so she worked magic in order to make the chief of the town

fall ill, and the people, who had learnt that she had become a shaman,

sent a canoe to fetch her and offered her much payment if she would cure


The family of Djun the shaman was one of the noblest in the tribe, but

misfortune had overtaken them. One by one they had all died, and when

the girl came back to the village nothing remained but the posts of her

uncle's house, while grass had sprouted inside the walls. She beheld

these things from the canoe and felt very sad, but she bade the slaves

cease paddling, as she wished to land. Then she drew out an eagle's

tail, and, holding it up, blew upon it and waved it backwards and

forwards. After she had done this four times, the posts and the grass

disappeared, and in their place stood a fine house--finer and larger

than the one the chief had lived in.

'Bring in whatever the canoe contains,' she said; and when everything

was ready she went into the house, and the two orphan girls went with


'The chief's daughter is ill as well as her father,' so Djun heard after

she had been back in the village for a few days, and she waited in the

house, expecting to be summoned to work a cure. But though they had sent

for her while she was living far from them, now that she was amongst

them again she looked so like the girl they had known from a child that

the people could not believe she could be a real shaman, and called in

others. However, in spite of the care of these medicine men, both the

chief and his daughter became worse and worse, and in despair, their

kinsfolk suddenly bethought themselves of Djun. The girl was not in the

house at the time that the messenger arrived, but one of the orphans met

him, and asked:

'How much will they pay the shaman if she cures them?'

'Two slaves,' was the answer.

'That is not enough,' said the child; 'go back and tell them so.'

And the messenger went back and came again.

'How much will they pay the shaman?' asked the child as she opened the

door to him.

'Two slaves and much goods,' answered he.

'That is well; she will come,' said the child, and the messenger

returned with her answer.

* * * * *

'We will go together,' Djun said to the orphans, and the three set off

at once to the house of the chief. Inside, there was a crowd of people,

except for an empty space round the fire where lay the chief and his

daughter. The shaman sat down between them and worked all the spells she

knew, but they grew no better. Then she rose and walked through the

people in the room, and when she had looked at each one she said to the


'The witch that is killing you two is not here.'

As soon as the people heard that, they left the house and brought in

those of the villagers who had not come before, for there was not room

for a very great number. For the second time Djun went among them and

examined them, and then she repeated:

'The witch is not yet here.' But the spirits, which showed her what

others could not see, opened her eyes, and after a moment she spoke


'The road of the witch is very clear now; it runs straight to this

house.' After that she waited in silence, and the people were silent

also. At last they heard a bird whistling in the woods at the back, and

the shaman said:

'She is coming now; open the door and let her in,' and they flung the

door wide, and there flew in a wild canary.

'Go and sit between the two sick persons,' said Djun, and the canary

fluttered towards them, making such a noise with her wings that they

were frightened and shrank away from her. And the shaman desired a man

to tie the bird's wings to her side so that she might be still. Next a

rolling sound such as thunder makes a long way off filled the air.

'Here come her children,' cried the shaman. 'Stop all the holes so that

they may not enter, for they are very angry.' But though the holes were

stopped, there were cracks in the boards, and the birds flew in through

the cracks till the house became full of them, and the noise was

deafening. They flew round and round among the people, and whosoever

they touched received a cut or a bruise. Suddenly--no one knew how--they

all vanished, and not a bird was left in the room save the one which was


* * * * *

Hours had passed since the shaman first came to the house, and it was

now morning. The canary never ceased making a noise all that time, and

at last the shaman said:

'She wants to go to the place where she has put the food and the locks

of hair with which she is bewitching the chief and his daughter. Untie

her wings and let her do as she will, but be careful to follow her.' So

they untied her wings, and the canary flew out of the house followed by

four men, and she hopped ahead of them the way she had come through the


At length she stopped and began scratching at the roots of some bushes

till she laid bare a skull. On the top of the skull some leaves, hair,

food, and scraps of clothes were carefully arranged in a pattern. She

picked up as many of them as she could carry in her beak and flew with

them down to the sea, letting the wind scatter them in different

directions. This she did till all had disappeared and the skull

likewise, and then she returned to the house with the four men following

her, and they found the chief and his daughter quite cured, for as soon

as the skull and the other things had touched the sea, they recovered by


* * * * *

'Do you hear the noise she is making?' asked the shaman, when the bird

had begun to chatter as noisily as before. 'She wants to go away from

here, but not to her home, because the other birds will be

ashamed of her. The place she wishes to go to is a town called

Close-along-the-beach. Therefore, let a canoe be got ready at once to

take her there.' So the canoe was got ready, and the bird flew into it,

and they pushed off from the shore, and paddled till the bird suddenly

broke out into the strange speech, which no one could understand but the


'This must be the place,' they said, and paddled in towards the beach,

and the canary flew out of the boat and went very fast down to the shore

followed by a man who wished to see where she was going, and she stopped

at a tree whose roots stuck out above the ground. For this was the

bird-town of Close-along-the-beach.

That is how the ancient Indians first heard of witchcraft.

[Tlingit Myths and Texts.]