Mink and the Sun

A Telling by Eldrbarry

Mink's mother, Sea Lion, as a young maiden, liked to sit in a rock in the sea, basking in the warm sun. When she found out she was going to have a baby, her parents questioned her about it. They asked her who the father was. "I don't know any young men," she replied, "and I stay home all the time. The only thing I can think about is that I was warming myself in the sun." So when the time came for the baby to be born, they named it Make-Like-The-Sun, The Mink.

When the child was growing up, the other children used to make fun of him. "You haven't got a dad," they would say. "You're not like us." Made-like-the-Sun would come in crying to his mother. "Don't listen to them," she assured him. "You have a father." "Where is my father?" asked Made-Like-The-Sun. "See that warm sun up there?" said his mother. "That is your father. Without him nothing down here could live."

When Mink told the other children that Sun was his father, they ridiculed him. Perhaps it was because everyone made fun of him that Mink became a nasty trickster. He set out to try and outsmart everyone, and one by one Mink played tricks them. He embarrassed these people, make them look foolish, played dirty jokes, cheated them, and stole from them. When he grew older, he began to wander from tribe to tribe, playing dirty tricks everywhere he went.

One day he looked to the Sky world and decided that Sun and Moon were not smarter than he. "It's a pretty easy job lighting the world," he said. "I must go up and visit them for I want an easy job like lighting the world." Now you might think it was hard to get to the Sky world, but actually it was very easy. Mink waited for one of those days, that those who live in the Pacific Northwest know so well, when the clouds were brushing the treetops and the rain drips down. He climbed a tall Cedar tree, all the way to the top, and found himself in the Sky world.

He walked and walked towards the east for the Sun always rises there. It was dark when he saw a great wooden lodge with Sun symbols carved upon it. He went to the small door carved out of a tall pole and knocked upon it. "Who are you?" He was asked by the woman inside. "I am Mink, son of the sunshine," he replied. "Come on in," he was told. " Your father, the Sun will be home soon. Soon he must walk again all day back to the west."

When Sun came home, he told his squaw - "I know that Mink, he is very tricky. I have seen his tricks. He is not to be trusted. I will play along with him and see what he is up to." The boy was taken into the presence of the brilliant sunshine. "So you are my father," Said the Mink, Made-Like-The-Sun. "Yes, I am" replied the Sun. "I have come to help you carry the Sun across the sky." Said Mink. "You have come at the right time," the Sun said. "I am not young anymore, I am getting old and tired. Tomorrow, I will show you how to take over."

Early in the morning, Mink was shaken awake. Sun was standing there wearing a beautiful shiny golden fur robe, and a great golden sun mask, and carrying a torch filled with pitch, which he lit. "I will walk from east to west, but I must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to me, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but I must not listen. I just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean." Motioning to Mink to come with him they set off across the sky.

Looking down Mink saw the great open plains covered with grass rippling in the sunlight, and the Columbia River. Soon they came to the tree covered mountains, and then climbed up over their white shining peaks, reflecting the light from Sun's torch.

On the West side of the mountains, clouds and fog hid the forests and rivers, and shoreline below. Mink could hear voices. "I wish Sun would burn these clouds away." "I am so tired of this rain, why doesn't Sun stop and warm us up. The Shaman promised us a nice day, but again it is raining." Finally late in the afternoon, the clouds parted and there below was the beautiful shiny sea, reflecting the ruddy light as the torch now burned low. On the way home, to Sun's lodge, they passed the Moon, pale compared to the Sun.

The next day, Mink begged and begged to be allowed to carry the torch, but Sun said he was not ready for that. But Sun let him wear the shining robe and the shining golden mask as they set off on their journey. This time, great white clouds were drifting across the plains, as thunderbird flapped his wings with loud thunder and lightning flashed from his eyes when he blinked. Sun just plodded on. Over the great mountains, shining white with snow, over the cloudy coasts where the rain continued to fall. Again they heard the voices pleading for sunshine and warmth and an end to the rain. All the way again to the sea.

The third day, Mink again begged to carry the torch, and this time Sun let him. However, Sun insisted he must go along. "We will walk from east to west, but we must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to us, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but we must not listen. We just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean. You must never stop in your journey."

Early in the morning, Made-Like-The-Sun rose in the east with his sunshine mask on. He was the great Sun! His father accompanied him as he walked across the sky toward the west. He did very well. When the people on earth called up to him, "Give us more sun," he did not listen, he just kept walking. Across the plains, over the mountains that clapped their peaks together, causing the snow to rush down their slopes, past the fog bound and cloudy coastline, where again he heard the peoples complaining, to the vast sea and the end of the day.

The next day Mink insisted he could do it all by himself. Sun gave in. He repeated strongly his instructions. "You will walk from east to west, but you must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to you, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but you must not listen. Just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean. You must never stop in your journey." Then Mink set out alone, wearing the shining golden fur robe, and the great shiny golden mask, bearing the torch filled with pitch and blazing hot and bright. Sun, not sure he could trust the Mink, followed at a distance. Across the plains, up over the mountains they journeyed.

At first Mink did well, though Thunderbird flapped his wings, though the peaks clapped, he just plodded on. But when he got to the rainy coasts, he was not so strong. At first he tried to be. He heard the people down below saying, "Let the sun shine a little more to clear these clouds away and warm us up." "No" he said and kept plodding from east to west. But he kept hearing the people calling him from below. "We just want a little more sunshine - just a little more to warm up. It's Sun's fault the fogs linger. The shaman promised us a nice day." Finally Mink said, "I'm tired of their complaining. I'll show them. I'll just give them more sunshine." and he stopped and stooped down holding the torch towards the earth below. Quickly the clouds burned away. The sun heated the ground. Then the people began complaining about the blistering heat. The forests began drying out and the rocks on the shoreline cracked. Fires started in the forests.

Sun heard the people screaming down on the earth. "Oh, it's too hot! We're going to burn up!" and he hurried to see what his son was doing. There Made-Like-The-Sun was, stopped and stooping down. The Sun yelled at Mink. "I knew you were not to be trusted. I told you not to stoop down. I told you to keep walking," he thundered. "I will take my job back now," and seizing the shining mask, he booted his son out of the sky world with a kick to the posterior.

Mink tumbled down from the sky, and the torch went out. The pitch poured onto his robe staining it and making it smell with a strong musky aroma. But "Made-Like-The-Sun" landed in the water in a magnificent dive. Mink is a skilled diver like his mother, the sea lion. Sun quickly lit another torch, but until he did, it was dark - the first eclipse. Sometimes now the Sun makes other eclipses - to remind creatures of the earth, they can not take the place of any of the heavenly bodies.

As for Mink, he was very ashamed since that day. Though he kept the beautiful fur robe, now stained by the pitch, and with a strong smell, this son of the seaworld and the skyworld, keeps to secretive places and avoids others, though sometimes you may see him basking in the sun on a rock in the river wearing that beautiful but stained fur robe - Mink, Made-Like-The-Sun.

The name of the Mink in the Kwakiutl language means "Made-Like-The-Sun". Mink thought his father was the Sun. To understand these stories, you must remember that the Pacific Northwest coastal peoples had a cosmology with a water world (where the Salmon and Blackfish (orca whales) and Devilfish (octopi) assumed human form and had their lodges); and a sky world above the clouds where the Sun and Moon dwelled also in human form in their lodges. The Sun wore a great shining mask and carried his torch across the sky every day.

This tale concerns the mink, with his wonderful shiny fur cloak and vain spirit and "musky" aroma. Ironically the Mink whose pelt is worn by so many as a symbol of status and pride, took a great fall because of his boasting pride. Mink, a trickster like Raven is always a "rake" - dashing and handsome, but also lusty, dissolute and lewd. One of Chief James Wallas' stories has him going though a sucession of wives that displeased him: Kelp, Frog, Boulder, Cloud, finally finding happiness with Lizard. Another Coast Salish story had Mink tricked by Devilfish (octopus) and held captive at the bottom of the river until he told her his Father the Sun would dry up all the devilfish unless he was released.

I have two versions of this story. One from Emmett Matson, Longhouse Legends - His focuses on Mink the trickster's fall. In his version, Mink tried to vault the Milky Way ( a river of stars) without the walking stick given him by the Sun - "Mink, you are so "smart", you will figure out how to use it." - which he carelessly threw away. Matson comments that this tale is one of the Star Child tales, most of whom were lost. Missionaries found the Star Child legends a point of contact in sharing the story of Christ coming to earth.

The second from Kwakiutl Legends as told to Pamela Whitaker by Chief James Wallas deals with a child trying unsuccessfully to become the man. Both deal with a boy, ill of ease with his situation, coping with it by trickery and bloated pride, however, it is easier to sympathize with the Mink in the Kwakiutl version. I like to tell the story with elements of both and my own touch.

Given these two sources, I noticed recently the stricking similarities between this story and the Greek legend of Phaeton and Apollo (or Helios). Has there been some multicultural exchange of stories? Or is coming of age a universal phenomenon?

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