Native American Tales: Skeleton Island

This is a retelling of a Native American story from  The Myths of the North American Indians, (1914), collected by Lewis Spence called The Friendly Skeleton.

The Boy in the Woods

Once there was a boy who lived in the woods with his elderly uncle.   Although the boy was free to play in the woods close to the lodge his uncle always warned him that he must not go eastwards.  The boy was always full of life and like most boys filled with a natural curiosity about his surroundings and explored the woods all around his uncle’s lodge except those that lay to the east.  Although the boy often wondered what could possibly lie eastwards he always obeyed his uncle’s warning.

One day his uncle went on a long hunting expedition  leaving the boy alone in the lodge. After playing in the woods north, south and west the boy became bored and he thought about his uncle’s warning not to go eastwards.  The more he thought about it the more his curiosity was aroused and he decided he would go eastwards in the woods but be very, very careful.

The Stranger

He set off to the east through the woods and eventually came to a large lake and he stopped on its shores to rest and noticed there was an island in the middle of it .  While he was resting a strange man approached him and asked him his name and where he had come from and the boy told him.

After he had told him the stranger said, “Very well, now let us fire an arrow and see who can shoot it the highest”  The boy agreed and he shot his arrow much higher than the man did.  Next the stranger suggested they have a competition to see who could swim the furthest underwater without coming up for breath.  Once again the boy won the competition. Then the stranger suggested they sail to the island in the middle of the lake to see the beautiful birds that lived there.

Skeleton Island

The stranger showed the boy his canoe which was most strangely carved and was pulled by three swans.  Two swans were harnessed to each side and one was tethered to the front.  The man motioned the boy to take a seat next to him in the canoe and began singing a strange song.  The swans moved off taking the canoe along with them.  It didn’t take them long to reach the island which the boy now noticed was a considerable distance from the shore and surrounded by deep water making him feel his trust in a stranger was foolish.

Then the strange man ordered him to undress and he took his clothes and got back into the boat and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,”  and the swans took him in the canoe back towards the shore leaving the boy naked and alone on the island.

The Skeleton

The boy was angry at his own foolish naivety but as  evening came and darkness fell he began to feel very cold, very miserable and very frightened.  Huddled alone in the darkness to his utter shock he heard a husky voice nearby that appeared to be talking to him.  Looking around the boy was terrified to see lying on the ground next to him a bleached white skeleton.  “I feel very sorry for you and I will help you if you will help me.” With no other choice the boy agreed though he too felt sorry for the skeleton.

The Skeleton then told him, “I will tell you that tonight a man is coming to look for you.  If you make as many tracks as you can all over the island and hide in that hollow tree over there, the man will become confused by so many marks and will not find you.”

The boy obeyed the skeleton and when the man came ashore he had three dogs with him.  Fortunately the boy had made so many tracks going this way and that all over the island that the dogs were so confused they could not find him in his hiding place and the man left empty handed and angry.

The next morning the boy went to the skeleton  who said, “Beware, tonight the man who brought you to this island is coming back to drink your blood.  You must dig a hole in the sand on the shore and hide in it.  When his canoe arrives and he steps onto the island you must quickly jump into the canoe and say to the swans, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and they will immediately take the canoe back with you on board.  The man will call to you but you must not look back.”

Escape From Skeleton Island

So the boy dug a hole in the sand and hid in it.  Just as the skeleton had said the canoe arrived and the man got out and stepped ashore and began searching for the boy.  The boy jumped in the canoe and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and began to sing just as he had heard the stranger sing when he had brought him in the canoe to the island.  The man called to him but the boy did not look back and the swans took the canoe back to a cave on the shore of the lake.

The boy found his clothes in the cave and put them on and found plenty of food and he ate his fill.  He then lay down and went to sleep.   The next morning he went back to the island and found the dead body of the stranger lying in the sand.  He went to see the skeleton who told him he must now take the canoe and go eastwards across the lake to look for his sister who an evil man had captured many years ago to be his wife.

The Evil Man

He set off eastwards across the lake in the canoe and after three days he came to the place where the evil man kept his sister which was just a hut.  The evil man was out and he soon found his sister and said, “Sister, Let us go quickly from this place now!”

“I dare not! An evil man keeps me here and he will be back any minute and will surely catch us.   Let me hide you away and in the morning we shall runaway together!”  said she said.  She dug a hole and told her brother to hide in it and just as she had finished hiding him the evil man came into the hut with his dogs demanding his dinner. The boy’s sister had cooked a child for the evil man and put it before him.  He looked on her grimly and said, “You have had visitors while I was out!.”

The girl shivered inside and tried not to let him see this and said, “No one has been and you are the only person I have seen.”  But the evil man said, “I will wait until tomorrow and then I will find and kill him and you shall cook him for me to eat!”  

He knew someone was there by the way the dogs were snuffling about.  He said nothing more and the next morning he left the hut saying he was going hunting to a distant swamp.  However, instead of going hunting he hid himself where he could easily spy on the entrance to the hut.  Presently he saw the boy and his sister leave the hut and make their way to the lake shore and get into a canoe.  Barely had they sat down when they saw him running quickly towards them with a large hook in his hand which he threw and it latched onto the vessel as they moved through the water and he began pulling them back.  The boy reached down into the shallow water and grabbed a stone and smashed the hook with it and the canoe shot forward over the lake.

For a second the man did not know what to do and then he dropped down to the ground and began to drink in the water.   This began to draw the canoe back to him but the boy took aim and threw the stone hitting the man on the head killing him instantly.   This caused the water to gush out of him and back into the lake sending the canoe rapidly on its way.

Return to Skeleton Island

In three days time the brother and his sister arrived back on the island and together they went to see the skeleton to thank him. The skeleton told the boy that it was now turn for the boy to help him as he had promised.  He said,

“Take your sister back to your uncle’s lodge and then return to the island.  There are very many bones laid around the island and when you come back in a loud voice tell them to arise and this will bring them all back to life.”

When the brother and sister arrived at their uncle’s lodge the old man was delighted to see them back safe and sound.  He had come home to find the boy gone and had spent the rest of the time worrying and fretting over his safety.  On hearing about the boy’s adventures he advised they should build a new lodge to accommodate all the people who he would bring back with him.   When the lodge was finished the boy went back to the island and said in a loud voice, “All arise!” and the bones formed into people and he took them back to the new lodge he and his uncle and sister had built for them.  There they all lived very happily together for a very long time.

© 25/10/2017 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 10th, 2017 zteve t evans

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Greenlandic Folktales: Little Kâgssagssuk

The Father of Eskimology

Knud Rasmussen (1879-1921) was a polar explorer and anthropologist who was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage by dog sled. He was born in lulissat, formerly Jakobshavn in Greenland.  His mother, Lovise was of Inuit-Danish descent and his father was a Danish missionary and vicar named Christian Rasmussen.  He was brought up in Greenland and spent his early years living among the Kalllitt, a group of the Greenlandic Inuit people learning the Kalaallisut language they spoke and learning how to live, hunt and use the dog sleds used to traverse the harsh Arctic terrain. He said,

“My playmates were native Greenlanders; from the earliest boyhood I played and worked with the hunters, so even the hardships of the most strenuous sledge-trips became pleasant routine for me.” (1)

He was called the “Father of Eskimology,” and collected data for the Fifth Thule Expedition, (1921–1924) which sought to investigate the origin of the Eskimo people and published in a ten volume work “The Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924,” containing ethnological, archaeological and biological data he had collected.  He also published accounts of his expeditions and exploits and a book of folk stories, “Eskimo Folk-Tales.” The story that follows is a rewrite from this book and was called, “Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman”.   Really, it is a story that could be found throughout the history of human society in any human culture  around the world and is still very relevant today.

Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman

They say there was once a day when the men and women had gone to a spiritual meeting held by a wizard and had left the children in one  house to keep them safe.  The children played lots of noisy games together and as might be expected made a great deal of noise. Outside, a homeless orphan boy called Kâgssagssuk walked by.  Hearing the noise the children were making he shouted out, “You are making so much noise the evil Fire Spirit will come for you!”

The children made fun of him and would not believe him and carried on with their noisy game.  They  were having such great fun and grew louder and louder and just as Kâgssagssuk had warned the an evil Fire Spirit appeared.  Kâgssagssuk ran into the house crying, “Quick, quick, lift me up, I need my gloves that are drying up there!”   So the children lifted him up to the great drying frame under the roof.  Then the evil spirit ran into the house with a live ribbon seal in his hand that had long sharp claws attached to it that he used as a whip .  Each time he whirled his whip he caught one of the children and dragged them towards him and as they drew near him they were frizzled up in his flames.  He did this until all the children were frizzled up and then he turned to leave.  As he was about to go he reached up and touched a skin that was hanging from the drying frame and then left the house.

When he sure it was gone Little Kâgssagssuk climbed down from the drying frame and ran to the wizard’s house where the spiritual meeting with the adults was taking place. Kâgssagssuk told them what had happened but they would not believe him and accused him of killing the children.  Kâgssagssuk said,

“It was not me it was the noise they were making that roused the Great Fire. If you don’t believe me you make a noise like the children made and see what happens!”   

The adults began cooking a big vat of blubber which they had positioned over the door of the building  on the outside.   As the blubber heated up all the oil came out and began boiling and bubbling creating a great noise,   Sure enough, this roused the the evil Fire Spirit who appeared outside.  The adults had ordered little Kâgssagssuk to stay out of the house so he hid himself in the outside shed.

Once again the evil Fire Spirit came wielding a living ribbon seal as a whip.  The adults heard it coming and quickly tipped the vat of boiling blubber over  the whip as it came through the door.  This caused the Fire Spirit to crackle and spark and with the whip extinguished and destroyed it went away.

Although little Kâgssagssuk had been proved right and had told the truth, from that time onwards the people were cruel to him.  Being an orphan little Kâgssagssuk had lived at the house of one of the great men of his community named Umerdlugtoq.  Now he was restricted from entering his house and  Kâgssagssuk was now only allowed enough time indoors to dry his boots.  When the time was up Umerdlugtoq would grab Kâgssagssuk by the nose and lifting him off the floor throw him through the door.

The only family little Kâgssagssuk had was two grandmothers and neither were very nice to him.  One would beat him if he tried to shelter in her passage  and although the other, who was the mother of his mother, was kinder and would dry his clothes for him she would do nothing else.

Sometimes the people would only give him the tough hide of a walrus to eat.This was out of malice because they knew how tough it was and how hard it was to eat and digest.  To help him chew the hide Kâgssagssuk kept a small sharp stone in his pocket which he placed between his teeth  to bite down on.  Sometimes he would be so hungry he would eat what the dog’s had left and refused.  He would sleep with the dogs and would climb on the roof of a building to feel the warm air rise through the smoke hole.  Whenever  Umerdlugtoq caught him he would grab him by the nose and pull him off the roof.  Things went on like this for a long time for little Kâgssagssukv all through the dark days of winter.  As spring began to show and the days grew longer and lighter little Kâgssagssuk  took to roaming out of the settlement into the countryside.

One day while he wandered in the country he came across a huge man who he realized was a giant.  The giant was cutting up his catch and Kâgssagssuk was feeling very hungry and cried out, “Hey, giant, let me have some meat please!”    

Although he shouted at the top of his voice the giant could not hear him. Kâgssagssuk kept shouting and eventually the giant heard his voice and not knowing who was talking but thinking it was one of the dead, dropped some meat, saying, “ There now, bring me good luck!” as he deliberatley dropped a small slice of meat on the ground as he said it.

Now, although little Kâgssagssuk was still young he had some helping spirits who looked after him and they turned the small slice of meat into a big slice.  Little Kâgssagssuk ate as much as he could and when he was full he was pleased to see there was still a lot left.  In fact there was so much that he struggled to drag it to a hiding place he had found to store it in so that he could eat it later.  Nevertheless, after a struggle he managed it and went back to the settlement.

Then few days later little Kâgssagssuk said to the mother of his mother, who was his kindest grandmother, “I have been given some meat and now I find I keep thinking about it and I am now going out to check it.”  With that he went to the place he had hidden it, but when he got there it had gone.   He was bitterly disappointed and began to cry.   While he was stood crying the giant came up and said, “Why is it you are weeping?”

Little Kâgssagssuk replied, “I am upset because a few days ago I hid some meat here and now it has gone.”

“I see,” said the giant, “but I found that meet and thought it had belonged to someone else so I took it.”  and because the giant had taken to little Kâgssagssuk and felt pity for him he said, “Come and play with me!”  This seemed good to little Kâgssagssuk and he went off with the giant.  As they went they came across a small boulder and the giant said, “ Let us push this boulder.” So they pushed the boulder until it twirled round and then little Kâgssagssuk tried to push it on his own but he just fell backwards.

Once more, once more!” cried the giant and, “Quick, now, once more!” and in this way the giant took little Kâgssagssuk from boulder to boulder each one bigger than the last. Llittle Kâgssagssuk found that eventually he stopped falling backwards and could push them so hard even the biggest  twirled in the air.

“Good!”said the giant, “Now you are as strong as me and are indeed, a very strong man.  Because it was all my fault you lost your meat I will now make three bears walk into your settlement”

Little Kâgssagssuk went back to his village and went to warm himself by a smoke hole on one of the roofs.  Umerdlugtoq saw him and grasped him by the nose and pulled him from the roof and threw him to the ground.  So little Kâgssagssuk went to lay with the dogs to keep warm, but the mother of his father took a stick to him and beat him and the dogs

That night when all the villagers had fallen asleep Kâgssagssuk went out to the kayaks which were all frozen fast in the water and lifted one free, breaking the ice.  Then Kâgssagssuk went and climbed upon the roof of a home to get the warm from its smoke hole and there he spent the night.

In the morning when the men went down to make their kayaks out fishing they were greatly surprised to find one had been hauled out of the ice in the night and they all gathered round to discuss this remarkable feat.  “Who is the strongman who pulled the kayak from the ice? asked one.”

“Indeed there must be a strongman among us,” said another.

“No one is that strong,” said yet another.

“Ha! Here is the mighty man!” said Umerdlugtoq mockingly pointing to Kâgssagssuk who had wandered down to the edge of the group.

Later on that day the people of the village began to call out excitedly that three bears – a mother and two cubs –  were approaching the village just as the giant had sad they would.  At this time Kâgssagssuk was drying his boots by a fire of his mother’s mother and mindful of what the giant had told him borrowed her boots and ran outside and across the snow covered ground to find the bears.  The snow had been packed hard where everyone had walked upon it and usually little Kâgssagssuk would leave no footprints when he walked upon it being small and light.  Now as he ran over the hard packed snow he left deep footprints such as would be made in newly fallen snow.   He soon found the bears and the villagers watched in surprise as he approached them.  “Hey, what has come over Kâgssagssuk, he is running towards the bears!”  cried one. “What has gotten into him? shouted another.

Umerdlugtoq was astounded to see him running to confront the bears and looked on in astonishment as Kâgssagssuk grabbed the mother bear in his bare hands and wrung her neck and threw her to the ground dead.  He then grabbed the two cubs, one in each hand and battered their heads together killing them instantly.   Then he threw the great mother bear over his shoulders and grasping a cub in each hand he casually walked back to the village to the mother of his mother’s house.   There he skinned the bears and cut them up and placed their flesh into a large pot ready to cook them for her and built a big fireplace to cook the meat on.

Umerdlugtoq had been shocked when he saw little Kâgssagssuk kill the bears and made haste to get away from him taking his wives with him.  His father’s mother who would beat him came by to threaten him and he threw her on the fire and she burned up leaving only her stomach.  His mother’s mother saw this and tried to run away but he held her and said to her, “You have nothing to fear, for you were kind to me and would always let me dry my boots and now I shall be kind to you!”

After the bear meat was cooked and he had eaten a meal of it he went looking for Umerdlugtoq who had climbed a high hill and pitched a tent by the side of a precipice and there he stayed with his wives.   Kâgssagssuk reached into the tent and grabbing Umerdlugtoq by the nose pulled him out.   He held him at arm’s length off the ground and shook him until his nostrils burst and Umerdlugtoq feared he would be killed.

Kâgssagssuk shook him again and said,  “Fear not, you did not kill me so I will not kill you!” and threw him on the ground.  Then went into the tent and shouted, “Hey I am in here with your wives.  Come and take a gòod look!”   Umerdlugtoq had often threatened and beaten little Kâgssagssuk if he had so much as glanced at one of his wives and now little Kâgssagssuk was taking his revenge.  When he was satisfied he had punished Umerdlugtoq enough he went back to the village to seek out others who had made his life a misery.  When he had taken vengeance on these he left the village and traveled south and lived with the southern people.

There are those who say that he would go out hunting with other men but because he had grown so strong he began to enjoy filling them with fear.  They say he turned bad and began catching children and squeezing them to death.  The men in the village harpooned him one day while he was out in his kayak to  put an end to his bullying and that was the end of the story of how Kâgssagssuk, the homeless boy who became a strongman.   Sadly, it was not the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Little Kâgssagssuk was a boy in this story but could easily have been a girl.  Such children, perhaps orphaned, abandoned or lost, still exist today in many places around the world living alone and on the fringes of society, or invisible to it.  Abuse and neglect breed abuse and neglect and shamefully the story continues.

© 18/10/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 18th, 2017 zteve t evans

Welsh Legends: The Bride From the Red Lake

From #FolkloreThursday.com

By zteve t evans 27/04/2017

Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: The Bride from the Red Lake

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By Adolf Echtler (1843–1914) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Llyn Coch, or the Red Lake, is a Welsh lake situated on Mount Snowdon an area steeped in legend and folklore. One legend tells how a mortal man made a contract that allowed him to take a bride from the Otherworld that he had met at the Red Lake and fallen in love with.  However, it was essential he abide by the terms of that contract.  In Welsh tradition and folklore, there are a number of similar examples where a mortal man takes a bride from the Otherworld and they live happily together, sometimes having children, but there is often a sad ending. One example is found in the tale of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.  In many cases the man found his love living in a remote lake or pool of water and the two fell in love wishing never to part.  After making a promise to her father that must never be broken consent is given and they marry. However, there are those who say that it is risky to have relationships with those of the Otherworld. This point of view is indeed seen in many Welsh fairy or folk tales concerning humans who come into contact or even marry someone from the Otherworld.  Presented here is one such tale called The Bride of the Red Lake.

The Bride from the Red Lake

There was once a farmer who one day decided he would go fishing in the Red Lake. When he arrived he found the lake shrouded in mist.  Then a sudden gust of wind cleared a path through the mist across the lake and to the farmer’s surprise revealed a man perched upon a ladder busily at work thatching a haystack.  Stranger still, the ladder appeared to be standing on top of the surface of the water as did the haystack.   The farmer was astounded but the vision quickly faded and soon all that could be seen was a gentle rippling of the water where the haystack and the thatcher had been.

After this, the farmer often visited the lake hoping for another glimpse of this strange otherworld but saw nothing out of the ordinary and he thought no more of his extraordinary vision.   Then one autumn day he rode his horse up to the lake.  As it was a hot day he rode his horse into the water so that it could drink easily from the cool lake.   It was a lovely day and while the horse was drinking the farmer sat on its back and stared lazily at the ripples that moved gently across the surface of the Red Lake.

Then, what he saw next made him jump.   Under the surface of the water a little distance from him he saw the face of the loveliest maiden he had ever seen in his life looking at him through the gently rippling water.  He sat spellbound staring at her and she calmly gazed back at him.   As he stared, her head and shoulders slowly emerged from the water and she looked deep into his eyes.

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Philippine Folktales: The Legend of Harisaboqued of Mount Kanlaon

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Mount Canlaon – By Studphil (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the island of Negros in the Philippines is a massive volcano called Kanlaon, or Canlaon. It is still active and steam and smoke can sometimes be seen rising from its crater.  In fact it is the most active volcano in the Philippines and part of the Ring of Fire series of volcanoes around the rim of the Pacific Ocean.  It is a dominant feature of the landscape and associated with several legends and myths that have evolved around it over the centuries.

The Legend of Harisaboqued

The legend presented here is a retelling of a story that originated long before the arrival of the Spanish ships that brought the Christian religion to the people of the Philippines.  It tells that there was once an old man who lived on the top of Kanlaon whose name was Harisaboqued. He was believed to have great powers over the Earth and was known as the King of the Mountain.

The people who lived around the volcano knew and respected him and he brought them many benefits and helped them in many ways.   Whenever there was a task to be done he would strike the ground three times with his staff and a troupe of dwarf people would leap out of the ground to obey his commands.  Although these dwarfs obeyed his slightest whim the local people never felt threatened by them because old Harisaboqued was kindly and never ordered his dwarfs to do wrong or misbehave.   One of the main crops of the people was tobacco and they grew much of this on the slopes of Mount Kanlaon and it made them very prosperous and happy.  Tobacco is a product grown in many countries and although many people depend on it to make a living its use is known to damage the health of users and those exposed to it and is not recommended.

Although the tobacco grown around the mountain grew very well the tobacco on the slopes of the volcano grew better.  These tobacco plantations were said to have been cultivated almost to the top of the mountain producing bumper crops because of old Harisaboqued and his dwarfs.  All he asked of the people was to not encroach an invisible line around the top of the volcano. This area he wished to keep for the privacy of himself and his dwarfs.

It was at his command that his dwarfs cared for and attended to the tobacco plants and these grew much faster and were of far superior quality than any tobacco anywhere. Consequently it was much sought after and gave the people a good living from trading it.  All the people were very grateful to Harisaboqued and would readily have done anything for him.   All he ever asked of them was that they respect the  boundary be had set around the top of the mountain.

All the people respected his wishes and no tobacco was grown on the volcano beyond that line.   In those days, from afar the mountain was an amazing sight with the tobacco plantations of the people cladding the slopes right into the boundary around the peak drawn by Harisaboqued.

Harisaboqued Leaves the Mountain

In this way everything went well for the people.  They were given magnificent crops of the finest tobacco and it was the dwarfs of Harisaboqued that did all the work.  He and his dwarfs kept their privacy and everyone was happy.  There came a day when Harisaboqued called a great meeting of the people and told them that he was going away for a very long time.  He reminded them of the agreement not to encroach upon the boundary and warned them if they should for any reason break this agreement he would take away all of their tobacco from the mountain.  If he had to do that then no more would grow there until he had smoked all that he had taken.  Without a single word more he tapped the ground three times with his staff and the Earth opened up and he walked inside.  Then the Earth closed over again and he was gone.

Many, many years went by and still Harisaboqued did not return and people began to think that he would never come back.  With the exception of Harisaboqued’s private area at the top of the mountain the entire mountain was covered in tobacco plantations which continued to grow as productively as they had always done.  Some people saw the bare, empty ground beyond above the boundary and thought that surely that could be cultivated too but they feared to break their promise they had made to Harisaboqued.

Then one greedy man decided that he would take a chance and planted tobacco above the line.  He got a fine crop of tobacco and nothing bad happened.  Seeing this others followed his lead and soon tobacco grew over the entire mountain from top to bottom including Harisaboqued’s special place at the top.  The tobacco was good and the people became very prosperous trading it.  They were very happy and because nothing bad had happened they ignored the promise they had made and continued to plant more tobacco.

The Return of Harisaboqued

Then one day while they were celebrating a  bumper crop of tobacco the ground suddenly opened up and out sprang Harisaboqued into their midst.  This shocked the people and terrified they ran down the slopes to the foot of the mountain.  Looking back they saw a most fearful sight.   Every single one of their tobacco plants had vanished and the slopes of the volcano were barren and bare.   Then a terrifying thunderous explosion shook the mountain and its entire peak flew into the air and burst into fragments and smoke and flames issued from the great hole that was left.  In fear and terror the people fled and did not stop until they were a long way away from the terrible scene.

They knew that Harisaboqued had kept his promise.  After many years had passed and the fires and eruptions had settled down the people returned to build villages around the bottom of the volcano.  Even though the people remembered the good days when the tobacco was plentiful and they were prosperous no tobacco was grown upon the mountain.  Although they look with longing at the slopes where their tobacco plantations had once been smoke still occasionally floats from the mountain and sometimes it still erupts,  This reminds the  people that they must wait for Harisaboqued to finish smoking his tobacco.

© 04/10/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 4th, 2017 zteve t evans