Keesh lived at
the edge of the polar sea. He had seen thirteen suns in the
Eskimo way of keeping time. Among the Eskimos, the sun each
winter leaves the land in darkness. And the next year, a new sun
returns, so it might be warm again.
The father of Keesh had been a brave man. But he had died
hunting for food. Keesh was his only son. Keesh lived along with
his mother, Ikeega.
One night, the village council met in the big igloo of Klosh-kwan,
the chief. Keesh was there with the others. He listened, then
waited for silence.
He said, “It is true that you give us some meat. But it is often
old and tough meat, and has many bones.”
The hunters were surprised. This was a child speaking against
them. A child talking like a grown man!
Keesh said, “My father, Bok, was a great hunter. It is said that
Bok brought home more meat than any of the two best hunters. And
that he divided the meat so that all got an equal share.”
“Naah! Naah!” the hunters cried. “Put the child out! Send him to
bed. He should not talk to gray-beards this way!”
Keesh waited until the noise stopped. “You have a wife, Ugh-gluk,”
he said. “And you speak for her. My mother has no one but me. So
I speak. As I say, Bok hunted greatly, but is now dead. It is
only fair then that my mother, who was his wife, and I, his son,
should have meat when the tribe has meat. I, Keesh, son of Bok,
Again, there was a great noise in the igloo. The council ordered
Keesh to bed. It even talked of giving him no food.
Keesh jumped to his feet. “Hear me!” he cried. “Never shall I
speak in the council igloo again. I shall go hunt meat like my
There was much laughter when Keesh spoke of hunting. The
laughter followed Keesh as he left the council meeting.
The next day, Keesh started out for the shore, where the land
meets the ice. Those who watched saw that he carried his bow and
many arrows. Across his shoulder was his father's big hunting
spear. Again there was laughter.
One day passed, then a second. On the third day, a great wind
blew. There was no sign of Keesh. His mother, Ikeega, put burned
seal oil on her face to show her sorrow. The women shouted at
their men for letting the little boy go. The men made no answer,
but got ready to search for the body of Keesh.
Early next morning, Keesh walked into the village. Across his
shoulders was fresh meat. “Go you men, with dogs and sleds.
Follow my footsteps. Travel for a day,” he said. “There is much
meat on the ice. A she-bear and her two cubs.”
His mother was very happy. Keesh, trying to be a man, said to
her, “Come, Ikeega, let us eat. And after that, I shall sleep.
For I am tired.”
There was much talk after Keesh went to his igloo. The killing
of a bear was dangerous. But it was three times more dangerous
to kill a mother bear with cubs. The men did not believe Keesh
had done so. But the women pointed to the fresh meat. At last,
the men agreed to go for the meat that was left. But they were
not very happy.
One said that even if Keesh had killed the bear, he probably had
not cut the meat into pieces. But when the men arrived, they
found that Keesh had not only killed the bear, but had also cut
it into pieces, just like a grown hunter.
So began the mystery of Keesh.
On his next trip, he killed a young bear…and on the following
trip, a large male bear and its mate.
Then there was talk of magic and witchcraft in the village. “He
hunts with evil spirits,” said one. “Maybe his father's spirit
hunts with him,” said another.
Keesh continued to bring meat to the village. Some people
thought he was a great hunter. There was talk of making him
chief, after old Klosh-kwan. They waited, hoping he would come
to council meetings. But he never came.
“I would like to build an igloo.” Keesh said one day, “but I
have no time. My job is hunting. So it would be just if the men
and women of the village who eat my meat, build my igloo.” And
the igloo was built. It was even bigger than the igloo of the
One day, Ugh-gluk talked to Keesh. “It is said that you hunt
with evil spirits, and they help you kill the bear.”
“Is not the meat good?” Keesh answered. “Has anyone in the
village yet become sick after eating it? How do you know evil
spirits are with me? Or do you say it because I am a good
Ugh-gluk had no answer.
The council sat up late talking about Keesh and the meat. They
decided to spy on him.
On Keesh's next trip, two young hunters, Bim and Bawn, followed
him. After five days, they returned. The council met to hear
“Brothers,” Bim said, “we followed Keesh, and he did not see us.
The first day he came to a great bear. Keesh shouted at the
bear, loudly. The bear saw him and became angry. It rose high on
its legs and growled. But Keesh walked up to it.”
“We saw it,” Bawn, the other hunter, said. “The bear began to
run toward Keesh. Keesh ran away. But as he ran, he dropped a
little round ball on the ice. The bear stopped and smelled the
ball, then ate it. Keesh continued to run, dropping more balls
on the ice. The bear followed and ate the balls.”
The council members listened to every word. Bim continued the
story. “The bear suddenly stood up straight and began to shout
“Evil spirits,” said Ugh-gluk.
I do not know,” said Bawn. “I can tell only what my eyes saw.
The bear grew weak. Then it sat down and pulled at its own fur
with its sharp claws. Keesh watched the bear that whole day.”
“For three more days, Keesh continued to watch the bear. It was
getting weaker and weaker. Keesh moved carefully up to the bear
and pushed his father's spear into it.”
“And then?” asked Klosh-kwan.
“And then we left.”
That afternoon, the council talked and talked. When Keesh
arrived in the village, the council sent a messenger to ask him
to come to the meeting. But Keesh said he was tired and hungry.
He said his igloo was big and could hold many people, if the
council wanted a meeting.
Klosh-kwan led the council to the igloo of Keesh. Keesh was
eating, but he welcomed them. Klosh-kwan told Keesh that two
hunters had seen him kill a bear. And then, in a serious voice
to Keesh, he said, “We want to know how you did it.” Did you use
magic and witchcraft?”
Keesh looked up and smiled. “No, Klosh-kwan. I am a boy. I know
nothing of magic or witchcraft. But I have found an easy way to
kill the ice-bear. It is head-craft, not witchcraft.”
“And will you tell us, O Keesh?” Klosh-kwan asked in a shaking
“I will tell you. It is very simple. Watch.”
Keesh picked up a thin piece of whalebone. The ends were pointed
and sharp as a knife. Keesh bent the bone into a circle.
Suddenly he let the bone go, and it became straight with a sharp
snap. He picked up a piece of seal meat.
“So,” he said, “first make a circle with a sharp, thin piece of
whale bone. Put the circle of bone inside some seal meat. Put it
in the snow to freeze. The bear eats the ball of meat with the
circle of bone inside. When the meat gets inside the bear, the
meat gets warm, and the bone goes snap! The sharp points make
the bear sick. It is easy to kill then. It is simple.”
Ugh-gluk said, “Ohhh!” Klosh-kwan said “Ahh!” Each said
something in his own way. And all understood.
That is the story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the edge of
the polar sea. Because he used head-craft, instead of
witchcraft, he rose from the poorest igloo to be the chief in
the village. And for all the years that followed, his people
were happy. No one cried at night with pains of hunger.