Folklore 36
Yuri Berezkin
Abstract: Tales about the struggle between dwarfs and birds are widespread
across Eurasia and the Americas. About half of them were known to Toivonen
(1937), but a large part of the American and some of the Asian materials re-
mained beyond the scope of his research. The southernmost Eurasian version is
from Nagaland.The closest parallels are between Ancient Greek,Fennoscandian,
Chinese, Lower Amur and North-American tales. In eastern South America
(Upper Xingu) dwarfs at the edge of the earth are replaced with the souls of the
dead in the sky. Among 35,000 texts included into the author’s electronic data-
base, about 100 Eurasian, North- and South-American cases are relevant to the
theme. Several motifs, partially overlapped and variously combined, reflect a
unique set of cosmological ideas. Creatures different from (normal) human be-
ings who live in a distant land fight with non-human enemies (birds, crabs,
hares, etc.); man readily helps these creatures because for him their enemies
are not dangerous; birds attack man who comes to the other world; migratory
birds fly from our world to another one; at the boundary, sky is constantly mov-
ing in respect to earth or the opening leading to other world is narrow, many
birds perish; there is a person at the passage to other world who feeds on birds;
mistress of birds lives on the other side of the moving obstacle. The spread of
this complex across all the New World allows us to date the corresponding ideas
to the time of the initial peopling of the Americas (about 14,000 BP). The com-
plex had taken its final shape in Northern Eurasia. The existence of South
American versions and the absence of parallels in Australia and most of South
and Southeast Asia (African materials are still not processed) is evidence in
favor of historic connections between all known cases. Ecological factors are not
sufficient to explain their independent emergence.
Key words: peopling of the New World, comparative mythology, Eurasian and
Amerindian cosmologies, Yrjö Toivonen
First mentioned by Homer, the legend about pigmies periodically attacked by
cranes is repeated by dozens of Greek and Latin authors. The earliest Antique
illustration of the story is dated to 570 BC (vase Françoi from Etruria), and this
iconographic tradition continues up to about AD 600 well into Byzantine epoch
Yuri Berezkin
(Stahl 1982: 165–182). As long as the study of classical antiquities had been
poorly integrated into the mainstream of anthropological research, the Pig-
mies and cranes motif was considered by many to be peculiar just for the Greeks.
In the first third of the 20th century the Finnish school did much to promote
the crosscultural study of folklore.Yrjö Toivonen (1890–1956) not only described
spectacular Baltoscandian parallels for the antique legend but demonstrated
that the Lapp, Finnish and Scandinavian cases are but fragments of a wider
areal picture that includes the Siberian and North-American native traditions.
Drawing the American folklore to his research, Toivonen used mostly second-
ary sources, but the series of North-American cases mentioned by him was full
enough to make a reliable conclusion about the nature of these distant paral-
lels. The Amerindian myths could not be recently borrowed from the Europe-
ans, and the specific details which they shared with the Eurasian tales could
hardly emerge independently. It was highly probable that all this set of motifs
had been brought by the ancestors of the American natives from their Asian
This hypothesis, however, was not elaborated by Toivonen to any extant
because a questions of utter importance remained unanswered. How long ago
had all these migrations really taken place and for how long could the tales
(more precisely,the motifs that define the core of the tales) remain unchanged?
The discovery of an extensive series of mythological links across most of the
Northern Hemisphere was a puzzle which Finnish school could not resolve in
its time. Finnish approach was historic-geographic, i.e. the object of the re-
search was not what the narrator and his audience thought or felt but what
were the formal features of the tales and what areal patterns they demon-
strated. The existence of similar features inside more or less compact areas
opened a possibility to study the nature of historical circumstances responsible
for producing the corresponding picture. This approach would be well justified
had the folklore data their own chronology (history without chronology is a
nonsense). However, from the point of view of their recording, most of the
folklore materials are modern. They also lack any inner chronology (unlike
linguistics where the knowledge of certain tendencies in phonetic change opens
the possibility to date the borrowing from one language into another). As far as
we remain inside folkloristics itself, all claims of one feature being more “ar-
chaic” than another are based on personal views of particular scholars and
cannot be really proven. Nor the mentioning in the texts of cultural phenom-
ena which terminus post quem is approximately known can be a reliable land-
mark. The evidence suggests that the plot of the story remains unchanged if a
buffalo is replaced with a horse and a strong man with a king.
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
To be used for the purpose of historical reconstructions, the data of folklore
(more precisely, the data on the areal distribution of folklore motifs) should be
cross-checked with the materials of populational genetics and especially ar-
chaeology, i.e. the disciplines which possess tools for reconstruction of demo-
graphic and cultural processes in a real time. A more or less congruent and
reliable world-wide picture of prehistory based on archaeological data had been
created not before the last quarter of the 20thcentury. An intensive research
on the genetic diversity of the people of the world has begun about the same
time. Now, in the early 21st century, we often forget how overwhelming was
the lack of knowledge on prehistory 70 or 80 years ago. In the 1920s Waldemar
Bogoras, a colleague of Franz Boas and a great field researcher, was writing
about the Eskimo living in the Bering Sea region “in early Quartenary” (Bogoras
1924: 237). Accordingly, up to the 1980s, the historic-geographic approach in
folkloristics had to remain sterile. One either reveals the links between tradi-
tions but reserves his or her judgment on their historical meaning or one
suggests interpretations which could be plausible but are never proven enough
to be used as a base for further reconstructions. It is totally logical that in the
20thcentury the study of the mythology and folklore followed other directions
influenced by the development of ideas in cultural anthropology (psychologism,
structuralism, functionalism, interpretivism). But just the recent change of
the general situation in the research on the human past (achievements in
archaeology and populational genetics as well as the development of computer
technology) opens the possibility to claim back the legacy of the Finnish school.
This paper is based on the author’s Catalogue of the Motifs of World Mythol-
ogy and Folklore which now (October 2005) contains the data on the distribu-
tion of 1,230 motifs selected from more than 35,000 texts. The distribution of
motifs is systematically checked though 225 areas of America, Eurasia and
Oceania. Africa, Western Europe, the Near East, and most of Polynesia are
not still thoroughly examined. Unlike printed indexes of tales and motifs, the
electronic database allows the possibility to repeat the abstract of any text as
many times as many motifs the text contains. Consequently we can easily
follow all the associations of a given motif with others.
Though some of our motifs coincide with the motifs of Stith Thompson’s
index (Thompson 1955–1958), such a correspondence is to a large degree acci-
dental because the approaches to the selection of motifs are different. Thompson
defined the motif as “the smallest element in a tale having a power to persist
in tradition” (Thompson 1951: 415). This restriction (“the smallest”) was neces-
sary to make the motifs into the appropriate units for the formalized descrip-
tion of texts. In any particular text the number of such elementary motifs is
great but restricted. For me, the motif is any image, structure, element of the
Yuri Berezkin
plot or any combination of such elements which could be found at least in two
(practically, in many) texts.There is no sense to speak about motifs at all as far
as we have only one text, but the potential number of motifs in the world
folklore is infinite.
Only small part of this multitude is, however, relevant for any given re-
search. The selection of the applicable motifs depends on the purpose and scale
of the research. Our database has been created with the purpose to study
demographic and cultural processes which had place in prehistory and defined
the global picture of the areal distribution of motifs. The peopling of America
and of the Indo-Pacific borderlands of Asia are of prime interest.Accordingly, if
we study the less extensive territories and the processes not so remote in
time, we should select other sets of relevant motifs.
Pigmies fight cranes is one in a series of thematically related motifs which,
partially overlapped and variously combined, fashion a distinct cosmological
views. Primitive cosmology is a rather loose complex of ideas and the bearers
of a folk tradition are usually unable to describe their cosmology systemati-
cally. What they know is but particular tales and ways of interpretation of
certain phenomena. It is quite often that some ideas contradict each other to a
certain degree. The best way to describe such a cosmology is not to select the
“correct” versions from the “aberrant” ones but to review all the pertinent
Below I will give the wording of motifs and the data on their distribution.To
save space, I will make no comments on the widely-known Ancient Greek data
and reduce the content of stories to details immediately relevant for this re-
search. The motifs in question could be provisionally divided into three groups.
The first one directly concerns the story about dwarfs fighting cranes, the
second one describes the mythical topography, the last one contains character-
istics of certain “sub-human” creatures who live at the edge of the world or
lived in the past. Often, though not always, it is these creatures who are en-
gaged in the confrontation with birds.
GROUP I (Fig. 1). 1. Creatures different from (normal) human beings live in a
distant land and fight with non-human enemies (birds, crabs, hares, etc). 2. A
man who has come to a distant land easily kills creatures who attack him;
usually they are the enemies of the local inhabitants. Not all tales which con-
tain motif 1 also contain motif 2. In the Chukchi and Polar Eskimo tales the
man does not help dwellers of other world but only fights himself with the
birds who attack him, not dwarfs.
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
Finns. 1) Dwarfs fighting cranes live on an island at the edge of the sky, on the
southern edge of the Way of Birds (Milky Way). Dwarfs feed on bird eggs. Man
gets there and helps the dwarfs. 2) Dwarfs live where the sky meets the earth
and is so low that a normal man cannot stand up there. 3) Cranes attacked
dwarfs and destroyed most of them. Those that remained fled to the south on
the backs of these birds (Napolskikh 1992: 5–6; Toivonen 1937: 91–103).
Lapps. Dwarfs live far to the east in the land of birds (Toivonen 1937: 92).
Ancient China. 1) Cranes attack dwarfs who live beyond the South Sea, gi-
ants from adjacent land help the dwarfs. 2) Swans attack dwarfs who live be-
yond the Western Sea (Yuan Ke 1987: 193–194).
Scandinavia. A drawing published in 1555 represents dwarfs in Greenland
who ride half-pony-,half-dog-like animals and fight cranes (Toivonen 1937:89).
Fig. 1. Dwarfs and cranes.
1. Creatures different from (normal) human beings live in a distant land and fight
with non-human enemies (birds, crabs, hares, etc).
2. Man comes to a distant land and easily kills creatures who attack him there
(usually they are the enemies of the local inhabitants).
Yuri Berezkin
Nanai (Lower Amur). Dwarfs live beyond the sea. Every year the Chinese
emperor sends geese to exterminate them but they repulse the attack (Shim-
kevich 1897: 137).
Sema Naga. Flying foxes (i.e., big bats) regularly attack the village of women
who live without men (Hutton 1968: 258–259).
Chukchi. Man hides the clothes of a bathing Duck- or Gull-girl, marries her.
She flies away. He comes to her land, easily kills the birds who attack him,
brings his wife back (Baboshina 1958, no. 33: 90–92; Bogoras 1928, no. 48: 429–
Inupiaq of the Bering Strait. Man gets to see a naked girl, marries her, she
proves to be Duck, abandons him. He comes after her to her village. Other
ducks attack its inhabitants, the man easily kills the attackers (Jenness 1924,
no. 23: 49–52).
Polar Eskimo. Man steals the feather skins of a bathing Goose-girl, marries
her. She flies away, he finds her in the Goose land, marries again, she dies.
Giant gives him a whip to fight the attacking geese, he kills most of them, the
rest fly away (Holtved 1951, no. 36: 55–59).
Tlingit. Man steals the feather skins of two Brant-girls, marries them. They
fly away, he comes to the country of birds. Herons attack brants, the man kills
many herons, saves the brant tribe, herons and brants make peace. In another
version cranes and geese attack brants (Swanton 1909, nos. 24, 54: 55–57, 206–
Tsimshian. Four men come to the land of dwarfs who fight with ducks, geese,
cormorants, blackbirds, cranes, swans. Many dwarfs die of feathers that stuff
their noses and mouths. Men easily twist the birds’ necks. Thankful dwarfs
bring men back to their country (Boas 1902: 108–115).
Bella Coola. Hunter comes to the land of dwarfs. In spring, humming-birds,
water fowl and other birds attack them. Hunter easily kills geese and swans,
roasts and eats them (McIlwraith 1948: 457–459).
Comox. Men in a boat get to the village of dwarfs. Birds attack dwarfs shooting
them with their feathers. Men club the birds, revive dwarfs. Thankful dwarfs
send the men back to their home (Boas 1895, no. 16: 87–89).
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
Snohomish. Men in a boat come to dwarfs who have tiny mouths and eat only
maggots. Dwarfs make war with ducks, snipes, geese. Men kill the birds, cure
the wounded dwarfs, return home (Haeberlin 1924, no. 35: 428–430). Similar
texts are known to other Coast Salishan groups, in particular to the Skagit
(Hilbert 1985: 73–86) and the Nisqually (Boas 1916: 868).
Yakima. Man flies on the back of a giant bird to its nest, lives there. He gets
to see a canoe with small people, they take him to their village. Small people
breathe through tiny orifices, have no mouths, do not eat but suck wampum
beads. Geese and ducks attack them, dwarfs are smothered by feathers of
birds sticking to their mouths. Man helps them to win, they give him a wife.
When he becomes old, he returns home (Hines 1992, no. 20: 69–76).
Fox. Man gets to dwarfs who cut open their wives to take out the child. He
instructs them how to deliver.These people have no anuses, are amazed to see
him defecating (he probably makes them anuses, no details). Geese, cranes,
brants attack the dwarfs, the man easily kills the birds, cooks the meat (Jones
1907, 5: 75–77).
Blackfoot (many variants). A youth with a scar on his face comes to the Sun.
Cranes and other birds have almost exterminated the Sun people. The youth
kills the birds, grateful Sun makes him handsome, sends back to earth (Clark
1960: 66–67; 1966: 243–248; Edmonds & Clark 1989: 228–230; Grinnell 1962:
93–103; Spence 1985: 200–205; Wissler, Duvall 1908, no. 4: 61–66).
Gros Ventre. Two friends come to the giants. Eagles with spears on feet at-
tack giants cutting their veins. Men easily club eagles to death (Kroeber 1907,
no. 39: 115–116).
Crow. Hunters follow buffaloes down a cave, come to the giants who use buffa-
loes for the horses. Their enemies are insects, small birds and animals. Hunt-
ers kill birds and animals, grateful giants help to drive buffaloes back to earth
(Lowie 1918: 216–218; Simms 1903, no. 14: 295–297).
Natchez. For a race of little people small seems large and vice versa. Normal
man visits them. They fight with yellow jackets and cranes, many perish. Man
flails yellow jackets with a bush, kills cranes with a club. Dwarfs kill a buffalo,
one of them carries it alone (Swanton 1929, no. 19: 247–248).
Cherokee. Young men come to a tribe of dwarfs. Geese and other birds make
war upon dwarfs. The men teach them to strike birds on the neck with clubs.
Yuri Berezkin
Later the cranes come. The little men cannot reach up to strike them on the
neck, the cranes kill them all (Mooney 1900, no. 74: 325).
Zuni. Dwarfs in the underworld feed on steam of food, jays and cooking pots
attack and kill them. Twin brothers descend to the underworld, ensnare jays,
break pots, cut anuses for the dwarfs, give them to eat (Cushing 1901: 400–
Southern Athabaskans (Navajo, Jicarilla,Western Apache,Lipan).Youth
gets to the sky, helps eagles to kill bumble-bees, wasps, locusts, weeds, pump-
kins, gourds, melons (Goddard 1911, no. 18: 211–212; 1918: 67–68; 1919: 132–
135; Johly, B’yásh 1958: 11; Opler 1938, no.VIIIa: 374–381; 1940, nos. 4–6: 46–
47; Reichard 1977, no. 4: 26–36; Yuinth-Nezi, Hatráli 1957: 5–6).
Cuna (Panama). Man flies with vultures to the east and takes part in the war
of birds. Vultures with eagles, doves, pheasants and others fight against peli-
cans, herons, crows and storks. Man easily kills birds with a stick helping
vultures to win, returns home (Wassen 1934, no. 7: 12–15).
Choco (Embera and Nonama, Northwestern Colombia). Man tries to reach
the Moon, falls to western horizon, gets into the underworld, meets there
people who have no anuses and feed on the odor of food. He kills their danger-
ous enemies, the crayfish, cuts for some of them anal openings but they die.
Sun takes him into his boat, brings back to earth (Isaza Bravo 1987: 128–129;
Wassen 1935, no. 8: 133–137).
Shuar (Eastern Ecuador). Sky women first do not like a woman from earth
but welcome her when she kills and eats flying ants, their dangerous enemies
(Pelizzaro 1993: 188–192).
Tacana (Eastern Bolivia). Man gets to the underworld through the armadil-
lo’s hole. Local people are dwarfs, have no anuses, inhale odor of food, tapiti
hares are like jaguars for them. Man easily kills tapitis, marries a girl, cuts
anal openings for some dwarfs, they die. Man returns to earth (Hissink, Hahn
1961, no. 220: 351–354).
Kuikuru, Kamaiura (Upper Xingu). Man accompanied by his dead friend gets
to the sky world of the dead. Ghosts do not like alive person but thank him
when he kills birds (eagles, parrots, and others), crayfish, toads who are their
dangerous enemies. The man tramples down sharp grasses which are also
dangerous for the souls. Fighting the birds the dead men use arrows, women
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
use their spindles (Agostinho 1974, no. 10: 200–201; Carneiro 1977: 8–11; Vil-
las Boas, Villas Boas 1973: 127–134).
Nivakle (Chaco). Man comes to the sky where stars and birds live. They are
thankful when he kills a rat, because for the bird-people it is a jaguar. Eagle
brings him back to earth (Wilbert, Simoneau 1987, nos. 12, 15: 42–49, 59–64).
GROUP II. 3. Migratory birds fly from our world to another one. 4. Special
bird is their leader. 5.At the boundary many birds perish, because the opening
leading to the other world is narrow, flanked with clapping rocks or the sky
itself is constantly moving in respect to earth (Fig. 2). 6. There is a person at
the passage to other world who feeds on birds. 7. Mistress of birds lives on the
Fig. 2. Birds on the way to another world. All or some of the following motifs are present:
migratory birds fly from our world to another one; special bird is their leader; at the bound-
ary many birds perish, because the opening leading to other world is narrow, flanked with
clapping rocks, etc; there is a person at the passage to other world who feeds on birds; the
mistress of birds lives on the other side of the moving obstacle.
1. Cases considered by Yrjö Toivonen.
2. Additional cases.
Yuri Berezkin
other side of the moving obstacle. 8. Sky is constantly moving in respect to
earth (Fig. 3).
Lapps. Every fall migratory birds fly to the birds’ land. Little men hunt them
there, do not break their bones. The Mistress of Birds sends the birds back to
the world (probably reviving them from bones). The crane leads birds to earth,
reports to the Mistress how many birds have perished during a year, how
many survived (Toivonen 1937: 100–103).
Estonians.Migratory birds fly along the Milky Way (the Way of Birds) led by a
swan-like bird with a girl’s head. Eagles and hawks are afraid of her. In the
summer time she lives on a rock far to the north, birds feed her with delicious
berries (Kuperjanov 2003: 151).
Fig. 3. The abnormal birth. Women were cut open to extract the child, somebody teaches them
to deliver properly.
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
Mansi, Hanty. Migratory birds fly to the country beyond the moving edge of
the sky. Many birds are crushed, an old man and an old woman feed on them,
throw their bones into the water of life, and the birds revive (Karjalainen 1927:
26; Lukina 1990, no. 105: 258–272).
Ket. Migratory birds fly though a narrow opening to the world of the Sun.
Some are scorched to death by the sky fire, Tomäm who guards this opening
feeds on them (Donner in Toivonen 1937: 108).
Northern Selkup. Old woman from the sky house lives at the source of
shamanic rivers. She plucks ducks, throws feathers down to earth, they turn
back into birds (Tuchkova 2004: 322–323).
Nenets. The lord of one of the sacred sky countries lives at the Lower Ob’ in a
hut that has no roofing. Birds that fly over his hut cry and fall dead, heaps of
bird bones have been accumulated around (Golovnev 2004: 312–313) .
Dolgan. Shamans turn into geese, fly through the opening in the sky. An old
woman who is the hostess of the world sits at the opening, feeds on birds that
fly by her (Popov 1937: 55).
Altai. Two clapping rocks crash birds and animals who try to run through the
gate of the sky (Surazakov 1982: 113).
Teleut. Sky is rising and falling, heaps of bones of birds and animals crushed
by the sky lie at this place (Dyrenkova 1949: 137).
Nanai. Several times a year the Chinese open the gate in the wall to let birds
and animals in, a big goose flying first. Once the servant forgot to open the
gate, many birds and animals perished (Shimkevich 1897: 137).
Nivx. Sky is constantly rising and falling in respect to earth. Every fall swans
fly though the opening, some are crushed, an old woman who lives nearby
feeds on them (Kreinovich 1929: 79–80).
Chukchi. Sky moves up and down above the four corners of the earth. Migra-
tory birds fly into the opening, those lagging behind are crushed. Wild rein-
deer and animals with rare fur come from there to our world (Bogoras 1907:
Koryak. Every autumn geese fly to another world though a hole in the sky or
between clapping rocks. Any goose who gives a cry at this moment is crushed
to death. Mother of Birds lives behind this obstacle (Jochelson in Toivonen
1937: 110–111).
Yuri Berezkin
Asiatic Eskimo. Birds fly between clapping rocks which are covered with blood
of the crushed ones (Menovschikov 1985, no. 99: 238–241.
Central Yupic. Migratory birds, geese in particular, fly to the south between
clapping mountains, the weak ones are crushed (Gillham 1943: 1–16).
Yurok. Sky is rising and falling above the ocean producing waves. Geese fly to
another world through a round hole (in the firmament) (Waterman 1920: 190–
Miwok. In spring two thunder-brothers fly with migratory birds to the north
through the hole in the sky and return for the winter to produce thunder-
storms (Merriam 1993: 173–178).
Barasana(Southeastern Colombia).Once a year all kinds of birds fly to Woman-
Shaman (the creator) through the clapping mountains or scissors-like trap.
Herons or ibises give feathers to man, he flies with birds, brings to earth the
curare poison (Hugh-Jones 1979, no. 4f-g: 278–282; Torres Laborde 1969: 31–
Wapishana(Guiana) tale lacks Clapping mountains and Mistress of birdsmotifs
but is similar to Barasana text in many other details (Wirth 1950: 198–199).
Variants that did have corresponding motifs have not been possibly recorded.
Paresi (Mato Grosso). Edge of the sky is striking against the earth. Shamans
turn into birds, fly through. A man who had recently sex with his wife is crushed
(Pereira 1986, no. 13: 231).
The last motif of this group (Rising and falling sky) is known in different con-
text across most of NORTH AMERICA (Kaska,Tahltan,Haida,Coastal Salish,
Winnebago, Ottawa, Seneca, Delaware, Mandan, Omaha and Ponca, Shawnee,
Yokuts, Hopi).There is another South American case besides Paresi (Chimane
of BOLIVIA (Daillant 1995: 164, 170)), one at the PHILIPPINES (Bagobo
(Benedict 1913, no.2: 21–23; Raats 1970: 38, 61)) and several cases across SI-
BERIA, in particular Mansi and Hanty (cited above), Yakut (Alekseev 1982:
682), Tungus (Sangi 1989: 181), Teleut (cited above), Tuvinians (Taube 1994,
no. 21: 202–205), Buryat (Gomboyev 1890: 18), Mongol (Potanin 1893: 42–43),
Nivx (cited above), Udeghe (Lebedeva a.o.1998, no. 105: 471–473), and Chukchi
(cited above).
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
GROUP III. Among the four motifs included into this group, the last one (the
abnormal birth) is widely distributed in South America and especially in the
Austronesian world where it is not linked to the other motifs of the complex
under research. The lack of space makes me to omit citing of the sources,
which are too numerous.
9. Scorched by the Sun. People who live in the underworld, at the sunrise
or sunset (often dwarfs) are scorched by the Sun (red-haired, dark-skinned,
etc.) because the Sun goes by at the short distance of them. NORTHEAST
INDIA (Lakher, Shan Naga), INDONESIA, PHILIPPINES (Mentawei,
Toradja, Solor, Bagobo), ANCIENT GREECE (reports on India), PLAINS,
THE SOUTHEAST (Blackfoot,Alabama,Koasati),MESOAMERICA (Totonac,
Mazatec, Tzeltal, Tzotzil), SOUTH AMERICA (Yanomami, Locono, Akuriyo,
Trio, Cayapa, Tacana, Cayapo, Apinaye).
10. No anus or mouth people. First people or creatures who live in a far-
away land have no mouth or anal openings. NEW GUINEA (Porapora, Baruya,
Gond,Kond,Pardhan,Sora,Shan Naga, Khmer,Atayal),ANCIENT GREECE
(the motif is present only in reports on India), SIBERIA (Mansi, Nenets, Selkup,
Yukaghir,Chukchi),ESKIMO (Central Yupic, North Alaskan Inupiaq, Copper,
Netsilik,Iglulik,Polar,Baffin Land),NORTHERN ATHABASKANS (Tanaina,
Kutchin, Carrier),Southern NORTHWEST COAST–PLATEAU (Nez Percé,
Wasco, Wishram, Yakima, Clacamas, Tillamook, Kalapuya), PLAINS AND
MIDWEST (Fox,Blackfoot,Hidatsa,Mandan),CALIFORNIA (Yokuts,Mono),
GREAT BASIN (Western and Northern Shoshoni, Ute), GREAT SOUTH-
WEST (Zuni, Lipan), MESOAMERICA (Huastec, Aztec, San Luis Potocí
Nahuat, Ixil, Acatec, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Cakchiquel, Quiche), PANAMA AND
NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA (Eastern Panama, Embera, Nonama, Kamsa
and Ingano,Yabarana,Guayabero,Cuiva,Sanema,Taulipang,Colorado,Cayapa,
Secoya, Kofan, Shuar, Yagua, Tucuna), INNER AND SOUTHERN SOUTH
AMERICA (Cashibo, Urubu, Shipaya, Juruna, Tacana, Tupari, Paresi, Boto-
cudo, Tehuelche).
11. The steam eaters. People or creatures feed on the odor of food (motif is
often linked to the previous one but can exist independently). NEW GUINEA
TAIWAN (Shan Naga, Minahassa,Atayal,Apayao),ANCIENT GREECE (re-
ports on India),SIBERIA (Nenets,Mansi,Hanty,Selkup,Nganasan, Yukaghir),
ESKIMO (Central Yupic, Copper), NORTHERN ATHABASKANS (Kutchin,
Carrier) , Southern NW COAST–PLATEAU (Wasco, Wishram, Tillamook),
PLAINS, MIDWEST, NORTHEAST (Mandan,Menomini,Onondaga),CALI-
Yuri Berezkin
NORTHWEST MEXICO (Western Shoshoni, Lipan, Zuni, Tarahumara),
MESOAMERICA (Huastec, San Luis Potocy Nahuatl, Tzotzil), LOWER CEN-
TRAL AMERICA, COLOMBIA, ECUADOR (Pech, Eastern Panama, Embera,
Nonama, Kamsa and Ingano, Colorado, Secoya, Kofan, Tucuna), BOLIVIA
(Tacana), SOUTHERN SOUTH AMERICA (Tehuelche).
12. The abnormal birth (Fig. 4). Women were cut open to extract child, some-
body teaches them to deliver properly. NEW GUINEA (Warope, Mejprat, Ara-
pesh), OCEANIA (Yap, Santa Cruz, Maori, Rotuma, Rarotonga, Marshall Is-
lands), MALAYSIA, INDONESIA (Semang, Kayan,Amarasi, Dongo,Toradja,
Central Flores), NORTHEAST ASIA, ESKIMO (Alutor, Kodyak, Central
Yupic, North Alaskan and Bering Strait Inupiaq, Copper, Netsilik, Iglulik, Po-
lar), NORTHERN ATHABASKANS (Tanaina, Tanana, Upper Tanana,
Kutchin, Carrier, Chilcotin, Tahltan), Southern NORTHWEST COAST –
PLATEAU (Shuswap,Thompson,Lillooet, Klamath),MIDWEST (Fox), CALI-
AMERICA (Guajiro, Cuiva, Sicuani, Locono, Waorani, Shuar, Aguaruna,
Urarina?, Sharanahua, Cashinahua).
Fig. 4. Rising and Falling Sky. Sky is constantly moving in respect to earth.
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
Yrjö Toivonen was aware of more than half of Asian and North-American cases
of my Group I but had not investigated the distribution of the motifs which are
included here into Groups II and III. South American, East- and Southeast-
Asian myths remained beyond the scope of his research. The present widening
of geographical frame of the study opens a better opportunity for an approxi-
mate dating of the emergence of the set of motifs in question.
The independent emergence of any given motif in different regions is never
excluded, but this possibility cannot explain statistical tendencies in areal dis-
tribution of the entire complex of motifs. These motifs demonstrate mutual
correlation, are widespread across some parts of the Globe and totally absent
across other parts. It is difficult to imagine any common ecological, social, or
economic factors shared by such completely different areas as Eastern South
America, American Arctic, Lower Amur, the Baltics and the eastern Mediter-
ranean. Consequently, such factors could not be responsible for the patterns of
the areal distribution of the motifs in question and the only reasonable expla-
nation is the diffusion of the ideas during cultural contacts and their bringing
to the new areas by particular groups of people.
The existence of the Dwarfs and cranes and related motifs both in Northern
(and to a lesser degree Eastern) Eurasia and in the Americas makes it highly
probable that they had been known already at the epoch when the peopling of
the New World began. What does it mean in a real time?
Up to the 1980s the
age of the peopling of the New World had remained controversial, dates of
about 30–40,000 BP were widely accepted. Since then the situation changed.
Though the pre Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, i.e. pre-22000 BP or so) peopling
is not completely excluded, the vast majority of archaeologists favor much
later dates. Specialists on the populational genetics do believe that the genetic
lines which have been found among the American Indians split quite early and
the first human groups penetrated the inner regions of the New World (beyond
Alaska) before LGM (Oppenheimer 2003: 386–342).However,even if the meas-
urement itself is correct, it does not directly proof the early date for the peopling
because the splitting could take place already in Beringia or even in Asia. The
same could be said about the great differentiation of the native American (es-
pecially South American) languages. Despite many claims of the reverse, no
reliable pre-Clovis (10900–11600 BP) sites have been found in the New World.
The site of Monte Verde in Chile could be 2,000 years older but the association
of artifacts and charcoal samples for radiocarbon analysis is uncertain (Fiedel
1999). There are many arguments against possibility of pre-LGM peopling of
the New World (Adams et al. 2001). At the same time, the stone industries of
Yuri Berezkin
the eastern South America do not resemble Clovis. Their creators could possi-
bly enter the New World by the coastal route while the ancestors of the Clovis
people most probably were moving along the Yukon and Mackenzie valleys.
The existence of the Dwarfs and cranes motif in South America, including the
Indians of the Upper Xingu in the very heart of the continent, probably means
that the motif was known already to some early migrants.
However,these people were not probably the very first group that had reached
the tropical areas of the New World. The thing is that the mythological herit-
age of the earliest groups who colonized the still uninhabited areas of the New
World is expected to be preserved best of all in South America and less well in
North America. The latter, being accessible for ever new Asian colonists, was
not the best place for preservation of the cultural heritage of the earliest sub-
stratum. There is a large set of mythological motifs shared by South-American
Indians and by Melanesians, Australians and to some lesser extent by the
inhabitants of the Island Southeast Asia but very rare or totally absent both in
Siberia and in North America. I can name The shed skin (snakes and other
creatures but not humans shed their skin and become young again; Fig. 5) and
The wrong call (people are mortal because they answered a call of a being who
had brought death or did not hear or answered the call of a being who had
Fig. 5. The shed skin. Those who shed their skin are immortal.
Folklore 36
Dwarfs and Cranes.Baltic-Finnish Mythologies in Eurasian and American Perspective
Fig. 6. Escape from Polyphemos’ cave. Man gets into dwelling of master of animals or
monstrous shepherd, who can kill him.
1. He escapes by covering himself with a sheepskin or by hiding under the belly of one
of the animals, who are walking out.
2. Other Polyphemos tales (the episode of hiding under the animal has to be checked).
promised immortality) as typical examples. The regions where such motifs are
known are the most unacceptable and far away from the Eurasian mainland
and could be considered as the refugia where some culture elements that had
disappeared in Asian mainland had opportunity to survive. These motifs do not
demonstrate any areal correlation with the Dwarfs and cranes complex which
is best represented just in Siberia and North America. The only exception is
motif 12 (The abnormal birth) recorded in New Guinea, Micronesia and Indo-
nesia but almost unknown in Northern Asia with the only case among the
Koryak (more precisely the Alutor). Both geographically and thematically, The
abnormal birth is less directly linked to Dwarfs fighting cranes than other
motifs of the complex under consideration.
If the Shed skin and other “South American–Melanesian” motifs could be
among the first brought into the New World, there is a quite different complex
of motifs which could be the latest to penetrate deep into the American main-
land. I mean a set of motifs shared almost exclusively by the North-American
Yuri Berezkin
Indians to the East of the Rockies and by the people of continental Eurasia,
especially those who live between Southern Siberia and the Caucasus (Berezkin
2003; 2004). An episode of an escape from the cave of the master of animals or
monstrous shepherd may serve as an example (Fig. 6).
The Dwarfs and cranes complex stands in between of these two extremes.
It is typical of Northern Eurasia and North America, known in South America,
though not very widespread there, and unknown in Central Asia, Iran, Xinjiang
and Tibet, with a unique case in Assam. Not a single motif of this complex has
been found among the Australian aborigines.
We can conclude that the corresponding complex of cosmological ideas had
acquired its final shape in Northern Eurasia at the Terminal Pleistocene time
and was brought to America by the early but not the very first groups of mi-
grants. To have a definite perspective on the time and circumstances of the
development of this system of cosmological ideas, it is necessary to make sure
that the motifs in question are absent in Africa. The processing of the African
materials is planned for the nearest years.
The creation of the Catalogue of Myhological Motifs and research on its base have
been supported by the Programs of Basic Research of the Presidium of the Russian
Academy of Sciences “Ethnocultural interaction in Eurasia” and “Adaptation of peo-
ples and cultures to the environmental changes and to social and technological trans-
formations”, by the Russian Fund of Basic Research (grants 04-06-80238 and 07-
06-00441-a) and by INTAS grant 05-10000008-7922 (a reconstruction of prehistoric
Eurasian mythological motif complexes and their most ancient distribution in con-
nection with genetic data”).
Absolute dates here are conventional radiocarbon dates. The real calendar dates are
about 2,000 years older for 10000 BP and possibly 3,000–4,000 years older for 20000
Now (September 2007) these materials are largely processed. Though Dwarfs and
cranes were known to early Arabian writers, in Africa the corresponding set of motifs
seems to be totally absent.
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