How Old Woman Kytna Brought Her Daughter Home

A Koryak Story from Kamchatka Peninsula, Retold by Kira Van Deusen. In Kichiga old woman Kytna lived with her old man. They had a daughter named Ralinavut, a grown-up daughter. Not far from their village lived a wolf pack, twenty-eight wolves.

One time Ralinavut went for a walk and got lost, she did not return home.

They looked for her everywhere, in all the surrounding settlements, but no one had seen her. Then they decided that she must have lost her way, frozen to death and been covered with snow. It occurred to no one that on the same day Ralinavut got lost, the wolf pack had gone away from that place. And no one guessed that the wolf pack had taken her away as one of them.

But her mother did not believe that her daughter had died and kept waiting for her to return. Three years went by. Ralinavut did not come back.

Then Kytna took up her shaman’s drum. She played and sang all night and in the morning she said to her husband:

“Our daughter is alive. She is in a wolf pack, far away in the north. The place is called Talkap. Three years ago this wolf pack was living in our area, twenty-eight wolves there were. Those are the ones who took our daughter away.”

“That is very far away,” said the old man. “It’s too far for you to go. You’ll get lost in the tundra.”

“I won’t get lost,” said Kytna, “I know how to get there.”

“Then prepare supplies for the road,” said the old man.

They prepared supplies for the road and the next morning, just as it was getting light, Kytna set off on her way. She went on foot along the snow. And as soon as she had gone a hundred paces, she turned into a wolf. Wolves go very quickly on the snow.

Towards evening a reindeer herders’ nomad camp appeared. Kytna took her own form and went up to the camp. One reindeer-herder greeted her.

“Greetings, old woman. Where have you come from and where are you going, old woman on foot?”

“I’m going north, to Talkap,” said Kytna.


“My daughter is living there among the wolves. The wolves took her away,” answered Kytna.

“That’s a long way to go!” said the reindeer herder. “On foot it is a very long way. Very difficult. I will give you reindeer. Good reindeer!”

“I feel more at ease on foot. I’ll continue on foot.”, said Kytna

“You know best,” said the reindeer-herder. “We have good reindeer and you are welcome to them.”

The next morning, just as it got light, Kytna went on her way. As soon as she had gone a hundred paces, she turned into a wolf. The wolf trotted away. The reindeer-herder watched her go.

“So that’s why she refused our reindeer!” he said.

Along the way Kytna met a wolf and questioned him.

“Tell me, brother, have you met an unusual wolf anywhere in a pack in the north? The kind of wolf who is at the same time a wolf and a human?”

The wolf told this tale – “Far away in the north, beyond Talpak, lives a big pack, twenty-nine wolves. I was once their guest. I noticed that among them was one unusual wolf. In my opinion this was not a real wolf. It seemed more like a person.”

“Most likely that was my daughter, Ralinavut,” said Kytna.

“She’s called Ralinavut?” said the wolf. “I have heard that name. In that pack there was one female wolf with that name.”

Kytna kept running north. She came to a big settlement of Chukchi reindeer- herders. The Chukchi were glad to have a guest. She was treated to meat and fat and then they asked her, “Where do you come from and where are you going, old woman on foot?”

“I come from far away in the south, a place called Kichiga,” said Kytna.

“That is a long way,” said the Chukchi. “I was there once”

“Tell me,” said Kytna, “is there a large wolf pack living in this vicinity? Don’t they prey on your herds?”

“Yes, there is a big pack, twenty-nine wolves. And oh, how sick I am of them! They do prey on our herds.”

“Those wolves took away my daughter,” said Kytna. “Now she lives in their pack. Three years have gone by. I don’t know if I will be able to take her home.”

“It is time to sleep,” said her host.

“I need to get up early,” said Kytna.

They got up early. They ate and they drank tea. Kytna went on her way. She came to the place where the wolves were eating reindeer that they had killed in the night. Kytna saw the pack and turned herself into a wolf. Kytna circled around the wolves.

“Many wolves here eat their food,

Among them must be Ralinavut.”

The wolf Ralinavut shivered and stopped eating. “Who is looking for me here in the tundra?” she thought.

Kytna came closer; she circled one more time and sang…

“These wolves are thieves,

Here daughter Ralinavut lives.”

The wolf Ralinavut thought, “It’s my mother looking for me. Who else would it be? Of course, it’s mother.” Quietly she moved toward the voice and sang…

“Mama, how did you find me?

Oh, mama, I wish you hadn’t come.

I’ve been a wolf so long now,

Taken in by the wolves.”

Kytna made a third circle and sang her answer…

“Ralinavut, you are human.

Like us you have a human name.”

Ralinavut could not contain herself; she ran to her mother. “Mama, why are you here?”

“My heart was frozen,” answered Kytna. “I’ve come for you and without you I will not leave. I am your mother. Let us run away while the wolves are not looking. Not far from here is a village of reindeer-herders. We’ll rest there. I am very tired. I came the whole way on foot.”

“All right, let’s go,” answered the wolf, Ralinavut. They came to the village, turned into people and went into the yaranga.

“Oho, what a brave old woman!” said the Chukchi. “Not only has she come back but she has taken her daughter away from the wolves!”

Kytna and Ralinavut rested. She rested and then she said, “It’s time to go home.”

“Your Kichiga is very far away,” said the Chukchi. “Let me take you on my reindeer.”

“We don’t need reindeer,” Kytna replied. “We’ll go on foot. We’ll leave early in the morning.”

Early the next morning Kytna and her daughter left. The Chukchi watched them go. When the two women had gone a hundred paces they were no longer there – and in their places ran two wolves. They were moving very quickly!

“So that’s why they refused our reindeer!” said the Chukchi. “Wolves will get much faster.”

Kytna and her daughter ran all day to Kichiga. Kytna’s husband looked out and saw two wolves running toward the village. They ran side by side. He thought, “That must be my wife and daughter.”

People rushed out, calling, “Wolves are coming! Wolves!”

But the old man calmed them. “They are not wolves,” he said. “They are human. Why would wolves be running straight into the village in broad daylight?” And suddenly there were no more wolves. Kytna and her daughter were walking along the snow. They came home.

Journeying Home:
The Koryak Relationship Between Story And Shamanistic Healing
by Kira Van Deusen

Kytna’s story is one of the most moving tales I know. People of all ages (or from about 8 up) sit entranced, travelling with Kytna as she goes to rescue her daughter. Children wonder how she turned into a wolf, which leads to discussion about the reality of our dreams and spiritual life. Adults are moved by the devotion of mother and daughter. Personally I am most moved by the simplicity of Kytna and Ralinavut returning home at the end. I feel that one of the most inspiring things about the story is Kytna’s tremendous energy — the lengths she will go to for her daughter, even changing the very shape of her body and journeying the long distance, risking her own life among the wolves. How far are we willing to go for the people we love — and to realize our creative projects?

The Koryak people live on Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. Their traditional way of life involved herding reindeer and hunting sea mammals. Like other Siberian indigenous people, they evolved complex spiritual and religious beliefs and practices in relation to their natural environment and way of life. Both women and men are selected by the spirits of nature and the ancestors to be shamans like Kytna—healers, diviners and ceremonial leaders. Their stories tell of undergoing an initiation at the hands of spirits, involving experiences of death and rebirth, having their bones taken apart one by one and counted before being reassembled. One extra bone indicates shamanic destiny. During their initiation they make contact with helping spirits and learn to bring back souls stolen by evil spirits or driven from the body by shock, just as Kytna brings her daughter home. They celebrate rituals which keep people in harmony with nature, communicating with the spirits of their ancestors and of places in nature—trees, sky, rocks, mountains, sacred springs, lakes and rivers. They also accompany the souls of the dead to the next world. Shamans use the music of the drum or other musical instrument, as well as oral poetry to transport them on visionary journeys.

Although severely persecuted during the Soviet period, some shamans continued to practice in secret, and today they are passing knowledge to younger generations. Ceremonies which were not carried out for many years are taking place again, although the people now live in a very different world, many of them in cities, where their traditional ways of life have been replaced by contemporary professions and lifestyles, and more recently by economic and social chaos. A large number of today’s Siberian shamans have a western-style education with advanced degrees. Some have travelled abroad, teaching their wisdom and making contact with other spiritual healing practices. New drums are being made. Much of today’s spiritual movement involves ecology — the ancient connection with the land flowing directly into concern for the preservation of our planet.

There is no better way to know the world of the shaman than through their stories. Oral storytelling is the way shamans themselves convey spiritual truth, calling the spirits of characters in the story to bring their wisdom present. The sounds of the words themselves have healing power, as does the energy raised among listeners in concentrating on the story’s flow. Images like those in Kytna’s story recount the whole course of a shaman’s life and work. The wolves who steal Ralinavut are like evil spirits who bring illness and death — and the wolf is also a sacred ancestor in some clans. Kytna learns where her daughter is by journeying on the sounds of her drum. Although the place is very far away, she gets there by turning into a swift wolf herself. She also increases her understanding of wolf mentality by becoming one of them. She charms the wolves by singing to get her daughter back. The journey is central to shamanic practice — often shamans fly to the worlds above and below ours. Kytna goes far away to the North, the direction of death in the Asian arctic. She finds helpers in the wolf and in the people she meets on the way. At the same time Ralinavut undergoes her own experience of death and rebirth. In Siberian tales transformation very rarely happens in isolation, more often in the interactions of people and animals.

I began storytelling in 1991 because of my fascination with Siberian tales which I had read. I use story for pleasure, performing at community events, and as part of my efforts to increase awareness in North America about the traditional lives and contemporary problems of Siberian indigenous people. I’m especially interested in how elements from these ancient stories are still effective in today’s environment. Both my travels and the stories themselves have profoundly affected my life, broadening my understanding of the human spirit and our possibilities.

More stories from the Russian arctic can be found in my books Raven and the Rock, Seattle: University of Washington Press 1999 and The Flying Tiger: Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur. McGill-Queens University Press. 2001; in James Riordan’s The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon. New York: Interlink Books 1989; and in Irina Zheleznova’s The Northern Lights: Fairy Tales of the Peoples of the North. Moscow: Raduga Publishers 1989. I have written about arctic women’s stories in “Women’s Stories among Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Far East” in MacDonald, MR, ed. Traditional Storytelling Today, Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn 1999.

Kira Van Deusen
307-1738 Frances St.
Vancouver, BC V5L 1Z6 Canada
(604) 255-8366

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