– Anak, tell us the story about Santak again. Pleease?
– That old story? Don’t you want to hear a new one?
– Pleaase Anak! pleaded Sami
The elder chuckled. “Well, it was like this, you see…” The children stopped fidgeting and became all ears. They were sitting in a circle, the old man carving a bone. They had heard the story before but could not get enough of it. The old man added variations which tickled their fancy.
– The government was paying us to collaborate with those White anthropologists – government people. They were always pestering us to tell them our stories. They would record them and transcribe them and read them back to us. It was all a little bit silly and me and the boys, we decided to play a trick on them.
– Weren’t you scared they would punish you when they found out? asked Sami, as he did every time.
– Ah, that was the thrill of it. The boys and I agreed on the general lines of a story. We swore never to tell. And nobody has ever told the White Man.
Here he looked all around the circle to the eager young faces. “Nobody tells the White Man, all right?” They nodded, some with reservation, others with enthusiasm. It was part of the game. The White Man did not take children’s word seriously anyway.
– When the White Man came, he asked how we explained the long winter night in our tradition. We told him that an elder named Santak had convinced the sun to leave to punish a foolish couple who wanted to grow trees in the tundra. “They will stand in the way of Caribou, and how can we survive without Caribou? We will have no meat, no clothes, no wood to carve.” The couple persisted in their project, gathering seeds below the 50th parallel. Santak repeated that they were being foolish. The couple said the trees would give shade and the caribou could munch on the leaves. “What about the spirits? They will get trapped in the branches. They will not be able to roam freely and help Inuit lost in a snowstorm.” Santak was becoming agitated. The couple was stubborn. They were planning to plant their seed as soon as the sun rose. He decided to plead with the sun. “O Sun, these people want to ruin our beautiful tundra with giant trees, please hide behind some clouds.” And so, Sun hid for a day or two but soon others were pleading for him to come out and warm them up.
Sun was tired of hiding but he did not want to break his promise to Santak, so he summoned him. “I can no longer honour your wish. I am coming out of hiding. Your people are unhappy without me and praying for my return.” Sun was a little vain, and was happy for the attention, though the negative attention was less pleasant to hear. Santak decided to buy some time. “I hear that over the steppes, in a place called Mongolia, there are six suns. Are they relatives of yours?” Now Sun had always prided himself on being unique and solitary, with Moon his only companion. He had never heard of relatives and the longing to meet them started gnawing at him. “Do you know the way to Mongolia?” “I do, but it will take a long time to get there. There are many seas and rivers to cross.” Sun laughed, “But I fly. I don’t mind those. Just tell me the way.” Santak said, “They know and trust me. Please, let me be your guide so I can introduce you. I will hitch my reindeer together and you can follow us.” Now Sun was curious and impatient. “Harness your reindeer if you must, but I will give them the gift of flight, so we can rejoin my relatives quicker.” Santak came back with nine reindeer, pulling a sleigh containing a huge bag.
“What’s all this?” asked Sun. “I have brought gifts for your relatives, to ensure a warm welcome.” “Why does one of your reindeer have a red nose? Does he have a cold?” “Of course not!” It was Santak’s turn to be annoyed. “They are perfectly healthy. This one is Rudolf. He has an uncanny sense of direction. We know we are on the right way when his nose lights up. We only have to follow his lead.” It was getting late, Moon had risen. She had declined leaving with Sun, saying humans would be too lost if both left. She had also asked him to stay in touch in his absence. “How long will you be gone?” “I don’t know, but my heart aches and I must go.” They had never been apart, but Sun did not seem too care that much. It is always easier for the one leaving than for the one staying behind. She shone brightly, and some humans said they saw a fat man leading reindeer in a sleigh passing in front of the moon.
“The next day, Sun was gone. They could tell He was not hidden behind the clouds anymore. The clouds had dispersed, and the night was cold and dark. The stars shone brilliantly, and Moon did its best, but the humans felt lost. That first day, they slept for a very long time, but every time they awoke it was still dark. They were no longer sleepy, but still Sun was gone. This lasted a long time, but they could not tell how long because they had always relied on Sun to know the time. They asked Moon where Sun was, but she had promised not to tell. She stayed mum.
In the meantime, Sun was travelling to Mongolia. Flying is the quickest way. They had many adventures on their way, as the trip took one whole month. True to His word, Sun sent messages home. Those are the Northern Lights, where he tells the tales of all his adventures. Sun was very well received in Mongolia but was a bit of an outsider because they all had beautiful moons by their side and his Moon had stayed behind. At first, the others were happy to meet Sun and grateful for all the beautiful gifts He had brought. They could not use them, as they were man-made, so they asked Santak to distribute them to their humans. This way, everybody was happy at first.
As time went, and Sun showed no inclination to leave, the others began to worry that their moons would take a liking to the beautiful foreigner. He shone bright and his added light and warmth were disrupting the delicate balance in Mongolia. The crops were burning to a crisp, and the rivers were starting to dry out. It was the hottest summer on record. Though the Mongolians were grateful for the presents and being hospitable was important to them, they started looking for ways to get rid of the extra sun. Santak was their friend and they confided in him. Santak explained about the couple and the tundra, and they explained about the lost crops. They put their heads together and came up with a plan.
They had a big party with bonfires lit with the dried crop. They sang songs of thankfulness where they told of the importance and beauty of Moon. Mongolians are very adept with words, master lyricists with magnificent voices. They charmed Sun and made him long to return home. He missed hearing back from Moon and so the following day, he announced he had overstayed his welcome. Santak harnessed his reindeer and off they went, leaving the good people of Mongolia behind, as they hurried back home. And that is how, every year, the good people of the Poles are stuck in darkness for six months. Their fickle Sun has fallen in love with travel. Like a snow bird he travels to warmer climes for the winter and leaves us in the care of Moon.”
The smallest children had fallen asleep. The elder had finished carving a good-looking caribou as he was telling the story. The elder looked around. Sami was awake and watching him. “What’s the real story behind the long night?” “Oh, it’s quite dark. I would not share it with kids.” “When will I be old enough to hear it, Anak?” “Why do you want to know?” “I want to know all the stories, so I can tell everyone in turn.” The old man nodded. “Soon then Sami. Soon.”