February 10, 1997
Every time I read the Tlingit Legend, "How Mosquitoes Came To Be," there are certain questions that come to mind about where the legend came from and who wrote it. The legend was first published in 1883 and later found by Richard Erdoes, who included it in one of his publications, American Indian Myths and Legends. Why is the human race so selfish to think we can be the hunter and not the hunted. Although giants could be a dominant presence in our lives, humans prove that they will not be over-taken.
Each time I read the Tlingit legend, a new question would arise in my mind as to how this legend came to be and particularly, who wrote it? The first question I thought of was, is he the only giant on the planet? This was answered for me with the introduction of the giant's son. As I read on, something seemed puzzling to me, the fact that why humans are so selfish to think they are better than giants, let alone anything else. For instance, why is it okay for humans to kill a chicken, roast it and eat it, and a giant is bad to "kill humans, eat their flesh, and drink their blood"(11)? Later in the story we learn that the giant also liked to roast the hearts of humans. Another puzzling question I asked myself is, if the giant was stabbed by the human and "The monster screamed and fell down dead."(12), why did the giant still speak? I know this is a legend or maybe just a fictionous story, but if the giant is also a spirit then that would be helpful when reading the legend. I will analyze these questions in hopes of understanding the problems with humans and giants, which I might add is still being dealt with today with mosquitoes everywhere.
My first question, if this giant was the only one on the planet, seemed answered toward the end of the story with the introduction of the giant's son. When the human threatened the life of the boy giant as he asked where the heart of his father was, why didn't he kill the boy anyway? As we all know, a boy will eventually become a person, and the boy is in fact a giant, therefore by killing the giant by stabbing him in the left heel, the human simply forgot the son. There are a lot of parts in this legend that are very unclear and when we ask why, who, what, where and when, we are led into yet another question to be answered. Which leads me into my next question, What makes a human better than a giant?
In the Tlingit legend, a human feels threatened by a giant and kills it, why? I tend to think giants like to kill and eat humans, just as humans like to kill and eat cows, chicken and other animals. So tell me gentle reader, what is the difference? Is it that we are humans and we cannot be subject to be hunted as we do other animals. The only explanation is that human nature will only lead us to believe that we will not be overcome by anything except ourselves. One possibility for the actions of the humans against the giant would be that the giant can speak, and shows some intelligence, after all he did build a home for his son and himself. Therefore the humans might have thought that the giant was beyond reasoning with, thus the basis for killing the giant. Another question that poked at my brain was that even though the giant was declared dead, he still spoke the words "Though I am dead, though you killed me, I am going to keep eating on you and all the other humans in the world forever"(12). Okay, maybe as he was dying he muttered those words, but how do you explain the laughing as his ashes were being thrown into the wind? If the giant was in fact burnt to ashes how could he possibly laugh and talk to the human. My last argument is how the ending was abruptly cut short and how it left the reader hanging without knowing what happened to the giant's son. Also, if there is a boy giant, what about the mother giant? I often questioned the credibility of this legend and the author, but that is something that has to be considered when reading "How Mosquitoes Came To Be."
I did a little research about this legend, curious about who wrote it and when exactly it was written. According to the paragraph at the top of page 11 from the legend, the essay was first published in 1883 in an English-language source and was found by Richard Erdoes. Checking the gnosis system in the Rasmuson library for several possibilities as to who and when the legend was written, I came up short.
This legend was a simple story about a small community with a big problem. A giant who likes to eat people was a menace who needed to be dealt with. One human decided to take matters into his own hands and try to kill the giant himself. This human played opossum on the trail of the giant and eventually was picked up by the giant. The giant, unknowing that he was being set up to be killed, was overjoyed that he could find a fresh human to feed upon. Throwing the human over his shoulder, he finds his way back home and drops the person on the floor and retreats outside to get some firewood.
In the mean time the human gets up off the floor and retrieves and huge knife that belonged to the giant, just as the boy giant comes into the room. The human immediately put the knife to the boy's throat, threatening to kill him if he did not reveal the place of his father's heart. Scared from all of the commotion that seemed to come from nowhere, the boy told the human his father's heart was in his left heel. Just then, the giant walked into the room, the person immediately stabbed the giant in the left heel. As the giant collapsed he vowed to continue to eat humans until the end of time. Foolishly, the human told the giant he would never allow the giant to do such a thing and cut the giant into pieces and burnt him to ashes. The human, thinking he has saved the human race, threw the ashes into the wind. Just as the ashes were thrown into the air, they immediately turned into mosquitoes and began to suck the human's blood. It seems that the giant got the last laugh, continuing to eat humans until the end of time.
After reading this legend over and over, I find that looking beyond all of the questions that have come to mind, I found the story to be a change of pace verses the conventional ways about explaining the creation of insects. Yet some parts of the legend seemed sketchy as to how this chain of events took place. My biggest questions, which may never be answered, are who started the legend and when it originated. Overall I enjoyed the legend and the creativity, but after reading it several times the questions began to jump out at me like crickets in the night. Humans need to learn that we are not the only intelligent life on the planet, and if we ever did come across any giants, we should try to act rationale instead of rash.