The Udege are a Tungusic people of Siberia, Russia, specifically of Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai. They are related to people like the Evenks and Manchu, both of which are also Tungusic. You can see a map of where Tungusic languages and peoples are located at this link: [link]
Recently, I read about one of their folk stories in Kira Van Deusen's book Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins
, and I thought her retelling of the tale of Kakta Ni was particularly interesting, so I decided to illustrate it in a Bilibin-esque style. The man in red, of course, is Yegdyghe (who you will learn about if you read the quoted story below) and the seal is his seal-wife.
Click here to see a step-by-step process of this on my tumblr: [link]
This picture was done in a moleskine notebook with copics, ink, mechanical pencil, and Prismacolour pencil crayons. It took around 2 hours.
Here is the story of Kakta Ni taken from Van Deusen's book (pages 102-104):
Long ago Yegdyghe lived by the shore of the sea. His wife was Kakta Ni, a half-person with golden hair.
One day Yegdyghe went down to the shore hunting. There he saw a beautiful seal that had come out of the water and was sunning herself on the rocks. He approached her. They became friends. Truth to tell, the seal became Yegdyghe’s second wife.
That evening when he went home, his human wife Kakta Ni noticed that something was different. Everything had been fine with them before but now he seemed to find fault with everything she did. She decided to find out what was going on.
The next day she followed as Yegdyghe went down to the shore. She heard how he sang to the seal and saw how she came up out of the water. She understood that the seal had become his second wife.
That night she prepared her husband an especially good meal. As he ate she poured him cup after cup of strong drink. When he was soundly asleep, she took his hunting knife and cut his body in half, right down the middle. She attached one half of his body to her own. She took his great harpoon and went down to the shore of the sea.
She sang for the seal, imitating her husband’s voice. The seal heard her and called back, “Why does your voice sound different?”
“I caught a cold,” the woman replied. “That’s why my voice sounds different.”
“Ah well,” thought the seal, “who else would be calling me?” She came up to the surface.
Kakta Ni threw the harpoon, holding tight to the cord. The seal struggled, severely wounded. When the seal was stronger, she almost pulled Kakta Ni into the water. And when the woman was stronger she almost pulled the seal onto the land. At last the seal broke free and swam away.
Kakta Ni went home. She put the two halves of her husband back together and went to sleep.
The next day, Yegdyghe got up and went down to the shore of the sea. He called out for his seal wife but there was no answer. He called out for his eal wife but there was no answer. He called again and again—still not answer. At last he got worried and dove into the water. He lost consciousness at first but then he came to. The underwater world was much the same as ours. Yegdyghe saw a path leading into the forest and he followed it.
He walked for a long time and at last came to a place where an old woman lived.
“Have you seen my seal friend?” he asked her.
“I have seen her. She stopped here, and I tended her wound. Continue on the same path and you will come to the place where Sagdi Mama lives—the oldest woman of all. Perhaps she can help you find your friend.”
Yegdyghe spent the night there and the next day he continued on his way. He came at last to Sagdi Mama and asked her, “Have you seen my seal friend?”
“You are too late,” the old woman replied. “She is dying. But perhaps there is still a chance that you can save her. Take this birchbark container and run to the lake of red water. Fill the container with that water and use it to heal her wounds.”
Yegdyghe took the container and ran as fast as he could go to the lake which was full of red water. He filled the container and then listened. He heard sounds—preparations for a funeral. He ran in that direction, shouting as he went.
Those who were carrying the seal were frightened and they dropped her. Yegdyghe poured red healing water into her wound and it began to heal before his eyes. Then he took saliva on his finger and rubbed it around the wound. It healed completely and the seal opened her eyes.
“Ah, it’s you.”
“Yes, I have come.”
“Who was it who did this to me?”
“It was my human wife, Kakta Ni.”
After a while, they started back. They stopped to visit Sagdi Mama. Yegdyghe went hunting and left her with a good supply of meat for the winter. They stopped to visit the other old woman and helped her too, leaving her with a good supply of firewood.
At last they came out to the place where Yegdyghe had entered the water. They came up onto the land, but Yegdyghe did not return to his human wife. Instead he and his seal wife found a new place of live, on another river, where there was much game and much fish. But people say he could no longer live on land, and before long he and his seal wife went back to live in the water. They say the sea takes people to itself.