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Herman Perk and the Seal
(A Tale from the Shetland Islands)

IT was believed at one time that the Finns [Sami] frequently came over to Shetland taking the form of seals. In this connection a remarkable tale was told in Papa Stoor ["Big Priest" Island].

The islanders were often in the habit of visiting the outlying Vee Skerries for the purpose of hunting seals. On one occasion a man named Herman Perk, accompanied by others, left for the skerries in a small boat. When they arrived there Herman was landed on the rocks, but his companions remained in the boat to prevent it getting damaged. It happened, however, that a severe storm burst without warning, and the men found after several daring attempts, that it was quite impossible to get Herman off again. The storm was increasing in severity, and latterly they were compelled, for their own safety, to attempt getting back to Papa. After a terrible passage they succeeded in reaching the island, and their first act was to proceed to the home of their ill-fated companion to tell his folk what had befallen him. Imagine their surprise, however, on finding him comfortably seated at his fireside.

Herman had a strange story to tell them. Shortly after the boat left the skerries, he observed a large seal coming up, and as he watched its progress, it suddenly raised itself in the angry sea, and he became aware that it was speaking to him.

"Herman Perk," it said, "you have destroyed many of our folks in your time, yet nevertheless if you will undertake to do me a service, I will carry you in safety to Papa tonight. Some time ago my wife Maryara was made captive in Papa. Her skin is now hanging in the skio (hut for drying fish) at Nortoos, and without it she cannot return with me to Finmark [in northern Norway]. It is the third skin from the door, and I wish you to bring it to me."

Herman had readily agreed to this proposition, whereupon he was told to cut two slits in the seal's back as supports for his feet, and then place his arms firmly round the animal's neck. The latter immediately took to the water, and in a remarkably short time Herman had the gratification of landing safely in Papa.

True to his promise, he went to the skio indicated, where he found the skin without any difficulty, and carried it down to the beach. The seal was waiting his coming, and at its side was the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld. The seal gave the skin to its lovely companion, and then apparently left its own body behind, and the happy pair immediately took their departure over the sea.

The following morning Herman went again to Nortoos. There, sure enough, lay the skin of a large seal, and it had two cuts behind the flippers. He placed it where he had taken the other from.

After that Herman was a prosperous man, but he was never known to visit the Vee Skerries again.

Nicolson, John. Some Folk-Tales and Legends of Shetland. Edinburgh: Thomas Allan and Sons, 1920. pp. 62-63.


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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 1/2007; Last updated 7/10/07