Aho, said Yeil, the wise man. Come closer. I have a story to tell. Rustling his feathers, he whispers, I shall tell you a story of how this place began. Leaping into the air, transforming into Raven, he flies to the treetop. Come, my people, and I will lead you to a far-off place. Here, under the glacier, there is an ice passage. It is waiting for you. Tlingit legends describe how ancestors traveled from British Columbia under the glaciers to the Southeast Alaska coast, perhaps via the Taku or Stikine river corridors. Legends and myths, mirrors into the soul of a culture, teach history, rules of behavior and respect for the natural world.
“Storytelling and stories are the corporate property of the clans, and other people are not supposed
to tell Tlingit stories.” [quoted from a Tlingit Lecture by Phyllis A. Fast, Ph.D. at University of Alaska]
Adam and Eve
Beaver And Porcupine ver 1
Beaver And Porcupine ver 2
Bear, Raven, and Humans
First Totem Pole (Haida)
“fly by night mythology”
Glacier Bay History
How Mosquito Came To Be
How Protestant Christianity Was First Heard Of At Sitka
How The Frogs Honored The Dead
How The Kîksa’dî Came To Sitka
How The Sitka Kîksa’dî Obtained The Frog
Inviting the Bears
Kâhâ’s!Î, The Strong Man
Katlian and the Iron People
Khanty Bear-Feast Songs
Migration Of The Gânaxa’dî To Tongass
Story Of The Four Brothers
Story Of The Gonaqadê’t
Story of Totem Bight
Tlingit Housepost Stories
Tlingit Creation Story
No one knows just how the story of Raven really begins, so each starts from the point where he does know it. Here it was always begun in this way. Raven was first called Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa-yit (“Son of Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa”). When his son was born, Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa tried to instruct him and train him in every way and, after he grew up, told him he would give him strength to make a world. After trying in all sorts of ways, Raven finally succeeded. Then there was no light in this world, but it was told him that far up the Nass was a large house in which some one kept light just for himself.
Raven thought over all kinds of plans for getting this light into the world and finally he hit on a good one. The rich man living there had a daughter, and he thought, “I will make myself very small and drop into the water in the form of a small piece of dirt.” The girl swallowed this dirt and became pregnant. When her time was completed, they made a hole for her, as was customary, in which she was to bring forth, and lined it with rich furs of all sorts. But the child did not wish to be born on those fine things. Then its grandfather felt sad and said, “What do you think it would be best to put into that hole? Shall we put in moss?” So they put moss inside and the baby was born on it. Its eyes were very bright and moved around rapidly.
Round bundles of varying shapes and sizes hung about on the walls of the house. When the child became a little larger it crawled around back of the people weeping continually, and as it cried it pointed to the bundles. This lasted many days. Then its grandfather said, “Give my grandchild what he is crying for. Give him that one hanging on the end. That is the bag of stars.” So the child played with this, rolling it about on the floor back of the people, until suddenly he let it go up through the smoke hole. It went straight up into the sky and the stars scattered out of it, arranging themselves as you now see them. That was what he went there for.
Some time after this he began crying again, and he cried so much that it was thought he would die . Then his grandfather said, ” Untie the next one and give it to him.” He played and played with it around behind his mother. After a while he let that go up through the smoke hole also, and there was the big moon.
Now just one thing more remained, the box that held the daylight, and he cried for that. His eyes turned around and showed different colors, and the people began thinking that he must be something other than an ordinary baby. But it always happens that a grandfather loves his grandchild just as he does his own daughter, so the grandfather said, “Untie the last thing and give it to him.” His grandfather felt very sad when he gave this to him. When the child had this in his hands, he uttered the raven cry, “Ga,” and flew out with it through the smokehole. Then the person from whom he had stolen it said, “That old manuring raven has gotten all of my things.”
Journeying on, Raven was told of another place, where a man had everlasting spring of water. This man was named Petrel (Ganu’k). Raven wanted this water because there was none to drink in this world, but Petrel always slept by his spring, and he had a cover over it so as to keep it all to himself. Then Raven came in and said to him, “My brother-in-law, I have just come to see you. How are you?” He told Petrel of all kinds of things that were happening outside, trying to induce him to go out to look at them, but Petrel was too smart for him and refused.
When night came, Raven said, “I am going to sleep with you, brother-in-law.” So they went to bed, and toward morning Raven heard Petrel sleeping very soundly. Then he went outside, took some dog manure and put it around Petrel’s buttocks. When it was beginning to grow light, he said, “Wake up, wake up, wake up, brother in-law, you have defecated all over your clothes!” Petrel got up, looked at himself, and thought it was true, so he took his blankets and went outside. Then Raven went over to Petrel’s spring, took off the cover and began drinking. After he had drunk up almost all of the water, Petrel came in and saw him. Then Raven flew straight up, crying “Ga.”
Before he got through the smoke-hole, however, Petrel said,”My spirits up the smoke hole, catch him.” So Raven stuck there, and Petrel put pitchwood on the fire under him so as to make a quantity of smoke. Raven was white before that time, but the smoke made him of the color you find him today. Still he did not drop the water. When the smoke-hole spirits let him go, he flew around the nearest point and rubbed himself all over so as to clear off as much of the soot as possible. This happened somewhere about the Nass, and afterwards he started up this way. First he let some water fall from his mouth and made the Nass. By and by he spit more out and made the Stikine. Next he spit out Taku river, then Chilkat, then Alsek, and all the other large rivers. The small drops that came out of his mouth made the small salmon creeks.
After this Raven went on again and came to a large town where were people who had never seen daylight. They were out catching eulachon in the darkness when he came to the bank opposite, and he asked them to take him across but they would not. Then he said to therm, “If you don’t come over I will have daylight break on you.” But they answered, ” Where are you from ? Do you come from far up the Nass where lives the man who has daylight?” At this Raven opened his box just a little and shed so great a light on them that they were nearly thrown down. He shut it quickly, but they quarreled with him so much across the creek that he became angry and opened the box completely, when the sun flew up into the sky. Then those people who had sea-otter or fur-seal skins, or the skins of any other sea animals, went into the ocean, while those who had land-otter, bear, or marten skins, or the skins of any other land animals, went into the woods [becoming the animals whose skins they wore].
Raven came to another place where a crowd of boys were throwing fat at one another. When they hit him with a piece he swallowed it. After a while he took dog’s manure and threw at the boys who became scared, ran away, and threw more fat at him. He consumed all in this way, and started on again.
After a while he came to an abandoned camp where lay a piece of jade (s!u) half buried in the ground, on which some design had been pecked. This he dug up. Far out in the bay he saw a large spring salmon jumping about and wanted to get it but did not know how. Then he stuck his stone into the ground and put eagle down upon the head designed thereon. The next time the salmon jumped, he said, “See here, spring salmon jumping out there, do you know what this green stone is saying to you? It is saying, ‘You thing with dirty, filthy back, you thing with dirty, filthy gills, come ashore here.'”
Raven suddenly wanted to defecate and started off. Just then the big spring salmon also started to come ashore, so Raven said, “Just wait, my friend, don’t come ashore yet for I have some business to attend to.” So the salmon went out again. Afterward Raven took a piece of wild celery (ya’naet), and, when the salmon did come ashore, he struck it with this and kihed it. Because Raven made this jade talk to the salmon, people have since made stone axes, picks, and spears out of it.
Then Raven, carrying along the spring salmon, got all kinds of birds, little and big, as his servants. When he came to a good place to cook his fish he said to all of them, “Here, you young fellows, go after skunk cabbage. We will bury this in the ground and roast it.” After they had brought it down, however, he said, “I don’t want any of that. My wife has defecated all over that, and I will not use it. Go back and pass over two mountains.” While they were gone, Raven put all of the salmon except one fat piece cut from around the ” navel ” which is usually cooked separately, into the skunk cabbage and buried it in the fire. Before they returned, he dug this up and ate it, after which he put the bones back into the fire and covered them up.
When the birds at last came back he said to them, “I have been across two mountains myself. Now it is time to dig it up. Dig it out.” Then all crowded around the fire and dug, but, when they got it up, there was nothing there but bones.
By and by the birds dressed one another in different ways so that they might be named from their dress. They tied the hair of the blue jay up high with a string, and they added a long tail to the ts!egeni’, another crested bird. Then they named one another. Raven let out the ts!egeni’ and told him that when the salmon comes he must call its slime unclean and stay high up until the salmon are all gone.
Now Raven started off with the piece of salmon belly and came to a place where Bear and his wife lived. He entered and said, “My aunt’s son, is this you?” The piece of salmon he had buried behind a little point. Then Bear told him to sit down and said, ” I will roast some dry salmon for you.” So he began to roast it. After it was done, he set a dish close to the fire and slit the back of his hands with a knife so as to let grease run out for Raven to eat on his salmon. After he had fixed the salmon, he cut a piece of flesh out from in front of his thighs and put it into the dish. That is why bears are not fat in that place.
Now Raven wanted to give a dinner to Bear in return, so he, too, took out a piece of fish, roasted it, set out the dish Bear had used, dose to the fire and slit up the back of his hand, thinking that grease would run out of it. But instead nothing but white bubbles came forth. Although he knew he could not do it, he tried in every way.
Then Raven asked Bear, “Do you know of any halibut fishing ground out here?” He said “No.” Raven said, “Why! what is the use of staying here by this salt water, if you do not know of any fishing ground? I know a good fishing ground right out here called Just on-the-edge-of-kelp (Gi’ck!icuwanyi’). There are always halibut swimming there, mouth up, ready for the hook.”
By and by Raven got the piece of fish he had hidden behind the point and went out to the bank in company with Bear and Cormorant. Cormorant sat in the bow, Bear in the middle, and, because he knew where the fishing ground was, Raven steered. When they arrived Raven stopped the canoe all at once. He said to them, ” Do you see that mountain, Was!e’ti-ca? When you sight that mountain, that is where you want to fish.” After this Raven began to fill the canoe with halibut. So Bear asked him, “What do you use for bait anyhow, my friend?” Raven answered, “I’ll use the skin covering the testicles as bait.” The bear asked, “Is it alright to use mine?” But the raven said, ” I don’t want to do it, for they might be too wasted.” Soon the bear was urging it strongly, “Cut them off!” So the Raven, sharpening a short knife, said, “Place them on the seat.” Then the Raven cut them off, so that the Bear, crying out, fell from the boat and, dying, spilled into the waves with one last sigh.
After a while Raven said to Cormorant, “There is a louse coming down on the side of your head. Come here. Let me take it off.” When he came close to him, he picked it off. Then he said, “Open your mouth so that I can put it on your tongue.” When he did open his mouth, however, Raven reached far back and pulled his tongue out. He did this because he did not want Cormorant to tell about what he had done. He told Cormorant to speak, but Cormorant made only a gabbling noise. “That is how young fellows ought to speak,” said Raven. Then Raven towed the dead body of the bear behind the point and carried it ashore there. Afterwards he went to Bear’s wife and began to take out his halibut. He said to the female bear, “My father’s sister, cut out all the stomachs of the halibut and roast them.” So she went down on the beach to cut them out. While she was working on the rest of the halibut, he cooked the stomachs and filled them with hot rocks. Then he went down and said to her, “You better come up. I have cooked all those stomachs for you. You better wash your hands, come up, and eat.” After that Cormorant came in and tried to tell what had happened but rnade only a gabbling sound. Raven said to the bear, ” Do you know what that fellow is talking about? He is saying that there were lots of halibut out where we fished. Every time we tried to get a canoe load they almost turned us over.” When she was about to eat he said, ” People never chew what I get. They always swallow it whole.” Before she began she asked Raven where her husband was, and Raven said, “Somehow or other he caught nothing, so we landed him behind the point. He is cutting alders to make alder hooks. He is sitting there yet.”
After the bear had swallowed all of the food she began to feel uneasy in her stomach, and Raven said to Cormorant, “Run outside quickly and get her some water.” Then she drank a great quantity of water, and the things in her stomach began to boil harder and harder. Said Raven, “Run out Cormorant.” He did so, and Raven ran after him. Then the female bear ran about inside the house grabbing at everything and finally fell dead. Then Raven skinned the female bear, after which he went around the point and did the same thing to the male. While he was busy there Cormorant came near him, but he said, “Keep away, you small Cormorant,” and struck him on the buttocks with his hand saying, “Go out and stay on those rocks.” Ever since then the cormorants have been there. Raven stayed in that place until he had consumed both of the bears.
Starting on again, Raven came to a place where many people were encamped fishing. They used nothing but fat for bait. He entered a house and askced what they used for bait. They said “Fat.” Then he said, “Let me see you put enough on your hooks for bait,” and he noticed carefully how they baited and handled their hooks. The next time they went out, he walked off behind a point and went under water to get this bait. Now they got bites and pulled up quickly, but there was nothing on their hooks. This continued for a long time. The next time they went out they felt the thing again, but one man among them who knew just how fish bite, jerked at the right moment and felt that he had caught something. The line went around in the water very fast. They pulled away, however, until they got Raven under the canoe, and he kicked against it very hard. All at once his nose came out, and they pulled it up. When they landed, they took it to the chief’s house and said, “We have caught a wonderful thing. It must be the nose of the Gonaqade’t.” So they took it, put eagle down on it, and hung it up on the wall.
After that, Raven came ashore at the place where he had been in the habit of going down, got a lot of spruce gum and made a new nose out of it. Then he drew a root hat down over his face and went to the town. Beginning at the nearer end he went through the houses saying “I wonder in what house are the people who caught that Gonaqade’t’s nose.” After he had gone halfway, he entered the chief’s house and inquired, “Do you know where are the people who caught that Gonaqade’t’s nose ?” They answered, “There it is on the wall.” Then he said, ” Bring it here. Let me examine it.” So they gave it to him. “This is great,” he said, and he put up his hat to examine it. “Why,” said he, “this house is dark. You ought to take off the smoke-hole cover. Let some one run up and take it off so that I can see.” But, as soon as they removed it, he put the nose in its place, cried “Ga,” and flew away. They did not find out who he was.
Going thence, Raven saw a number of deer walking around on the beach, with a great deal of fat hanging out through their noses. As he passed one of these, he said, “Brother, you better blow your nose. Lots of dirt is hanging out of it.” When the deer would not do this, Raven came close to him, wiped his nose and threw the fat by his own side. Calling out, “Just for the Raven,” he swallowed it.
Now Raven formed a certain plan. He got a small canoe and began paddling along the beach saying, “I wonder who is able to go along with me.” Mink came down and said, “How am I?” and Raven said, “What can you do?”. Said Mink, “When I go to camp with my friends, I make a bad smell in their noses. That’s what I can do.” But Raven said, “I guess not. You might make a hole in my canoe,” so he went along farther. The various animals and birds would come down and say, “How am I?” but he did not even listen. After some time Deer ran down to him, saying, ” How am I?” Then he answered, ” Come this way, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, come this way Axkwa’L!i-i-i.” He called him Axkwa’L!i-i-i because he never got angry. Finally Raven came ashore and said to Deer, ” Don’t hurt yourself, Axkwa’L!i-i-i.” By and by Raven said ” Not very far from here my father has been making a canoe. Let us go there and look at it.”
Then Raven brought him to a large valley. He took very many pieces of dried wild celery and laid them across the valley, covering them with moss. Said Raven, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, watch me, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, watch me.” Repeating this over and over he went straight across on it, for he is light. Afterwards he said to Deer, “Axkwa’L!i-i-i, now you come and try it. It will not break,” and he crossed once more. “You better try it now,” he said. “Come on over.” Deer did so, but, as he was on the way, he broke through the bridge and smashed his head to pieces at the bottom. Then Raven went down, walked all over him, and said to himself, “I wonder where I better start, at the root of his tail, at the eyes, or at the heart.” Finally he began at his anus, skinning as he went along. He ate very fast.
When he started on from this place, he began crying, “Axkwa’L!i-i-i, Axkwa’L!i-i-i,” and the fowls asked him, “What has become of your friend, Axkwa’L!i-i-i?”
“Some one has taken him and pounded him on the rocks, and I have been walking around and hopping around since he died.”
By and by he came to a certain cliff and saw a door in it swing open. He got behind a point quickly, for he knew that here lived the woman who has charge of the falling and rising of the tide. Far out Raven saw some kelp, and, going out to this, he climbed down on it to the bottom of the sea and gathered up a number of small sea urchins which were lying about there. He brought these ashore and began eating, making a great gulping noise as he did so. Meanwhile the woman inside of the cliff kept mocking him saying, “During what tide did he get those things ?”
While Raven was eating Mink came along, and Raven said, “Come here. Come here.”
Then he went on eating. And the woman again said, “On what tide did you get those sea urchins you are making so much noise about?”
“That is not your business,” answered Raven. “Keep quiet or I will stick them all over your buttocks.” Finally Raven became angry, seized the knife he was cutting up the sea urchins with and slit up the front of the cliff out of which she spoke. Then he ran in, knocked her down and began sticking the spines into her buttocks.
“Stop, Raven, stop,” she cried, ” the tide will begin to go down.”
So he said to his, servant, Mink, “Run outside and see how far down the tide has gone.”
Mink ran out and said, “It is just beginning to go down.” The next time he came in he said, “The tide is still farther down.” The third time he said, “The tide is lower yet. It has uncovered everything on the beach.”
Then Raven said to the old woman, “Are you going to let the tide rise and fall again regularly through the months and years?” She answered “Yes.”
Because Raven did this while he was making the world, nowadays, when a woman gets old and can not do much more work, there are spots all over her buttocks.
After the tide had gone down very far he and his servant went out. He said to Mink, “The thing that will be your food from now on is the sea urchin. You will live on it.” The tide now goes up and down because he treated this woman so.
Now Raven started on from this place crying, “My wife, my wife ! ” Coming to some trees, he saw a lot of gum on one of them and said to it, “Why! you are just like me. You are in the same state.” For he thought the tree was crying.
After this he got a canoe and began paddling along. By and by Petrel met him in another canoe. So he brought his canoe alongside and said, “Is this you, my brother-in-law? Where are you from?”
He answered, “I am from over there.”
Then Raven began to question him about the events in this world, asking him how long ago they happened, etc. He said, “When were you born? How long have you been living?”
And Petrel answered, “I have been living ever since the great liver came up from under the earth. I have been living that long.” So said Petrel.
“Why! that is but a few minutes ago,” said Raven.
Then Petrel began to get angry and said to Raven, “When were you born ? ”
“I was born before this world was known.”
” That is just a little while back.”
They talked back and forth until they became very angry. Then Petrel pushed Raven’s canoe away from him and put on his hat called fog-hat so that Raven could not see where he was. The world was round for him in the fog. At last he shouted, “My brother-in-law, Petrel, you are older than I am. You have lived longer than I.”
Petrel also took water from the sea and sprinkled it in the air so that it fell through the fog as very fine rain. Said Raven, “Ayee! Ayee!” He did not like it at all. After Petrel had fooled him for some tirne, he took off Fog-hat and found Raven close beside him, pulling about in all directions. Then Raven said to Petrel, “Brother-in-law, you better let that hat go into this world.” So he let it go. That is why we always know, when we see fog coming out of an open space in the woods and going right back again, that there will be good weather.
Leaving this place, Raven came to another where he saw something floating not far from shore, though it never came any nearer. He assembled all kinds of fowl. Toward evening he looked at the object and saw that it resembled fire. So he told a chicken hawk which had a very long bill to fly out to it, saying, “Be very brave. If you get some of that fire, do not let go of it.” The chicken hawk reached the place, seized some fire and started back as fast as it could fly, but by the time it got the fire to Raven its bill was burned off. That is why its bill is short. Then Raven took some red cedar, and some white stones called neq! which are found on the beach, and he put fire into them so that it could be found ever afterward all over the world.
After he had finished distributing the fire he started on again and came to a town where there were many people. He saw what looked like a large animal far off on the ocean with fowl all over the top of it. He wondered very much what it was and at last thought of a way of finding out. He said to one of his friends, “Go up and cut a cane for me.” Then he carved this cane so as to resemble two tentacles of a devil fish. He said, “No matter how far off a thing is, this cane will always reach it.”
Afterward he went to the middle of the town and said, “I am going to give a feast. My mother is dead, and I am going to beat the drums this evening. I want all of the people to come in and see me.”
In the evening he assembled all of the people, and they began to beat drums. Then he held the cane in his hands and moved it around horizontally, testing it. He kept saying “Up, up, up” He said, “I have never given any feast for my mother, and it is time I did it, but I have nothing with which to give a feast. Therefore I made this cane, and I am going to give a feast for my mother with this wonderful thing.”
Then he got the people all down on the beach and extended his cane toward the mysterious object until it reached it. And he began to draw it in little by little, saying to the people, “Sing stronger all the time.” When it struck land, a wave burst it open. It was an everlasting house, containing everything that was to be in the waters of the world. He told the people to carry up fish and they did so. If one had a canoe, he filled it; if he had a box, he filled that; and those that had canoes also boiled eulachon in them. Since then they have known how to boil them. With all of these things Raven gave the feast for his mother.
After this was over he thought up a plot against the killer whales and sent an invitation to them. Then he told each of his people to make a cane that would reach very much above his head. So, when the killer whales came in and inquired, “What do the people use those canes for that extend up over their heads?”, he replied, ” They stick them down into their heads.” They asked him several times, and he replied each time in the same way.
After a while one of the whales said, “Suppose we try it.”
Raven was glad to hear that and said, “All right, we will try it with you people, but the people I have invited must not look when I put a cane into anyone’s head.”
Then he went away and whittled a number of sticks until they were very sharp. After that he laid all of the killer whales on the beach at short distances apart, and again he told them not to look up while hewas showing one how it was done. Then he took a hammer and drove his sticks into the necks of these whales one after the other so that they died. But the last one happened to look up, saw what was being done, and jumped into the ocean.
Now Raven and another person started to boil out the killer whales’ grease, and the other man had more than he. So Raven dreamed a dream which infomed him that a lot of people were coming to fight with him, and, when such people really did make their appearance, he told his companion to run out. After he had done so, Raven quickly drank all the latter’s grease. By and by, however, the man returned, threw Raven into a grease box, and shut him in, and started to tie it up with a strong rope. Then Raven called out, “My brother, do not tie the box up very strongly. Tie it with a piece of straw such as our forefathers used to use.” The man did so, after which he took the box up on a high cliff and kicked it over.
Then Raven, breaking the straw, flew out, crying “Ga.” When he got to the other side of the point, he alighted and began wiping himself.
Next he came to a large whale blowing along out at sea, and noticed that every timo it came up, its mouth was wide open. Then Raven took a knife and something with which to make fire. When the whale came up again he flew into its mouth and sat down at the farther end of its stomach. Near the place where he had entered he saw something that looked like an old woman. It was the whale’s uvula. When the whale came up, it made a big noise, the uvula went to one side and the herring and other fish it lived on poured right in. Then Raven began eating all these things that the whale had swallowed, and presently, he made a fire to cook the fat of the whale itself that hung inside. Last of all he ate the heart
As soon as he cut this out, the whale threw itself about in the water and soon floated up dead. Raven felt this and said, “I wish it would float up on a good sandy beach.” After he had wished this many times, the whale began to drift along, and it finally floated ashore on a long sandy beach.
After a while some young fellows who were always shooting about in this neighborhood with their bows and arrows, heard a voice on the beach say, “I wonder who will make a hole on the top so that he can be my friend.”
The boys ran home to the town and reported, We heard a queer noise. Something floated ashore not far from this place, and a person inside said, ‘I wish that somebody would make a hole above me so that he can be my friend.'”
Then the people assembled around the whale and heard Raven’s words very clearly. They began to cut a hole just over the place these came from and presently they heard some one inside say, “Xone’e.” When the hole was large enough, Raven flew straight up out of it until he was lost to sight. And they said to him, “Fly to any place where you would like to go.”
After that they cut the whale up and in course of time came to the spot where Raven had lighted his fire to make oil.
Meanwhile Raven flew back of their camp to a large dead tree that had crumbled into fine pieces and began rubbing on it to dry himself. When he thought that the people were through making oil, he dressed himself up well and repaired to the town. There he said to the people, “Was anything heard in that whale?” and one answered, “Yes, a queer noise was heard inside of the whale.”
“I wonder what it was,” said Raven.
After their food was all prepared Raven said to the people, “Long ago, when a sound was heard inside of a whale, all the people moved out of their town so as not to be killed. All who remained were destroyed. So you better move from this town.”
Then all of the people said, “All of us better move from this town rather than be destroyed.” So they went off leaving all of their things, and Raven promptly took possession of them.
Raven once went to a certain place outside of here (Sitka) in his canoe. It was calm there, but he began rocking the canoe up and down with his feet until he had made a great many waves. Therefore, there are many waves there now even when it is calm outside, and a canoe going in thither always gets lost.
By and hy Raven came to a sea gull standing at the mouth of a creek and said to it, “What are you sitting in this way for? How do you call your new month?” “Yadaq!o’l,” replied the seagull. Raven was questioning him in this way because he saw many her ring out at sea. So he said, “I don’t believe at all what you say. Fly out and see if you can bring in a herring.” This is why, until the present time, people have differed in their opinions concerning the months and have disputed with one another.
After they had quarreled over it for a long time, the gull became angry, flew out to sea, and brought back a big herring. He lighted near Raven and laid the herring beside him, but, when Raven tried to get it, he gulped it down.
In another direction from the sea gull Raven saw a large heron and went over to it. He said to the heron, “Sea gull is calling you Big-long-legs-always-walking-upon-the beach.”
Then, although the heron did not reply, he went back to the sea gull and said, “Do you know what that heron is saying about you? He says that you have a big stomach and get your red eyes by sitting on the beach always looking out on the ocean for some thing to eat.”
Then he went back to the heron and said to it, “When I meet a man of my own size, I always kick him just below the stomach. That fellow is talking too much about you. Go over, and I will help you thrash him.”
So the heron went over toward the sea gull, and, when he came close to it, Raven said, “Kick him just under his stomach.” He did so, and the big herring came out. Then Raven swallowed it quickly saying, “Just for the Raven.”
Going on again, Raven came to a canoe in which were some people lying asleep along with a big salmon which he took away. When the people awoke, they saw the trail where he had dragged it off, and they followed him. They found him Iying asleep by the fire after having eaten the salmon. Seeing his gizzard hanging out at his buttocks, they twisted it off, ran home with it and used it as a shinny ball; this is why no human being now has a gizzard.
The people knew it was Raven’s gizzard, so they liked to show it about, and they knocked it around so much that it grew large by the accumulation of sand. But Raven did not like losing his gizzard. He was cold without it and had to get close to the fire. When he came to the place where they were playing with it, he said, “Let it come this way.” No sooner had they gotten it near him, however, than they knocked it away again. After a while it reached him, and he seized it and ran off, with all the boys after him. As he ran he washed it in water and tried to fit it back in place. It was too hot from much knocking about, and he had to remove it again. He washed it again but did not get all of the sand off. That is why the raven’s gizzard is big and looks as if it had not been washed.
Next Raven came to a town where lived a man called Fog-on-the-Salmon. He wanted to marry this man’s daughter because he always had plenty of salmon. He had charge of that place. So he married her, and they dried quantities of salmon, after which they filled many animal stomachs with salmon eggs. Then he loaded his canoe and started home. He put all of the fish eggs into the bow. On the way it became stormy, and they could not make much headway, so he became tired and threw his paddles into the bow, exclaiming to his wife, “Now you paddle!”
Then the salmon eggs shouted out, “It is very hard to be in stomachs. Hand the paddles here and let me pull.” So the salmon eggs did, and, when they reached home, Raven took all of them and dumped them over board. But the dried salmon he carried up. That is why people now use dried salmon and do not care much for salmon eggs.
Journeying on, Raven came to a seal sitting on the edge of a rock, and he wanted to get it, but the seal jumped into the ocean. Then he said, “Yak!oct!a’l!,” because he was so sorry about it. Farther on he came to a town and went behind it to watch. After a while a man came out, took a little club from a certain place where he kept it in concealment, and said to it, “My little club, do you see that seal out there? Go and get it.” So it went out and brought the little seal ashore. The club was hanging to its neck. Then the man took it up and said, “My little club, you have done well,” after which he put it back in its place and returned to the town. Raven saw where it was kept, but first he went to the town and spoke kindly to the owner of it.
In the night, however, when every one was asleep, he went back to the club, carried it behind a point and said to it, “See here, my little club, you see that seal out in the water. Go and get it.” But the club would not go because it did not know him. After he had tried to get it to go for some time, he became angry and said to it, “Little club, don’t you see that seal out there?” He kept striking it against a rock until he broke it in pieces.
Coming to a large bay, Raven talked to it in order to make it into Nass (i. e., he wanted to make it just like the Nass), but, when the tide was out great numbers of dams on the flats made so much noise shooting up at him that his voice was drowned, and he could not succced. He tried to put all kinds of berries there but in vain. After many attempts, he gave it up and went away saying, “I tried to make you into Nass, but you would not let me. So you can be called Skana’x” (the name of a place to the southward of Sitka).
Two brothers started to cross the Stikine river, but Raven saw them and said, “Be stones there.” So they became stones.
Starting on, he came to the ground-hog people on the mainland. His mother had died some time before this, and, as he had no provisions with which to give a feast, he came to the ground hogs to get some. The ground-hog people know when slides descend from the mountains, and they know that spring is then near at hand, so they throw all of their winter food out of their burrows. Raven wanted them to do this, so he said, “There is going to be a world snow slide.” But the ground-hog chief answered, ” Well! nobody in this town knows about it.”
Toward spring, however, the slide really took place, and the ground hogs then threw all of their green herbs, roots, etc., outside to him.
After this he said to the people, “Make ear pendants because I am going to invite the whole world.” He was going to invite everyone because he had heard that the GonaqAde’t had a Chilkat blanket and a hat, and he wanted to see them. First he invited the Gonaqade’t and afterwards the other chiefs of all the tribes in the world. At the appointed time they began to come in. When the Gonaqade’t came in he had on his hat with many crowns and his blanket but was surrounded by a fog. Inside of the house, however, he appeared in his true fom. It is from this feast of Raven’s that people now like to attend feasts. It is also from this that, when a man is going to have a feast, he has a many-crowned hat carved on top of the dead man’s grave post.
Raven made a woman under the earth to have charge of the rise and fall of the tides. One time he wanted to learn about everything under the ocean and had this woman raise the water so that he could go there. He had it rise very slowly so that the people had time to load their canoes and get into them. When the tide had lifted them up between the mountains they could see bears and other wild animals walking around on the still unsubmerged tops. Many of the bears swam out to them, and at that time those who had their dogs had good protection. Some people walled the tops of the mountains about and tied their canoes inside. They could not take much wood up with them. Sometimes hunters see the rocks they piled up there, and at such times it begins to grow foggy. That was a very dangerous time. The people who survived could see trees swept up roots and all by the rush of waters and large devilfish and other creatures were carried up by it.
When the tide began to fall, all the people followed it down, but the trees were gone and they had nothing to use as firewood, so they were destroyed by the cold. When Raven came back from under the earth, if he saw a fish left on top of a mountain or in a creek, he said, “Stay right there and become a stone.” So it became a stone. If he saw any person coming down, he would say, “Turn to a stone just where you are,” and it did so.
After that the sea went down so far that it was dry everywhere. Then Raven went about picking up the smallest fish, as bull heads and tom cod, which he strung on a stick, while a friend who was with him at this time, named Cak!a’ku, took large creatures like whales. With the grease he boiled out, Cak!a’ku filled an entire house, while Raven filled only a small bladder.
Raven stayed with Cak!a’ku and one night had a dream. He said to his friend, “I dreamed that a great enemy came and attacked us.” Then he had all the fowls assemble and come to fight, so that his dream might be fulfilled. As soon as Raven had told his dream, Cak!a’ku went down and saw the birds. Then Raven went into the house and began drinking up his grease. But the man came back, saw what Raven was doing, and threw him into a grease box, which he started to tie up with a strong rope. Raven, however, called out, “My brother, do not tie me up with a strong rope, but take a straw such as our forefathers used to empIoy.” He did so. Then Raven drank up all the grease in the box, and, when the man took him up on a high cliff and kicked him off, he came out easily and flew away crying “Ga.”
One time Raven assembled all the birds in preparation for a feast and had the bears in the rear of his house as guests. All the birds had canes and helped him sing. As he sang along Raven would say quietly, “Do you think one of you could fly into the anus of a bear?” Then he would start another song and end it by saying in much the same language, “One of you ought to fly up into that hole.” He kept taunting the birds with their inability to do this, so, when the bears started out, the wren (wu’naxwu’ckaq, “bird-that can-go-through-a-hole”) flew up into the anus of one of them and came out with his intestines. Before it had pulled them far out the bear fell dead. Then Raven chased all of the small birds away, sat down, and began eating. Raven never got full because he had eaten the black spots off of his own toes. He learned about this after having inquired everywhere for some way of bringing such a state about. Then he wandered through all the world in search of things to eat.
After all the human beings had been destroyed Raven made new ones out of leaves. Because he made this new generation, people know that he must have changed all of the first people who had survived the flood into stones. Since human beings were made from leaves, people always die off rapidly in the fall of the year when flowers and leaves are falling.
At the time when he made this world, Raven made a devilfish digging-stick and went around to all created things saying, “Are you going to hurt human beings ? Say now either yes or no.” Those that said “No” he passed by; those that said “Yes” he rooted up. He said to the people, “When the tide goes out, your food will be there. When the tide comes in, your food will be in the woods,” indicating bear and other forest animals.
In Raven’s time the butts of ferns were already cooked, but, after some women had brought several of these in, Raven broke a stick over the fern roots. Therefore they became green like this stick. He also broke the roots up into many layers one above another.
Devilfish were very fat then, and the people used to make grease out of them, but, when Raven came to a place where they were making he said, “Give me a piece of that hard thing.” That is why its fatness left it.
One time Raven invited all the tribes of little people and laid down bear skins for them to sit on. After they had come in and reached the bear skins, they shouted to one another, “Here is a swampy, open space.” That was the name they gave to those places on the skins from which the hair had fallen out. By and by Raven seized the bear skins and shook them over the fire, when all the little people flew into the eyes of the human beings. He said, “You shall be pupils in people’s eyes,” and ever since human beings have had them.
Now he went on from this place and camped by himself. There he saw a large sculpin trying to get ashore below him, and he said to it, “My uncle’s son, come ashore here. Come way up. One time, when you and I were going along in our uncle’s canoe we fell into the water. So come up a little farther.”
Raven was very hungry, and, when the sculpin came ashore, he seized it by its big, broad tail intending to eat it. But it slipped through his fingers. This happened many times, and each time the sculpin’s tail became smaller. That is why it is so slender today. Then Raven said to it, From now on, you shall be named ‘sculpin.'”
Raven had a blanket which kept blowing out from him, so he threw it into the water and let it float away. Then he obtained a wife, and, as he was traveling along with her, he said, “There is going to be a great southwest wind. We better stop here for a little, wife. I expect my blanket ashore here.” After a while it came in. Then his wife said to him, “Take your blanket ashore and throw it on some branches.
He did so and it became Rebis bracteosum. When they went on farther the sea became so rough that his wife was frightened and told him to put ashore some of the fat with which his canoe was loaded. He did this, but was so angry with his wife for having asked him, that he said to her, “You better put ashore your sewing basket,” and so she did.
Then he left his wife and went along by himself. He assembled very many young birds, and, when he camped told them to go after cat!k!, the term he at that time applied to drinking water.
Afterwards he came to a certain place and started to make a salmon creek. He said, “This woman shall be at the head of this creek.” The woman he spoke of had long teats, so he called her Woman-with long-teats-floating-around, saying, “When the salmon come to the creeks, they shall all go up to see her.” That is why salmon run up thc creeks.
After this he went into the woods and set out to make the porcupine. For quills he took pieces of yellow cedar bark, which he set all the way up and down its back so that bears would be afraid of it. This is why bears never eat porcupines. He said to the porcupine, “Whenever anyone comes near you, throw your tail about.” This is why people are afraid of it when it does so.
Now Raven went off to a certain place and made the west wind, naming it Q!axo’. He said to it, “You shall be my son’s daughter. No matter how hard you blow you shall hurt nobody.
He took up a piece of red salmon and said to it, “If anyone is not strong enough to paddle home he shall take up this fish and blow behind him.”
Raven is a grandchild of the mouse . That is why a mouse can never get enough to eat.
Raven also made the south wind (sa’naxet). When the south wind climbs on top of a rock it never ceases to blow.
He made the north wind (xun), and on top of a mountain he made a house for it with something like ice hanging down on the sides. Then he went in and said to it, “Your buttocks are white.” This is wy the mountains are white with snow.
He made all the different races, as the Haida and the Tsimshian. They are human beings like the Thingit, but he made their languages different.
He also made the dog. It was at first a human being and did every thing Raven wanted done, but he was too quick with everything, so Raven took him by the neck and pushed him down, saying, “You are nothing but a dog. You shall have four legs.”
One time Raven came to a certain thing called fat-on-the-sea, which stuck out of the ocean. He kept saying to it, “Get down a little,” so it kept going under the surface. But every time it came up he took his paddle and cut part off. It did this seven times, but, when he spoke to it the eighth time, it went down out of sight, and he never saw it again.
As he was traveling along in another place, a wild celery came out, became angry with Raven, and said, “You are always wandering around for things to eat.” Then he named it wild celery (ya’naet) and said to it, “You shall stay there, and people shall eat you.
Once he passed a large tree and saw something up in it called Caxda’q . Raven called out “Caxda’q,” and it shouted back, “You Raven.” They called back and forth to each other for some time.
It is told in some of the Tlingit legends that during Noah’s flood the Athapascan tribe, as the waters subsided, landed in the area of the Arctic Circle. The theory of many writers is that the Athapascans came across the Bering Ice Bridge. This doesn’t stand to reason. Why should a family or group of people: men, women, children, and older people go up North? Just to cross an Ice Bridge that they did not know existed? It was a cold, desolate, uninhabited place, dark during part of the year, without much variety of food and with no protection. This is not to say that a group of people could not land at such a place by accident. But to go there willfully, at great discomfort to the whole group, is not reasonable.
as retold by Robert Willard Jr.
(Raven/Beaver Clan Elder)
This is the story of the Tlingit National Anthem, a song that entwines our people with their past and keeps our ancient heritage alive. At potlatch ceremonies, Tlingit elders sing the anthem and tell how it came about-for many years in secret, for this ritual was long forbidden by the government-always passing the story on to the new generations.
Long ago, the Tlingit Indians lived in the area now called British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. They decided to move from this region of lakes to the great ocean-now called the Pacific-where they heard the fish were abundant. When all of the clans had assembled, they began a great trek through the mountain canyons leading to the sea.
After many, many miles, the way was blocked by a glacier that filled the canyon. To go back in search of a different route would be a long and wasting journey, so the leaders, both women and men, climbed the mountain to look for a safe way around the ice; there was none. But they saw a stream, flowing from the narrow mouth of the glacier, which emptied into a great bay on the distant side. The passage under the glacier seemed too dangerous, the ice caverns too narrow to pass through. Determined to continue the migration to the ocean, the leaders met to plot a new course.
Then, four woman stepped forward and volunteered to journey beneath the glacier. Two were barren, one was a widow, and the fourth was well along in years. Because the women had no children to nurture and protect, the leaders agreed to their risky plan. So the men built a raft of logs and the woman set forth early next morning. With renewed hopes the leaders once again climbed the mountain, keeping watch all morning and into the afternoon.
Toward evening, they heard distant voices calling from the bay. It was the four woman, waving their arms and shouting “We made it, we made it through, under the ice.” Then, the youngest and strongest of the Tlingits set out for the other side. When they arrived, they began building large boats for the next part of the journey, and explored the region beyond the glacier for a safe place abundant in resources. Then, all of the Tlingit people followed behind them. After three days and three nights, they came through the ice caverns. So, they set up camps and rested.
The next day, the people asked the great spirit to be with them. They decided to row in all directions and settle as much unoccupied territory as possible. It was a sad, sad day as the people sang good-bye to their uncles and aunts and cousins and friends. They wept as they rowed, but it was the beginning of the Tlingit Nation, which today occupies more than twenty-three million aces of land and water in Southeast Alaska.