American Indian languages
American Indian culture
What's new on our site today!
This version of the legend comes from J.R. Swanton's 1909 collection Tlingit Myths and Texts.
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... When Raven was born, his father 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 someone 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 give birth, 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 lodge. 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 throught 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 smoke hole. Then the person from whom he had stolen it said, "That old raven has gotten all of my things."
Journeying on, Raven was told of another place where a man had an everlasting spring of water. This man was named Petrel (Ganý'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 and 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 around 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 them, "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 the 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.
More stories to read:
Native American animal lore
Myths about Raven
Myths about daylight
Learn more about:
The Tlingit language
The Tlingit people
Back to the American Indian legend page
Buy some Native American Indian books
Northern Arapaho tribe
Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?
Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2015 Contacts and FAQ page