Alaska: The Flood

Judson notes that the question-and answer between Raven and the old woman at the bottom of the ocean is like a magical ritual; the questions and answers are not about the exchange of information but are instead a ritual exchange.
Gloss: cax (have not been able to find yet)

This story is part of the Alaskan Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of Alaska, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1911).

The Flood
Tlingit (Wrangell)


LONG, long ago, in the days of the animal people, Raven-at-the-head-of-Nass became angry. He said, "Let rain pour down all over the world. Let people die of starvation." At once it became so stormy people could not get food, so they began to starve. Their canoes were also broken up, their houses fell in upon them, and they suffered very much.

Then Nas-ca-ki-yel, Raven-at-the-head-of-Nass, asked for his jointed dance hat. When he put it on water began pouring out of the top of it. It is from Raven that the Indians obtained this kind of a hat. When the water rose to the house floor, Raven and his mother climbed upon the lowest retaining timber. This house we are speaking of, although it looked like a house to them, was really part of the world. It had eight rows of retaining timbers. When Raven and his mother climbed to a higher timber, the people of the world were climbing into the hills. Then Raven and his mother climbed to the fourth timber; by that time the water was half-way up the mountains.

When the house was nearly full of water, Raven's mother got into the skin of a cax. To this very day Tlingits do not eat the cax because it was Raven's mother.

Then Raven got into the skin of a white bird with copper-colored bill. Now the cax is a diver and stayed upon the surface of the water. But Raven flew to the very highest cloud and hung there by his bill. But his tail was in the water.

After Raven had hung in the cloud for days and days — nobody knows how long — he pulled his bill out and prayed to fall on a piece of kelp. He thought the water had gone down. When Raven fell upon the kelp and flew away he found the waters just half-way down the mountains. Raven flew around until he met a shark, which had been swimming around with a long stick. Raven took the stick and climbed down it as a ladder to the bottom of the ocean. But Raven had set Eagle to watch the tide.

Raven wandered around the bottom of the ocean until he came to an old woman. He said to her, "How cold I am after eating those sea urchins?" He repeated this over and over again.

At last the woman said, "What low tide is this Raven talking about?" Raven did not answer. The woman kept repeating, "What low tide are you talking about?" Then Raven became angry.

He said, "I will stick these sea urchins into you if you don't keep quiet." At last he did so.

Then the woman began singing, "Don't, Raven! The tide will go down if you don't stop." But the water was receding, as Raven had told it to, in his magic words.

Raven asked Eagle, who was watching the tide, "How far down is the tide now?"

"The tide is as far down as half a man."

"How far down is the tide?" he asked again.

"The tide is very low," said Eagle.

Then the old woman started her magic song again.

Raven said, "Let it get dry all around the world."

After a while, Eagle said, "The tide is very low now. You can hardly see any water."

Raven said, "Let it get still drier."

At last everything was dry. This is the lowest tide there ever was. All the salmon, and whales, and seals lay on the sands because the water was so low. Then the people killed them for food. They had enough food to last them a long time.

When the tide began to rise again, the people were frightened. They feared there would be another flood, so they carried their food back a long distance. Afterward Raven returned to Nass River and found that people there had not changed their ways. They were dancing and feasting. They asked Raven to join them.

(illustration from Judson's book)

(700 words)

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