Alaska: The Naming of the Birds

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

The Naming of the Birds
Tlingit (Wrangell)


NOW Raven went around among the birds, teaching them. He said to Grouse, "You are to live in a place where it is wintry. You will always live in a place high up so you will have plenty of breezes." Then Raven gave Grouse four white pebbles. He said, "You will never starve so long as you have these four pebbles." Raven also said to Grouse, "You know that Sea-lion is your grandchild. You must get four more pebbles and give them to him." That is why the sea-lion has four large pebbles. It throws these at hunters. If one strikes a person, it kills him. From this story it is known that Grouse and Sea-lion understand each other.

Raven said to Ptarmigan, "You will be the maker of snowshoes. You will know how to travel in snow." It was from these birds that the Athapascans learned how to make snowshoes and how to put the lacings on.

Raven came next to Wild Canary, that lives all the year around in the Tlingit country. He said, "You will be head among the very small birds. You are not to live on the same food as human beings. Keep away from them."

Then Raven said to Robin, "You will make people happy by your whistle. You will be a good whistler."

Then Raven said to Kun, the Flicker, "You will be chief among the birds of your size. You will not be found in all places. You will seldom be seen."

Raven said to Lugan, a bird that lives far out on the ocean, "You will seldom be seen near shore. You will live on lonely rocks, far out on the ocean."

When Raven came to Snipes, he said, "You will always go in flocks. You will never go out alone." Therefore we always see snipes in flocks.

Raven said to Asq-aca-tci, a small bird with yellowgreen plumage, "You will always go in flocks. You will always be on the tree tops. That is where your food is."

Raven said to a very small bird, Kotlai, the size of a butterfly, "You will be liked. You will be seen only to give good luck. People will hear your voice, but seldom see you."

Then to Blue-jay Raven said, "You will have very fine clothes. You will be a good talker. People will take colors from your clothes."

Then Raven said to Xunkaha, "You will never be seen unless the north wind is going to blow." That is what the name Xunkaha means.

To Crow, Raven said, "You will make lots of noise. You will be great talkers." That is why, when you hear one crow, you hear a lot of others right afterward.

Raven said to Gusyiadul, "You will be seen only when warm weather is coming. Never come near except when warm weather is coming."

To Hummingbird Raven said, "People will enjoy seeing you. If a person sees you once, he will want to see you again."

Raven said to Eagle, "You will be very powerful and above all birds. Your eyesight will be very good. It will be easy for you to get what you want." Then Raven put talons on the eagle and said they would be useful to him. Thus Raven taught all the birds.

(600 words)

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