Alaska: Raven Creates the People

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

The Raven Myth: Raven Creates the People
Eskimo (Bering Straits)
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Now in the days of the first people on the earth plain, there were no mountains far or near. No rain ever fell and there were no winds. The sun shone always very brightly. Then Raven showed the first people on the earth plain how to sleep warmly in the dry moss when they were tired.

Raven himself drew down his beak-mask and went to sleep like a bird. When Raven awakened, he went back to the creek. Here he made two sticklebacks, two graylings, and two blackfish. When these were swimming about in the water, he called Man to see them. Man raised his hand in surprise and the sticklebacks darted away. Raven told him the graylings would be found in clear mountain streams, while the sticklebacks would live along the coast, and that both would be good for food.

Raven next made the shrewmouse. He said, "The shrewmouse will not be good for food. It will prevent the earth plain from looking bare and cheerless."

In this way Raven was busy several days, making birds and fishes and animals. He showed each of them to Man and explained what they were good for.

Then Raven flew into the sky, far, far away, and was gone four days. When he came back he brought a salmon to Man. But Raven noticed that the ponds and lakes were silent and lonely, so he made water bugs to flit upon the surface of the water.

He also made the beaver and the muskrat to live around the borders of the ponds. Raven told Man that the beavers would live along the streams and build strong houses, so Man must build a strong house also. Raven said the beavers would be very cunning and only good hunters could catch them. He also told Man how to catch the muskrat and how to use its skin for clothing.

Raven also made flies and mosquitoes and other insects to make the earth plain more cheerful.

At first mosquitoes were like flies; they did not bite. One day Man killed a deer. After he had cut it up and placed the fat on a bush, he fell asleep. When he awoke he found the mosquitoes had eaten all of it. Then Man was very angry and scolded the mosquitoes. He said, "Never eat meat again. Eat men." Before that mosquitoes never bit people.

When the first baby came on the earth plain, Raven rubbed it all over with white clay. He told Man it would grow into a man like himself. The next morning the baby was a big boy. He ran around pulling up grass and flowers that Raven had planted. By the third day the baby was a full-grown man.

Then another baby was born on the earth plain. She was rubbed over with the white clay. The next day the baby was a big girl, walking around. On the third day she was a full-grown woman.

Now Raven began to be afraid that men would kill all the creatures he had made. He was afraid they would kill them for food and clothing. Therefore Raven went to a creek nearby. He took white clay and shaped it like a bear. Then he waved his wings over it, and the clay became a bear. But Raven jumped very quickly to one side when the bear became alive because it looked fiercely around and growled. Then Raven showed the bear to Man and told him to be careful. He said the bear was very fierce and would tear him to pieces if he disturbed it.

Then Raven made the seals, and taught Man how to catch them. He also taught Man how to make strong lines from sealskin, and snares for the deer.

Then Raven went away to the place of the pea vine. When he reached the pea vine he found three other men had just fallen from the same pod that Man had fallen from. These men were looking about them in wonder. Raven led them away from the pea vine, but in a different direction from the first man. He brought them close to the sea.

Raven stayed with these three men a long time. He taught them how to take wood from the bushes and small trees he planted in hollows and sheltered places, and to make a fire drill, and also a bow. He made many more plants and birds which like the seacoast, but he did not make so many as in the land where Man lived. He taught these men how to make bows and arrows, spears and nets, and how to use them; and also how to capture the seals, which were now plentiful in the sea. Then he taught them how to make kayaks, and how to build houses of drift logs and of bushes, covered with earth. Then he made wives for these men, and went back to Man.

When Raven reached the land where Man lived, he thought the earth plain still looked bare. So, while the others slept, Raven planted birch and spruce and cottonwood trees to grow in the low places. Then he woke up the people, who were pleased with the trees.

Then Raven taught Man how to make fire with the fire drill, and to place the spark of tinder in a bunch of dry grass and to wave it about until it blazed, and then to put dry wood upon it. He showed them how to roast fish on a stick, and how to make fish traps of splints and willow bark, and how to dry salmon for winter use. Where Man lived there was now a large village because the people did everything as Raven told them, and therefore all the babies grew up in three days.

(illustration from Judson's book)

(1000 words)

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