Alaska: Raven's Creation

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's Creation
Eskimo (Bering Straits)


IT was in the time when there were no people on the earth plain. The first man for four days lay coiled up in the pod of the beach pea. On the fifth day he stretched out his feet and burst the pod. He fell to the ground and when he stood up he was a full-grown man.

Man looked all around him and then at himself. He moved his hands and arms, his neck and legs. When he looked back he saw, still hanging to the vine, the pod of the beach pea, with a hole in the lower end out of which he had dropped.

When he looked about him again, he saw that he was getting farther from his starting place. The ground seemed to move up and down under his feet, and it was very soft. After a while he had a strange feeling in his stomach, so he stooped down to drink some water from a small pool at his feet. Then he felt better.

When Man looked up again he saw coming toward him, with a fluttering motion, something dark. He watched the dark thing until it stopped just in front of him. It was Raven. As soon as Raven stopped, he raised one of his wings and pushed up his beak, as though it were a mask, to the top of his head. Thus Raven changed at once into a man.

Raven stared hard at Man, moving from side to side to see him better. Raven said, "What are you? Where did you come from? I have never seen anything like you." Raven still stared at Man, surprised to find this new thing so much like himself. He made Man walk around a little, while he perked his head from side to side to see him better.

Then Raven said again, in astonishment, "Where did you come from? I have never seen anything like you before."

Man said, "I came from the pea pod." He pointed to the plant from which he came.

"Ah, I made that vine," said Raven. "But I did not know that anything like you would come from it. Come with me to the high ground over there; it is thicker and harder. This ground I made later and it is soft and thin."

So Man and Raven walked to the higher ground which was firm and hard. Raven asked Man if he had eaten anything. Man said he had taken some of the soft stuff from one of the pools. "Ah, you drank some water," said Raven. "Now wait for me here." Raven drew down his beak, as though it were a mask, over his face. He at once became a bird and flew far up into the sky — far out of sight.

Man waited until the fourth day. Then Raven returned bringing four berries in his claws. He pushed up his beak and so became a man again. Then he gave to Man two salmon berries and two heath berries, saying, "Here is something I made for you to eat. I wish them to be plentiful on the earth. Eat them." Man put the berries into his mouth, one after the other, and ate them. Then he felt better.

Then Raven left Man near a small creek while he went to the edge of the water. He took two pieces of clay at the water's edge, and shaped them like a pair of mountain sheep. He held them in his hand until they were dry, and then he called Man to come and see them. Man said they were pretty, so Raven told him to close his eyes. Man closed his eyes tightly. Then Raven pulled down his beak-mask, and waved his wings four times over the pieces of clay. At once they bounded away as full-grown mountain sheep. Raven told Man to look.

Man was so much pleased that Raven said, "If these animals are plentiful, perhaps people will try to kill them."

Man said, "Yes."

Then Raven said, "Well, it will be better for them to live among the steep rocks so every one cannot kill them. There only shall they be found."

Raven took two more pieces of clay and shaped them like tame reindeer. He held them in his hand until they were partly dry, then told Man to look at them. Raven again drew down his beak-mask and waved his wings four times over them. Thus they became alive, but as they were only dry in spots while Raven held them, therefore they remained brown and white, with mottled coat. Raven told Man these tame reindeer would be very few in number.

Again Raven took two pieces of clay and shaped them like the caribou or wild reindeer. But he held them in his hands only a little while so that only the bellies of the reindeer became dry and white. Then Raven drew down his beak-mask, and waved his wings over them, and they bounded away. But because only their bellies were dry and white while Raven held them, therefore the wild reindeer is brown except its white belly.

Raven said to Man, "These animals will be very common. People will kill many of them." Thus Raven began to create the animals.

Raven said one day to Man, "You are lonely by yourself. I will make you a companion."

He went to some white clay at a spot distant from the clay of which he had made animals, and made of the clay a figure almost like Man. Raven kept looking at Man while he shaped the figure. Then he took fine water grass from the creek and fastened it on the back of the head for hair. When the clay was shaped, Raven drew down his beak-mask and waved his wings over it. The clay became a beautiful girl. The girl was white and fair because Raven let the clay dry entirely before he waved his wings over it.

Raven took the girl to Man. "There is a companion for you," he said.

(illustration from Judson's book)

(1000 words)

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