Alaska: The Skyland and the Sea

kashim: an Eskimo dance house

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: The Skyland and the Sea
Eskimo (Bering Straits)
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One day Raven came back and sat down by Man by the creek and they talked of many things. Man asked Raven about the skyland. Man wanted to see the skyland which Raven had made. Therefore Raven took Man to the land in the sky. Man found that the skyland was a very beautiful country, and that it had a much better climate than his land. But the people who lived there were very small. Their heads did not reach to Man's hips. The people wore fur clothing, with beautiful patterns, such as people on earth now wear, because Man showed his people how to make them. In the lakes were strange animals which would have killed Man if he had tried to drink of the water. In a dry lake bed, thickly covered with tall grass, Man saw a wonderful animal resting upon the tips of the grasses. It had a long head and six legs. It had fine, thick hair, and on the back of the head were two thick, short horns which bent forward and then curved back at the tips. Raven told Man it took many people to kill this animal.

Then they came to a round hole in the sky and around the edge of the hole was short grass, glowing like fire. Raven said, "This is the star called the moon-dog." Some of the grass had been pulled up. Raven said he had taken some to start the first fire on earth. Then Raven said to Man, "Shut your eyes. I will take you to another country." Man climbed upon Raven's back and they dropped down through the star hole. They floated a long, long time through the air, then they floated through something else. When they stopped Raven saw he was at the bottom of the sea. Man could breathe there, but it seemed foggy. Raven said that was the appearance of the water.

Then Raven said, "I want to make some new animals here; but you must not walk about. You lie down and, if you get tired, turn over on the other side." Man went to sleep lying on one side, and slept a long while. When he waked up, he wanted to turn over, but he could not. Then Man thought, "I wish I could turn over," and at once he turned. As he turned, he was surprised to see that his body was covered with long, white hairs, and his fingers were long claws. Then he went to sleep again. This he did three times more. Then when he woke up, Raven stood by him. Raven said, "I have changed you into a white bear. How do you like it?" Man could not make a sound until Raven waved his wings over him. Then he said he did not like it; if he was a bear he would have to live on the sea, while his son lived on land; so Man should feel badly. Then Raven struck the white skin with his wings and it fell off. So Man became himself again. But Raven took the empty bearskin, and placed one of his own tail feathers inside it for a spine. Then he waved his wing over it, and a white bear arose. Ever since then white bears have been found on the frozen sea.

Raven said, "How many times did you turn over?"Man said, "Four." Raven said, "You slept just four years." Then Raven made other animals. He made the a-mi-kuk, a large, slimy animal, with thick skin and with four long, wide-spreading arms. This is a fierce animal and lives in the sea. It wraps its four long arms around a man or a kayak and drags it under the water. A man cannot escape it. If he climbs out of his kayak on the ice, the a-mi-kuk will dart underneath and break the ice. If Man runs away on shore, the a-mi-kuk pursues him by burrowing through the earth. No man can escape from it when once it pursues him.

Then Raven showed Man the walrus, and the dog walrus, with head and teeth like a dog. It always swam with large herds of walrus and with a stroke of its tail could kill a man. He showed him whales and the grampus. Raven told Man that only good hunters could kill a whale, but when one was killed an entire village could feast on it. He showed him also the sea fox, which is so fierce it kills men; and the sea otter, which is like the land otter but has finer fur, tipped with white, and other fishes and animals as they rose to the surface of the water.

Then Raven said, "Close your eyes. Hold fast to me. Then Man found himself on the shore near his home. The village was very large. His wife was very old and his son was an old man. The people gave him place of honor in the kashim, and made him their headsman. So Man taught the young men many things.

(900 words)

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