The Raven


It was in the time when there were no people on the earth. For four days the first man lay coiled up in a pea-pod. On the fifth day he stretched out his feet and burst the pod, falling to the ground, where he stood up, a full-grown man. He looked about him, and then moved his hands and arms, his neck and legs, and examined himself curiously.

After a while he had an unpleasant feeling in his stomach, and he stooped down to take some water into his mouth from a small pool. The water ran down into his stomach and he felt better. When he looked up again he saw approaching, with a waving motion, a dark object which came on until just in front of him, when it stopped, and, standing on the ground, looked at him. This was a raven, and, as soon as it stopped, it raised one of its wings, pushed up its beak, like a mask, to the top of its head, and stared at the man, and after it was raised he stared more than ever, moving about from side to side to obtain a better view At last he said: "What are you? From where did you come? I have never seen anything like you." Then Raven looked at Man, and was still more surprised to find this strange new being was so much like himself in shape.

Then Raven told Man to walk away a few steps, and in astonishment exclaimed again: "From where did you come? I have never seen anything like you before." To this Man replied: "I came from the pea-pod." And he pointed to the plant from which he came. "Ah!" exclaimed Raven, "I made that vine, but did not know that anything like you would ever come from it. Now wait for me here." Then he drew down the mask over his face, changing again into a bird, and flew far up into the sky where he disappeared.

Man waited where he had been left until the fourth day, when Raven returned, bringing four berries in his claws. Pushing up his mask, Raven became a man again and held out two salmonberries and two heathberries, saying, "Here is what I have made for you to eat. I also wish them to be plentiful over the earth. Now eat them." Man took the berries and placed them in his mouth one after the other and they satisfied his hunger, which had made him feel uncomfortable.

Raven then led Man to a small creek nearby and left him while he went to the water's edge and molded a couple of pieces of clay into the form of a pair of mountain sheep, which he held in his hand, and when they became dry he called Man to show him what he had done. Man thought they were very pretty, and Raven told him to close his eyes. As soon as Man's eyes were closed Raven drew down his mask and waved his wings four times over the images, when they became endowed with life and bounded away as full-grown mountain sheep.

Then Raven made two animals of clay which he endowed with life as before, but as they were dry only in spots when they were given life, they remained brown and white, and so originated the tame reindeer with mottled coat. In the same way a pair of caribou were made and permitted to get dry and white only on their bellies, then they were given life; in consequence, to this day the belly of the caribou is the only white part about it. Raven told Man that these animals would be very common, and people would kill many of them.

"You will be very lonely by yourself," said Raven "I will make you a companion." He then went to a spot some distance from where he had made the animals, and looking now and then at Man, made an image very much like him. Then he fastened a lot of fine water grass on the back of the head for hair, and after the image had dried in his hands, he waived his wings over it as before and a beautiful young woman arose and stood beside Man. "There," cried Raven "is a companion for you," and he led them back to a small hill nearby.

In those days there were no mountains far or near, and the sun never ceased shining brightly; no rain ever fell and no winds blew. When they came to the hill Raven showed the pair how to make a bed in the dry moss, and they slept there very warmly; Raven drew down his mask and slept nearby in the form of a bird. Waking before the others, Raven went back to the creek and made a pair each of sticklebacks, graylings, and blackfish. When these were swimming about in the water, he called Man to see them. When the latter looked at them and saw the sticklebacks swim up the stream with a wriggling motion he was so surprised that he raised his hand suddenly and the fish darted away. Raven then showed him the graylings and told him that they would be found in clear mountain streams, while the sticklebacks would live along the seacoast and that both would be good for food.

In this way Raven continued for several days making birds, fishes, and animals, showing them to Man, and explaining their uses. After this he flew away to the sky and was gone four days, after which he returned, bringing back a salmon for the use of Man.

Looking about Raven saw that the ponds and lakes were silent and lonely, so he created many water insects upon their surfaces, and from the same clay he made the beaver and the muskrat to frequent their borders. Man was shown the muskrat and told to take its skin for clothing. He was also told that the beavers would live along the streams and build strong houses and that he must follow their example, and likewise that the beavers would be very cunning and only good hunters would be able to take them.

At this time the woman gave birth to a child, and Raven directed Man how to feed and care for it, telling him that it would grow into a man like himself. As soon as the child was born, Raven and Man took it to a creek, rubbed it over with clay, and then returned with it to his stopping place on the small hill. The next morning the child was running about pulling up grass and other plants which Raven had caused to grow nearby; on the third day the child became a full-grown man.

After this Raven thought that if he did not create something to make men afraid they would destroy everything he had made to inhabit the earth. Then he went to a creek nearby, where he formed a bear and gave it life, jumping to one side quickly as the bear stood up and looked fiercely about. Man was then called and told that the bear would be very fierce and would tear him to pieces if he disturbed it.

Then he made different kinds of seals, and their names and habits were explained to Man. Raven also taught Man to make rawhide lines from sealskin, and snares for deer, but cautioned him to wait until the deer were abundant before he snared any of them.

Then Raven found that three other men had fallen from the pea-pod that gave the first one. These men, like the first, were looking about them in wonder, and Raven led them away in an opposite direction from that in which he had taken the first man, afterward bringing them to firm land close to the sea. Here they stopped, and Raven remained with them a long time, teaching them how to live. He taught then how to make a fire-making device (a bow drill) from a piece of dry wood and a cord, taking the wood from the bushes and small trees he had caused to grow in hollows and sheltered places on the hillside. He made for each of the men a wife, and also made many plants and birds such as frequent the seacoast, but fewer kinds than he had made in the land where the first man lived. He taught the men to make bows and arrows, spears, nets, and all the implements of the chase and how to use them; also how to capture the seals which had now become plentiful in the sea.

After Raven had taught the men how to make kayaks, he showed them how to build houses of drift logs and bushes covered with earth.

Looking about Raven thought the earth seemed bare; so, while the others slept, he caused birch, spruce, and cottonwood trees to spring up in low places, and then awoke the people, who were much pleased at seeing the trees. After this they were taught how to make fire with the bow drill and to place the spark of tinder in a bunch of dry grass and wave it about until it blazed, then to place dry wood upon it. They were shown how to roast fish on a stick, to make fish traps of splints and willow bark, to dry salmon for winter use, and to make houses.

One day Man went out seal hunting along the seashore. He saw many seals, but in each case after he had crept carefully up they would tumble into the water before he could get to them until only one was left on the rocks; Man crept up to it more carefully than before, but it also escaped. Then he stood up and he seemed full of strange feeling, and the water began to run in drops from his eyes and down his face. He put up his hand and caught some of the drops to look at them and found that they were really water; then, without any wish on his part, loud cries began to break from him and the tears ran down his face as he went home. When his son saw him coming, he called to his wife and mother to see Man coming along making such a strange noise; when he reached them they were still more surprised to see water running down his face. After he told them the story of his disappointment they were all stricken with the same strange ailment and began to wail with him, and in this way people first learned how to cry.

Where the first man lived there had now grown a large village, for the people did everything as Raven directed them.

Abridged version of the Raven Creation Myth from William W. Nelson's translation.

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