The Haida people are native to areas of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska, USA. The the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, is considered to be their heartland especially the two main islands. The Haida tell many wonderful stories featuring Raven who in their mythology, legends and traditions is seen as a provider and bringer of light to humanity while also being a trickster. It was Raven who was the transformer, healer and magician and yet is often presented as being greedy, lustful and mischievous. Yet despite these contradictions Raven is very much a cultural hero of the Haida.
Raven and the First People
In one creation myth they tell that before Raven all of the world was one enormous flood. The myth tells how there was once a time when there was nothing but water everywhere. One day Raven became bored and spread his wings and flew. As he flew the waters began to recede. When Raven became hungry land was formed and Raven settled on it and found food.
One day Raven heard strange noises coming from a shell. This both intrigued and confused Raven. The strange sound from the clam became louder and more frantic and so Raven having a fine singing voice thought he would sing to it in the hope of soothing whatever was making the noise. So Raven sung to it and eventually a small but extraordinary creature broke out of the shell. Indeed, it was a very peculiar with two legs, a head that was round and covered at the top in long black hair and soft skin. Unlike Raven it had no wings and no feathers. This creature was the very first of the First People and more came from the shell and all of these were male.
To begin with Raven was intrigued but gradually grew bored with them and thought about putting them all back in the shell. Then he decided he would look for some females to keep all of these males company. It so happened that Raven found some more people who were inside a another shell. Setting them free Raven discovered they were female people. He was enthralled as he watched how male and female interacted with each other and began to feel protective and responsible towards them.
The Haida have other versions of tales that tell how the world was created such as the one that follows. There was a time when the world was just sky and water and in the water was a reef where the first beings lived. The greatest of these beings lived upon the highest part of the reef and looked down on the lesser beings who lived on the lower parts of the reef.
Raven flew over the reef looking for a place to settle but could see no room to land. Therefore he decided to fly to the sky country and there he found the daughter of a Chief who had a young baby. In the darkness of night Raven stole the child with the intention of taking its place as Raven Child.
Raven Brings the Sun, Moon and Stars
There is a very old story that tells how Raven brought the Sun, the Stars, the Moon and fresh water and fire to the world to benefit the people. It tells how in the the beginning of the world the guardian of the Sun, Moon, Stars, fresh water and fire was Gray Eagle. He hated people and hid beneficial things from them. He hid the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and fresh water and fire from them and the people were cold and lived in darkness.
In these early days of the world Raven was pure white and he fell in love with the daughter of Gray Eagle who thought him very handsome in white. One day she invited him to visit her in her father’s longhouse. When Raven arrived he saw that the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, along with fresh water were all hanging up around the sides of Gray Eagle’s home. When he knew no one was looking he stole them and also took a burning brand from the fire and flew out of the smoke hole in the roof with his loot. Flying up high in the sky he hung the Sun up and its light flooded out over the Earth lighting and warming he day. In fact there was so much light he could see far enough to fly out across the ocean to an island situated in its middle . When the Sun wet down he hung up the Moon and Stars in different parts of the sky and by this light he flew back to the land carrying the fresh water and the firebrand.
When he reached the land he found what he thought was a good place and dropped the fresh water. Where it landed on the ground became the source of all of the freshwater that creates all of rivers, lakes and streams in the world today.
Raven flew on holding the flaming brand in his beak and as he flew the smoke from the fiery brand flowed over his snowy white feathers turning them black. As he flew the brand burnt smaller and smaller and eventually it began to burn his beak and Raven was forced to drop it. The burning brand fell from the sky and crashed into rocks and instantly concealed itself inside of them. This is how the sparks that appear when two stones are struck together got in the stone and why we can make fire from them.
As for Raven he lost his white plumage after it was covered in soot from the firebrand and that is why today all of his feathers are black.
© 11/04/2018 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright April 11th, 2018 zteve t evans