Myths & Legends


Inuit: First Man, First Woman and Raven

From Puget Sound at the northern border of the United States all along the coast to Bering Strait, both Indians and Eskimo believe that the eagle, the raven, the goose, and perhaps any bird, can push up its beak making it the visor of a cap and thus become a man, and that by pulling it down he can become a bird again.

A tale of First Man, First Woman and Raven.
— Orly


In the time before there were any people on earth, a large pea-vine was growing on the beach, and in the pod of this pea the first man lay coiled up for four days. On the fifth day he stretched out his feet and that bursted the pod. He fell to the ground, where he stood up, a full-grown man.

He had never seen anything that looked like him, and he did not know what to make of himself. He looked around, and then at himself; then he moved his arms and hands and was surprised that he could do it. He moved his neck and his legs, and examined himself curiously.

Looking back, he saw the pod from which he had fallen still hanging to the vine, with a hole at the lower end out of which he had dropped. He went up and looked in through the hole to see if there were any more like him in the pod. Then he looked about him again, and saw that he was getting farther away from the place where he started, and that the ground seemed very soft and moved up and down under his feet.

After a while he had an unpleasant feeling in his stomach, and stooped down to take water in his mouth from a small pool at his feet. The water ran down into his stomach and he felt better. When he looked up again, he saw a big dark object coming through the air with a waving motion. It came on until it was 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 changed at once into a man. Before he raised his mask, the Raven had stared at the Man and now he stared more than ever, moving about from side to side to obtain a better view. At last he said:

"What are you? Where did you come from? I have never seen anything like you."

He looked again and said, "You are so much like me in shape that you surprise me."

Presently he said, "Walk away a few steps so that I may see you more clearly. I am astonished at you! I have never before seen anything like you. Where did you come from?"

"I came from the pea-pod," said Man pointing 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 out of it. Come with me to the high ground over there. This ground I made later and it is still soft and thin, but it is harder and thicker over there." They came to the higher ground which was firm under their feet.

"Have you eaten anything?" Raven asked Man.

"I took some soft stuff into me at one of the pools," replied Man.

"Ah! you drank water," said Raven. "Now wait for me here."

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. Pushing up his mask, Raven became a man again and held out two salmonberries and two heathberries.

"Here is what I made for you to eat. I 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 near by and left him till he went to the edge of the water and molded two pieces of clay into the form of a pair of mountain sheep. He held them in his hand till they were dry and then called Man to show him what he had done.

"Those are very pretty," said Man.

"Close your eyes for a little while," said Raven.

As soon as Man's eyes were closed Raven drew down his mask and waved his wings four times over the images, when they came to life and bounded away as full-grown mountain sheep.

Raven then raised his mask and said, "Look! Look quick!" When Man saw the sheep moving away full of life he cried out with pleasure. Seeing how pleased he was, Raven said, "If these animals are numerous, perhaps people will wish very much to get them."

"I think they will," said Man.

"Well, it will be better for them to have their home in the high cliffs," said Raven, "and there only shall they be found, so that everyone cannot kill them."

Then Raven made two animals of clay and gave them life when they were dry only in spots; [Pg 56]and they remained brown and white, and were the tame reindeer with mottled coats.

"Those are very handsome," exclaimed Man, admiring them.

"Yes, but there will not be many of these," said Raven.

Then he made a pair of wild reindeer and let them get dry only on their bellies before giving them life; and to this day the belly of the wild reindeer is the only white part about it.

"These animals will be very common and people will kill many of them," said Raven.



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

He went to a spot some distance from where he had made the animals, and, looking now and then at Man as an artist looks at his model, he made an image very much like Man. He took from the creek some fine water grass and fastened it on the back of the head for hair. After the image had dried in his hands, he waved his wings over it as he had done with all the live things, and it came to life and stood beside Man, a beautiful young woman.

"There is a companion for you!" cried Raven. "Now come with me to this knoll over here."

In those days there were no mountains far or near, and the sun never ceased to shine brightly. No rain ever fell and no winds blew. When they came to the knoll Raven found a patch of long, dry moss and showed the pair how to make a bed in it, and they slept very warmly. Raven drew down his mask and slept near by in the form of a bird. Wakening before the others, Raven went to the creek and made three pairs of fishes: sticklebacks, graylings, and blackfish. When they were swimming about in the water, he called to Man, "Come and see what I have made."

When Man saw the sticklebacks swimming up the stream with a wriggling motion, he was so surprised that he raised his hands suddenly and the fish darted away.

"Look at these graylings," said Raven; "they will be found in clear mountain streams, while the sticklebacks are already on their way to the sea. Both are good for food; so, whether you live beside the water or in the upland, you may find plenty to eat."

He looked about and thought there was nothing on the land as lively as the fish in the water, so he made the shrew-mice, for he said, "They will skip about and enliven the ground and prevent it from looking dead and barren, even if they are not good for food."

He kept on for several days making other animals, more fishes, and a few ground birds, for as yet there were no trees for birds to alight in. Every time he made anything he explained to Man what it was and what it would do.

After this he flew away to the sky and was gone four days, when he returned bringing a salmon for Man and his wife. He thought that the ponds and lakes seemed silent and lonely, so he made insects to fly over their surfaces, and muskrats and beavers to swim about near their borders. At that time the mosquito did not bite as it does now, and he said to Man:

"I made these flying creatures to enliven the world and make it cheerful. The skin of this muskrat you are to use for clothing. The beaver is very cunning and only good hunters can catch it. It will live in the streams and build strong houses, and you must follow its example and build a house."

When a child was born, Raven and Man took it to the creek and rubbed it with clay, and carried it back to the stopping-place on the knoll. The next morning the child was running about pulling up grass and other plants which Raven had caused to grow near by. On the third day the child became a full-grown man.

Raven one day went to the creek and made a bear, and gave it life; but he jumped aside very quickly when the bear stood up and looked fiercely about. He had thought there ought to be some animal of which Man would be afraid, and now he was almost afraid of the bear himself.

"You would better keep away from that animal," he said. "It is very fierce and will tear you to pieces if you disturb it."

He made various kinds of seals, and said to Man, "You are to eat these and to take their skins for clothing. Cut some of the skins into strips and make snares to catch deer. But you must not snare deer yet; wait until they are more numerous."

By and by another child was born, and the Man and Woman rubbed it with clay as Raven had taught them to do, and the next day the little girl walked about. On the third day she was a full-grown woman, for in those days people grew up very fast, so that the earth would be peopled.



Raven went back to the pea-vine and there he found that three other men had just fallen from the pod out of which the first one had dropped. These men, like the first, were looking about in wonder not knowing what to make of themselves and the world about them.

"Come with me," said Raven; and he led them away in an opposite direction from the one in which he had led the first Man, and brought them to solid land close to the sea. "Stop here, and I will teach you what to do and how to live," said he.

He caused some small trees and bushes to grow on the hillside and in the hollows, and he took a piece of wood from one of these, and a cord, and made a bow and showed them how to shoot game for food. Then he taught them to make a fire with a fire-drill. He made plants, and gulls, and loons, and other birds such as fly about on the seacoast.

Then he made three clay images somewhat resembling the men, and waved his wings over them and brought them to life, and led each one of these women to one of the men, and then led each pair to a dry bank, and had three families started on three hilltops.

"Go down to the shore," he said to the three men and the three women, "and bring up the logs that the tide has brought in, and I will show you how to make houses."

They brought the drift logs, and he showed them how to lay them up for walls, and how to make a roof of branches covered with earth. Seals had now become numerous, and he taught them how to capture them, and what use to make of their skins. He helped them to make arrows and spears, and nets to capture deer and fish, and other implements of the chase. He showed them how to make kayaks by stretching green hides over a framework of ribs, and letting the hides dry.

"I have not made as many birds and animals for you as I made for First Man and his wife, but I have made you so many more plants and trees that it isn't quite fair to him. I must go back and fix up his land a bit," said Raven.

So he went over to where First Man and his children were living, and told them all he had done for the three men who had come out of the pea-pod, and how well he had them fixed up.

"I must have you live as well as they do," he said. "Your land looks rather barren, and you have no houses."

That night while the people slept he caused birch, spruce, and cottonwood trees to spring up in the low places, and when the people awoke in the morning they clapped their hands in delight, for the birds were singing in the tree-tops and the green leaves with the sunlight flickering through them made it seem like a fairy land. And they were delighted with the shade of the trees in which they could sit and watch the quivering lights and shadows which the fluttering of the leaves made.

Then Raven taught these people how to build houses out of the trees and bushes, and how to make fire with a fire-drill, and to place the spark of tinder in a bunch of dry grass and wave it about until it blazed, and then put dry wood upon it. He showed them how to put a stick through their fish and hold it in the fire, till it was a thousand times more delicious than when raw. He took willow twigs and strips of willow bark, and made traps for catching fish; and, best of all, he taught them to look out for the future, by catching more salmon than they needed, when salmon were running, and drying them for use when they could catch none.

"Now you are pretty well fixed," he said one day; "it will take you some time to practice on all the things I have taught you; so I will go back and see how my coast men are coming on."



After Raven had gone, Man and his son went down to the sea to try some of the ways they had been taught. They made rather bad work of it, but the son caught a seal and held it. They tried to kill it with their hands, but couldn't do it until, finally, the son struck it a hard blow on the head with his fist. Then the father took off the skin with his hands alone, and tore it into strips which they dried. With these strips they set snares for reindeer.

When they went to look at the snare next morning, they found the cords bitten in two; for in those days the reindeer had sharp teeth like dogs. They stood looking at the ruined snare for a few minutes, and then the son said:

"Let us go farther down along the deer trail and dig a pit and set our snare just at the first edge of the pit, with a heavy stone fastened in it. Then when the deer puts his head in the snare  the stone will fall down into the pit and drag the deer's head down and hold it."

Next morning when they went to the woods and down the reindeer trail they found a deer entangled in the snare. Taking it out, they killed and skinned it, carrying the skin home for a bed.

The women cried, "Oh, let us hold some of the flesh in the fire as we did the fish!" And of course they found it good.

One day Man went out alone hunting seal along the seashore. There were many seals out of the water sunning themselves on the rocks. He crept up to them cautiously, but just as he thought he had his hands on them, one after another slipped into the water. Only one was left on the rocks. Now you will not wonder at what happened, if you remember that, although Man was full-grown, he was still quite young, for he had become a man so suddenly. Only one seal was left on the rocks, and Man was very hungry. He crept up to it more cautiously than before, but it slipped through his fingers and escaped.

Then Man stood up and his breast seemed full of a strange feeling, and 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 homeward.

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 about the seals, they were all stricken with the same ailment and began to wail with him,—and in this way people first learned to cry.

A while after this the son killed another seal and they made more reindeer snares from its hide. When the deer caught this time was brought home, Man told his people to take a splint bone from its foreleg and to drill a hole in the large end of it. Into this they put strands of sinew from the deer and sewed skins to keep their bodies warm when winter came, for Raven had told them to do this; and the fresh skins shaped themselves to their bodies and dried on them.

Man then showed his son how to make bows and arrows and to tip the arrows with points of horn for killing deer. With these the son shot his first deer, which was easier than snaring them. After he had cut up this deer, he placed its fat upon a bush and then fell asleep. When he awoke he was very angry to find that the mosquitoes had eaten all of it. Until this time mosquitoes had never bitten people; but Man scolded them for what they had done, and said: "Never eat our meat again; eat men," and since that day mosquitoes have always bitten people.

Where First Man lived there had now grown a large village, for the people did everything as Raven had directed, and as soon as a child was born it was rubbed with clay and thus grew to its full stature in three days.



One day Raven came back and, sitting beside Man, talked of many things as if they were brothers. After a little Man said, "I understand that you have made a land in the sky."

"Yes, I have a fine land there," answered Raven. "I made that land with all its people and animals, before I made this one."

"I wish you would take me to see it," said Man.

"Very well, I will do so," replied Raven.

They started toward the sky, where they arrived in a short time, and Man found himself in a beautiful country with a climate much better than that on earth; but the people who lived there were very small. When they stood beside Man, their heads reached only to his hips. As they walked along, Man looked about and saw many animals that were strange to him, and noticed that the country was much finer than the one he had left.

The people living there wore handsome fur garments nicely made and embroidered with ornamental patterns such as people on earth now wear. Man got the patterns, and when he came back to earth he showed his people how to make the handsome garments; and the patterns have been retained ever since.

After a time they came to a large house and went in. A very old man came from the place of honor opposite the door at the head of the room to welcome them.

"This is the first man I made in the sky land," said Raven, explaining why the man seemed so old.

The old man called to his people: "We have here a guest from the lower land, who is a friend of mine. Bring food to refresh him after his travels."

They brought boiled food of a more delicious kind than Man had ever tasted.

"That is the flesh of the spotted reindeer and the sheep that live in these mountains," said Raven. "When you have finished your meal we will go on to see other things that I have made. But you must not attempt to drink from any of the lakes we may pass, for in them are animals which would seize and kill anyone from the lower land."

On the way they came to a dry lake bed in which tall grass was growing very thickly, and lying on the very tips of the grass was a large animal, yet the grass did not bend with the weight. It was a strange-looking animal with a long head and six legs, the two hind ones unusually large; the forelegs short; and a small pair under its belly. The hair around the feet was very long, but all over the body there was fine, thick hair. From the back of the head grew short, thick horns which extended forward and curved back at the tips. The animal had small eyes, and was of darkish color, almost black.

"These animals can sink right into the ground and disappear," said Raven. "When the people want to kill one of them, they have to put a log under it so it cannot sink. It takes many people to kill one, for when the animal falls on the lower log, other logs must be placed above it and held down, while two men take large clubs and beat it between the eyes till it is dead."

Next they came to a round hole in the sky with a ring of short grass growing around the border and glowing like fire.

"This is a star called the Moon-dog," said Raven.

"The tops of the grass blades have been cut away or have burned off," said Man.

"Yes, my mother took some, and I took the rest to make the first fire down on earth," said Raven. "I have tried to make some of this same kind of grass on earth, but it will not grow there.

"Now close your eyes and get upon my wings and I will take you to another place," said Raven.

Man did as he was told, and they dropped through the flame-bordered star hole and floated down and down for a long time. They came to something that seemed denser than the air, and caused them to go more slowly, until they finally stopped.

"We are now standing on the bottom of the sea," said Raven. "I came down here to make some new kinds of water animals. Looking through the water must look like a fog to you, but you must not walk about; you must lie down, and if you become tired you may turn over upon the other side."

Raven then left Man lying on one side, where he rested for a long time. Finally he awoke feeling very tired, but when he tried to turn over, he could not.

"I wish I could turn over," he said to himself; and in a moment he turned very easily.

But as he did this, he was horrified to see that his body had become covered with long, white hairs, and that his fingers had become long, sharp claws. However, he was so drowsy that he soon fell asleep again. After a long time he awoke and again felt tired from lying so long in one position. He turned as before and fell asleep again for the third time. When he awoke the fourth time Raven stood beside him.

"I have changed you into a white bear," said Raven. "How do you like it?"

Man tried to answer but could not make a sound. Raven waved his magic wing over him and then he said:

"I do not wish to be a bear, for then I would have to live on the sea while my son would live on the shore, and I would be unhappy."

Raven made one stroke of his wings and the bearskin fell from Man and lay on one side, while he sat up in his human form, thankful that he did not have to spend the rest of his life as a polar bear.

Then Raven pulled a quill from his tail and put it into the empty bearskin for a backbone, and after he had waved his wings over it a white bear arose and walked slowly away; and ever since that time white bears have been found on the frozen seas.

"How many times did you turn over?" Raven asked.

"Four times," answered Man.

"That was four years. You slept there just four years," said Raven. "Come now and I will show you some of the animals I made while you slept.

"Here is one like the shrew-mouse of the land; but this one always lives on the ice of the sea, and whenever it sees a man it darts at him, entering the toe of his boot and crawling all over him. If the man keeps perfectly quiet, it will leave him unharmed. But if he is a coward, and lifts so much as a finger to brush it away, it instantly burrows into his flesh going directly to his heart and causing death.

"Here is another, a large leather-skinned animal with four long, wide-spreading arms. This is a fierce animal, living in the sea, which wraps its arms around a man or a kayak and pulls them into the water. If the man tries to escape by getting out of his kayak upon the ice and running away, it will dart underneath and break the ice under his feet. Or if he gets on the shore and runs, it burrows through the earth as easily as it swims through the water. No one can escape if once it pursues him."

"Why did you make such an animal?" asked Man.

"This is like man's own misdeeds, from which he cannot escape," replied Raven.

Raven then showed Man several other animals: one somewhat like an alligator, another with a long scaly tail with which it could kill a man at one stroke; some walruses, and otter, and many kinds of fish. They finally came to a place where the shore rose before them, and the ripples on the surface of the water could be seen.

"Close your eyes and hold fast to me," said Raven.

As soon as he had done this, Man found himself standing on the shore near his home, and was very much astonished to see a large village where he had left only a few huts. His wife had become an old woman and his son was an old man. The people saw him and welcomed him back, making him their Headman, and giving him the place of honor in their gatherings. He told them all he had seen and heard since he left them, and taught the young men many things about the sea animals.



People were becoming such good hunters that they killed a great many animals, more than Raven was willing to have killed, lest the animals become too few for the large number of people now on earth. For this reason, Raven took a grass basket and tied a long line to it and, going down to earth, caught ten reindeer which he took up to the skyland. The next night he let the reindeer down near one of the villages and told them to run fast and break down the first house they came to, and destroy the people in it.

The reindeer did so and ate up the people with their sharp, wolf-like teeth; then they returned to the sky. The next night they came down again and destroyed another house and ate up the people.

"What shall we do?" cried the people to one another. "They will destroy all of us if they keep on coming."

"I know what I am going to do," said the man who lived in the third house. "They will come to my house the next time, and I'm going to cover it with deer fat and stick sour berries all over in the fat."

When the reindeer came the third night, they got their teeth full of fat and sour berries, and ran off shaking their heads so hard that their long, sharp teeth fell out. Afterward small teeth, such as reindeer now have, came in their places, and these animals became harmless.

But Raven had not accomplished his purpose, for only two families had been destroyed, and there were still too many inhabitants left. He said, "If something isn't done to stop people from killing so many animals, they will keep on until they have killed everything I have made. I believe I will take away the sun from them, so that they will be in the dark and will die."

He took Man up to the sky with him, so that he would be safe from the trouble to come. Then he said, "You remain here while I go and take away the sun."

He went away and took the sun, and put it into his skin bag, and carried it far off to a part of the skyland where his parents lived, thus making it very dark on earth. There in his father's village he stayed for a long time, keeping the sun carefully hidden in the bag.

The people on earth were terribly distressed when it remained dark so long. They prayed to Raven and offered him rich presents of food and furs, but he wouldn't bring back the sun. They kept on begging him, saying at last: "We have crept around in the darkness finding our storehouses and getting the meat, till now it is almost gone, and we are likely to starve. Let us have light for a little time at least, so we may get more food."

So Raven yielded a trifle and held up the sun in one hand for two days while all the people went hunting; then he put it back and darkness returned. Another long time would pass and the people would make many offerings before he would let them have light again. This was repeated many times.

In this same sky village with Raven and his parents lived an older brother of Raven who thought the punishment of men was being carried too far. This brother felt sorry for the people on earth, but he didn't say a word about it to anyone. He thought out a plan which he kept to himself.

After a time he pretended to die, and was put [Pg 79]away in a grave box in the customary manner. As soon as the mourners left his grave, he arose and went out a short distance from the village, where he hid his raven mask and coat in a tree. Then he turned himself into a young boy and went back to his father's house, where he skipped about in a lively manner, and amused the parents so much that the father at last became very fond of him.

When he had gotten them in the habit of indulging him, he began to cry for the sun as a plaything. He kept this up until the father went to the bag and took out the sun and let him have it for a while, being careful to see that it went back into the bag when anyone was coming, or when the boy was going out of doors.

One day the boy played with it for a time in the house, all the while watching his chance, and when no one was looking, he ran outside, fled to the tree where he put on his raven coat and mask and flew away with it. When he was far up in the sky, he heard his father's voice, sounding faint and far below, saying:

"Don't hide the sun. If you will not bring it back, let it out of the bag sometimes. Don't keep us always in the dark, if you mean to keep the sun for yourself."

The father went into the house, and the Raven boy flew on to the place where the sun belonged, and put the bag down. It was early dawn and he saw the Milky Way leading far onward, and followed it to a hole surrounded by short grass which glowed with light. He plucked some of the grass and, standing close beside the edge of the earth just before sunrise time, he stuck it into the sky. It has stayed there ever since as the beautiful Morning Star.

Then he went back and tore off the skin covering and put the sun in its place. Remembering that his father had called to him not to keep it always dark, but to make it partly dark and partly light, he caused the sky to revolve so that it moved around the earth carrying the sun and stars with it, and making day and night.

Going down to earth he came to where the first people lived, and said to them, "Raven, my uncle, was angry because you killed more animals than you needed, and he took away the sun; but I have put it back and it will never be changed again."

The people welcomed him warmly when they knew what he had done for them. As he looked around upon them he recognized the Headman of the sky-dwarfs.

"Why, what are you doing down here?" he asked.

"I and some of my people thought we would like a change, and so we came down to live on earth for a while," replied the dwarf.

"What has become of Man?"

"Who is Man? I never heard of him," said Raven boy.

"He was the first person ever seen on earth. He was our Headman until he went away with Raven," said the people.

"I will go into the skyland and find him," said Raven boy. He tried to fly, but could get up only a little way. He tried several times, getting only a short distance above the ground. When he found that he could not get back to the sky, he wandered off and finally came to where there were living the children of the three men who last dropped from the pea-vine. There he took a wife and lived for a long time having many children, all of whom were Raven people like himself and could fly over the earth. But they gradually lost their magical powers, and were no longer able to turn themselves into men by pushing up their beaks. They became just ordinary ravens like those we see now on the tundras or marshy plains.



Source:  C.K.B. [Alaska]

Culture:  Inuit ("Eskimo")

Language Group:  The two main peoples known as "Eskimo" are: (1) the Alaskan Iñupiat peoples, Greenlandic Inuit, and the mass-grouping Inuit peoples of Canada, and (2) the Yupik of eastern Siberia and Alaska. The Yupik comprise speakers of four distinct Yupik languages: one used in the Russian Far East and the others among people of Western Alaska, Southcentral Alaska and along the Gulf of Alaska coast. A third northern group, the Aleut, is closely related to the Eskimo. They share a relatively recent common ancestor, and a language group (Eskimo-Aleut).

Inuit: Chunks of Daylight

Blackfoot: Scarface

Blackfoot: Scarface