Myths & Legends


Inuit: Raven

Raven is an important figure amongst written and verbal stories of the northwest and the Inuit. His tales are passed down through the generations of story tellers of the people and are particularly importance in terms of spirituality.
— Orly






One day Raven was sitting on a cliff near the sea when he saw a large whale passing close along the shore.

"I have an idea!" said he. "I'm going to try something new." Then he called out to the whale, "When you come up again, shut your eyes and open your mouth wide, and I'll put something in it."

Then he drew down his mask, put his drill for making fire under his wing, and flew out over the water. Very soon the whale came up again and did as he had been told. Raven, seeing the wide open mouth, flew straight down the whale's throat. The whale closed his mouth, gave a great gulp, and down he went to the bottom of the sea.

Raven stood up, pushed up his beak, and looking about, found himself at the entrance to a fine room, at one end of which burned a lamp. He went in and was surprised to see a beautiful young woman sitting there. The place was clean and dry, the roof being supported by the whale's spine, while its ribs formed the walls. The lamp was supplied from a tube that extended along the whale's backbone, from which oil constantly but slowly dripped into the lamp.

When Raven stepped in, the woman started up in alarm and cried out, "How came you here? You are the first man who ever came into my house."

"I came in through the whale's throat," said Raven as politely as he knew how, for the woman was young and fair to look upon. Moreover, he had already guessed that she was the inua or spirit of the whale. "I should like to stay a while."

"As you cannot get out at present, it seems that you will have to stay. Whether you like it, or whether I like it, you appear to be my guest, so I must prepare food for you."

She brought food which she served with berries and oil. "These are berries which I gathered last summer," she said.

For four days he remained there as the guest of the whale's spirit, and found it a very pleasant experience; but he continually wondered what the tube was that ran along the roof of the house. Whenever the spirit woman left the room she said, "You must on no account touch that tube," and that only served to make him the more curious.

On the fifth day, when she left the room, he went to the lamp and caught a drop of the oil which he licked up with his tongue. It tasted so sweet that he began to catch other drops as fast as they fell. This soon became too slow to suit him, for he was hungry, so he reached up and tore a piece from the side of the tube and ate it. As soon as this was done a great rush of oil poured into the room and put out the light, while the room itself began to roll wildly about.

This continued for four days, and Raven was nearly dead from exhaustion and the bruises which he received. Then the room became still and the whale was dead, for Raven had torn off part of one of the heart vessels. The inua never came back to the room, and the whale drifted upon the shore.

Raven now found himself a prisoner and was saying to himself, "Now I am in a pretty boat! I have enjoyed the trip, but how is one to get out of a kayak like this?"

Presently he said, "Hark! What is that I hear? As I live, it is someone walking on the roof of the house!"

And he was right, for two men were walking on top of the dead whale and calling to their village mates to come and help cut it up. Very soon there were many people at work cutting a hole through the upper side of the whale's body.

Raven quickly pulled down his mask, becoming a bird, and crouched close in the farthest corner. When the hole was large enough, he watched his chance and while everybody was carrying a load of meat to the shore, he flew out and alighted on the top of a hill close by without being noticed.

"Ah, my good fire-drill; I have forgotten it," he exclaimed, remembering that he had left it behind.

He quickly pushed up his beak and removed his raven coat, becoming a young man again. He started along the shore toward the whale. The people working on the dead animal saw a small, dark-colored man in a strangely made deerskin coat coming toward them, and they looked at him curiously.

"Ho, you have found a fine, large whale," said he as he drew near. "I will help you to cut him up."

He rolled up his sleeves and set to work. Very soon a man cutting on the inside of the whale's body called out, "Ah, see what I have found! A fire-drill inside a whale!"

At once the wily Raven rolled down his sleeves and quit work, saying, "That is a bad sign, for my daughter has told me that if a fire-drill is found in a whale and people try to cut up that whale, many of them will die. I shall run away before the inua of the whale catches me." And away he ran.

When he was gone the people looked at one another and said, "Perhaps he is right; we'd better go too." And away they all ran, each one trying to rub the oil from his hands as he went.

From his hiding-place Raven looked on and laughed as he saw the people running away. Then he went back for his raven coat and when he had put it on and pulled down his beak he flew to the carcass and began to cut it up and fly with chunks of the flesh to a cave on the shore. He did not dare go to it as a man lest the villagers should see him and, discovering the trick he had played them, should come back for the meat. As he chuckled over the feast in store for him he said, "Thanks, Ghost of the whale, both for the boat ride and for the feast."



Once when a Raven was flying over some reefs near the shore of the sea, he was seen by some Sea-birds that were perched on the rocks. They began to revile him, calling him disagreeable names: "Oh, you offal eater! Oh, you carrion eater! Oh, you black one!" until the Raven turned and flew away, crying, "Gnak, gnak, gnak! why do they call me such names?"

He flew far away across the great water until he came to a mountain on the other side, where he stopped. Just in front of him he saw a marmot hole. He said to himself, "If it is a disgrace to eat dead animals I will eat only live ones. I will become a murderer."

He stood in front of the hole watching, and very soon the marmot came home, bringing some food. Marmot said to Raven, "Please stand aside; you are right in front of my door."

"It is not my intention to stand aside," said Raven. "They called me a carrion eater, and I will show that I am not, for I will eat you."

"If you are going to eat me, you ought to be willing to do me a favor," replied Marmot. "I have heard that you are a very fine dancer, and I long to see you dance before I die. If you dance as beautifully as they say, I shall be willing to die when once I have seen it. If you will dance I will sing, and then you may eat me."

This pleased Raven so much that he began to dance and Marmot pretended to go into ecstasies about it.

"Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!" he sang. "Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!"

By and by they stopped to rest and Marmot said, "I am very much delighted with your dancing. Do shut your eyes and dance your best just once more, while I sing."

Raven closed his eyes and hopped clumsily about while Marmot sang, "Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a graceful dancer! Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a fool you are!" And with a quick run, Marmot darted between Raven's legs and was safe in his hole.

There he turned, putting out the tip of his nose and laughing mockingly as he said, "Chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik! You are the greatest fool I ever met. What a ridiculous figure you made while dancing; I could scarcely sing for laughing. Look at me, and see how fat I am. Don't you wish you could eat me?"

And he tormented Raven till the latter flew away in a rage.



For a long time Raven lived alone, but finally became tired of it and decided to take a wife. It was late in the fall and he noticed that the birds were going south in large flocks. He flew away and stopped directly in the path taken by geese and other wild fowl on their way to the land of summer.

As he sat there he saw a pretty young goose coming near. He hid his face by looking at his feet, so that she would not know but that he was a black goose, and called out, "Who wishes me for a husband? I am a very nice person."

The goose flew on without heeding him and he looked after her and sighed. Soon after a black brant passed, and Raven cried out as before, but the brant flew on. Again he waited and this time a duck passed near, and when Raven cried out she turned her head a little.

"Oh, I shall succeed this time," thought Raven, and his heart beat fast with hope. But the duck passed on, and Raven stood waiting with bowed head.

Very soon a family of white-front geese came along, consisting of the parents with four sons and a sister. Raven cried out, "Who wishes me for a husband? I am a fine hunter and am young and handsome."

As he finished speaking they alighted just beyond him, and he thought, "Surely, now I shall get a wife." He looked about and found a pretty white stone with a hole in it lying near. He picked it up and, stringing it on a long grass stem, hung it about his neck.

As soon as he had done this he pushed up his bill so that it slid to the top of his head like a mask, and he became a dark-colored young man. At the same time each of the geese pushed up its bill in the same manner, and they became nice-looking people.

Raven walked toward them, and was much pleased with the looks of the girl and, going to her, gave her the stone which she hung about her neck. By doing this she showed that she accepted him for her husband. Then they all pulled down their bills, becoming birds again, and flew away toward the south.

The geese flapped their wings heavily and worked along slowly, while Raven on his outspread wings glided along faster than his party, and the geese gazed after him in admiration, exclaiming, "How light and graceful he is!" and the little bride was very proud of her fine husband.

But Raven was not accustomed to the long, all-day flights of the geese, and he became tired.

"We would better stop early and look for a good place to spend the night," he said. The others agreed to this, so they stopped and were soon asleep.

Early the next morning the geese were astir, but Raven slept so heavily that the father goose had to shake him and say, "Wake up! Wake up! We must make haste for it will snow here soon; we must not linger."

As soon as Raven was fully awake he pretended to be eager to get away, and, as on the day before, he led all the others with his wide-spread wings, and was greatly admired by the others, especially by his young wife. He kept on, above or in front of his companions, and his bride would often say, "See how gracefully he skims along without having to flop heavy wings as we do," and she gave her brothers a side glance which made them feel that she was contrasting their clumsiness with his ease. After that tactless remark, the four brothers-in-law began to feel envious of Raven.

They stopped one evening on the seashore, where they feasted upon the berries which were plentiful there, and then they settled down for the night and fell asleep. In the morning the geese were making ready to start without waiting for breakfast, and Raven's stomach cried out for more of the berries. But father goose said they could not wait, and he dared not object to starting. The brothers-in-law had secretly urged the father not to wait, for they said, "Our sister needs to have some of the conceit about that husband of hers taken out of her; and so does he."

Raven dreaded the long flight across the sea, for he heard father goose say, "We will make only one stop in crossing this water. There is an island in the center of it, and there we will rest for a short time and then go on to the farther shore."

Raven was ashamed to say that he feared he could never reach that farther shore, so he determined to keep still and risk it; and off they all flew.

The geese kept steadily on and on. After a long time Raven began to fall behind. His wide-spread wings ached, yet the geese kept steadily and untiringly on. His vanity was no longer gratified by admiring remarks from his companions, for he was flapping heavily along. Sometimes he would glide on outspread pinions for a time, hoping to ease his tired wings, but he fell farther and farther behind.

Finally the geese looked back and the brothers said, sarcastically, "We thought he was light and active." The father goose said, "He must be getting tired. We must not press him too hard. We will rest."

The geese sank upon the water close together, and Raven came laboring up and dropped upon their backs, gasping for breath. In a short time he partially recovered and, putting one hand on his breast, said, "I have an arrow-head here from an old war I was in, and it pains me greatly; that is the reason I fell behind."

He had his wife put her hand on his breast to feel the arrow-head which he declared was working its way into his heart. She could feel nothing but his heart beating like a trip-hammer with no sign of an arrow-point. But she said nothing, for her brothers were whispering, "We don't believe that story about the arrow-point! How could he live with an arrow in his heart?"

They rested two or three times more, he sinking upon their backs as before; but when they saw the far-off shore before them father goose said, "We can wait for you no more," for they were eager to reach the land and find food.

They all arose and flew on, Raven slowly flapping along behind, for his wings felt heavy. The geese kept steadily on toward the shore, while he sank lower and lower, getting nearer to the dreaded water. When the waves were almost touching him he shrieked to his wife:

"Leave me the white stone; it has magical powers. Throw me the white stone."

Thus he kept crying until suddenly his wings lost their power and he floated helplessly on the water as the geese gained the shore. He tried to rise from the water but his wings seemed to be weighted down, and he drifted back and forth along the beach. The waves arose and one whitecap after another broke over him till he was soaked, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he could get his beak above the surface to breathe a little between the billows.

After a long time a great wave cast him upon the land, and as it flowed back he dug his claws into the sand to save himself from being dragged back into the sea. As soon as he was able he struggled up the beach, an unhappy looking object. The water ran in streams from his soaked feathers and his wings dragged on the ground. He fell several times, and at last, with wide-gaping mouth, he reached some bushes. As soon as he could get his breath he took off his raven coat and pushed up his beak, becoming a small, dark-colored man.

"From this time on, forevermore I'm done with being a goose," he declared.



Source:  C.K.B. [1]

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).

Ojibwe: Bokwewa The Humpback

Inuit: The Red Bear