Native American Legends
In the beginning
An Ojibwa Legend
In the beginning there was nothing but soft darkness, and Raven
beat and beat with his wings until the darkness packed itself down
into solid earth. Then there was only the icy black ocean and a
narrow strip of shoreline. But people came soon to live along the
coast. And Raven felt sorry for them, poor, sickly things, who never
had any sunshine. They lived by chewing on nuts and leaves, and
crushed the roots of the alder trees for something to drink.
"I must help them," thought Raven; and he flew down to
Earth, calling, "Ga, ga, ga!" and gathered the people
together. Like ghosts, they were, shadowy and pale in the misty
"Raven has come!" they told each other. "It is Raven-Who-Sets-
The poor things were encouraged, and they gathered round to see
what he would do.
Raven plucked a branch from an alder, and scattered the leaves
on the surface of a pool. At once the leaves were sucked under,
and the water started to bubble. After the pool had boiled for a
moment, the surface cleared and fish began to jump there. So that
was how Raven gave the people fish.
But now that they had fish to eat, they were thirstier than ever.
They called on Raven, and down he came, and the people said, "Here
is Raven-Who-Sets- Things-Right."
Raven knew that there was only one spring of fresh water in all
the world. A man named Ganook had built his house around it, and
refused to give any away.
"Maybe," thought Raven, "I can drink enough to carry
some back to the people."
So he went to the house and asked to come in, and Ganook was very
glad to have his company. Raven sat down and made polite conversation,
and pretty soon he asked for a drink of water.
"Very well," said Ganook grudgingly, and showed him the
spring, a crystal pool welling up in a basin of rock.
"Don't drink it all!" Ganook warned him. "You know
that's the only fresh water in all the world."
Raven knew it well; that was what he had come for. But he said,
"Just a sip!" and drank until he staggered.
"Hold on there, Raven!" cried Ganook. "Are you trying
to drink the well dry?"
That was just what Raven was trying to do, but he passed it off
lightly. He made himself comfortable close to the fire and said,
"Ganook, let me tell you a story."
Then Raven started out on a long dull story about four dull brothers
who went on a long dull journey. As he went along he made up dull
things to add to it, and Ganook's eyelids drooped, and Raven spoke
softly, and more and more slowly, and Ganook's chin dropped on his
"So then," said Raven gently, with his eyes on Ganook,
"on and on through the long gray valley through the soft gray
fog went the four tall gray brothers. And now, snore!" And
Ganook began to snore.
Quick as a thought, Raven darted to the spring and stuck his beak
into the water. But no sooner had he lifted his head to swallow
than Ganook started up with a terrible snort, and said, "Go
on, go on, I'm listening! I'm not asleep." Then he shook his
head and blinked his eyes and said, "Where are you, Raven?
What are you doing?"
"Just walking around for exercise," Raven assured him,
and back he went, and in a low, unchanging voice he went on with
the dull story of the four brothers. No sooner had he started than
Ganook began to nod, and his chin dropped down, and he jerked it
back and opened his eyes and scowled at Raven, and nodded his head
and said, "Go on! What next?" and his head dropped down
upon his chest.
"So on and on," said Raven slowly, "over the hills,
went the four tall gray brothers. The air was thick and gray around
them. Fog was stealing softly over the mountains. Fog before them,
fog behind them, soft, cloudy fog. And now, snore!" And Ganook
began to snore.
Quietly Raven slipped to the spring, and, glub, glub, glub, he
drank up the water until the pool was dry. But as he lifted his
head for a last long gulp, Ganook leaped up and saw what he was
"So, Raven!" shouted Ganook. "You think you can
lull me to sleep and steal my water!"
He picked up his club and started to chase Raven round and round
the fire. Raven would run a few steps and flap his big wings and
rise a few inches off the floor. Then with a last tremendous flap
he went sailing towards the open smoke hole. But he had swallowed
so much water that he stuck fast in the opening, and there he struggled,
while Ganook shouted, "You squint-eyed Raven, I've got you
now, Raven! You miserable thief!" And Ganook threw green alder
logs on the fire and made a great smoke which came billowing up
and almost choked Raven to death.
Raven hung there, strangling and struggling, until at last he pulled
free with a mighty wrench and went wobbling heavily across the sky.
He was so heavy he flew in a crooked line, and as he flew he spurted
little streams of water from his bill. These became rivers, first
the Nass and the Sitka, then the Taku and the Iskut and the Stikine.
Since Raven flew in a crooked line, all the rivers are crooked as
snakes. Here and there he scattered single drops, and these became
narrow creeks and salmon pools.
And so Raven brought fresh water to the people but he bore the
mark of that smoke hole ever after. He had gone to Ganook as a great,
white, snowy creature, but from that day on, Raven was black, as
black as the endless sky of the endless night.
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