Native American Legends
Raven and his Grandmother
An Aleut Legend
In her barrabara (a native home) at the end of a large village,
lived an old grandmother with her grandson, a raven. The two lived
apart from the other villagers because they were disliked. When
the men returned from fishing for cod, the raven would come and
beg for food, but they would never give him any of their catch.
But when all had left the beach, the raven would come and pick up
any leftover refuse, even sick fish. On these, raven and his grandmother
One winter was extremely cold. Hunting was impossible; food became
so scarce the villages neared starvation. Even their chief had but
little left. So the chief called all his people together and urged
them to use every effort to obtain food enough for all, or they
The chief then announced that he wished for his son to take a bride
and she would be selected from the girls of the village. All the
girls responded to the excitement of the occasion and dressed in
their very best costumes and jewelry.
For a short time hunger was forgotten as the girls lined up for
the contest and were judged by the critical eye of their chief,
who selected the fairest of the fair for his son's bride. A feast
was given by the chief following their marriage ceremony. But soon
after hunger began again.
The raven perched on a pole outside his barrabara, observing and
listening attentively to all that had happened. After the feast,
he flew home and said to his grandmother, "I, too, want to
marry." She made no reply, so he went about his work, gathering
what food he could for his little home. Each day he flew to the
beach and found dead fish or birds. He always gathered more than
enough for two people. While he was in the village, he noted that
the famine seemed worse. So he asked the chief, "What will
you give me, if I bring you food?"
The chief looked at him in great surprise and said, "You shall
have my oldest daughter for your wife." Nothing could have
pleased raven more. He flew away in a joyful mood and said to his
grandmother, "Let's clean out the barrabara. Make everything
clean for my bride. I am going to give the chief some food, and
he has promised to give me his oldest daughter."
"Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! You are going to marry? Our barrabara is too
small and too dirty. Where will you put your wife?"
"Caw! Caw! Caw! Never mind. Do as I say," he screamed
at his grandmother, and began pecking her to hurry.
Early next morning raven flew away, and later in the day returned
with a bundle of yukelah (dried salmon) in his talons. "Come
with me to the chief's house, grandmother," he called to her.
Raven handed the fish to the chief and received the chief's oldest
daughter for his bride.
Raven preceded his grandmother as she brought the bride to their
little home. He cleared out the barrabara of old straw and bedding
When the two women arrived, they found the little home empty, and
the grandmother began to scold him and said, "What are you
doing? Why are you throwing out everything."
"I am cleaning house, as you can see," raven curtly said.
When night came, raven spread wide one wing, and asked his bride
to lie on it, and then covered her with the other wing. She spent
a miserable night, as raven's fish odor nearly smothered her. So
she determined she would leave in the morning.
But by morning, she decided to stay and try to become accustomed
to him. During the day she was cheerless and worried. When raven
offered her food, she would not eat it. On the second night, raven
invited her to lay her head on his chest and seek rest in his arms.
Only after much persuasion did she comply with his wish. The second
night was no better for her, so early the next morning she stole
away from him and went back to her father's house, telling him everything.
Upon waking and finding his wife gone, raven inquired of his grandmother
what she knew of his wife's whereabouts. She assured raven that
she knew nothing. "Go then to the chief and bring her back
to me," called raven. Grandmother feared him and left to do
his bidding. When she came to the chief's house, she was pushed
out of the door. This she promptly reported to her grandson.
The summer passed warm and pleasant, but a hard winter and another
famine followed. As in the previous winter, the grandmother and
the raven had plenty of food and wood, while others suffered greatly
from lack of food. Raven's thoughts again turned to marriage. This
time she was a young and beautiful girl who lived at the other end
of the village. He told his grandmother about her and that he wanted
to marry her. He asked, "Grandmother, will you go and bring
the girl here, and I will marry her."
"Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! And you are going to marry her? Your first
wife could not live with you because you smell strong. The girls
do not wish to marry you.
"Caw! Caw! Caw! Never mind my smell! Never mind my smell!
Go--do as I say."
To impress his commands and secure her obedience, he started pecking
at her until she was glad to go. While his grandmother was gone,
raven became restless and anxious. He hopped about the barrabara
and nearby hillocks, straining his eyes for a sight of his expected
Hurriedly he began cleaning out the barrabara, throwing out old
straw, bedding, baskets, and all. The grandmother upon her return
scolded raven, but he paid no attention to her.
The young bride, like her predecessor, was enfolded tightly in
his wings, and likewise she had a wretched and sleepless night.
But she was determined to endure his odor if possible. She thought
at least with him she would have plenty of food to eat. The second
night was as bad as the first, but she stayed on and secretly concluded
she would do her best to stay until spring.
On the third day the raven, seeing that his wife was still with
him, said, "Grandmother, tomorrow I will go and get a big,
fat whale. While I am gone, make a belt and a pair of torbarsars
(native shoes) for my wife."
"Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! How will you bring a big, fat whale? The hunters
cannot kill one, how will you do it?"
"Caw! Caw! Caw! Be quiet and do what I tell you: make the
belt and torbarsars while I go and get the whale," he angrily
exclaimed, using his most effective method of silencing her.
Before dawn next morning the raven flew away to sea. In his absence
the old woman was busily engaged making the things for the young
bride, who watched and talked to her. About midday, they saw raven
flying toward shore, carrying a whale.
The grandmother started a big fire, and the young woman tucked
up her parka (native dress), belted it with her new belt, put on
the new torbarsars, sharpened the stone knife, and went to the beach
to meet her husband. As he drew near he called, "Grandmother,
go into the village and tell all the people that I have brought
home a big, fat whale."
She ran as hard as she could and told the joyful news. The half-
dead people suddenly became alive. Some sharpened their knives,
others dressed in their best clothes. But most of them just ran
as they were and with such knives as they had with them to the beach
to see the whale.
His sudden importance was not lost on the raven, who hopped up
and down the whale's back, viewing the scene of carnage, as the
people gorged themselves on the whale.
Every few moments raven would take a pebble out of his bag, then
after some thought put it back. When the chief and his relatives
came near, raven drove them away. They had to be content just watching
the people enjoy their feasting, and carrying off blubber to their
homes. Later, in the village, the people did share with the chief.
The raven's first wife, the chief's daughter, had a son by him,
a little raven. She had it in her arms at the beach and walked in
front of raven, where he could notice her. "Here is your child,
look at it," she called. But he ignored her. She called to
him several times and continued to show him the baby. At last he
said, "Come closer--nearer still." But when she could
not stand his odor any longer, she left him without a word.
Death occurred as a result of the feast. Many of the people ate
so much fat on the spot that they died soon after. The rest of the
people had eaten so much and filled their barrabaras so full, that
during the night they all suffocated. Of the entire village, only
three were left--the raven, his new wife, and the grandmother. There
they lived on as their descendants do to this day.
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