Native American Legends
The theft of light
A Tsimshian Legend
Giant flew inland (toward the east). He went on for a long time,
and finally he was very tired, so he dropped down on the sea the
little round stone which his father had given to him. It became
a large rock way out at sea.
Giant rested on it and refreshed himself, and took off the raven
At that time there was always darkness. There was no daylight then.
Again Giant put on the raven skin and flew toward the east. Now,
Giant reached the mainland and arrived at the mouth of Skeena River.
There he stopped and scattered the salmon roe and trout roe. He
said while he was scattering them, "Let every river and creek
have all kinds of fish!"
Then he took the dried sea-lion bladder and scattered the fruits
all over the land, saying, "Let every mountain, hill, valley,
plain, the whole land, be full of fruits!"
The whole world was still covered with darkness. When the sky was
clear, the people would have a little light from the stars; and
when clouds were in the sky, it was very dark all over the land.
The people were distressed by this. Then Giant thought that it would
be hard for him to obtain his food if it were always dark. He remembered
that there was light in heaven, whence he had come. Then he made
up his mind to bring down the light to our world.
On the following day Giant put on his raven skin, which his father
the chief had given to him, and flew upward. Finally he found the
hole in the sky, and he flew through it. Giant reached the inside
of the sky. He took off the raven skin and put it down near the
hole of the sky. He went on, and came to a spring near the house
of the chief of heaven. There he sat down and waited.
Then the chief's daughter came out, carrying a small bucket in
which she was about to fetch water. She went down to the big spring
in front of her father's house. When Giant saw her coming along,
he transformed himself into the leaf of a cedar and floated on the
water. The chief's daughter dipped it up in her bucket and drank
it. Then she returned to her father's house and entered.
After a short time she was with child, and not long after she gave
birth to a boy. Then the chief and the chieftainess were very glad.
They washed the boy regularly. He began to grow up. Now he was beginning
to creep about. They washed him often, and the chief smoothed and
cleaned the floor of the house. Now the child was strong and crept
about every day.
He began to cry, "Hama, hama!" He was crying all the
time, and the great chief was troubled, and called in some of his
slaves to carry about the boy. The slaves did so, but he would not
sleep for several nights. He kept on crying, "Hama, hama!"
Therefore the chief invited all his wise men, and said to them that
he did not know what the boy wanted and why he was crying. He wanted
the box that was hanging in the chief's house.
This box, in which the daylight was kept, was hanging in one corner
of the house. Its name was Maa. Giant had known it before he descended
to our world. The child cried for it. The chief was annoyed, and
the wise men listened to what the chief told them. When the wise
men heard the child crying aloud, they did not know what he was
saying. He was crying all the time, "Hama, hama, hama!"
One of the wise men, who understood him, said to the chief, "He
is crying for the maa." Therefore the chief ordered it to be
taken down. The man put it down. They put it down near the fire,
and the boy sat down near it and ceased crying. He stopped crying,
for he was glad. Then he rolled the ma about inside the house. He
did so for four days. Sometimes he would carry it to the door. Now
the great chief did not think of it.
He had quite forgotten it. Then the boy really took up the ma,
put it on his shoulders, and ran out with it. While he was running,
some one said, "Giant is running away with the maa!" He
ran away, and the hosts of heaven pursued him. They shouted that
Giant was running away with the ma. He came to the hole of the sky,
put on the skin of the raven, and flew down, carrying the maa. Then
the hosts of heaven returned to their houses, and he flew down with
it to our world.
At that time the world was still dark. He arrived farther up the
river, and went down river. Giant had come down near the mouth of
Nass River. He went to the mouth of Nass River. It was always dark,
and he carried the ma about with him. He went on, and went up the
river in the dark. A little farther up he heard the noise of the
people, who were catching olachen in bag nets in their canoes.
There was much noise out on the river, because they were working
hard. Giant, who was sitting on the shore, said, "Throw ashore
one of the things that you are catching, my dear people!" After
a while, Giant said again, "Throw ashore one of the things
you are catching!" Then those on the water scolded him. "Where
did you come from, great liar, whom they call Txä'msem?"
The (animal) people knew that it was Giant.
Therefore they made fun of him. Then Giant said again, "Throw
ashore one of the things that you are catching, or I shall break
the maa!" and all those who were on the water answered, "Where
did you get what you are talking about, you liar?" Giant said
once more, "Throw ashore one of the things that you are catching,
my dear people, or I shall break the maa for you!" One person
replied, scolding him.
Giant had repeated his request four times, but those on the water
refused what he had asked for. Therefore Giant broke the ma. It
broke, and it was daylight. The north wind began to blow hard; and
all the fisherman, the Frogs, were driven away by the north wind.
All the Frogs who had made fun of Giant were driven away down river
until they arrived at one of the large mountainous islands.
Here the Frogs tried to climb up the rock; but they stuck to the
rock, being frozen by the north wind, and became stone. They are
still on the rock. The fishing frogs named him Txä'msem, and
all the world had the daylight.
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