The Raven Story

Background Information

Raven and Creation Stories

For thousands of years, people all over the world have told stories to pass down the history, culture, and morals of their society to each new generation. One type of traditional story is the creation, or origin, story. Creation stories, also called "creation myths," describe the origin and nature of the universe, and often convey particular belief systems or values.

Native American creation myths are connected to the natural world and often include animals that act as creators and spiritual guides. The animals in these stories are not animals as we might think of them; they often possess human abilities, such as speaking and thinking, as well as magical powers. Animals such as the coyote, bear, and raven often appear in the creation stories of different tribes.

The Raven stories are told by the Tlingit, as well as by other peoples along the northwest coast of the U.S. and Canada. The Raven character is revered as the creator of the world, but is also a tricky being who likes to cause trouble for humans. However, Raven's actions often result in a benefit to mankind. Such is the case in the story of "How Raven Gave Light to the World." Although Raven wants to steal the contents of the boxes that hold the stars, Moon, and Sun for himself, the people ultimately benefit from his trick when the light is released into the sky.

Many people have retold this and other Raven stories, as well as other creation stories. The Tlingit view these creation stories as public property that may be told by all knowledgeable performers. There are other traditional stories that are the property of a particular clan. (There were traditionally about 50 Tlingit clans.) The stories can only be told by their owner or by someone who has permission from the rightful owner. The owners often tell their stories at "potlatches"—ceremonial feasts that mark significant family events and establish the host's position in society. Because the stories serve to validate the societal position and privileges of a clan, not honoring the owner's exclusive right to the story is a failure to respect those privileges.

To learn more about narratives and to see an example of a modern performance of a narrative, check out the Performing "The Walrus Hunt" Learning Center.

To learn more about how stories are passed down through oral traditions, check out the Oral Traditions Learning Center.

To learn more about creation stories, check out the Maui and the Creation of the Islands Learning Center.