Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Tlicho Raven Story, A Tale For Our Times

Here is a Tlicho Raven Story, based on the one told by Johnny Mantla to Allice Legat and reported in her “Walking the Land, Feeding the Fire.”

Once a very long ago, soon after the beginning, the animals lived like people. They had villages together, hunted and fished together and married one another. Not only that, they hunted and ate everything—and, for the sake of the story, other “villagers” must not have been on the menu.

Raven could fly and see everything, so he was always well fed. The other animals came to rely on him for news of the caribou on their yearly walk-about, and other important things hunters needed to know. In time, he became responsible to the others, whose feet could not leave the ground. Raven and Wolf were brothers-in-law; Raven’s sister had married to Wolf and Wolf’s sister was married to Raven. Both Wolf and Raven were  Ka’owae and each had many followers.  Wolf was a mighty hunter and provided plenty of food and so he had many followers who ate up all the caribou he brought to camp quickly.

Raven, though, was more powerful than Wolf, because he flew everywhere and could see everything for miles around. He brought back information that everyone used to hunt. He was The indispensable man!

Then, one year, the caribou did not come and the village was starving. Raven and Wolf met as usual and sat down to speak with one another. Wolf said, “My wife, your sister, and everyone else in this village us starving. We can hardly move around we are so weak and hungry. Have you seen the caribou? Have you seen any game for us to hunt in all your flying around?”

Raven replied that he hadn’t seen any caribou or any other game. “We are all in the same predicament,” he said.

Wolf kept his counsel. He watched his old friend Raven, who was began telling a story to the others, to distract them from their hunger. Wolf thought Raven seemed very comfortable and pleased with himself.  While Raven was the center of attention, Wolf called some kids over and asked them to sneak a look into Raven’s traveling pack. “I think there is some meat in there,” he said.

The kids did as they were told and Raven never saw them. They came back to Wolf very upset, saying that Raven did have dried caribou in his traveling pack.

After he’d finished his story, Raven excused himself saying it was late and he must go home now. Wolf agreed and Raven left.

After he'd gone, Wolf asked two men with strong ink’on  (spirit power) to follow Raven. They watched him fly until sunrise. It became very hard for them to see, but one, who’d rubbed charcoal on his lids, had strong magic and could still see Raven landing at his village. And what else did he see? All the caribou they’d been waiting for, trapped behind a snow fence!

Wolf sent for Fox and told him he must travel to Raven’s home, set fire to his tail, and leap in among the caribou. The caribou, who panicked at the smell of smoke, would jump right over the snow fence and run away. They’d even forget how much they hated the feel of snow on their bellies in their haste to get away.  (This is why the tip of the fox’s tail in now black.)

Well, Raven was very angry when that happened. He’d become greedy and proud and imagined all the caribou were his.

Wolf and the others came and told Raven how wrong he was. “We are here in this land to help one another, all of us living here together. Were you willing to let your sister, my wife,  starve?“

Wolf and the other villagers put Raven in the middle of the circle and lectured him sternly. This was serious; people had come close to death! It was well known that those who hide or steal food from the group can be cast out. Everyone took turns telling how they and their families had suffered from Raven’s greed.

A decision had to be made about Raven. Some wanted to shun him, but Wolf, who was Ka’owae said, “Raven, from now on, you will only eat dead animals. People will live around you, but you will eat their garbage. Your power is gone; you can no longer kill for your food.”

And so that is how Raven lives today. He drinks the dirty water others pour away. When garbage is tossed out, he eats it. It is a humiliating and pitiful way for a once great hunter to live.

Johnny Mantla finished his story by saying: “That is how powerful Ka’owae were in the old days. They are the ones who are supposed to take care of the people, but even Ka’owae can become lose their way and grow greedy. When this happens, the people can no longer depend on them. People who do not think about others should not be followed."

~~Juliet Waldron

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