How the Raven Brought Fire


Peter P. Doroshin, Russian Explorer, Rare Book Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage

Audio Credit: 

Fiona Sawden from Port Graham, Alaska

There was a large village called Urumiertuli (in Sheep Bay). There were many people there, but they did not know how to build a fire. They were rich and had all kinds of expensive furs. They saw a canoe coming around the point, and all began to shout. The canoe turned in to the village. It was Raven, all alone. It was in the fall of the year, and Raven had gone out hunting. The villagers were well pleased and took Raven up to their smoke house. They had no idea of how to start a fire. Raven said: “I wish you would place all your belongings under the smoke hole so I can see how they look – all your pretty furs.”

They had heard of fire and asked Raven if he could go after it and get some of it. He asked if they had got whole pieces of silver salmon with tails and all which had been put in the ground to rot. “Yes, “ they answered.

Raven said: “Then I will go after fire to-morrow.”

He left early in the morning and told the people to wait a day and a night. He would be back the next day. In the evening the next day he returned. There was Phosphorescence on the water. He had taken a silver salmon with him, and when he came back he stirred it in the water; it made sparks like a fire. When he came ashore he left the salmon tail in the canoe. He told the people not to touch it, he would use it in the morning. The people were sitting there is the dark. “You have to get up as soon as day breaks,” said Raven.

They all rose bright and early, they had listened to Raven. He got up himself and took two young men with him. They carried the silver-salmon tail and he also took a small seal stomach full of seal oil. He hit the trees standing there with the stomach till the oil squirted out. Then he beat the trees with the salmon tail, telling the men that the trees would turn to fire and would bake anything.

When he came back he told the chief: “Make two sticks with a cord, and we will have the fire started.”

The wood was red cedar. Then he told the chief to take the two young men and a weight to hold the sticks down while they were drilling. As they did so, the sticks began to smoke and sparks flew. Raven had had the men make dry shavings to catch the fire. The shavings caught fire. They picked them up and waved them, then threw dry grass on them to flame up. The pitch bubbles on the spruce trees are the places where oil squirted. Raven said: “This kind of tree will be for firewood.” And he said to the spruce trees: “You will be firewood when I get through with you.”

They will cook any kind of food because he hit them with the salmon tail.

The people did not know what an adze was. Raven said” “Go down and look for greenstone, and you can make adzes out of them.”

They did not know about hunting, they ate only fish and shellfish, but Raven told them how to make hunting implements out of stone. People in other villages learned to build fires and to hunt from the inhabitants of Urumiertuli.

They loaded raven’s canoe with all kinds of furs and skins, so he became rich. Then we went away, they did not know where. He did not have his own village, but traveled all around.