Raven Steals the Sun


       According to a Haida story, in the beginning the world was in total darkness. 


      The Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was tired of groping about and bumping into things in the dark. 


      Eventually the Raven came upon the home of an old man who lived alone with his daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a great treasure. This was all the light in the universe, contained in a tiny box concealed within many boxes. 


      At once the Raven vowed to steal the light. 


      He thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan. He waited until the old man's daughter came to the river to gather water. Then the Raven changed himself into a single hemlock needle and dropped himself into the river, just as the girl was dipping her water-basket into the river. 


      As she drank from the basket, she swallowed the needle. It slipped and slithered down into her warm belly, where the Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last the Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a human infant. 


      Even though he had a rather strange appearance, the Raven's grandfather loved him. But the old man threatened dire punishment if he ever touched the precious treasure box. Nonetheless the Ravenchild begged and begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment. 


      In time the old man yielded, and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere, which he threw to his grandson. 


      As the light was moving toward him, the human child transformed into a gigantic black shadowy bird-form, wings spread ready for flight, and beak open in anticipation. As the beautiful ball of light reached him, the Raven captured it in his beak! 


      Moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smokehole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure. 


      And that is how light came into the universe. 


      This story was told to me, with wonderful effects, one summer in the Great Hall of the Museum of Civilisation in a performance called People of the Salmon