Sacred Texts  Native American  Northwest 

Dancers: Edward Curtis 1910; [Public domain image]

Tlingit Myths and Texts

John R. Swanton

Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 39


Contents    Start Reading

This is a massive study of the myths and legends of the Tlingit, Native Americans of southern Alaska. These texts include a lengthly cycle of stories about Raven, the trickster figure of the Northwest, the equivalent of the better known Coyote of the Southwest. Another major thread that runs through these stories is the typical Northwestern preoccupation with wealth and status. The land was abundant with marine life, wildlife and other resources. The Tlingit, along with other cultures in the region, had developed a very high level of material wealth, as well as levels of social inequality not found elsewhere in North America. For this reason, many of the stories are parallel to European folklore (without being derivative in the slightest way), in which a low-status person achieves wealth and respect by supernatural intervention or a series of epic trials.

On the other hand, the Tlingit were also avid believers in the Potlatch system, by which wealth was distributed by the rich at festivals, in order to reinforce their status. Hence there are also stories in this collection in which altruism and sharing wealth are rewarded.

Usually in 19th century ethnographies the texts are presented without any clue as to the cultural context in which they were told. This collection diverges from this sometimes maddening practice. The function of stories is often described in an footnote by the informant, for instance, as fables for young people. In another instance at the end of the book the myth cycle is retold, woven into a grieving ceremony.

--J.B. Hare

Title Page
Letter of Transmittal
Phonetic Key

Myths Recorded in English at Sitka

1. Raven
2. The Big Clam
3. English Version of the Story of the Four Brothers
4. Origin of the Killer Whale
5. KAka'
6. The Land-Otter Sister
7. The Land-Otter Son
8. The Wolf-Chief's Son
9. Wolverine-man
10. The Halibut People
11. Stories of the Monster Devilfish and The Cry-Baby
12. The Woman Who Was Killed by a Clam
13. Root-stump
14. The Protracted Winter
15. Beaver and Porcupine
16. The Poor Man Who Caught Wonderful Things
17. The Finding of the Blue Paint, And How a Certain Creek Received Its Name
18. Various Adventures Near Cross Sound
19. Kâts!
20. The Unsuccessful Hunters
21. Origin of Iceberg House
22. The Woman Taken Away by the Frog People
23. How the Frogs Honored the Dead
24. The Brant Wives
25. Story of the Puffin
26. Story of the Wain-House People
27. The Alsek River People
28. The Youthful Warrior
29. The First War In The World
30. How Protestant Christianity Was First Heard of at Sitka

Myths Recorded in English at Wrangell

31. Raven, Part I
31. Raven, Part II
31. Raven, Part III
31. Raven, Part IV
31. Raven, Part V
31. Raven, Part VI
31. Raven, Part VII
31. Raven, Part VIII
31. Raven, Part IX
31. Raven, Part X
31. Raven, Part XI
31. Raven, Part XII
31. Raven, Part XIII
31. Raven, Part XIV
31. Raven, Part XV
31. Raven, Part XVI
31. Raven, Part XVII
31. Raven, Part XVIII
31. Raven, Part XIX
31. Raven, Part XX
31. Raven, Part XXI
32. Kakê'q!utê
33. Origin of the GonaqAdê't
34. A Story of the GonaqAdê't
35. Origin of the L!ê'nAxxî'dAq
36. The Thunders
37. Origin of the Screech Owl
38. Little Felon
39. Origin of the Fern Root and the Ground Hog
40. The Halibut That Divided the Queen Charlotte Islands
41. The Image That Came to Life
42. Djîyî'n
43. The Self-Burning Fire
44. The Giant of Tâ'sna
45. The Woman Who Married a Land Otter
46. The Land-Otters' Captive
47. The Man Fed From the Sky
48. The Salmon Sack
49. Roots
50. The Mucus Child
51. The Salmon Chief
52. The Jealous Uncle
53. The Man who Married the Eagle
54. The Brant Wife
55. The Duck Helper
56. The Boy who Shot the Star
57. The Boy and the Giant
58. The Boy with Arrows on his Head
59. GAmnâ'tck!î
60. The Hîn-tayî'cî
61. The East and North Winds
62. The Big Beaver
63. Beaver and Porcupine
64. The Man who Entertained the Bears
65. Mountain Dweller
66. How The Sitka KîksA'dî Obtained The Frog
67. Qâq!Atcgû'k
68. The Beaver of Killisnoo
69. Story Of The Grizzly-Bear Crest Of The Te'qoedî
70. Story of the Eagle Crest of the NexA'dî
71. Story Of The Killer-Whale Crest Of The DAqL!awe'dî
72. Story of the Nanyaâ'yî Crests
73. Story of the Frog Crest of the KîksA'dî Of Wrangell
74. Story of the Kâ'gwAntân Crests
75. Migration of the GânAxA'dî to Tongass
76. The Woman Who Married the Frog
77. The Girl Who Married The L!AL!
78. The Woman Who Married a Tree
79. The Girl Who Married the Fire Spirit
80. Orphan
81. The Dead Basket-Maker
82. The Crying-for Medicine
83. The Runaway Wife
84. The Rejected Lover
85. The Faithless Wife
86. The Woman Who Married the Dead Man
87. The Returned From Spirit Land
88. The Sky Country


89. The Origin of Copper
90. The Man Who Was Abandoned
91. The Shaman Who Went Into The Fire, and the Heron's Son
31. Raven, Part XXII
92. Mountain Dweller
93. Kâhâ's!î, The Strong Man
94. The L!ê'nAxxî'dAq
95. Origin Of The Frog Crest Among The KîksA'dî
96. How the KîksA'dî Came to Sitka
97. The Four Brothers
98. The KîksA'dî Woman Who Was Turned Into An Owl
99. Moldy-end
100. Moldy-end
101. Qâq!Atcgû'k
102. The Sea-Lion Hunt
103. The War in the Spruce Canoe
104. Story of the Kâ'gwAntân
105. Story Of The Kâ'ck!e Qoan
106. Origin of a Low-Caste Name
The Tobacco Feast
Speeches Delivered at a Feast When a Pole was Erected for the Dead
Words of Songs Taken in Connection with Graphophone Records

Abstracts of Myths

Myths Recorded in English at Sitka
Myths Recorded in English at Wrangell