Raven Finds Water: An Alaskan Folk Tale

Raven is a very famous trickster deity in Alaska, and is well known for approaching problems with cleverness and guile. As with any trickster, he doesn’t fall precisely on any side of the good/evil spectrum, but his actions often benefit humans (whether he plans it or not).

Long ago there was a great drought over the land. There was no water anywhere. All the creeks and streams were dried up. Someone had to do something about it. Raven rose to the occasion and volunteered to look for water. He knew the Island Spirit at Hazy Island had water but no one knew where it was. The water was well hidden.

Raven started out for the island in his canoe. His intention was to steal the water from the Island Spirit. When he had paddled about half way out, a dense fog set in. He lost his bearings and waited for the fog to lift. The sun could not dispel the fog. Raven was wondering what to do, when the Island Spirit paddled up to him in his canoe. “You should not be out here,” he told Raven. “There is nothing on the island and you could be delayed by weather for a long time. There is no water out there,” he told Raven. “Don’t be crazy. Turn back.”

After the Island Spirit left him, Raven made a turn as if he was turning back, but not for long as he headed for the island using the dim outline of the sun for his bearing. Raven soon heard the surf on the island. He came to a bit of sandy beach where the Island Spirit came down to meet him on the beach. He welcomed Raven to share his home. While there, Raven pretended to be thirsty, and was, in fact, very thirsty. But the Island Spirit kept his water well hidden.

Raven was tough and could stay on to find where the Island Spirit kept the water hidden. He kept a watchful, waiting policy and he began to think up schemes to find the water.

One day the Island Spirit was lying beside the fire warming his back and he fell asleep. While he was sleeping, Raven went out to the rookery and gathered some bird guano. When he came back, Spirit was still asleep so Raven very carefully rubbed the guano on the Spirit’s garment. He then woke Spirit up and told him that he smelled very bad. Spirit had been gathering eggs and he assumed that he had gotten the guano on this garment that way. Raven told him over and over, “Take a bath, take a bath!”

Spirit made preparations to take a bath. He got his water container ready and started out. In the confusion, he had forgotten that he had told Raven there was no water. Raven was now spying on Spirit to see where he went for water. Spirit went some distance from his home and stopped under an overhanging cliff, covered with float moss. There was the water hole.

Raven now knew where the water was and made preparations to steal it from Island Spirit. Early in the morning he left the home very quietly, taking along a water basket. He went to the water hole and had a long drink of water. He was very thirsty. Then he filled the water basket, took it in his beak and flew off to the mainland where there was a great drought. Raven sprayed the water from his beak all over the land and in the sky. It started to rain and the streams were running again. Raven had saved the country.

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