This work illustrates the Northwest Coast myth of Raven bringing the sun, moon and stars to the world. All of the major characters--Raven, the Chief, the Chief's daughter, and the box in which daylight is kept--are shown in this exquisite totem.
The story of “Raven Steals the Lights” is legendary. A Chief lived on the bank of a river with his only child - a daughter. At this time, it was pitch black everywhere and no one could see anything. So whether she was beautiful or not, there wasn’t a way anyone could tell. Thus begins the tale of the Raven and the Sun. It’s said that this particular Chief possessed the Sun and all the light in the universe locked inside a beautiful bentwood box. Nobody was to ever touch this box or even get near enough to see it, and the Chief stationed guards around it at all times.
The Raven was not satisfied with the state of darkness since it led to his blundering and bumping into everything. This slowed him down in his pursuit of the good things in life, which was what he loved more than getting into mischief. One day he crashed into this Chief’s house and he heard the man and his daughter talking about the light. He decided he wanted the light for himself so waited for the daughter to leave the house. He transformed himself into a pine needle to slip into the bucket of water. When the daughter drank the water and swallowed the pine needle, the Raven transformed himself into a tiny human being inside her. When he emerged, he was a very odd looking child, but it was too dark to notice his long nose and the few feathers still clinging to him, which at this time were still white.
One day, as the boy gained the affection of the Chief, he asked to take a look inside; upon being refused, he devised a plan to get the Light from this box. He waited for the day when the Chief hosted a big potlatch when there was lots of eating and drinking, by everyone including the guards of the box of daylight. The young boy asked his grandfather again if he could see what was inside. The Chief, being more lenient on this particular this evening, said he could not look inside but could get close enough to look at the beautiful box. The boy, knowing the guards had been eating and drinking, knew this was his chance…The guards heads were nodding ever so slightly, and the boy opened the lid and a strange radiance began to suffuse the room. At that moment the Child transformed (back) into a huge Raven. He snapped up the light and flew up the smoke hole of the house into the darkness of the world. The Raven now rejoiced with his new possession and was having such a good time that he did not see the Eagle come upon him. In a panic, he swerved and dropped almost half the light he was carrying. It fell to the rocky ground and broke into pieces. They bounced back into the sky and remain there to this day as the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. It is most notable that the Raven was no longer white, but was now instead black from the soot of the smoke hole he flew through…
About Preston Singletary
Tlingit (Native American), b. 1962, based in Seattle, WA, United States