The history of the Tlingit involves both pre-contact and post-contact historical events and stories. The traditional history involved creation stories, the Raven Cycle and other tangentially related events during the mythic age when spirits freely transformed from animal to human and back, and the migration story of coming to Tlingit lands, clan histories More recent tales describe events near the time of first contact with Europeans. At that point, European and American historical records come into play, and though modern Tlingits have access to and review these historical records, they continue to maintain their own historical record by telling stories of ancestors and events important to them against the background of the changing world.
Creation story and the Raven Cycle
Stories about Raven are unique in Tlingit culture in that though they technically belong to clans of the Raven moiety, most are openly and freely shared by any Tlingit no matter their clan affiliation. They also make up the bulk of the stories that children are regaled with when young. Raven Cycle stories are often shared anecdotally, the telling of one inspiring the telling of another. Many are humorous, but some are serious and impart a sense of Tlingit morality and ethics, and others belong to specific clans and may only be shared under appropriate license. Some of the most popular are known to other tribes along the Northwest Coast, and provide creation myths for the everyday world.
The Raven Cycle stories contain two different Raven characters, though most storytellers don’t clearly differentiate them. One is the creator Raven who brings the world into being and is sometimes the same as the Owner of Daylight. The other is the childish Raven, who is always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. Comparing a few of the stories reveals logical inconsistencies between the two. This is usually explained as involving a different world where things did not make logical sense, a mythic time when the rules of the modern world did not apply.
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