In the beginning
Editor’s note: John Active has again given the Drums permission to reprint “In the beginning” in The Drums.
1974 Editor’s note: The following Eskimo legend was recorded by John Active of the KYUK staff. It will appear as the introduction to his forthcoming book on the history of Bethel titled, Mumtarilag, which he has written and plans to publish. He has agreed to first publish the legend in The Tundra Drums.
All is very quiet, dark and still. There is an impregnable empty darkness, calm and black … There is no manner of degree of any kind, solid or invisible. Nothing, in the true sense of the word. Without meaning, answer or purposed, it is drama.
It is as it has been, it can no longer be as it was. It is listening intently, waiting to receive whatever it expect. Since it began it has waited to accept, answer and act, most important to be a part of the great expectation. The time is ripe, silence has been silent too long, it begins.
And the beginning began with a sound. A sound that was music within the silence. It was dull but sweet, a golden sound that rang and echoed through the nothingness. This sound flew swiftly ringing undaunted through space, crying through the invisible, joyous true. It went free at last to be or not to be heard, searching for a reaction but, found none. Yet this sound was content and went ringing, ringing over, under, sideways, and through itself. It was a beginning, a start, a creation.
Then came another sound much like the first, let loose to search out something, somewhere. Crying out loud to be heard, answered and accepted. There is another sound and another and still another, ringing, singing, dying like the first and the last. In the beginning there was sound.
It was the sound of flapping of great wings. In this manner did the great Raven fly, looking right and left, soaring through the emptiness untiring in His movements. Its feathers were completely black, shunting with inexplicable beauty. This God’s movements expressed with eloquence It’s great nobility. The great Raven glided through the sheer darkness, rising and falling with grace. Its eyes seeing all and knowing all did not blink with the frustration of not being able to see. Instead they searched into the darkness and became fixed as though studying something, then would move on to other invisible objects.
The time was ripe, the moment precise, with a quick movement of His great wings this magnificent God dove down through the darkness. Dividing He began to rotate around and around, faster and faster. In doing this He created a suction behind Him which beacon to pull the darkness with great force. Suddenly He rose away leaving the dark mass spinning and reeling behind Him.
This blackness went on spinning as it did so, it gathered more darkness. And as this happened the mass becomes as large as the Raven. Seeing this the God glided above and around its creation watching it all the while grow and rotate.
The great Bird flew into the darkness and soon was lost within it. Then from the farthest and darkest region of the black expanse a great bright light evolved and spun through the night causing the darkness to break apart and make way for the sun. In doing this the great light burned a thousand holes into the darkness and the stars shone forth. The huge light spun past the great black mass and stopped in the center of the darkness surrounding the mass. The darkness then beacon to fade away and the mass was in light. Now while, with this was happening the great Raven was flying in a diastase from it. He had been watching the event and when it was finished He once more came to the mass. He did not approve of what He saw for immediately looking upon the great black ball He dove down to it and clawed it, making every mark upon it His claws could create. Once again the great Bird flew away from the waste and looked upon it from a distance.
The appearance of the ball had changed, but still it was about the same ugly mass of darkness. Once again the great Raven attached the mass but this time flew completely around it without touching its surface. In the following moments the black mass changed from one color to a thousand. These colors were those of the green trees, grass, and flowers of a thousand species. Again the great Raven flew from the mass and looked upon a beautiful globe. As He watched, the mass began to brown, the colors were fading. Once more the Raven dove upon the mass and circled it a second time. As he did this a mist began to trail behind Him and this mist covered the whole of the creation. Again the Raven flew from the mass to look once more upon it. Meanwhile some of the mist cleared from the surface of the mass and the colors had once again changed to green, also the gorges and scratches the great Raven had made upon the surface had filled up. There were rivers and oceans on the mass.
The great Bird then flew around the earth and looked more closely at what He had done. He came closer to the earth becoming smaller and smaller till he disappeared into the vast mass.
The God flew over great oceans and miles of hills and forests. He flew over deep valleys of flowers and thousands of plants. He saw the great mountains He had created and flew in and around them. The wondrous God folded His wings and dropped into beautiful magnificent gorgeous to rise again over all the land.
As he flew the great God realized that he was the only moving thing upon His creation. The trees were steadfast in the ground as were the thousands of other plant life.
How good it wool deb to see living beings roam the earth, thought the Raven. These plants are not enough, I shall create beings who shall be able to move to and fro upon this land for it is indeed too beautiful to be left standing still, contemplated the God.
So the Raven alighted upon stone and with and with the power invested in Him, He caused the matter to change its form When this was done the God flew a short distance from the mold and alighted again looking at the stone a second time. Within a moment a spirit entered into the stone form creating a new form of life.
This ebing was huge and of a grayish color and being made of stone was very heavy. The being had arms, and legs, attached to his main body. He had a head where his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears were. The spirit had entered into the upper part of his body where his main source of life pounded. This was the first man, rugged, cold and clumsy.
The great Raven took to flight and the stone man followed because he realized that he and the Raven were the only moving beings. Over steep hill and deep valleys the Raven few the man following him as best he could. Upon climbing a hill the stone man being so heavy coulees fall and roll to the bottom of it, then he would try climbing it again.
Following the great Raven the stone man came upon a marsh land and stepping into it he began to sink into it; he began to sink into the slime. The Raven seeing this returned and alighted next to the helpless man. The God studied the scene for a moment and took to flight again. The stone man soon sank from the surface of this swamp and was dead.
The great Raven then flew high above the land and studied the whole terrain; He saw a hill and alighted upon it. When He was set, He began to claw the surface and built a small mound of earth. When He had finished this He took to flight and circled high above it. The great Raven then cried out shaking the whole terrain. As the earth moved the mound began to crumble and the form of the stone man was left. Seeing this the Raven came close to the form and began beating His wings causing a great wind to enter into the nostrils of the lifeless man. The being began to breath and a spirit entered into the new man.
The man then opened his eyes and saw the Raven flying high above him. He stood up looking into the heavens at the Raven, then around him at the rest of the vast creation.
He looked up at the Raven again and then sat down where he stood, for he was greatly troubled and did not know where to go or what to do. The Raven seeing this cried out and getting the man’s attention began to fly away. Seeing this, the man followed for he did not want to be alone, for he and the Raven were the only moving beings as far as the man could tell.
Again the Raven led the man throughout all the land testing his ability to travel. When the Raven had seen that the man had no trouble at all, He knew that he did not have to create another man. But again the Raven knew that the man could not be the only living, moving thing upon the great earth. So it was that when the Raven had come to the stream He dove into its waters. When He had risen from the depths the man beheld in great wonderment that fish now swam in the waters. The Raven flew over the forests and cried out and again the man beheld animals therein. The Raven then flew high into the skies and cried out again and the skies were filled with thousands of birds.
Having seen what the great Raven had done, the man knew that the great being was a god. With this realization, the man became afraid and fell upon his face and wept. Seeing this the Raven alighted next to the prostrate man.
“Behold, you have walked upon this creation for but a few moments and already you begin to wonder,” said the God.
The man spoke up, “I am sore afraid. For I have seen your wondrous works and know that thou art a god.”
“I am a lover of Life. And have created you and all these things for I would have it to live.”
“Who am I?” asked the man.
The Raven took to flight and rose into the heavens growing into his original being as a God.
“You are a yup’piak, a true man. You are on my nuna, the earth. Your kind shall cover this land. Look and see all these things that I have given you. I have created animals of many kinds so that you might hunt and live from them. I have put fish into the waters so that you might use them also. Behold the birds in the skies that are yours for the taking. I have created eddies in rivers so that you might travel over them without being dragged away by the current.
Behold all these things are of some use to you, seek and you shall find and help shall be therein. Remember as you have a spirit, so do all these living beings upon this earth. Respect those spirits and a happy life is yours. Go then over this nun and seek a way of life but beforehand follow the white tern who shall lead you to your companion. Remember, this woman may lead you to the lowest gutter. And on the other hand she may make you stronger. Go then and find her, this handmaiden and remember you are the man and she is the woman. And till that day when you shall return to that from which you came you shall have the gift of life.”
The great God rose into the sky and soon was lost in the heavens. For a moment the yup’piak did not know whether to go right or left. He listened to all the sounds which were new to his ears. There were the sounds of all the living things on the earth. Little birds singing in the forests. Loons crying from the lakes. Ducks and geese calling from the sky.
The man listened to these sounds and soon he could even hear his own heart beating, faster and faster. He became restless and wanted to do and see things all at once. He wanted to swim in the clear blue waters of the lakes. He wanted to hunt in the forests. He wanted to do this and that but could not start. He could not hold his patience any longer so he began to run. He ran jumping over logs, shouting with bliss. He bounded through tall grass and tripped over a bush. The joyous man jumped up again and ran chasing the animals. H was so happy he had completely forgotten about the woman he was supposed to meet. his heart was so fast in beating it seemed as though it would beat right out of his chest. His happiness was so great it began pouring out of his mouth in a language he himself only knew. He laughed and tears of joy poured down from his eyes. He began waving his arms and pretended to fly like the bird he was now chasing. This bird flew over the roughest country and coldest water this man had ever realized existed on this new nun. The yup-piak ran calling the bird over hills and swamps and deep dense forests. Till the bird had landed upon a high hill did the man stop running for he had become very exhausted. Up this hill the man climbed looking for the bird he had been chasing. The yup-piak sat down upon a stump and rested, listening for the bird he had been chasing. Then from behind a bush there came a resting, the man thinking it was the bird waited. When to the man’s great and overwhelming surprise there stepped out from behind the bush another being that looked like him; it was a woman. The man jumped to his feet and looked at her speechless. The man then heard a bird call from up above him, he looked up and saw a tern flying away.
The words of the Raven echoed in his ears, “…follow the white tern who shall lead you to your companion.”