Modern Alaska is an official state of the US, despite being separated from the rest of the nation. It is a stunning place, where rocky, snow-capped mountains slope down into endless green forests, which themselves wind their way through craggy fiords. Whales, dolphins and seals play in the ocean, while birds of all types and colour enjoy the fresh mountain air above moose and wolves below. A 2016 Alaskan expedition with Aurora will take you through the famous Inside Passage, where you’ll get to witness glaciers up close, see animals in their own habitat and learn a little about the native people. But who are the ancient indigenous tribes of Alaska? And what are their stories? Here are two of the myths you might hear on your Alaskan adventure.
The origin of the orca whale, from Tlingit myth
If you are fortunate on your Alaskan cruise, you might see a pod of orca whales dancing through the waves in search of prey. These easily distinguished black and white creatures were considered a symbolic creature by the Tlingit people, who lived around the Inside Passage. In fact, they adorn many of the masks, totem poles and other items of this people. It is said that, once upon a time, no killer whales existed. A man by the name of Natsilane decided to carve them out of wood. He tried doing so with red cedar, but failed. He tried with hemlock, but failed. Finally he tried with yellow cedar and was successful — the ‘black fish’ was born, and it was ready to hunt. The new killer whales were taught to eat seals and halibut, but not to harm humans. In fact, it is believed that orcas protect humans, and so the Tlingit people never chased them despite having very advanced whale hunting skills. Why did he carve the whales? Some say he was stranded on an abandoned island by his devious brothers, and was taught the skills of carving by the chief of the sea lions. He instructed the black fish to destroy his brothers’ boat as revenge for abandoning him. On the other hand, the Encyclopaedia of Marina Mammals states that Natsilane was one of the sea lion people, so there is some debate. You will have to ask a local for his or her take during your next tour of Alaska!
How the raven stole the sun, from Haida myth
Both the Haida and Tlingit people — both of which live in the southeastern regions of Alaska — have numerous stories surrounding the legendary Raven. This creature was a devious trickster, but is involved with much of humanity’s early creation, according to legend. One such story is about how he stole the sun. Before he did so, there was no light in the world — no stars, no moon, no sun. However, Raven heard that a great chief in a nearby village had a daughter who possessed these items in carved cedar boxes. The crafty bird wanted them, and so transformed himself into what the University of Alaska Fairbanks claims was a hemlock needle, and fell into her drink. She consumed it, and shortly became pregnant with a baby (who was actually Raven). After being born, the Raven baby cried and cried until he was given the stars and moon to play with. He promptly threw them into the sky, after which they scattered and remained. Next, he cried and cried until he was given the sun to play with. This time, he transformed back into the black, feathered bird and disappeared from the house, putting the sun in the sky and giving light to the world.