Raven and the Box of Light¹

In the beginning, the world was cloaked in complete darkness. It was too hard for the People to get anything done. Raven, who was as white as snow, was growing tired of flying blindly through the pitch darkness and bumping into things. After some time, Raven came upon the home of a powerful chief who lived with this daughter. Raven listened to them talk and found out that the chief of the house had a great bentwood box. In that bentwood box there were three smaller boxes, each containing a treasure beyond worth.

In one box there were housed stars. Another box contained the moon. And in the largest box, the brilliance of the sun was contained, locked away from the People. Raven thought to himself that if only he could open those boxes and steal the light contained inside them, that he would no longer have to fumble around in the dark. He could play his tricks more easily.

Soon, Raven noticed the chief’s daughter had a habit of stumbling to the near bye river and drinking from its waters. So, Raven turned himself into a pine needle. He floated downriver into the daughter’s water basket. When the daughter drank the basket, she also drank Raven. Once inside the daughter, Raven transformed again into a human baby.

Months later, the chief’s daughter gave birth to a strange-looking infant, with a long beak of a nose. But it was either too dark for the chief and his daughter to notice the infant’s strange appearance, or they loved the boy too much to care. The chief loved his grandson so much, that he would give the boy almost anything.

Though the chief warned the growing toddler not to play with his sacred bentwood boxes, the boy wailed until his cries broke his grandfather’s heart. The chief opened the first box to his grandson and let the stars fill his house like fireflies. Raven swatted at the stars, shooing them toward the hole in the top of the chief’s house. After the stars escaped, Raven boy cried and motioned to the box of moonlight. The chief was distraught over losing the stars, but he could not deny his grandson his fun. He brought the box with the moon down, cautioning Raven to be careful with the contents this time. The chief opened the box and let the moon out. Raven rolled and tossed the moon around the house. When he was just under the opening in the roof, he tossed the moon as high as he could, and it escaped into the night sky with the stars.

The chief was very angry with his grandson and would not let Raven play with the box of sun, at first. But the chief loved his grandson more than anything and he eventually gave in, opening the last box and releasing the brilliant sun. As the sun fell from the box, Raven transformed into his original snow-white form, scooped the sun into his mouth and burst through the smoke hole in the house. The sun scorched his snowy feathers as he carried it high into the air, and that is why Raven has coal black feathers to this day.

¹ There are too many versions of this Pacific Northwest tale to name. This version was based on Tlingit native, Preston Singletary’s glass work display “Raven and The Box of Daylight,”  Raven Steals the Light  transcribed by Bill Reid, and  How Raven Stole the Sun  retold by Maria Williams.