Haida Gwaii – Masset and raven story

“Long ago, near the beginning of the world, Gray Eagle was the guardian of the Sun, Moon and Stars, of fresh water, and of fire. Gray Eagle hated people so much that he kept these things hidden. People lived in darkness, without fire and without fresh water.

Gray Eagle had a beautiful daughter, and Raven fell in love with her. In the beginning, Raven was a snow-white bird, and as such, he pleased Gray Eagle’s daughter. She invited him to her father’s longhouse.

When Raven saw the Sun, Moon and stars, and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle’s lodge, he knew what he should do. He watched for his chance to seize them when no one was looking. He stole all of them, and a brand of fire also, and flew out of the longhouse through the smoke hole. As soon as Raven got outside he hung the Sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the Sun set, he fastened the Moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him the fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.

He flew back over the land. When he had reached the right place, he dropped all the water he had stolen. It fell to the ground and there became the source of all the fresh-water streams and lakes in the world. Then Raven flew on, holding the brand of fire in his bill. The smoke from the fire blew back over his white feathers and made them black. When his bill began to burn, he had to drop the firebrand. It struck rocks and hid itself within them. That is why, if you strike two stones together, sparks of fire will drop out.

Raven’s feathers never became white again after they were blackened by the smoke from the firebrand. That is why Raven is now a black bird.”


We went to Masset, the northernmost village of Graham Island on Haida Gwaii and stayed in under the grid cabin on South Beach. Cabins without electrical power and water pipes became popular among people willing to escape the luxuries of modern world. Well, almost, because village is just a 15-20 minutes away even from the most distant cabin and cell phone signal is available if you go to beach. I was warned that our cell phones might stop working on Haida Gwaii so I did some research and found that only 2 providers have reliable, although spotty signal on the islands. Not that we really needed cellphones, they were there just for emergency. But that’s not what I wanted to write about. The most beautiful part in the area are the endless sandy beaches, even longer than the ones on western Vancouver Island. Nature is wild and untamed there. Only a narrow logging type of road divides beaches from boggy rainforests. Once you are in forest, there is nothing for tens of kilometers toward south. Naikoon provincial park runs for roughly 70km from Rose Spit in the north to the village of Tlell in the south.

beautiful evening sky above South Beach

The most remarkable landmark is Taaw Tldáaw – Tow Hill, a 125m high, 2 million years old basalt rock. As with almost everything on Haida Gwaii, there is a story about Taaw Tldáaw and his elder brother:

Taaw and his elder brother lived at Juus káahlii  (Juskatla), they say. And their mother gave them young dogfish.

And then their mothere didn’t give Taaw any young dogfish. The two of them, so they say, were named “Taaw.”

And when he saw that he wasn’t getting any dogfish, he walked away in disgust.

And he started off, pulling himself along on his bum, and next he went down through Kumdis passage.

And from there he went down through gaw (Masset) Inlet. And when he got to Kayung, Raven ran out of the house talking angrily to him.

Then Raven stood upon a stone. And he broke the stone by jumping up and down.

That rock is called Hlgat’at’áas (“Stone broken by foot”) because Raven shattered it with his feet.

And Taaw went on. And he was going to stay at Tsaawan Kun (Chown Point).

And there he looked at himself. And he didn’t like it there.

And then he went away again. And then he arrived at Yaagan (Yakan).

And again, he didn’t like it there. And again he moved from there.

And then he sat for a long time at Hl’yaalang gandlee (Hiellen River).

And in this place he said, so they tell us “I’m good here. Here I will stay.”

They say some of the rocks at Chown Point were his doing. They say rocks at Yagan Point, that was also his doing.

Story teller – Isaac from Those-Born-at-Hlyaalan (1901)

The Feud Continued

Taaw’s elder brother sent a whale and a large bird against him. The whale slammed against Taaw, making rocks fall from his body. In anger, Taaw turned both the whale and the bird into stone. They still sit on the beach facing Taaw; the bird in front of the stone blowhole.

Taaw Tldáaw from Agate Beach

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about the raven 🙂

As the story tells, raven is responsible for urging first people to get out of their shell and populate the world:

According to Haida legend, the Raven found himself alone one day on Rose Spit beach, on Haida Gwaii. Suddenly, he saw an extraordinary clamshell at his feet, and protruding from it were a number of small creatures. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his wonderful world. Some were hesitant at first, but eventually, overcome by curiosity, they emerged from the partly open clamshell to become the first Haida.
…It wasn’t long before one, then another of the little shell brothers, timidly emerged. Some of them immediately scurried back when they saw the immensity of the sea and the sky and the overwhelming blackness of the Raven. But eventually curiosity overcame caution and all of them crept or scrambled out. Very strange creatures they were, two-legged like the Raven. There the resemblance ended. They had no glossy feathers, no thrusting beak, their skin was pale and they were naked except for their long, black hair on their round, flat-featured heads. Instead of strong wings they had stick-like appendages that waved and fluttered constantly. They were the original Haidas, the first humans.

Rose Spit is located north-east from Taaw Tldáaw, 10km away along the North beach. We planned to go there next day, after we went to Taaw Tldáaw but due to some unforeseen circumstances and some rain, we didn’t and I still regret that. Well, probably next time…

a view from Taaw Tldáaw

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