November 10, 2012

Stories within Northwest Coast Art: Raven with Broken Beak

Gerry Marks, 14k Yellow Gold Ring, Raven with Broken Beak, 1/2" Width, Size 5 $1,100.00 CAD

Countless stories and legends describe Raven’s insatiable desire for the pleasures of life. This story is no different.

Having barely survived a severe beating by the Big Fisherman for accosting the man’s wife, Raven is thrown into the Pacific, weighed down with heavy stones. As he sinks to the bottom of the ocean, he quickly transforms into a sleek salmon and the stones slip from his body. As Raven nears the surface of the water in his new salmon form, everything suddenly turns dark…he has been swallowed whole by a speedy killerwhale. Once inside the fierce beast, Raven decides that it is best to return to his natural form so he is able to peck his way out of the whale’s stomach. He finally breaks through the stomach of the killerwhale and wastes no time in heading to the surface of the water for air.

As he rushes upwards for air, he spots some succulent kelp out of the corner of his eye. He impulsively bites into the kelp with his beak, but little does he know that the kelp contains a fishing hook. Raven struggles with the hook for a few minutes, but the halibut fishermen are strong and persistent. The fishermen combine forces above and pull hard on the line, tearing the top half of Raven’s beak clean from his face. He clings to the kelp, crying in agony as the fishermen examine their strange find.

After a few minutes, Raven flies up out of the water and follows the fishermen back to their camp. That night, after it had grown dark and the fishermen had gathered around the fire for dinner, Raven disguises himself (yet again) as an elderly man with a large spruceroot hat and approaches the men. The fishermen are passing around Raven’s beak and guessing where it came from when Raven himself approaches them. He asks if he can take a closer look at the object. At first, the fishermen are wary of this little man with the oversized hat and odd lisp. However, he appears small and feeble, so they pass the beak over to him.

At that, Raven fits the top part of his beak back into place, emerges from his disguise and flies upwards as the fishermen run away in fear. Raven then flies off in search of his next adventure…but not before he gorges himself on the fishermen’s halibut, which is piled near the shore.

In artwork, Raven with Broken Beak is often depicted as a human figure with part of a beak and feathers. We have a number of pieces in the gallery portraying this story including 14k yellow gold and sterling silver pendants by  Earl Muldon (Gitskan), a 14k yellow gold ring by Gerry Marks (Haida), an argillite pole by Tom Hans (Haida) and a limited edition print by Bill Reid (Haida).

Story adapted from “Raven Steals the Light” by Bill Reid and Robert Bringhurst, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1984.

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