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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Raven runs off with the spirit of the whale

Adapted by Amy Friedman

"The Spirit of the Whale" is an Inuit tale.

The Inuit people say it was Raven who created the world.

When he had finished, he decided he would stay and watch over all he had created.

One day, as Raven was on the beach, he spotted a dark speck in the distance. As the speck moved closer, Raven saw it was a whale.

The closer the whale came, the more Raven longed to know about him. The whale was large and impressive, and he rode the waves and spouted water with ease. Raven could not remember all that there was of the whale. Some things Raven had forgotten.

So Raven got into a kayak and paddled toward the whale. He paddled around the creature, amazed at his beauty and strength.

When Raven was near the whale's mouth, the whale yawned and Raven was swept inside. The whale's mouth closed behind him, and Raven reeled in the darkness.

He heard sounds — the slapping of water against the whale's back, the roar of the ebbing tide, the distant cawing of gulls, the splashing waves.

As the whale swam, Raven shifted and swayed. He found his footing and began to walk deeper inside.

In the center of the whale's belly, Raven saw a maiden so beautiful, she radiated light. Each time she moved, light shot from her limbs, running this way and that, so that light reached every part of the whale's body. When the girl twirled, the whale swept through the water; when she jumped, the whale leaped and spouted. When the girl bowed low, the whale dived, and when she stood very still, the whale was still.

Raven could not take his eyes off the beautiful girl. He felt a longing to be near her. "I am Raven," he said to himself. "I can have anything I wish." And he moved closer.

The maiden turned and saw him. Again she twirled, and so did the whale.

"I am the one who made the world," Raven called to her.

The maiden bowed; the whale dived.

Raven steadied himself. "I want to marry you," he said.

She smiled, and light burst everywhere. "I will marry you," she said, "but we must stay here. You see, I am the spirit of the whale."

"No, no," Raven argued. "You don't understand. I am Raven. I made the world, and I want you to come with me." He turned and pointed toward the whale's mouth, into the darkness.

"I could never leave the whale," said the girl. Once again she twirled. The whale coursed through the water.

Raven could not take his eyes away from the maiden. "I must marry you," he said.

The maiden ignored him. She swirled and leapt, pranced and pirouetted. With each move, light shot everywhere, and the whale raced through the water.

But Raven had decided he wouldn't leave without the maiden. He waited and watched.

After a long time, the maiden's movements slowed, and her eyes began to close. Still Raven waited. More time passed, and the maiden moved more and more slowly until at last she stopped.

And Raven felt the whale stop, too.

Raven quickly raised his wings and grabbed the girl between them. He heard a shriek and a gasp as he flew toward the whale's mouth, the girl trapped in his grip.

Raven flew outside, and still clutching the girl, he flew higher and higher, as far from the sea as he could.

When he looked down, he saw the whale thrashing frantically, his body slapping the waves. Then he began to turn and tumble beneath the water.

This maiden was indeed the whale's spirit, and without that spirit, the whale was dying. Raven looked down at the bundle he carried, and he saw the maiden had grown so tiny, she was nearly invisible. Again he looked at the water, and he saw the whale was dead. He watched in shock as the dead body drifted toward shore.

Mortified, Raven flew to the earth and sat at the whale's side. There he wept. These were the first tears the world had ever known.

After many days of grieving, Raven began to sing. He sang a song to the spirit of all creatures. And this was the first song the world had ever known.

Raven remembered the movements of the girl, and he began to dance, a healing dance, the first dance the world had ever known.

Healed at last, Raven returned to the sky, filled with a deeper awareness of what he had created.