In The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir (published Fall 2016), Tlingit elder Ernestine Hayes explores the challenges facing Alaska Natives in their own land and recounts her own story of becoming a professor and a writer. This powerful follow-up to her previous memoir Blonde Indian asks: what happens once the exile returns home? The 2016-2018 Alaska State Writer Laureate will soon visit Washington State for a series of book events.
The following excerpt from the book’s prologue tells the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight:
At a time so long ago it can be measured neither by following the moon’s slow dance nor by tracing the sun’s brightened path, had moon and sun then been part of life, darkness was upon the face of the world. This circumstance made it difficult for human beings to conduct their ordinary lives. For example, how much more difficult to impress one another when decisions are made in the dark. How much more difficult to recognize an ally, how much more difficult to praise another’s significance, thereby increasing one’s own importance. How much more difficult to confront a shadow, to challenge the gloom. In an unbrightened world, light does not reveal itself. It must be stolen.
Liberated. Reclaimed, some might say.
Raven has always and not always been around to be amused at the pitiful antics of self-important human beings, and no doubt he found amusement in the ill-composed conditions of a darkened world. But, although he may have discerned intrigue and opportunity, although he may have sensed illicit adventure, although he could well have been distracted by wonders that he alone could see, nevertheless Raven decided to do something about the darkness.
Raven knew about an old man who lived with his daughter in a well-fortified house in an isolated place at the top of a river far away. This old man, it was said, kept in his house precious bentwood boxes in which could be found answers to the darkness. It was said that this old man guarded these boxes even more carefully than he guarded his daughter. He allowed his daughter to venture outside the house for such purposes as gathering roots and collecting water, but never did he allow his precious boxes to be removed from his house or even to be opened, or even to be looked upon, or even to be named.