This is a poetic translation of orature spoken by John Sky (Skaai [or Skaay] of the Qquuna Qiighawaai) in classical southern Haida and transcribed by John Swanton in October 1900. The missing first page of Swanton’s transcription notebook was discovered by Robert Bringhurst in 1992 (see Bringhurst’s introductory essay [link] to this poem, for a comprehensive introduction to the Haida language, Swanton’s work, and Bringhurst’s own story of discovery). Bringhurst describes the poem as “a great Haida poet’s vision of the birth of the world … It is not the Haida vision of creation, but a Haida vision, spoken in the ruins of a culture a century ago by an old man with a crippled back and a beautiful mind” (101). In developing an English translation of this text, Bringhurst brings a sense of Skaai of Qquuna Qiighawaai’s “beautiful mind” and his vision of creation to the cultural ancestors of John Swanton, the poet’s listener and recorder, and for whom this particular vision was presented.
Sean Kane, in his article
Skaay on the Cosmos, sees in
[Skaai’s] work an account of the meaning of life, arranged in a systematic exposition (11). Kane presents a series of claims about Skaai’s doubling of experience, through connections between myth and the world, in order to explore a perspective on the
order of things in a chaotic cosmos (27).
- In Haida mythology, Raven is a complex, god-like figure who spreads chaos and changes in the world to meet his own needs. What does “Raven Travelling” specifically reveal about Raven? What do we learn about Raven’s personality through this process? What is produced as Raven travels?
- Kevin McNeilly comments on the inclusion of John Swanton, the silent transcriber, into the stories of Sky as the figure Voicehandler. Thus, as McNeilly observes “Swanton’s presence … is lightly implicated in the work itself” and yet, only as “an outsider, one who resists interloping but who nonetheless cannot respond or participate, only taking diction.” How does the insertion of the conversation between Voicehandler and Speechmaker specifically add to the story? What particular access point is being offered the non-Haida reader?
Note: When translating “Raven Travelling” in 1995, Bringhurst worked with a spelling system commonly used at the time and which has since been updated. A number of spellings used in this document are now considered less accurate than contemporary approaches to the language. That being said, this remains an important document.
Aanishau tangagyangang, wansuuga.
L xitghwaangas, Xhuuya a.
Tlgu qqaugashlingaay gi la qiingas.
Qaudihau gwaayghutgwa nang qaadla qqaayghudiyas
lagu qqaughaayghan lagha xiidas.
Aa tl sghaana qidas yasgagas giinuusis gangang
lagu gutgwi xhihldagahldiyaagas.
Ga sghaanagwaay ghaaxas la ttista qqaa sqqagilaangas,
tlgwixhan xhahlgwi at wagwi a.
Ghaadagas gyanhau, ising ghaalghagang, wansuuga.
[Nangkilstlas nagha ghahau tadl tsigha’awagan.
Singghalghada l qaaxuhls gyan l kindagaangas.
Sta la xitkkuudahldajasi
gyan gaguu la qqaughaawas guxhan la qqaugingas.
Gyan nang qqaayas taaydiyas gam lagwi qiixhaganggangas.
Qaudi ising ising l qaaxuhls gyan kindaagangas
gyan sta la kkuugwijaasi gyan l qqaaugangas.
Gangang la suugang.
Qaudihau ghaatxhan l skujuu dayasta la kyanangas:
«Jaa, gaasintlau daa suuganggang ‘aa,’ kilstlaay?»
«Gam hau hla guudangangghi suuganggangga.
Sghaana qidas tsiiyahlingaay gaawun diigi suuwus.
Ghaagaanhau hl suuwugangga.»
Gyan han la la suudas,
Gyanhau lasta ising l xitghwang qaudi,
aanang qaxustagha ghaadasis.
Gyagang la qiyastahlguhling, wansuuga.
Gyanhau gha la xitxyaawuhlasi.
Gyanhau gudang ghi la gijahlasi gyan agang la danggaahlasi.
Lnaaghaay guutgha statliiyihlasi
gyan qqaadaxustagaay gan nang laana augas giitga qiighaawas.
Gyanhau singxayas tl qqaastldlghagas.
Gyanhau l sttagusta nang ghaaxhas la hlghuntlstas
gyan ghi la qaajas.
Ladla silaaygha dlgudyasi.
Daghalaygha l tsin’gha l ginangas
gyan lagi la tl dlstlas.
Gyanhau la la dlndlhlayas gyan l sttagu la dadatldayas.
La la danggyaaxhaayas.
Ising gutgghi la la isdas.
Gyan daghalaygha ising gangang la la isdas
gyan sihlgyang l augha gi la la dlstlas.
Aasiigu l qquudasi.
Gam l xhihliigha ttl abaagangas.
Ghaatxhan singxayas gyan ttl taystldlghagas
gyan ttl qqaastldlghagaay dluu,
xhiilang la qqaahludayas.
Naxha gut agang la guudangadas.
Gutgangang ttl qqaastldlghagas.
Gyanhau ghaghwaangkkiyagha l dldajaadaayas.
Ghistaghang la xitxiisdaayas gyan l qaaxuhls.
Kun’gidaygha nang ttiiji hlghagha naawasi l qingdiyas.
Gyanhau l gaawas l qqaau qaudi.
Giina la skyuustlttsas,
gyan l augha qqaatgu stlghusinggaayas
tlgwi la <2>2 stlstlaayas,
gyan silaay la kitxaalas,
gyan waghii giina la skyuugyaangas la skyuuwagasghas.
Gyan ghaayxhadaay at gutghi la kkinhlghahldiyasi
tlaaguda la taadiyasi.
Gan agang la qquqqadiyasi.
Ahlsi kun’gidaay sta la qingdiyasi.
Ising singxayas gyan taaystlaayas
gyan ising l qaaxuhlas.
L gau qaudi ising giina la skyuustlttsas
gyan la skyuughasghasi
gyan ghayxadaay at gut sighii la kkinjigulaangasi.
La sqqagaagyalasi gyan la taawasi gu ghan agang la qquqqaagasi.
Kun’gidaay ghiista nang ttiiji hlghaagas qingaghadiyasi.
gyan ghagwaangkkiyaay ghii taayttsaasi.
Singgahlanaay gu lnagaay ghatliihlxhan waagha xilangdaasi.
Aasi la gudangdiyasi.
gyan ghastansing xhangii iinaghwaay gawuhlghiyalagani.
Gyanhau nang qqayaagas ghansta siwung, wansuuga.
«Jaa, hau tl giidagha qiigan hau waadiga.
La hla qingghu.
Ttl qqaasdla atxhanhau ghiistaghang ttl gyaaxhattlxagangga.»
Gyanhau l tsin’gha lagi kkuuxu gya’at isdaayas,
gyan gha la ttl dlskiidas.
Gyanhau l tsin’gha kihlguulaayas gyan nang qaaxuhls.
«Hala nang giidagha qiighan ghan giitqaghandaaga gwa-gwa-aa-aa.»
Gyan lnagaay tl giiyatdaghaagasi dluuxan
ttl stajuugixhas suugha la ttl ghaginggyagans gu la ghan ttl suuwidiyas.
Qaudihau la gut agang ttl dlghatguhldas
gyan lagi ttl qiyatajas.
Squulagi ghaadang l ghatgaajghuulangdailas
gyan l ghatghaaskitgiyas.
Gyanhau l gaayguugiigwangas kiyahl la sghayihlgwangas.
Qaudihau kihlsindihlgang la qqaadigas.
L qqaa qaudi han giina l suuwudas,
«Dang tsin’gha quuniigaay gwaahlang dang qaattsixhalga.»
Gii la xaahltattlxhaayasi
gyan gam giina gut ghahlghaaghangas.
Gyan ising l gaayghagiighwang qaudi
ising gangang giina l suuwudasi.
Gii la xatldaayasi.
Gam giina gut ghahlghaaghangas.
Gyanhau kkuuxwaay xhangii ghii la qingttlxhaasi.
«Dang tsin’gha quuniigaay gwaahlang dang qaattsixhalga.»
Han l suuwus atgudluu l ttagas.
Gyanhau l qaahlaywas.
Hlqyaama qaaji sqqasting hlghiit l gaayghaghadaangdiyas.
Gyanhau gut la qaagaayasi.
Ttiis gyaghan qaaji sting gut ttaghanii la qaagyas.
Gyanhau gut la qaattaalasi.
Sagaay laaghan ghiidas gangaaxhan tsighangaay laaghan ghiidasi.
Gyanhau naay qqiyuugi la gyaxhattlxasi.
Gyanhau laghan la ghaaguyingttsaayaghan.
«Hala qaattsi ttakkingha,
diigha daa gyasildaghasas danggha kiiyinga <3> gan.»
Gyanhau ghii la qaattsaa’asi.
Tajxwaa nang qqaayaga sqqin gangang ghiida qqaawuwas.
Gyanhau kun’gidaygha ghuuda kkuskkaxyawasi la la diigihldaayasi,
gyan lagi la la skkastlsghaayagani gangaaxhan
gut ghiista la la danttsistatliihlas.
Gyan ghiista giina skkadala sghwana kkaangalxyahlkkamdahlsi
nang sghwaana ising kkaangalhlghaahls
gyan han la la suuwudas lagila xhastliyaay dluu,
«Diihau dang iiji.
Waa’asing dang iiji.»
Tajxwaaxhit lalaghaay gutgha kunhuusi
ungut giina ghuuhlghahl stlapdala ganhlghahldaayasi la suuwudasi.
Gyan han la la suuwudas,
«Aanis hla qqaaystlgiighutstlang
giina l ttiiji qquhlang la at xutskidang.
Gyanhau dangat la qaaxulaay dluu
anang hlghaahls la qqaaystlgiitlaagans,
gyan nang xyahlkkamdals tiiji la qquutlaayas
la at la xutsidaay dluu
haying wasta gadaasis.
La suudaayagani iila la isdaasi
ghaagaanhau wasta gaadajaagani.
Wiyidhau nang hlghahls gwi la stihls
gyan ttiiji la qqutlas
gyan la at la xutsgidaas
gyan waygi ttatsgidaasi.
Gyanhau nang xahlkkamdals ttiiji la qqutlayas
gyan la at xutsgidas.
Aahau qaayt hlingaay hau iijang, wansuuga.
Aanis la gaaystlgaayaay dluu
gutsta agang la dangdaxhaagangas.
Tlaaguda sghaana qidas gaayu gut tsiiyagas l dlgidaawas.
Qqadaxwa laana ising gangaxhan isisi
la ising ghiihlgii qqaaygistlas.
Skaai of the Qquuna Qiighawaai
told at Hlghagilda, October 1900
Hereabouts was all saltwater, they say.
He kept on flying, Raven did,
looking for land that he could stand on.
After a time, beyond the Islands, there was one rock awash.
He flew there to sit.
Like sea-sausages,4 gods lay across it,
putting their mouths against it side by side.
The newborn gods were sleeping, out along the reef,
heads and tails in all directions.
It was light then, and it turned to night, they say.
[Loon was living in Voicehandler’s house.
One day she went out and called.
Then she flew back in and sat waiting,
right where she usually sat.
An old man lay there, not looking up at her.
She went out a second time and called
and hurried back in and sat.
She kept saying the same thing.
After a time, with his back to the fire, the old man said,
«Tell me, Great Speechmaker, why do you keep on talking as you do?»
«I am not talking only from my own mind.
The gods tell me they need places to live.
That is why I have been speaking.»
And he said,
«I am going to make some.»]5
Now when the Raven had flown a while longer,
the sky in one direction brightened.
It enabled him to see, they say.
And then he flew right up against it.
He pushed his mind through and pulled his body after.
There were five villages strung out in a line.
In the northernmost, the headman’s favored daughter had just given birth to a child.
When evening came, and they were sleeping,
the Raven peeled the skin off the newborn child, starting at the feet,
and put it on.
Then he lay down in the child’s place.
Next day, his grandfather asked for the child
and they passed him along.
His grandfather washed him.
Then, he pressed the child’s feet against the ground
and stretched him up to a standing position.
Then he handed him back.
Next day he stretched him again
and handed him back to his mother.
Now he was hungry.
They had not yet started feeding him chewed-up food.
Then evening came again, and they lay down,
and when they slept,
he raised his head and looked around.
He listened throughout the house.
All alike were sleeping.
Then he untied himself from the cradle.
He squirmed his way free and went outside.
Something that was half rock, living in the back corner, watched him.
While he was gone, it continued to sit there.
He brought something in in the fold of his robe.
In front of his mother, where the fire smoldered,
he poked at the coals.
He scooped out a cooking spot with a stick,
and there he put the things that he carried.
As soon as the embers had charred them, he ate them.
He laughed to himself.
Therefore he was seen from the corner.
Again it was evening and they lay down,
and again he went out.
He was gone for a while.
Again he carried things back in the fold of his robe,
and he brought them out
and roasted them over the coals.
Then he pulled them out and ate them, laughing to himself.
The one that was half rock watched him from the corner.
He ate them all,
and then he lay down in the cradle.
When morning came, all five villages were wailing.
He could hear them.
In four of the five villages, each of the people was missing an eye.
Then one of the old people spoke, they say.
«The newborn baby of the favored child goes out.
I have seen him.
As soon as they sleep, he gets up and leaves.»
Then his grandfather gave him a marten-skin blanket
and they wrapped it around him.
His grandfather whispered and someone went out.
«Come bring the baby of the favored child outsi-i-i-i-ide.»
And as soon as the people had gathered,
they stood in a circle, bouncing him up as they sang him a song.
After a while they let him fall,
and they watched him go down.
Turning round to the right he went down through the clouds
and struck water.
Then as he drifted about, he kept crying.
After his voice grew tired, he slept.
He slept for a while, and then something said to him,
«Your father’s father asks you in.»6
He looked all around.
He saw nothing.
Again, when he had floated there awhile,
something said the same thing.
He looked around.
He saw nothing.
Then he looked through the eye of his marten-skin blanket.
A pied-bill grebe appeared.
«Your father’s father asks you in.»
As soon as he said this, he dived.
Then he sat up.
He was floating against a two-headed kelp.
Then he stepped onto it.
He was standing—yes!—on a two-headed stone housepole.
Then he climbed down it.
It was the same to him in the sea as it was to him above.
Then he came down in front of a house,
and someone invited him in.
«Come inside, my grandson,
the birds have been singing about your borrowing something from me.»
Then he went in.
At the back an elder, white as a gull, was sitting.
And he sent him to get a box that hung in the corner.
As soon as he had it,
he pulled out the boxes within the box, totalling five.
In the innermost box were cylindrical things,
one colored like mother-of-pearl and one that was black,
and he handed him these as he said to him,
«You are me.
You are that, too.»
He spoke of some slender blue things turning black
on top of the screens forming a point in the rear of the house.
Then he said to him,
«Set this one into the water, roundways up,
and bite off part of the other and spit it at this.»
But when the Raven brought them up,
he set the black one into the water
and bit off a part of the one like mother-of-pearl.
When he spat that at the other,
it bounced away.
He did it the other way round from the way he was told,
and that is the reason it bounced away.
Now he went back to the black one
and bit off a piece of it,
and spat that at the other.
Then it stuck.
And he bit a part off of the one like mother-of-pearl
and spat that at the other.
That is how trees started, they say.
When he set this place into the water,
it stretched itself out.
The gods swam to it, taking their places.
The mainland did the same,
as soon as he set it into the water roundways up.
- The section printed here in square brackets was dictated to Swanton separately by Henry Moody’s father, Job Moody of the Sttawaas Xhaaydagaay. Swanton inserted it into Skaai’s text.↩
- The bold figures in angle brackets mark the page breaks in the original Swanton manuscript. Thus ?2? marks the transition from the lost ms page one—which exists only in the form of an uncorrected carbon copy at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC (manuscript 7047 [Swanton] in the National Anthropological Archives)—to ms page two, which is the first page of the Philadelphia manuscript.↩
- This is the first one eighth of Skaai’s poem.↩
- Parastichopus californicus, called giinuu in Haida, and sea-cucumbers or sea-sausages in English, are edible holothurians—tubular animals—living in tidal waters. They are red or brown, with very short, stubby but pointed tentacles. Alive and fresh, they tend to be about 30-45 cm long. Cleaned and boiled, they shrink to resemble hollow sausages.↩
- See note 1 above.↩
- The mythcreature behind the invitation is called dang tsin’gha quunigaay,
your grandfather the big.The qualifier quuna, big, has a special meaning here, analogous to the special meaning of
greatin the English phrase
great grandfather.Quuna is used alone to refer to a father-in-law, who is necessarily a senior male of the same moiety. In the Haida kinship system, a person’s own father is necessarily of the opposite moiety; so is one’s mate. The father-in-law—the mate’s father—is therefore always of the same side. Among grandfathers, one’s mother’s father is always of the opposite side, and one’s father’s father always of the same side. Tsin quuna is a male of the same moiety and the grandfather’s generation, or indeed of any generation older than that. It means
male ancestor, older than a father, of the same side.The relationship between a younger male and such an ancestor is, therefore, potentially one of reincarnation.↩
- Bringhurst, Robert.
Raven Travelling: Page One: A Lost Haida Text by Skaai of the Qquuna Qiighawaai.Transcribed by John Swanton . Ed. and trans. Robert Bringhurst. Canadian Literature 144 (1995): 98–11. Print. (PDF)
- McNeilly, Kevin.
Cutting Both Ways: Robert Bringhurst and Haida Literature.Canadian Literature 167 (2000): 167–74. Print.
- Kane, Sean.
Skaay on the Cosmos.Canadian Literature 188 (2006): 11–29. Print. (PDF)