Raven and the Rock

Storytelling in Chukotka

Kira Van Deusen

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  • Published: 1999
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 216 pp., 31 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N/A in Canada
  • Published with: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, Edmonton
  • Contents

A girl marries a whale, and her story reminds the Siberian Yupik about humans' relationship with the animals who sustain them. A reindeer herder spends the winter in a bear's den, and his story shows the Chukchi how despair can become courage. For centuries, native Chukchi and Yupik elders in Chukotka, the northeasternmost part of Siberia, have spent endless winter nights recounting tales of the trickster Raven, of how people and places came to be created, of evil spirits and sorcerers, of transformation and magic. Through storytelling, they taught the history, worldview, beliefs, and morals of Chukchi and Yupik people.

Storyteller and folklorist Kira Van Deusen has collected traditional Chukchi and Yupik folktales from present-day Chukotka where indigenous people are reclaiming their traditions and identity after years under the assimilative forces of Soviet policy. In this book she presents twenty-five tales and legends in English translation.

These are old tales retold in modern settings. Their themes reveal much about contemporary concerns at a time when native Siberians are facing extreme economic hardships. They convey the values tellers admire and wish to pass on: the courage not to give up, wisdom and loyalty, the ability to find good in what appears evil, maintenance of good relationships with animals, and a sense of humor.

Together the tales provide a cross section of an oral tradition that is very much alive. Van Deusen grounds the stories in details of the tradition from which they spring, emphasizing what is unique in Chukchi and Yupik culture.

"[Raven and the Rock] dramatically introduces the reader to contemporary lives and histories of Chukchi and Siberian Yupik people living in Chukota. The book is elegantly written and engaging and accessible."