It seems all cultures had a way of instructing timeless lessons on life through stories. The Tlingit Raven/Shark legend is edified through this pole.
In ancient times, Raven came to a large village under the ocean. There he saw a very nice looking lady. The longer he watched her, the more beautiful she became. He could not take his eyes off of her. A little boy ran by the fire, and Raven called him over. “Who is that woman? I want to talk to her. I want to marry her.”
When the lady received the message she cried, and told Raven that she would like to marry him, but she was ashamed of her body as her rough skin and form were that of a shark. Her face was her only beautiful feature. Raven replied, “Beauty is nothing. I look for inner beauty that radiates from your face.” She married Raven soon after.
Chief Tom of the Tlingit village of Klawock on Prince of Wales Island donated the original pole to the people of Alaska. It was initially carved for his wife from the Kaagwaantaan clan whose crests are represented on the pole.
In addition to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, this pole was part of the New York World’s Fair in 1964. By 1978 the pole had seriously decayed and was replaced with this copy. The original, minus the bottom figure, is currently exhibited at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. The original base figure is now exhibited in Totem Hall in the visitor center.
A bear, used as a base figure often time symbolizes that the story had its origin at the beginning of time. Do you know of any old fables with a similar message that has transcended time?