North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Transformations: Bear, Raven, and Humans

The Woman Who Married the Bear

In some Tlingit legends, animals appear before people in human form and may even marry them and raise families. In this story the human wife learns to treat the bear with respect. The bear teaches her the ritual observances for its proper killing, which she brings back to her human community.

Married the Bear

A young woman went out to pick berries. On the way home she stepped in a pile of brown bear's droppings. She cursed the bear for always pooping in a pathway where a person could step in it.

Married the Bear

The brown bear heard her insults. He appeared to her as a fine looking young man. "Come with me," he said. She followed him a long way up into the mountains.

Married the Bear

They came to a place with people—at least that's how it seemed to her. When she awoke at dawn, she pushed aside the blanket and saw brown bears instead of humans asleep around her.

Married the Bear

She married the bear, who looked like a man to her, and they had two children. In the meantime her five brothers searched for their sister. They found her footprints alongside the bear tracks, and then they knew that she had gone with the bear.

Married the Bear

The brown bear had a vision. He told his wife, "Your brothers are making medicine against me. The youngest will get me." The wife marked where they lived, so her brother could find the den.

"Your brother is getting close," the bear said.

She begged him, "Please don't harm my brother."

Married the Bear

The brown bear knew her brother was going to kill him. So he instructed his wife: "Don't be careless with my skin. Drape it so my head points toward the setting sun."

The wife took his instructions back to her people. That's why hunters still follow them today.

Married the Bear

This story is a composite of the versions told by Tom Peters (collected by Nora and Richard Dauenhauer) and by Sheldon and Mary James, Sr., and Minnie Johnson (collected by Frederica de Laguna). This short version emphasizes the story line, omitting the rich detail and cultural complexity present when told by Tlingit storytellers.

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