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Raweno and the Owl – Mohawk/Iroquois

Posted By Marie Griffith On May 2, 2013 @ 8:45 am In Myths,Narrative | Comments Disabled

As a Child growing up in a small prairie community, we were constantly reminded of the “special ” relationship that the “Indian,” now native Americas , now aboriginal people’s, now First Nations, had with nature as manifest by the great spirit. As a child in a rural Canadian environment I  had developed my own personal relationship with nature and was always curious of how or what the native/Indian/aboriginal folklore and experience was different than my own.  I made it a point to educate myself on their heritage, and was fortunate enough to hear a folk creation story from a man of Mohawk/Iroquois descent.  The Mohawks used to occupy parts of Ontario, where I am from, so I was very exposed to their culture growing up.

The story of Raweno is a Mohawk creation story that a native of my small prairie community told me.  Raweno was the Great Spirit who created everything: all of the plants, all of the animals.  While molding the animals, Raweno would take requests from the animals so that he could create them as they desired.  The molding and decision process was supposed to be a private interaction between Raweno and the animal being molded, but the owl insisted on watching and giving his input.  Raweno told him to stop interfering, and to leave Raweno to his work.  But the owl continued to give Raweno suggestions, as well as making constant requests for Raweno to change his physical appearance as he saw a wider variety of creatures being created.  Raweno became very angry at the owl’s constant interferences, so he took the owl and shook him until his eyes went wide in fear. He then gave the owl a short neck so that the owl could not stretch his neck to watch things he shouldn’t watch.  He continued by giving the owl big ears to ensure that he can listen to what he is told, and gave him dull colored feathers solely because the owl wanted to be an extravagant bird. And finally, because Raweno worked primarily in the day, he made the owl nocturnal so that he could no longer disrupt Raweno’s work.

It wasn’t until I had you and your brother that I found the book Owl Eyes by Frieda Gates.  She made the story more kid friendly, although there wasn’t anything necessarily kid un-friendly in the original story, and I wanted to share this story I was fortunate enough to hear with you two.  I never told you or your brother that the story I read to you was a native American myth, but now that you are older, I am confident that you can appreciate the heritage of a culture I was surrounded with as a child.

It’s funny how different native creation stories vary from those of the more modern religions.  In Christianity, for example, creation stories are very human-oriented, while the creation stories for native cultures are very animal-oriented.  My father used to tell my brother and I this story from Frieda Gates Owl Eyes, but he would re-phrase it to make my brother and I to make us laugh, like saying Raweno like “Raweenie,” and giving the owl a very high pitched, annoying voice.  He used to tell us this story every night before we went to bed, and I didn’t realize until later that he changed the words, I was always so focused on the pictures (and I couldn’t read).  I actually miss hearing the story every night, as it was a really good bonding experience for me, my father, and my brother.  One of my fondest memories is sharing that moment with them every night.

Gates, Frieda. Owl Eyes. New York City: Harper Collins, 1994. Print.


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