The Old Man Who Talked With Ravens

To understand the story one must realize the position age brought upon some of the members of Indian coast tribes. Though life seemed generally easy, it was not necessarily so. When people became too old to be useful to the tribe they were often banished from it Theirs was a constant struggle with nature and they had to do as nature dictated. It was something they all had to look forward to when old. So it was out of necessity rather than cruelty the decrepit were put out to fend for themselves.

This led to many old men and women suddenly becoming possessed of strange new “powers,” suddenly being able to predict the future, to tell one’s fortune and the like. Anything to create the illusion of new usefulness to the tribe. The man who could talk to ravens fitted into this category.

It happened before the arrival of the white man; back when the Indian ran his own life without interference and, contrary to the belief of some, made a pretty good job of it. The old man in question became, no doubt, quite as suddenly and conveniently as any of the rest, able to converse with ravens. All the croaks and mysterious sounds these big, blackbirds made, the old man claimed he could interpret. He must have been satisfactorily convincing in his act for he remained a member in good standing of the community at Village Point, Hornby Island.

Village Point has long since become Boulder Point. There are lots of boulders there, to be sure. But perhaps the name refers to the rows of large stones left from an old Indian fish trap. They used somehow to drive the fish Into, its confines. keep them there until the tide went out, then simply collect them.

The old man used to stand at the edge of the forest back of the village listening to the various sounds that ravens make. He would come back with news as to whether it would or would not rain, whether the forthcoming fishing expedition would be successful or not, and so on.

One day he came back with a prediction of much more importance. Instead of going to the village centre and giving out his various prophecies to a crowd of nonentities he went straight to the lodge of the chief. “The Nuchultaws are going to make a daylight raid on our village in five days,” he stated.

This seemed incredible to the chief for two reasons. In the first place they, the K’ómoks (later Comox of Hornby Island), had been at peace with the Nuchultaws for several months and secondly, since raids, like most crimes, were usually committed in the obscurity of darkness, it was highly unlikely the Nuchultaws would make a daylight attack. Then when the old man told him where he had acquired this bit of alarming information the chief was even more inclined to discredit it. To get the local weather report and the odds on the fishing game was one thing—but to predict such an unlikely and singular attack as the old man had just described was quite another. No. The chief would not accept that. The old man went away much disheartened.

But he was not through yet. He could not give up. He would have to make his people believe. He went to the village centre to tell the people what Raven had told him. But those people, too. merely ridiculed and jeered. Disconsolately he went home to his bed of cedar bark mats and dog hair blankets.

Next day he tried again and once more he failed to convince his people. Now there were but three days left to prepare for the attack. Time was growing short. However, the more he told the people of the prophecy the more zealous he became and then, in the afternoon of the third day, his obvious conviction tended to convince the others. It was far better to be safe than sorry. They had never heard that old saying of course, but that was nevertheless the new direction of their thoughts.

Then suddenly it was decided they would prepare. With great relief the old man saw his people heeding him at last. Someone was sent south to enlist the help of their friends at the nearest Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) village. This does not mean they went all the way south to Nanaimo but merely to the nearest fishing village which was probably not very far away. A band of chosen Snuneymuxw warriors was sent to help. They were to be stationed in the woods out of sight and when the time was right, they would ambush the Nuchultaws from the rear.

On the day chosen by the old man’s prophecy they prepared early, got into their assigned positions and settled down for a wait that could be either short or long. The women did not go outside the stockades of the village to dig clams. Nor were the children allowed to play on the beach. Everyone simply sat and watched and waited.

Time wore on and so did the nerve strain. The tension mounted to a peak and doubt, once again, was in the old man’s prediction. Here it was already afternoon of the predicted day and no Nuchultaws! The people began to grumble. Some of them were now saying the old man was a false alarmist.

By late afternoon there was a hostility building up against the old man. But there was at least one who still believed in the prophecy of Raven. He had kept watching the sea to the north and suddenly saw a canoe appear on the horizon. Before he could shout “Nuchultaws!” it had been others. Soon a fair-sized raiding party could be seen coming toward their village. The people hid, the tension mounting once again. This was the real thing. They waited in silence for the impending attack.

However, it did not come. At the command of the war chief in the lead canoe the Nuchultaws stopped paddling. Instincts that are keenest in the primitive warned him. There were no women gathering shell fish or children on the beach. Not even a canoe had been left in sight. Something was definitely amiss. With little more pause the Nuchultaws turned their canoes around and headed back the way they had come.

That night there was a potlatch at which the old man was the guest of honor. He would never have to worry again. He would be looked upon as a man of high honor for the rest of his days. And so too would the legend of the old man who talked with ravens.

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