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Raven Returns: The Story of the Human Beings

Raven Returns: The Story of the Human Beings is an example of epic storytelling. In the past, some stories of the Yup'ik people could last for a week. Within the great story were many other stories, each of them carrying their own bit of truth that helped make the larger story more understandable.

In today's world, time is of the essense. But there is still a place for epic storytelling. Thus, storytelling as theatre has become a way of presenting some epic stories. Raven Returns: The Story of the Human Beings is the epic story of Alaska's Yup'ik people, from the very beginning, before creation, to the present day, and some would say, a little into the future.

Raven is one of the most important symbols of Alaska Native spirituality. It is believed that Raven is the Creator. Many of our cultures have stories of Raven in this role. But interestingly enough, Raven also plays the role of the trickster, in which Raven gets in all sorts of trouble. These troubles provide allegories to learn many of life's lessons.

For thousands of years, the Yup'ik people of Alaska refined these lessons forthemselves into a way of life that sustained them quite comfortably on the tundra of western Alaska. A complex and deep spirituality, not seperated from daily living, was at the core of this way of life.

Then, in 1908, not long after missionaries arrived, a flu epidemic wiped out 60% of the Yup'ik population. The missionaries used this epidemic to convert the Yup'ik from their "savage" lifestyle. However, since becoming "civilized," suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and criminal activity have become extremely serious problems. At the core of this is a general loss of identity and spirituality.

These issues are no longer relevant only to the Yup'ik people, or other Alaska Native cultures, or other indigenous cultures of the world. We are seeing a similar breakdown of spirit in the modern world-culture.

Raven Returns: The Story of the Human Beings is the story of this time on the world; this time of spiritual loss, and the events leading up to it. Only by knowing our past, and how we came to be where we are, can we face our own future. But as the title indicates, it is the story of the return. It serves as an example of how people can reinvite traditionally indigenous philosophies back into their life and culture, and how to evolve those philosophies to be relevant in this fast-paced, modern culture. Follow the links to Part 1: Savage and Part 2: Civilized to learn more about the stories making up this example of epic storytelling. Also, you can read reviews of Jack's performances.

Stephan Nowers/Anchorage Daily News

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