Clans and Stories

Gash Village at Cape Fox, Alaska, in 1899, PM 2004.29.3573

All Tlingit people belong to one of two paired, opposite groups: Raven and Eagle (in some places called Wolf). Within each are many different clans. Stories are a vital part of Tlingit clan patrimony. Clan members share ownership of stories, along with places, crests, names, songs, dances, and objects. Once brought forth in ceremonies, such property—both tangible and intangible—may only be used by appropriate clan members.

A young nobleman wanted to become lucky and wealthy, so he trapped a sea monster. Wearing its skin, the man was a strong hunter but would die if he did not return home nightly. One night, exhausted from fighting a whale, he did not return. When his wife went to find him, another sea monster took her to his underwater house. She stayed and had his children. Seeing a sea monster still brings luck and wealth.

Sea Monster stories are owned by certain Eagle clans and Raven clans. Only they may tell sea monster stories or use its crest. Although we do not know whether the spoons exhibited here were presented and used in ceremonies, they do manifest stories and other Tlingit knowledge that can become proprietary.

Carved spoon handles are "read" from the bottom up.