“The Headless Ravine? You mean up Chitistone Gorge? That’s just a legend.”
“Yeah, the Athabascans didn’t name it that for nothing, kid.”
Myths and Legends of all cultures have fascinated me since I was a little girl. One of my favorites is that of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of the Mojave Desert (near Death Valley). They tell of early times, when the Coyote Spirit carried the First People into the Living Valley (what the Europeans would later name Death Valley) in a basket. He fell asleep, and the people crept out and populated the world. This took place at the Wosa, now known as Ubehebe Crater, a large extinct crater shaped like a basket in the National Park. I always liked to picture the coyote sleeping under the multitude of desert stars, while the curious people wandered away.
As I grew older, my brother, cousin and I would sit around and tell darker stories. Those of the of the Yucca Man and Skin Walkers. The southwest like every region of the world has its own tales of creatures that stalk the empty, uninhabited spaces of the land.
Athabascan Language Groups
When I moved to Alaska in 2007, I became fascinated with the differences and similarities between the legends I grew up with and the ones I encountered in my new home. Something that I didn’t know, and others may be surprised to learn, is that Alaska Natives First Peoples of the interior of Alaska, called the Northern Athabascans, are actually related to the Apache-Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. The Apache Navajo are considered to be Southern Athabascan (also spelled Athapascan). The language structure, verb usage and words are similar, though the two groups live more than 3000 miles apart and have had no contact for many millennia. Some words have become obsolete over time and distance as the languages have evolved, but they have found that if they bring members from the different groups together, they are able to understand each other with some difficulty. I have included some links below that talk in more detail about the Athabascan Languages, relationships, dialects and origins.
Athabaskan Peoples Languages
Of the 31 dialects of Athabascan in Alaska, my particular story, The Dark Land is derived from legend of tailed creatures in the interior of Alaska in the region of the Ahtna (referring to the Upper Ahtna). The Dene, Han, Upper Tanana and other tribes have similar stories and legends revolving around evil creatures in the Alaska-Yukon wilderness, the most complete version resides in the book, Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’ or The Headwater’s People’s Country, transcribed and edited by James Kari.
Cet’aenn Nal’aen’de (When the Tailed Ones Were Seen), is a chilling account of the Upper Ahtna’s encounter with the Cet’aenn (pronounced: Ket-ANN) detailed in the aforementioned book. It described evil, monkey-like creatures* that would come out of the ground at night and watch from the hills. The story describes how the Ahtna vanquished the creatures in the particular area known as Roasted Salmon Place (Batzulnetas), but the implication is that they didn’t eliminate them entirely.
*English translation-no word for monkey in Dena’ina/Ahtna.
Talking with some of my other friends who are more closely related to the Tanacross/Tanana tribes, this oral story/legend is not familiar to them. But they are very familiar with what is known as the Bush Men (Ts’el’eni or Kol’eni) or “Wild Men of the Tundra.” According to legend these men are known for kidnapping women and children and waging war against the First Peoples. There is also fervent belief in “The Hairy Man,” or the Wood Man (Nuhu’anh) what we would call Big Foot or Sasquatch.
No matter where you go, the theme of something sinister lurking in the woods beyond the shadows of the campfire prevails. No matter what our differences, tales of things waiting to devour those that stay too far from the path permeate every culture. Blending these tales into my own brand of fiction was a fun adventure, at the same time I wanted to share the inspiration. I also wanted to share the reason why I will definitely think twice before investigating the strange noise outside my cabin in the darkness.
Thanks for reading. If you want to read about legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the frozen trails of Alaska, you can find The Dark Land on Amazon.
You can also check out more of my blog posts about my Alaska adventures on my website:
Daniella’s book, The Dark Land, a wonderful mix of romance, terror, and action will be released May 4th. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Check back on May 4, 2020 for a full review.
You can also find Daniella on Twitter.
2 thoughts on “Guest Post – Athabascan Languages and Legends by Daniella Shepard”
I love knowing the depth of story behind the story. May 4th will be a big day!
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