The Tlingit Tale of the Killer Whale

Tlingit orca whale meaning

Exploring Killer Whale Meaning and Symbolism

How the ‘Killer’ Whale Came to Be (and why the nickname ‘killer’ blows chunks). The Tlingit Tale of the Killer Whale

I love Native American legends. The Tlingit of Alaska (who migrated from Siberia) has a particularly colorful array of stories connected to life, love, tradition, and nature. In fact, the Tlingit have a legend about how the ‘Killer’ Whale came into existence which is utterly fascinating!

Wanna know more? You’re in luck! Here’s the gist of the Tlingit epic tale of the Killer Whale (also known as the Orca Whale).

So the story goes like this…

Once there was a masterful hunter among the Tlingit called Natsalane’. He was loved by the entire clan because not only was he a phenomenal hunter, but he was very generous, and frequently fed the whole village with whatever he brought home from the hunt.

Natsalane’ had three brothers. Unfortunately, these brothers weren’t crazy about Natsalane’ because they were jealous of how revered he was within the clan, and envied his hunting skills. They were so green with envy that the hatched a plan to murder bro by leaving him stranded at high tide.

Yep, one day Natsalane’ and his three backbiting brothers boated out to a small island where it was rumored the fattest, tastiest seals were ripe for hunting. Once there, the three brothers left Natsalane’ knowing he would drown at high tide because the little island (and Natsalane’) would be consumed by engulfing tide.

As they were paddling back home, one of the three brothers pleaded with the other two: “Please, brothers, we cannot do this! We cannot leave Natsalane’ there to die!” The other two brothers ignored his attack of scruples and kept canoeing home – hoping to usurp Natsalane’s place as the ‘favored one.’

Meanwhile, Natsalane’ knew his demise was close at hand. But all was not lost, because he suddenly heard a voice calling to him. He searched the horizon of the rising tide and spotted a loon. The loon spoke again and said: “Natsalane’, you are a good man to your people. For this, I will save you.” 

With that, the loon allowed Natsalane’ to grab hold of its wings so it could transport him back to the village. But the loon gave Natsalane’ a word of caution, and said, “Natsalane’ I can carry you back home, but you must only think of your home and family. You must not think about the island from which you came.”

Natsalane’ agreed and the loon started ferrying him back to the village. However, at some point Natsalane’ started to think back to what could have happened had he been unable to leave the island. At that thought, the loon started to weaken, and Natsalane’ started to become submerged in the water at an alarming rate.

“What did I tell you!?” Said the loon. Natsalane’ immediately started adjusting his thoughts and

I love Native American legends. The Tlingit of Alaska (who migrated from Siberia) have a particularly colorful array of stories connected to life, love, tradition and connection to nature. In fact, the Tlingit have a legend about how the ‘Killer’ Whale came into existence which is utterly fascinating! Wanna know more? You’re in luck! Here’s the gist of the Tlingit epic tale of the Killer Whale (also known as the Orca Whale).

So the story goes like this…

Once there was a masterful hunter among the Tlingit called Natsalane’. He was loved by the entire clan because not only was he a phenomenal hunter, but he was very generous, and frequently fed the whole village with whatever he brought home from the hunt.

Natsalane’ had three brothers. Unfortunately, these brothers weren’t crazy about Natsalane’ because they were jealous of how revered he was within the clan, and envied his hunting skills. They were so green with envy that the hatched a plan to murder bro by leaving him stranded at high tide.

Yep, one day Natsalane’ and his three backbiting brothers boated out to a small island where it was rumored the fattest, tastiest seals were ripe for hunting. Once there, the three brothers left Natsalane’ knowing he would drown at high tide because the little island (and Natsalane’) would be consumed by engulfing tide.

As they were paddling back home, one of the three brothers pleaded with the other two: “Please, brothers, we cannot do this! We cannot leave Natsalane’ there to die!” The other two brothers ignored his attack of scruples and kept canoeing home – hoping to usurp Natsalane’s place as the ‘favored one.’

Meanwhile, Natsalane’ knew his demise was close at hand. But all was not lost, because he suddenly heard a voice calling to him. He searched the horizon of the rising tide and spotted a loon. The loon spoke again and said: “Natsalane’, you are a good man to your people. For this, I will save you.”

With that, the loon allowed Natsalane’ to grab hold of its wings so it could transport him back to the village. The loon successfully returned Natsalane’ home in the darkness of midnight.

The cloak of darkness allowed Natsalane’ to return without being detected by any of the other villagers. In the quiet night, Natsalane’ started to hatch a plan to avenge his life of which he almost lost.

He went into the forest and chopped down the mightiest tree he could see. He fashioned a fine cane from the timber and he began to chant and dance to the spirit within the tree. He chanted the tree into life and danced until the tree became animated with soul, breath, and life.

The cedar canoe transformed into an epic sea monster with gruesome teeth and a thirst for blood. After seeing such a ferocious sea creature, Natsalane’ knew his plan to punish his brothers would succeed.

Natsalane’ commanded the fearsome sea creature to seek out and kill his brothers to put an end to their jealous, bloodthirsty ways. With one exception. Natsalane’ demanded the killer sea monster to not lay a tooth on the youngest brother, who had a change of heart and wanted to go back to save Natsalane’.

The sea creature did as he was bid. He found the two older brothers, killed them, and spared the youngest. But after doing so, the monster felt hungry for the blood of other humans.

Seeing this, Natsalane’ faced his odious creation and said, “I created you to kill my brothers. Now you have a taste for human blood and you have no purpose on this earth. Because you did not allow your blood lust to control you and you spared my youngest brother as I commanded, I will spare your life.

From now on, you will be called ‘Keet’ and you will kill no more. Go into the sea, live free as other sea creatures do, and be at peace.”

At that, my friends are how the Orca whale came to be.

It’s also why the nickname ‘killer’ whale is utterly ridiculous. In reality, the Orca whale is opposed to killing humans. Not unless provoked. That’s where the nasty nickname comes in. Killer whales only kill when prompted or conditioned by humans. If you don’t believe me, maybe the documentary Blackfish which records the generally docile Orca doing no harm until it has been abused or mistreated by humans.

And by the way, the Tlingit word ‘Keet’ means whale, but it also means ‘calm.’

Did you like this? Wanna know more? Lucky again, because I got more!!!! Check out the links if you are interested in more meanings of the Orca!

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