Dukt’ootl is from the Tlingit culture in Alaska and Canada. There are many versions of the myth, some longer than others, some from other Alaskan Native cultures such as the Haida, however they all have the same type of theme and meaning. This particular version is said to have come from the Prince of Wales Island in the Alexander Archipelago in the Alaskan Panhandle. The Tlingit are connected to the land in every aspect of their culture and their beliefs are centered around respect for all life because everything in the world has a spirit or soul. They have elaborate ceremonies called potlaches for major events such as weddings, births, and deaths. A potlach was a time to show wealth, respect, and pay debts by giving gifts and food to the guests. They would dance, sing, give speeches, and tell stories. In fact story telling is a big part of Tlingit culture and their beliefs. Their stories are made up of myths and legends that serve a significant purpose. They describe how the world was created and ordered, how animals and places came to be, and taught the history and importance of their culture. The legend of Dukt’ootl is one of those stories.
Dukt’ootl was a young man who was constantly picked on by his peers; he was often left out of activities, and treated like an outcast. His Uncle was the Chief of the village and was killed by a giant bull sea lion. Dukt’ootl wanted to be able to avenge his uncle’s death so he had to gain strength on his own since he did not bathe in the ocean during ritual bathing practices with the other young men of the village. He wrestled a stranger named “Strength” and when he beat him Dukt’ootl knew he was strong enough to avenge his uncle’s death. He went with the other young men of the village and when they reached the island where the sea lions lived Dukt’ootl made his way to the big bull while killing several smaller sea lions on the way. He then grabbed the big bull, wrestled it to the ground and ripped it in half with his bare hands. The others were in complete shock and amazed at the same time. Dukt’ootl gathered up all the dead sea lions and brought them back to the village where they all had a feast. They never called him names or teased him again. He was the strongest man that anyone had ever seen and his new nickname would be strongman from now on. Even though he was the strongest man in the world he never used his strength for evil. He was a true hero and a truly great man.
Dukt’ootl is classified as Hero Myth because it has the characteristics of “the hero’s journey” that Joseph Campbell conceptualizes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces where he describes the basic narrative pattern needed. There are three main stages that contain a variety of activities for the hero to go through. The first stage is separation where the hero while living in his ordinary world gets called to an adventure and will meet a mentor. Dukt’ootl has a call to adventure when he decides that he wants to avenge his uncle’s death; the chiefs death. While swimming at night alone in the ritual bathing area of the ocean he his mentored by his aunt to become stronger. He also encounters a stranger named “Strength” and once he beats him Dukt’ootl is ready to ready to avenge his uncles death; the Chiefs death.
The second stage is initiation and during this stage the hero will have to deal with some sort of trial or test. For Dukt’ootl he decides to join the rest of the village men to avenge the death of the Chief but they are still picking on him. They have no idea exactly how strong he is and Dukt’ootl decides to keep quiet and let them make their jokes. In order to avenge the Chiefs death the big bull sea lion must be killed and Dukt’ootl is the one who does it by ripping the sea lion in half with his bare hands. The end of this stage is where the hero will receive an award and Dukt’ootl is rewarded with being known as the strongest man in the world and now has the respect of his whole village.
The final stage of a Hero Myth is the return home. For Dukt’ootl his return home is quite leisurely. There are no reasons for him to refuse to return home and no reasons arise to become rescued, however the other village men are now afraid of him and his strength. When he does have to cross the threshold home he has to convince them and the village that he is not a monster. He throws a feast for the whole village with the meat of the dead sea lions they realize that he is no monster; he is a hero and a truly nice man. He is now the master of both worlds, he has completed the journey out and back and has the freedom to live which are also two themes that occur in Hero Myths. He lives the rest of his life with his village and only uses his strength for good and all the people who once thought of him as a lazy coward now looks up to him and revere him as the hero that he is.
Dukt’ootl is considered one of the greatest Tlingit mythological characters and he is their equivalent to the Greek hero Hercules. There are numerous accounts of his fantastic and heroic deeds. The Tlingit oral narrative traditions, the telling of mythological and legendary folklore are as rich and diverse as any literary tradition throughout the world. Like Gilgamesh of the Babylonian epic or Homer’s Illiad their stories have been told orally for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years before they were ever written down. These traditional stories have taught the Tlingit people how to view and relate to the world around them. With that being said it was a great honor to find these stories and immerse myself in to the Tlingit culture. It was not an easy feat however, I spent many hours combing through books and websites. It was a daunting task to find pictures that were available to use but during my research I did find some very interesting things. For instance I found an audio version of Duktootl that was recorded in Tlingit in 1972 ( http://www.language-archives.org/item/oai:anla.uaf.edu:ANLC1909) as well as information about repatriation of the Strongman Housepost Robe, a painted moose hide blanket that represents the Tlingit hero, Dukt’ootl (http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/fed_notices/nagpradir/nir0419.pdf).
By Jeannine Becker
Beck, Mary L. Heroes & Heroines: Tlijngit-Haida Legend. Bothell, WA: Alaska Northwest Books, 1989.
Grinev, Andre Val’terovich. The Tlingit Indians in Russian America, 1741-1867. Translated by Richard L. Bland and Katerina G. Solovjova. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Harris, Lorle K. Tlingit Tales: Potlach and Totem Pole. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph Publishers, Inc., 1985.
Kaiper, Dan and Nan. Tlingit: Their Art Culture & Legends. Seattle, WA : Hancock House Publishers LTD., 1978.
Swanton, John R. Tlingit Myths and Texts. Washington: Government Printing Office,1909.
Featured Image Photo: Part of the Kasaan Peninsula on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, as seen from the Clarence Strait by Jsayre64 CC-BY-SA-3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kasaan_Peninsula,_Prince_of_Wales_Island.JPG accessed on 12/6/2015