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The Story of Asdiwal: Indian mythology


Indian mythology is rich in legends and stories about the lives of various tribes. One such example is The Story of Asdiwal, which was told by Tsimshian Indians, natives of the Northwest Pacific coast of Canada. The story provides the reader with a detailed overview of the lives of indigenous people, as well as Indian symbolism and traditions. The character of Asdiwal serves as a guide to the Tsimshian world, whereas he does not necessarily represent the typical and authentic member of his tribe. The treasure of the myth is that its story is universally human and might be understood by anyone regardless of ethnicity or social status.

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To fully understand the story in question, it might be useful to investigate the geographical and economic background with its influence on the Tsimshian Indians’ lifestyle. The Skeena valley area is the central location of the narrative, where several critical events take place from the beginning to the final lines of the story. The local economy is characterized by the absence of agriculture, which is compensated by wild fruit and vegetable foraging in summer. To avoid the dearth of food in winter, the Tsimshian people have to rely heavily on hunting bears and goats, as well as fishing cod and halibut (Levi-Strauss, p. 2). Such harsh conditions turned these aboriginal people into a migrating community that moves between villages in the Naas and the Skeena and temporary fishing locations scattered around the Canadian wilderness.

Despite all efforts of brave hunters and skillful fishermen to provide food for the tribe, winter famine is still a prevailing theme in the myth. The main character, Asdiwal, for example, tragically lost his grandfather to the disaster and has to fight against it himself. Throughout the story, he demonstrates the extraordinary ability to survive by hunting and fishing, even though it is only possible with the help of his supernatural gift, rather than his talents or training. The creature called Hatsenas, or “the bird of good omen”, saved the lives of Asdiwal’s family and eventually married his mother.

It might be assumed that Hatsenas hoped that his son would use the gift to become a savior for the Tsimshian people, the only human able to fight against the ruthless forces of nature. Just like any legendary character, Asdiwal is expected to serve as a universal hero, a positive image of a person who would overcome obstacles on his way to justice and prosperity. However, overwhelmed with power, the young man uses his abilities only to impress others and earn their respect.

Traveling from one village to another, he always finds new encounters and potential love interests. He manages to marry every girl he likes and win every contest available to him. At one point in the story, Asdiwal even gets a chance to climb the ladder to heaven, where he meets the Sun, asking him to complete some impossible quests and offering his daughter, Evening Star, as a prize (Levi-Strauss, p. 5). Every time there is a trial or a problem, Hatsenas helps his son in need, so Asdiwal grows overconfident and proud of himself and his magic powers, feeling almighty.

Despite his success and popularity, Asdiwal constantly feels nostalgia and yearns for his home village. Even his multiple marriages and wives cannot make him happy and fulfilled. He never feels complete and is always looking for new adventures and, sometimes, new trouble. It might be regarded as the character’s search for his calling that he ignores or does not understand. The gift from the above might not merely be a sign of fatherly love, but the duty that a father shares with his son. Towards the end of the story, though, Asdiwal probably realizes his true purpose and shares his magic artifacts with his son, sharing at the same time, the great duty with him. The story ends here and does not tell the reader about the events that follow. It is now up for the son to choose his path and destiny, not only for himself, but for the Tsimshian people too.

In this respect, it might be reasonable to draw a parallel between the aforementioned story and real life. It does not matter which part of the world a person lives in or when, the concept of humanity and the concept of duty remain universal and unchangeable. By default, most people are born with special abilities or talents of some kind. On the one hand, they might be evident and even extraordinary, requiring no time or effort to manifest. A person having such abilities is often called a genius and starts attracting attention from childhood. Being gifted with magical artifacts and their powers early in life is similar to being a child prodigy. Asdiwal from the story is an example of such a person who might be compared to a wild tree, requiring no care or effort to blossom beautifully and bear fruit. One might enjoy it for free, paying no regard to the value of this perfect gift of nature.

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On the other hand, talents and abilities might be subtle or obscure unless enough time and attention are given to them. They might be likened to a precious tree that a person is trying to grow in the garden, taking care of it and waiting patiently for the fruit and flowers to appear. The slow and steady development of talents teaches people discipline and responsibility as they learn that the positive result does not have to come easily.

Ordinary people of the Tsimshian, for instance, are not the most prominent characters of the story, but they still play a crucial role in the existence of their tribe. They risk their lives every winter, trying to feed their community despite having no unique artifacts or talents. They have to practice and work every day as it is their duty. The fish and hunt as it is their only way to survive and put some food on the table of their families. In contrast, Asdiwal denies his responsibilities and uses his magic powers only to his benefit. Therefore, being the main character in the narrative does not always equate to being a hero and a positive force behind the story. The real heroes are humble hunters and fishermen who made the further existence of aboriginal people possible.


The Story of Asdiwal is not only an entertaining old myth but also an educating tale, which taught me the importance of being diligent and modest. Indigenous people of the Tsimshian might have a lot in common with hard-working people today, while Asdiwal symbolizes confidence in those who waste away their talents. The greatest lesson we learn from the story is that if a person is gifted with some special ability, it is worth using it for the common good, to help others and grow personally. All in all, I believe that people as social creatures need to work together and do their best to make the world a better place for everyone.


Levi-Strauss, Claude. “The Story of Asdiwal”. The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism, edited by Edmund Leach, Taylor and Francis, 2013, pp. 1-47.

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