Bear (Hųčga)

by Richard L. Dieterle


I. The spirit chief of bears, like the chief of any species of animal, is called by the name of his kind. Thus Bear stands as the paradigm and epitome of all bears. As a spirit he has the powers possessed of human beings, most particularly speech, but his spiritual nature, like his usual bodily form, is completely ursine. [1] Bear presided over the council in which fat was assigned to each animal, a role that seems appropriate in the light of the typical bear's girth. [2] In primordial times Bear tried to bargain for a world of perpetual darkness, but the other spirits rejected this idea out of hand. [3]

More sophisticated accounts specify that there were four ursine brothers in the beginning, and that the eldest of the bears was White Bear. [4] Others say that Black Fur is chief. [5]

Links: Bear Spirits, White Bear, Black Bear.

Stories: featuring Bear (I) as a character: Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear.


II. "Bear" often denotes the eponymous leader of the Bear Clan, especially in primordial times. It was he who led the Bear Clan at the Creation Council when the Hočąk nation was formed. [6] He (or another of that name having the same role) helped lead the clans to the promised land of the Wazija in Wisconsin. [7]

Links: Bear Spirits, Creation Council, The Wazija.

Stories: featuring Bear (II) as a character: Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth.


III. Bear stands for all of his kind in the context in which he is evoked. His misadventures often serve to illustrate the excesses of the ursine nature: greed, arrogance, disregard for normal bounds, over-confidence, and so forth. Such a character is Hare's uncle or grandfather Bear. Bear's greed and arrogance are his undoing, and in the end, Hare shoots him down with his thunder-arrow. [8] Another such character advises Tricster that the best way to visit Earthmaker is for Trickster to kill himself. [9] Most of all, Bear is noted for his uncontrollable temper. In the beginning he offered himself as food for mankind, with the stipulation that all a man had to do was drag the bear inside by his hair. The spirits scoffed at this on the grounds that his temper was too violent to tolerate such treatment. [10] Originally, Earthmaker wanted Bear to watch over the world, but his temper was so violent that all creatures lived in terror of him. So Earthmaker recalled him. [11]

Links: Bear Spirits, Hare, Earthmaker, Trickster.

Stories: featuring Bear (III) as a character: Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Bear Offers Himself as Food, The Spider's Eyes.


Notes

[1] Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 98-100.

[2] Charles Edward Brown, Wigwam Tales (Madison, Wisc.: Charles E. Brown, 1930) 28.

[3] Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan) and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 87-89.

[4] Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]]) 48. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.

[5] Paul Radin, "How the Old Woman Fought the Bears Who Came to Kill the Women Who Had Taken Part in a Feast During their Menstrual Period," Miscellany (American Philosophical Library, ca. 1912) pp. 4, 10.

[6] Felix White, Sr. (Wolf Clan), "Origin Story of the Winnebago Clans," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 15-16.

[7] David Lee Smith (Thunderbird Clan), "The Migration of the Ho-Chunk People," in David Lee Smith, loc. cit., 26-27.

[8] Radin, loc. cit.

[9] Waukon G. Smith (Thunderbird Clan), "Origin Story of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 25.

[10] Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 87-89. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

[11] Joi StCyr, Why Spider has Eight Eyes, in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 96.