The Buffalo Dance

by a member of the Bear Clan

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) "Let's get ready, it's time for the Feast of the Buffalo Kettles. Let the attendants go look to their tasks. Haga, if you see anyone, you may say to them, 'My father says, get ready now.' Have them come here soon." Then he went to seek them. There he went. "My nephew, Fire-Starter, father says that he is to give a feast. He says that now is the time for the Buffalo Feast. He says that they must hunt; they must get ready for work now. (2) And you must go there soon. He said to go ask the aids to get ready with the work. Then they too must get ready soon," he said. They prepared, and soon they were ready. "Yes," he said, "I will go there and ask." "We will be there," [they replied.] I returned. One of them asked me, "Did you see me?" "Hahą-ą, I did see someone, and they will come," they said. "Then go tell them that they must bring the feaster-giver's food for boiling." Again he went to inform them. "I went to all those who give feasts, and told them, (3) 'Father, it is time for a feast,' he said. 'Therefore, go and tell them,' he said. Therefore, I've come to tell you. 'You must take food for boiling there soon,' he said, and that's why I have come. You must hurry," it was said. "Ho," they said, "we have been waiting for him. Even now we are prepared." I returned. It was asked, "What did they say? Were they prepared?" They said, "They are waiting for you." "Ho, it is good," they said. Then the attendants arrived. "Alright, tell us what thing we are going to do now. (4) Right away they told us. 'Right now, someone haul some wood. And again, prepare the spot where the lodge is to stand. Someone get the fireplaces ready. Again, someone get the kettles ready. Someone go tell the girls that they may prepare the feast. And again, get the drum ready." The kettle was brought. "When will they begin?"

(5) Since they do nothing on Sunday, then Sunday was the time to go around to invite: "Nąxi, nephew Green Hair, you go towards the timber, and you, nephew, Bear of One Sided Arm, go the opposite direction to invite feasters. Fire Starter, you may go to the Warbundle owners. Soon Strikes the Earth with His Wings will come. Go walk by him, but as to the others, however, it is not for you to say, but you may do the preparations. The preparers have arrived. (6) They are prepared. Nąǧi, Green Hair, fix the earthen mounds (mąwarupurura) in two places." He put them in, and when they were ready, they were sufficient. There the instruments to be used were placed. There they placed them. The drums were painted. Thus it was that they placed all of them: the flutes and the buffalo tail, also the buffalo head as well. The feasters arrived. He created it. The arriving Striker will sit opposite. They placed his friend, Kųnų Fleet One, there. (7) Many chiefs showed up and were seated. Then Nąǧi said to them, "Warbundle owners, those blessed by the Buffalo, who are seated in the lodge, we thank you for your commandments in imitation of the Spirits, imitating those on whose side you are seated, we greet you! In place of the Spirits for whom you are seated, on account of longing for Life, your counsel thinking of the Spirits, thus we greet them for you, pleading to you with tears. (8) All the clansmen with whom you are sitting in the lodge, sitting with Warbundle owners, what we long for is that you have mercy upon us as we are going to tire you, thus we thank you in connection with the Life that is to be desired.

The sort of thing that I'm doing, I did not obtain myself. My ancestor, the one who dreamed, was called Hojánąga. He was blessed by our Grandfather The Ancestral Kind after whom We Chase (Buffalo). It was when he was a child that he blessed him. (9) And in this way they blessed him. They blessed him with a plant, and with Life they also blessed him. And furthermore, they blessed him with war. This material for offering is the fashion in which he asked to be remembered. For as long as the earth endures, this rite will be thus. On account of this, they blessed him. The use of this plant would last as long as the earth itself. This is the form of the story that I learned. And this is what it was: tobacco offerings, and the feast itself, feathers, tobacco together with what he had spread out. (10) This was the way in which he asked the Creator to do something. This is what Hojanąga was told. And this ancestor of mine was blessed with commandments on this way of life. He was spoken to, as well as speaking to them, about this offering; we ask you to help us so that man might live by this, and that you have care for us, we thank you. And whenever the attendants get the boilings ready, then it will be the time for us to eat. (11) The attendants here are burning their own hands, doing it because they long for Life and that they will live. For this reason, thus, furthermore, you're in charge of the rite, this is what you are doing it for. When a councilor offers a feast, all are helping one another: that's the way you are. Thus, for this reason, you have come a long way. I too long for that, and for the further reason of Life. Thus we long on behalf of one another, (12) we are doing it in imitation of that. Warbundle owners, I plead to you. We will sing the songs Hojánąga was taught. Thinking this we say that we will be in imitation of one. We send greetings to the Warbundle owners."


In the road walk have him [do].
In the road walk have him [do].


Hojanų̄ga walk by.
Hojanų̄ga walk by.


Kora Hojanų̄ga walk by.
Kora Hojanų̄ga walk by.

Dance Song

Hojanų̄ga go forward.        
Hojanų̄ga go forward.        
It's coming, it's coming, it's coming! Say to them, say to them, say to them!

(13) Strikes the Ground with His Wings speaks: "Councilors, brother-in-law, all the clansmen who are seated — I greet you; as well as all the Warbundle owners sitting in the lodge. And the Spirits above, whose place I am taking, we greet. We give our greetings then to the Spirit imitators, to the attendants, as many as you will cause to come, indeed this is good that the Spirit enactors are thus sitting for them in the lodge. (14) As the attendants encourage one another at this time, thus we are. When one gives offerings, thus we always are. And so you have come for them, and this is helping them. Thus we are doing it. Also inasmuch as we long to live, we were doing it. Thus, they will be accepted. To the Ancestral Kind after whom We Chase (Buffalo), the offerings are going to be very tempting, and so they will accept them. If it is thus, then they will have Life. Therefore, we too shall live. (15) Thinking thus, we are dong it. I mean that I long for this for the councilors, I said. All the Spirits, the totality of those seated in the lodge, all the members of the clans, we greet you! We greet you-u-u!"

Paul Radin adds: "Then he sings some songs and dances and passes the drum, etc., to the next guest and so it, in turn, is passed on until the fourth invited guest is reached. Then the drum is replaced in the center of the lodge"1

Notes to the Text

1 In this account it is not quite clear whether the drum is merely passed to the four principal guests or to all. At the buffalo dance witnessed by the writer in the summer of 1908 it was passed only to the four principal guests. This was also corroborated by a number of informants.

Commentary. "my nephew, Fire-Starter" — the relationship between the mother's brother and his nephew is the strongest bond of affection in society. It is a "joking relationship" in which they tease each other and say things that in another context would be insult, only no offense is either intended nor taken. On the warpath, the nephew carries the warleader's warbundle, and if the warleader is killed in action, then his nephews are expected to die with him. In a feast, the nephews have the role of attendants, and see to it that the feast sponsored by their uncle is a success. Consequently, they must get everything in order. Marriages are cross-moiety, so that the nephews always belong to the opposite moiety from their maternal uncles. The feast is sponsored, necessarily, by a member of the Buffalo Clan, which means that the attendants are all members of one of the Bird Clans of the Upper Moiety. Thus the name "Fire-Starter," a reference to the proclivity of the lightning strikes of the Thunderbirds to ignite fires.

"the girls" — his nieces. Women had absolute control over the preparation of meals.

"they do nothing on Sunday" — this particular Buffalo Dance took place in the Twentieth Century, when many members of the tribe had jobs in the white economy. As a consequence, since the whites take Sundays off, this happens also at this time to be a day in which the members of the tribe are also less active.

"Nąxi, nephew Green Hair"Naxi, or Nąǧi, is the fourth born son. Hįcoga, "Green Hair," is most typically found in the Wolf Clan. That this nephew and others are of the Lower Moiety, the same moiety as the Buffalo Clan. So, it suggests that the moiety marriage rules had fallen into disuse at this time, and for some time prior.

"Bear of One Sided Arm" — a reference to the alleged left handedness of bears. As it happens, the big digit is located on the outside of the hands and feet of bears so that they leave tracks that look like their feet have been switched to the opposite side. This is why, in the Bear Feast, people eat with their left hands. It is also why it is said, that the father of the race of bears, once upon a time when he was in a panic, accidentally put his moccasins on the wrong feet.

"mąwarupurura" — also known as mąnuserek, are small mounds raised inside the lodge in which the dance takes place. They are used for various ritual purposes. The mąwarupurura may represent the celestial sphere where the stars, said to be Buffalo Spirits, traverse the night sky. This is sometimes characterized as "climbing a hill". The name Šoǧogᵋnįka, "Little Hill," a name in the Buffalo Clan, no doubt makes reference to the mąwarupurura. Alice C. Fletcher witnessed a Buffalo Dance, and had this to say about the mounds:

In the Buffalo dance which is given four times in the month of May and early June, the dancers are four men and a large number of women. As the dancers enter, each woman brings in a handful of fine earth and in this way two mounds are raised in the centre at the east, that is between the eastern entrance and the fire, which is al out fifteen feet from the eastern entrance. The mounds thus formed are truncated cones. An old man said to me "That is the way all mounds were built; that is why we build so for the buffalo." The mounds were about four inches high and not far from eighteen inches in diameter. On the top of the two mounds were placed the head-gear worn by the men, the claws, tails and other articles used by the four leaders, or male dancers.1  

"Striker" — short for Strikes the Earth with His Wings, aforementioned.

"his friend, Kųnų Fleet One" — the friendship relation is very similar to that of the avunculate, even to the point where if one of them is killed on the warpath, the other is expected to die there as well. Kųnų is the ordinal name given to the First Son. "Fleet One" is a name that could be found in any moiety. Friends would always sit opposite each other in relation to the central fireplace.

"imitation" — in almost every major rite, certain men impersonated various Spirits who would be represented in the rite. These Spirit enactors would make speeches at the appropriate time that would have been given by the Spirit himself had he been physically present.

"side" — the Spirits, through their enactors, were seated at the cardinal points appropriate to them.

"Hojánąga" — also given as Hojanų̄ga, and in Radin's published text, as Hojánoka. The meaning of this name is obscure. Since he was blessed with a plant, it may be that the name derives from hojá, "to have a lot of things growing, to have something grow in abundance, to have clusters of something growing' (Helmbrecht-Lehmann); -nak, "to be in a neutral or sitting position"; and -ka, a definite article suffix used in personal names. This would imply that the standard form of the name should be Hojánąka.

"brother-in-law" — this seems to imply that Strikes the Ground with His Wings is the brother-in-law of Haga's father, the one who is giving the feast.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Miss Alice C. Fletcher, "Symbolic Earth Formations of the Winnebagoes," Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 32 (1884): 396-397.

mentioning sacred (artificial) mounds: The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, The Green Lake Band, Baraboo in the 1840s, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 1), The First Fox and Sauk War, Buffalo Dance, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 12), Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Little Priest’s Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Resurrection of the Chief’s Daughter, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Lost Lake, Tobacco Origin Myth, v. 5, The First Fox and Sauk War, Featherstonhaugh's Canoe Voyage; see also, The Archaeology of the Wazija, Indian History of Winneshiek County, Habitat of the Winnebago, 1632-1832, The Winnebago Tribe, The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum, The McKern Papers on Hocąk Ethnography, The Wisconsin Winnebagoes, Information Respecting the Hitory, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, The Smoky Mountain Massacre, The Thunderbird Warclub.


Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 344-345 (1990 ed.: 296-297, 299). Informant: a member of the Bear Clan. Paul Radin, "The Buffalo Clan Feast," Winnebago Notebooks, (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago Notebook 40 (text with interlinear translation).