Fish Clan Origins

by Richard L. Dieterle

Little is publicly known about the Fish Clan (Ho Hikikárajera) or what its social functions were. The Fish Clan and the Snake Clan were to be the first line of defense should their village be attacked.1 Some of the personal names of Fish clansmen survive:2

Ho-apšujewįga Red Fish Scale Woman (R)
Hocųkšųkwįga She who has Plenty of Great Fish (F)
Nahuskáka White Sturgeon (F)
Wacoginiwįga Goes Ahead of Them (common to all clans) (R)

It is said that, like their friends the Snake Clan, the Fish Clan was a late addition to the tribe. This claim is almost certainly not the case, but is rather a symbolic statement, as the youngest is usually portrayed as the strongest. It may have broken off from the Snake Clan as one of its subclans, as there is no trace of a Fish Clan among the closely related Chiwere tribes (the Oto, Ioway, and Missouria). The Çegiha Siouan tribe, the Quapah, however, were said to have had a Fish Clan.3

The Fish Clan could well claim a special status, inasmuch as the name of the nation, Hocągara, means both "Great Voice," and "Great Fish.," since the first compound, ho, can mean either "voice," or "fish." It was an early tradition that the "great fish" in question was the whale, according to Wak’ąhaga ("Snake Skin") [portrait]. He thought that the Hocągara had migrated from the Pacific southwest where whales are common, but the true reason must lie elsewhere.4 It may mean that among the fish of the sea, the Hocągara are whales; thus they have a big voice in the affairs of state.

Version 1

by John Fisher (Fish Clan)

"Four brothers and four sisters came on earth and each belong to different divisions of the family [clan]. They came out of the water. They became people."5

Version 2 (?)

by Alexander Longtail, Buffalo Clan

There is another waiką that strongly suggests itself as the origin story for the Fish Clan. This is The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, which is told in brief here.

The Chief of Fishes once came to earth to live as a man. He had two sons, who eventually came to live apart from one another. The younger brother, who lived in a lodge like the Hocągara build, killed a bear and was about to eat it when something seem to hiss at him. He could not find the source, so he went to the upper and lower worlds asking who might have done it, but no one said that they had. He traveled over the surface of the earth and asked some people if they had done it, but they rudely ignored him, so he shot an arrow at them. When he returned home, his elder brother arrived to warn him of an impending attack. Instead of fleeing, they fought, but were out manned. Finally, they did flee to their father's place, and he in turn took them to an island. There he rested satisfied, and in time returned to the waters in his natural form as a fish.6

Commentary. In the first story we find that the original clan was divided into four parts as was the case with so many other clans, suggesting that each of the Hocąk clans was comprised of four subclans.

In the second story, who were the two brothers left behind? They were human, but descended from the Chief of the Fishes, which makes them piscoid. One was, by implication, a Hocąk or proto-Hocąk. It would seem, then, that they might be the progenitors of the Fish and Snake Clans.

However, the story makes no reference to the Creation Council at which the progenitors of the Hocąk clans first met at Red Banks to form the nation. On the other hand, only one version of one story, the Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, mentions the Fish Clan as being at the Creation Council; all the other clan origin stories fail to mention them.7 However, inasmuch as we are also missing the Snake Clan origin story, we do not know whether the two brothers, the sons of the Chief of the Fishes, did not eventually come to Red Banks and the Creation Council.

Links: Fish Spirits, Snakes, The Creation Council, Introduction.

Stories: about (the origins of) the Hocąk clans: Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, The Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; featuring (spirit) fish as characters: The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Were-Fish, The Greedy Woman, Wolves and Humans, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Great Fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The King Bird, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads.

Themes: one of the Hocąk (sub)clans originated from another tribe: Snake Clan Origins, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe; the youngest animal (or person) is superior: Twins Cycle, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Children of the Sun, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v.4, v.7), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth.


1 David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 9.

2 The list was composed from the following sources:

(F) Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #1: p. 4, coll. 3-4.

(R) Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 202.

3 James Owen Dorsey, "The Social Organization of the Siouan Tribes," The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 4, #14 (Jul. - Sep., 1891) and #15 (Oct. - Dec., 1891): 257-266, 331-342 [336-338].

4 Personal communication from B. W. Brisbois to Rueben G. Thwaites (1882), Wisconsin Historical Collections, 10 (1885): 500; Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 83.

5 John Fisher (Fish Clan), "Fish Family/Clan," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notes, Winnebago I, #7a, Freeman #3881 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1908) 101.

6 Philip Longtail, "The Man who Visited the Upper and Lower Worlds," 4800, Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2, (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, 1893).

7 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 166. Informant: a member of the Thunderbird Clan.