Giants or Man Eaters (Wą́gerúčge)

by Richard L. Dieterle


Giants are a malignant race who flourished in primordial times before they were brought into check by the great spirits. Although they would frequently sojourn on the island earth where humans live, their home is in a Spiritland on the other side of the Ocean Sea.1 Since two Wolf Spirits reached it floating on a small ice berg, it apparently lies in the arctic north. There the wind blows cold and fierce, and the ground can be covered in snow.2 On the other side of the ocean, tribes of Giants flourished. Some of them protected their mortality by removing their hearts and wrapping them in bundles of feathers which they hid away on a platform. These Giants were killed by the Thunderbird, Ocean Duck, who found their hearts and burned them to ashes.3 Like other spirits, the Man Eaters can be divided into two tribes: the Good Giants and the Bad Giants. Most seem to have belonged to the tribe of Bad Giants who indulge their appetite for human flesh, but the Good Giants have belied their name by abandoning the practice of eating people.4 Originally, they too had eaten people, but the spirit called "Young Man Gambles Often" (Hočįčįwakiųk'ega), caused them to vomit up everything within them, until finally they disgorged ice from their stomachs. This it was that caused them to eat humans. After that, they enjoyed the same food that humans ate.5 While the stomachs of Giants contain ice, their heads contain wampum, which is to say, sea shells.6 In at least one case, a Giant had a heart made of stone, so that the only way that he could wed a mortal woman was for Earthmaker to replace it with one of flesh.7

Not only are the Giants by nature man eaters, as their Hočąk name Wáñgerúčge reveals, but male Giants are as tall as trees,8 four times the height of a man.9 On the other hand, Giant women, who are particularly noted for their beauty,10 are about the same size as humans.11 Despite the hostility and dietary proclivities of Giants, humans are part Giant themselves. Once humans were smaller and rather uniform in size. In ancient times men took Giant women as brides, and over time the admixture of the two bloods produced a race of variable heights such as we are today. Particularly large humans merely take after their Giant ancestors.12 Some large human men are thought to be reincarnations of Giant Spirits, usually of the Good Giant tribe, judging by their benevolence.13 One cannibal Giantess, some call "Pretty Woman," had hair said to be, variously, red,14 orange,15 or yellow.16 Despite her superior skill in lacrosse, her life was spared by the victorious good spirits, and she was adopted into human society.17 In one account she marries Redhorn's father; in another, Redhorn himself.18

The Man Eaters have a mysterious association with ice. Redhorn's father gave his Giant wife, Pretty Woman, an emetic which forced her to vomit up an ice cube. This was found to be the cause of her cannibalism.19 There was a race of such man eaters known as "Ice Giants," who in winter would appear around the periphery of villages hoping to pick off people who strayed too far from the campfire. The Ice Giants were unconquerable by mere mortals, but they could be placated by offerings of tobacco, red feathers, and food, which were offered in the early evening.20 The Giants, being confident of their command of the ice, once challenged an incarnated Wolf Spirit to a contest to see who would first succumb to the cold. The Wolf Spirit won the contest because he was able, unlike the Giants, to radiate heat whenever he sat atop a mound of snow.21

Human beings were the favorite food of the Bad Giants who would go to some lengths to get it. On occasions they massacred whole villages in order to eat the inhabitants.22 Like other man eaters, such as the Bad Thunderbirds23 they would let some people live just to fatten them up so that they would be all the tastier later.24 Good, fat humans, apparently make excellent soup as well.25 When the Giants wanted to "eat soup," as they put it, one way to get it was to challenge the humans to games of chance. These games, however, were not idle sport, but contests in which lives were wagered on the outcome. If the humans won, they would kill the Giants wagered; if the Giants won, they would kill and eat the humans that they had won. Since the Giants were so large, they almost always won when they played against mortal humans.26 As a result, many of the good spirits, taking pity on the abused humans, would descend to earth and give them their aid. Turtle, the spirit who invented war, was the most prominent and active of these. When the Giants prepared to engage in games or in war, they would generally paint themselves black from head to toe,27 although on other occasions, they were known to have painted themselves completely red.28 One of their favorite games was dice. To get their dice, a Giant would pound his chest and cough up birds, which he would then throw up into the air like regular dice. In keeping with the icy associations of the Giants, the species was usually the snowbird.29 One of the most popular contests was lacrosse.30 The Giants would often be led by an amazon like Pretty Woman. Nevertheless, in whatever game they engaged, they were almost always defeated by the good spirits,31 the single exception being wrestling. Although they were never able to out-wrestle Turtle, they were able to defeat both Redhorn and the Thunderbird, Storms as He Walks.32 On another occasion they out-wrestled a white Wolf Spirit, then killed and ate him.33 When Morning Star came to earth, he also faced a challenge from the Giants to wrestle. As a warm-up, he grappled with an oak and pulled the entire tree out by the roots and slammed it to the ground. This so frightened the Giants, that they fled and ceased to bother the humans for decades.34 Once when Turtle and Morning Star were on earth to help the mortals, they nearly wiped out the race of Giants, sparing only an old man, a little boy, and an infant girl, whom they forced to eat grass. After this indignity, they threw them across the sea.35 More than once the competing Giants were wiped out with the exception of just two individuals.36

Despite the conflict between humans and Giants, we know at least one case where the Wangeručge bestowed a blessing upon a Bear clansman. Four Giant brothers who lived in the heavens, along with other spirits, gave this man a warbundle and sacred warpath songs that led to many a victory.37

There may be a few solitary Giants left, since in historical times an Ice Giant attacked a man on the Wisconsin River between Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids. It was only because he was carrying a powerful medicine with him that he was able to fend off his huge opponent until his friends could come to his rescue.38 Others, however, say that this race of malignant man eaters disappeared completely around 1840 when the last of them was killed off by a Good Giant who reduced himself in size to live among the humans and bless them.39


Links: Pretty Woman, Redhorn, Herešgúnina, Morning Star, Sons of Redhorn, Storms as He Walks, The Sons of Earthmaker, Sun, Turtle, Coyote, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Bird Spirits, Beavers, Snowbirds, Ducks, Foxes, Moon, Gottschall, Pigeon Hawk, Otters, Buffalo Spirits, Minks, Lice.


Stories:featuring Giants as characters: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Stone Heart, Young Man Gambles Often, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Old Man and the Giants, Shakes the Earth, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Little Human Head, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Origins of the Milky Way, Ocean Duck, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man.


Themes: anthropophagy and cannibalism: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Were-Grizzly, Grandfather's Two Families, The Roaster, Redhorn's Father, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Lost Blanket, Young Man Gambles Often, White Wolf, The Shaggy Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, Partridge's Older Brother, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Morning Star and His Friend, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Seven Maidens, Šųgepaga, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; humans (or good spirits in human form) eating Giants: The Shaggy Man, Ocean Duck; contests with the Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf, The Roaster, Young Man Gambles Often, Little Human Head, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn's Sons, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Old Man and the Giants, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Shakes the Earth, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Shaggy Man, Grandfather's Two Families; an old man is told by a Giant that his grandsons are challenged to a contest, but he keeps forgetting to tell them until the Giants (attempt to) club him, then he remembers by repeating it all day long: Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families; a Giant (Wągeručge) princess has her game disturbed by her attraction to a hero: Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Roaster, Morning Star and His Friend, Redhorn's Father, Redhorn's Sons; marriage to a Giant: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Young Man Gambles Often, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Roaster, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf; certain spirits help the Giants in a (lacrosse) game with human lives at stake because they have married Giant women: Redhorn's Father, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Morning Star and His Friend, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn's Sons; a hero and his friends are killed because the Giants are victorious in a wrestling match: Redhorn Contests the Giants, White Wolf; the Giants massacre an entire village, but spare at least one child to eat later in life: Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights.


Notes

1 Paul Radin, "White Wolf," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #10: 1-64; Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #13: 1-77.

2 Radin, "White Wolf," Notebook #10.

3 Radin, "Ocean Duck," Notebook #13.

4 Radin, "White Wolf," Notebook #10.

5 Young Man Shoots for Them Often, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #8, Freeman #3861 [3891] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, pre-1930) Story 8s: 1-23. Nahum Hersom, "The Stone Heart," in Marcine Quenzer, Winnebago Native American Legend (http://www.phwds.com/NativeAmericanLegends/StoneHeart.htm).

6 Young Man Shoots for Them Often, 15; Charlie N. Houghton, "A Story about Turtle and a Giant," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #9, Freeman #3894. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 160-161.

7 Hersom, "The Stone Heart," in Quenzer, Winnebago Native American Legend.

8 Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) viol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1. Told by Little Decorah [picture], a member of the Thunderbird Clan.

9 Paul Radin, "The Roaster," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #2.

10 Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2; W. C. McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 9 (1929): 215-230.

11 Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2.

12 Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2.

13 Paul Radin (ed.), Crashing Thunder. The Autobiography of an American Indian (New York: Appleton, 1926) 136. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan.

14 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 123-129.

15 Paul Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #36: 1-81.

16 Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2.

17 McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," 215-230; Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data, vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1; Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 123-129.

18 McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," 215-230; Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 123-129.

19 McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," 215-230.

20 David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 10. Dorothy Moulding Brown, "Indian Winter Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist 22, #4 (1941): 49-53 (49).

21 Radin, "White Wolf," Notebook #10.

22 Paul Radin, "Mą ceniabera," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #21: 1-134; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36.

23 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 300-303. Told by Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan, in the summer of 1908.

24 Radin, "Mązeniabera," Notebook #21.

25 Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36.

26 Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data, vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1.

27 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 121-132; Radin, "The Roaster"; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36.

28 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 121-132; Paul Radin, "Wears White Feather on His Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #4: 1-50.

29 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 123-129; Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36.

30 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 123-129; Radin, "The Roaster," Notebook #2; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36; Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data, vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1; McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," 215-230.

31 McKern, loc. cit.; Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]) 94. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.

32 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 129.

33 Radin, "White Wolf," Notebook #10.

34 Paul Radin, "The Man's Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #531.

35 Paul Radin, "Morning Star (Wiragošge Xetera)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #8: 1-93.

36 Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data, vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1; Radin, "White Wolf," Notebook #10; Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36.

37 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 248.

38 Dorothy M. Brown, "Indian Winter Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist, n.s., 22 (1941) 49.

39 James StCyr, "Shakes the Earth," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #19, Story 1: 1-18.