Hummingbirds (Tanikonąkonąge)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Hummingbirds are most noted for being able to hover in mid-air, their name deriving from the great rapidity of their wings (koną, "to tremble").1 Because of this characteristic they stand as symbols for certain stars. Among these is Polaris, the pole star, who is known by the name, "Black Hawk Looking at Us as He Stands." As a hummingbird, he is a star that stands hovering through the night as the other stars revolve around him. The nearby stars of the Little Dipper, which forms the constellation of the Marten among the Hocągara, are also represented as hummingbirds. Black Hawk Looking at Us as He Stands is said to possess "hummingbirds in bunches." They flit around Polaris like hummingbirds orbitting around a flowering bush. Black Hawk Looking is said to have hummingbirds on each of his ears, another representation of their stellar revolution. On two occasions Polaris takes flight from man-eating pursuers: in both cases he escapes as a black hawk, but just as this bird is being swallowed, Polaris flies out of its nostrils and escapes in the form of a hummingbird.2

Hummingbirds are associated with black hawks, probably because these two are the supreme fliers among birds. Black hawks can almost hover, and they eat while on the wing, picking off lizards or other small animals in midair.3 Both hummingbirds and black hawks, who can suddenly change direction, are also noted for their speed. In the race among the spirits, the fastest group was headed by Black Hawk, Hummingbird, and Eagle.4 In the story of the Thunderbird, the hero flees pursuing Waterspirts by first changing into a black hawk, and later into a hummingbird. The Thunderbird, just like Polaris, makes good his escape in the form of a hummingbird.5

Links: Bird Spirits, Thunderbirds, Eagle, Waterspirits, Black Hawks, Polaris, Martens.

Stories: mentioning hummingbirds: The Dipper, The Thunderbird, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), The Dipper (Thunderbirds, kingfishers, hummingbirds, black hawks), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (turkey buzzard), The Shaggy Man (blackbirds), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (blackbirds), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Green Man (owls), The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there.



1 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 166, sv. danį.

2 Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Notebook Winnebago IV, #8 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Story 8r: 1-29 = Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #49-50: 1-267.

3 National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Edition. 2d revised edition. John Bull, John Farrand, jr., Amanda Wilson, and Lori Hogan, edd. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Chanticleer Press), 1994) 420-421.

4 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 115-118.

5 Paul Radin, "The Thunderbird," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #16.