Kaǧi (Crows and Ravens)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Kaǧi is a term denoting both crows [below left] and ravens [below right], and is synonymous with wahara. Crows are called "common kaǧi," and ravens, kaǧiwawąge, or "shrieking kaǧi."1

They are associated with war powers, as witnessed by the presence of a preserved kaǧi in the Thunderbird Warbundle.2 In particular, the kaǧi is the avian counterpart to the warlike bear and figures prominently in a number of Bear Clan waikąs. Many Bear Clan names honor the kaǧi: Kaǧiga, Kaǧinįka, Kaǧiskaga. In a waiką of the Black Bear Subclan, the Hocągara were said to have first landed on the shores of the Wazija in the form of a flock of kaǧi. There they were greeted by the Menominees, who are called Kaǧi by the Hocągara.3 In another Bear Clan story, the youngest of four Spirit Bears, as he came walking over the waters to Red Banks, turned himself into a kaǧi. Thus the personal name used in the Bear Clan, Kakižigaga.4 Others say that ten brothers walked over the waters to Red Banks, and as four waves formed, a kaǧi came out of each one. When the kaǧi landed, each turned back into a bear. Because they transformed themselves twice, these four brothers were the most powerful.5 In another waiką, kaǧi inadvertently revealed to starving humans a place where others had stored meat in abundance. It was at that place, at the meat racks of the human wife of a Bear Spirit, that the kaǧi had fed on their favorite meat, bear intestines.6 In Turtle's Warparty, three groups of warlike avian spirits offer themselves in turn as warriors in answer to Turtle's call for a warpath. They were Thunderbirds, eagles, and kaǧi. The kaǧi were described as "soldiers (manąpe), wearing very black clothes."7 The term manąpe is reserved for members of the Bear Clan. Kaǧi like to command as much as any earthly manąpe. When Earthmaker's creation was new, he appointed Kaǧiga to watch over it, but he kept loudly giving orders to everyone rather than simply watching over creation, so he had to be recalled.8 The kaǧi in the Bear Clan warbundle is said to give strength in running, which is really more of an ursine power.9 In nature kaǧi are intimately associated with wolves, the two sorts of animals perhaps more than just tolerating one another at the kill.10* This strange community can be seen as a reflection of the strong friendship between the Wolf Clan and the Bear Clan, with the kaǧi playing the role of the latter. It has also been observed that bears and crows tend to approach strange objects which they see from a distance.11

One of the daughters of Great Black Hawk, Chief of the Thunders, once came to earth to be born as a human. However, she began to kill and eat human beings. She was overthrown by her nephew Ocean Duck, when he discovered that her power came from the skin of a kaǧi that she had around her neck.12 Normally a kaǧi skin around the neck signified that a warrior had captured more than one woman.13

Turtle used the kaǧi, probably because of his loud voice, as a messenger to the Upper World;14 likewise Hare used both varieties of kaǧi, the common kaǧi (crow), and the shrieking kaǧi (raven), in the same role,15 recalling the two ravens Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory), that the Norse god Ódhinn used as his messengers.16* This role harmonizes with the Bear Clan song that declares, "Speaking Hocąk, they are coming!" where ho-cąk means "big voice."17

Links: Bird Spirits, Bear Spirits, Bears, Great Black Hawk, Thunderbirds, Turtle, Hare, Ducks, Wazija.

Stories: mentioning kaǧi (crows & ravens): Kaǧiga and Lone Man, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2, 3), The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Spider's Eyes, The Old Man and the Giants, Turtle's Warparty, The Shaggy Man, Trickster's Tail, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Ocean Duck, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, A Snake Song Origin Myth; 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]) 279, sv. kaǧi; on the two varieties, see Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 309.
2 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 288.
3 Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]) 6-7. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.
4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 181. Informant: a member of the Bear Clan.
5 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 181-182. Informant: the father of the informant of the previous footnote.
6 Paul Radin, "The Hairy Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #9: 1-89.
7 Paul Radin, "Turtle's Warparty," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #28, p. 65.
8 Joi StCyr, Why Spider has Eight Eyes, in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 96.
9 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 502.
10 The following account illustrates this well: "Dan [Stahler] reported to me after his first seven days of watching the fifteen wolves of the Rose Pack in late November 1997. He had then observed twenty-four activity hours of wolves that involved traveling, resting, chasing, at kill, and near kill. In all but three of these, there were ravens with the wolves. In contrast, of nine activity hours of coyotes, ravens were present at only two. By March, Dan had data on two dozen very recent kills, and ravens were feeding at all 'in seconds or minutes.' Raven numbers at wolf kills averaged thrity-two, ranging typically from fifteen to thirty, and were over eighty at one kill. The ravens routinely fed within feet of wolves, coyotes, and eagles." Bernd Heinrich, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds (New York: Harper-Collins, 1999) 234; for ravens as "wolf-birds," see pp. 231-239. For video, see The American Wolf, on Wild Discovery (Discovery Television Network). Viewed on July 6, 2000. Kaǧira may also signal to bears the whereabouts of a prey animal. Heinrich, Mind of the Raven: 194-195.
11 Gary Brown, The Great Bear Almanac (New York: Lyons and Burford, 1993) 80.
12 Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #13: 1-77.
13 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 114.
14 Paul Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #36: 1-81.
15 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 309.
16 Grímismál 20 —

Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, fly over the world each day.
I fear for Thought, lest he not come back, but I fear yet more for Memory.

H. R. Ellis-Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (Hamondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964) 146-147.
17 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 187.