Little Human Head (Wąkpanįka)

translation by Richard L. Dieterle

based on the interlinear translation of Oliver La Mère

Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Translation

HERE was a village. The chief was also there. And the chief had a daughter who had three friends. And she had a talk with these friends. She told them that she was going on a grand tour of the countryside. (2) They were in favor of it, so they started out. Her friends, the four of them together, as they were going about one day, came to a very big valley. And they were going to cross it. When they got to the center of the valley, (3) as there was something white laying there, when they got there, unexpectedly, it turned out to be a man's head. They said, "Niká, a man might once have died here. At one time long ago, someone might have died somewhere around here," they said. (4) Then one of them did it. She kicked it over. Then it rattled like a snake. "Waną, that's funny," they said, and kept kicking it over. They did it because it rattled. (5) Then the princess said, "Nikaté, it might be wákąčąk (holy), yet you do this," she said. Then they stopped. Then once more they went on. And in time they went on until evening. (6) There the princess said, "Let's set up around here. Let's build ourselves a lodge," she said. Therefore, they cut poles, and then they cut grass, and then they peeled off basswood, and then they made for themselves a grass lodge. (7) They tied it up very tight, not even making a door for it. Then before they went to sleep, unexpectedly, they heard something. It said, in song it said it,

  Four women who went by, Hinųk jop jirawire,
  Four women who went by; Hinųk jop jirawire;
  With the tips of their toes, they kicked me over; Sipana, hinąšarašarač;
  With the tips of their toes, they kicked me over. Sipana, hinąšarašarač.

it said, and when it finished, it did this: it would come on howling as it rattled. (8) Then the princess said, "Thus it is, my friends, so that's why I spoke," she said. Then finally it got to them. "Where is the door?" it said. Then the princess said, "It is on the path of the rising sun," she said. It came rattling on as it howled. "Where is the door?" it said. Again she said to it, "It is where the sun straightens out," she said to it. (9) And again it went there and said, "Where is the door?" it said. Again she said to it, "In the direction of the setting sun," she said. Again it went there, and again it said, "Exactly where is the door?" it said. Again she said to it, "It is at the place where the sun does not go," she said to it. There again he passed by rattling.  Then there through the top of the lodge it came through.

(10) And as the women were sitting there in a row, it asked one of them — she was the nearest to it — it asked her, "You there, what relation will you be to me?" it said to her. She said, "You will be my grandfather," she said. "You have a grandfather," it said, and crushing her up in its mouth, it dispatched her. Again it said to the second one, "You there, what relation will you be to me?" it said to her. Then she said, "Well, I shall have you for a father," she said. (11) "You have a father," it said, and crushing her up in its mouth, it dispatched her. Again it said to the third one, "You there, what relation will you be to me?" it said, and she said, "So I will be your sister-in-law," she said. "Ah, very near," it said, and crushing her up in its mouth, it dispatched her. And again now, he came to the princess. "What relation will you be to me?" it said. "Well, I shall have you as a husband," she said, and, "Hąhą́, you have spoken well for yourself," it said. (12) Then they slept.

In the morning, the human head said, "You must pack me on your back, and you will take off your underskirt. You must pack me in that, and you must put me so that I strike your butt," it said. Therefore, she did it that way. She packed him, and she packed him so that he would strike against her butt. (13) Then, finally, unexpectedly, a flock of swans went near the clouds. That woman said, "Hohó, when my brothers would kill in that far off place, I used to eat those kind, but what am I doing around here?" she said. "Princess, what do you mean?" it said. "I meant the swans," she said. "Princess, set me down on the ground," he said. So she put him on the ground. "Where did they go?" he said, and (14) "They went over there," she said. So he went in that direction. Before long, he brought one back which he had caught around the neck. There it was dropped. And there she plucked it.

Then Wąkpanįka said, "Heat some stone and make a sweat bath. I am tired," it said. Therefore, she heated a stone there, and made a sweat bath lodge. (15) And when the stone was hot, she let  him go in, and then she covered the lodge. Then he spoke, talking about the first time that the princess together with her own friends came upon him unexpectedly, and said that it was good. Then from the time he arrived and then from that time to when he came to the present time. At the place where she ate her duck, she had a doll, and (16) she leaned it against something, and said to it, "Whatever it says, do it for it, and try to make it stay put for a long time," she said, and then she took flight. Then when Human Head finished talking, it said, "Princess, sing along when I sing," it said. Then it sang, saying as it sang,

  They carried sweat bath lodge poles; Inokewe čišú k'įrera;
  They carried sweat bath lodge poles; Inokewe čišú gįrera;
(17) They carried them in their skirts; Waje hokanąk k'įnera;
  They carried sweat bath lodge poles; Inokewe čišú k'įnera;
  They carried them striking against their butts. šičieja hirojįjį k'įnera.

it was saying in the song. Then it said, "Hąhó princess, thus I am done, open it up for me," he said. Then the woman said it, "Why would you stop a little too soon when I am enjoying the singing so much?" she said. "Hąhó," it said, and once more it said it as it sang, thus doing it as was said. (18) Yet again it said, "Hąhó princess, thus I am done, open it up for me." But she said to it again, "Why do you say that? Niží, I am enjoying the singing so much," she said. Again he said it, starting up the song. Yet again, it used a bunch of songs. So it said it again. By this time, the stone was also cold, yet (19) she tried for a fourth time, but it did not do it, and burst out instead. It looked around, but unexpectedly, there was nothing there. Unexpectedly, there was a doll leaning against something. It knew that it had been speaking. "Korá, I would call it a clever thing. Where could she escape to? She will wear herself out. She is to be pitied," he was saying.

(20) Then the woman who was fleeing, found a hole there in a rocky precipice. The hole was very small, but the inside was like a longhouse. If she could find one of the stones to fit exactly into the hole, it would be good, she thought. So she looked for one and found it. Then she fit it in after she went inside, and then to one side, she seemed to notice that something moved, (21) and when she looked there, unexpectedly, there was a child. Then it made a fuss. "Waną, how cute," she said, and took it up. "Why did I do this? How am I going to be able to have this when I am going away in flight?" she thought. So she placed it outside. Again, she saw another one below. (22) Again she took it up. Again he said it, and when he did that, she threw him outdoors. Then again for the third time she suddenly came across one there. Again she did as she had done before. And so for the fourth time she suddenly came across one there. This time when she took it, she did not throw it outdoors.

Then the little child said, "Mother, when the one who is chasing you gets here, do this, kick this stone outside. (23) It will become bigger," he said. And it came to see. When it came directly under the middle, she kicked the stone out. As a result, it grew large. There it smashed it. And the little child said, "Mother, burn it up. Do not allow a piece to remain. Otherwise, it will come to life again," he said. (24) Therefore, he went out and there he started a fire and he made it burn there. Then he told her about it. The little child said, "Anything good that comes from a spark of the fire, that one is to remain there; it is what also is to sit in the fire at the back of the fireplace," he told her. And there she burned it up. There a fire remained. After it had been consumed, then appearing unexpectedly was a brand new little metal basin. (25) "Waną," she said and she came and took it and walked away with it. Then she let it touch her breast. Then it began to sink in there. She cried out, so the little child took it from her. Again one remained. After it had been consumed, there was again a brand new little dipper. Again she went towards it and took it. (26) Again it was the same. Whenever it was the same, she would never refuse it. Then Wąkpanįka was burned up.

And the woman built herself a lodge, and there they lived. When he grew up, he was a good hunter, and killed many. It is said that he grew up very quickly, but again, he did not grow very large. (27) At least in the time of (ordinary) men, he was not like them. Then finally, the woman said to him, "My son, I think that you should get married," she said. "All right," he said. Then she said to him, "Over there is a longhouse, there you will go. There are ten brothers, but the youngest one is a woman. Their parents are also there," she said to him. (28) "All right," he said.

Then he went to where she meant. Finally, he arrived. Then, near the lodge there, he placed his arrows and yet other things that he also had, in hiding. Then he did this: he declared that a hoard of lice would live on him. This way he went here, and entered in there. "Hąhó, a funny little young man has come," they said. (29) Then the young man said, "As I have come to marry a woman, I am coming to do it," he said. "Hąhó, how shall it be? Let is be the way he says," they said. So there he married a woman. Then after he was married, he was really very fond of playing with his wife. Yet his wife was just like him. (30) And it was a longhouse, and they would chase each other up and down it. They would play hide-and-seek. He would even hide behind his father-in-law, and also sometimes he would do that with his mother-in-law. He would even go and hide inside a bag which his mother-in-law had. (31) Then one day the little woman said, "You never go hunting. When men get married, they always go hunting," she said to him. "All right," he said. "Then my brothers-in-law must lend me an arrow," he said, and they lent him one. It was large. So brothers-in-law showed up. One who was about his size, this one would give him a small arrow, and he lent it to him. (32) Then he went out to hunt. He came back, but he had left the arrow behind. Again, right away, he already began to play with his wife. They chased each other up and down the lodge. Then, finally, she said, "Jáha-á," she said. "You went out hunting," she said. "I did," he said. "Then what did you kill?" she said. "The pack that I came back with is outside," he said. So they went out, (33) and there, unexpectedly, was a full elk stomach. They tried to put it in the lodge, but failed. So he said, "Niži, I thought it was light," he said, and went out and took hold of it, and put it in the lodge. They opened it, and unexpectedly, it contained nothing but elk tongues. Therefore, all of his brothers-in-law went and attended to the elks.

Sacred Indian Rattle, Cucurbita pepo
Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

(34) But the boy was never seen to eat. One day he did this. There was a small squash with stripes around it. This one did this: he baked it and ate it. So thus they baked a lot of them and placed them before him there, but he never ate a single one of them. (35) Having eaten as much squash as was before him, one day he said — he went and stood in front of his mother-in-law — and said, "Grandmother, I wish to defecate," he said. "Is that so? Well, go defecate," she said to him. Again he said to his father-in-law, "Grandfather, I wish to defecate," he said to him. Again he said to him, "Well, go defecate," he said to him. Again, he went to his oldest brother-in-law and said to him, and he answered the same, (36) "Well, go outside and defecate," he said to him. On and on he asked them. He even told his wife. He told them all, but they all said the same thing. And he said to his youngest brother-in-law, "Brother-in-law, spread out your blanket, I wish to defecate," he said. "Howo," he said. He laughed, and a small blanket which he had he spread out in the center of the lodge. (37) And there he went, and made a lot of noise going on top of the blanket. The blanket piled up with the spotted kind of wampum. "Hagawagasgeižąxjį, I think this must be why it is, why he said it," they said. They were very sorry. They actually asked for a little, but he would not give them any.

Then again one day his wife said, (38) "When men marry women, they usually hunt, but you don't ever hunt," she said to him. "Wažą, when they hunt, they don't go just once," she said. So he went again. Again, taking his little brother-in-law's arrows, these it was that were taken. Then thus finally, he returned, and immediately upon coming back took his wife again. (39) Her playing was also something that she did willingly. Again she said to him, after a short time, "Did you go out hunting?" she said to him. Again they went out to see, and unexpectedly, he had returned bringing a buffalo stomach. It was full of buffalo tongues. Again they were unable to carry it into the lodge, and so he put it into the lodge for himself. Then they all proceeded to carry back buffalo. (40) They did a lot attending to it. And thus he did four times. At one time it was bears, at another time, it was deer.

And the old man said, "It is about time, my daughter, that he in turn should go back where he came from, as by now they must be lonesome for him," he said. Then they went back. There, on the way, he took up his things. (41) There, then, he rid himself of the lice he had housed. He had done what he had done on purpose, and he had made himself this way in order that he might be disgusting, but they were not disgusted. Then they went back there to the lodge where they were to live. His mother was very glad. It was good to hug the new woman. She hugged her son, and there they would live. (42) To the young man in time a child was born. It was a boy. In time he was able to walk swiftly. Then they again returned to his wife's parents, but this time he was not infested with lice. And when he came there, there was not a single thing that he could not accomplish. He was a little great one. Truly, he turned into a hunter. Every sort of thing he killed. (43) He also visited animals of the water, and not one of these things would he fail to get.

And this they have told. There one day near a village, there someplace he seems to have gone. Unexpectedly, there a man was who, as he sat, became conscious. A large oval lodge with a fire, to this place he had come. He had with him bow and arrows. Never before, never had he lived. (44) Therefore, he did not know why he existed. Thus, he moved as he thought, that way he began. "Hąhó," he said. Again from his mouth he said, "Why is this?" he said. Again he said, "Why is this?" he said. He came out. Thinking that, his mouth said, "Thus it is," it said. "What am I going to do?" he said. (45) Again and again he would say one of these things. There he sat and talked. Again, finally, he stood up. "Hąhó," he said. "After this, what am I going to do?" he said. Again he began to go to the lodge door. On he walked. He liked it. He went outside, and it was mighty good.

The Emblem of the Heroka  

He went to a lot of effort trying to use his arrow. Finally, he learned it. He continued on. When he shot at anything, he would always hit it, and (46) as he went on, he would shoot at trees. Finally, as he went along, unexpectedly, he saw a lodge. He really liked it. There, much to his surprise, he saw four men. They were the way he was. Then they said, the four of them, "Hâhâ´, I bless you," they said to him. Then he also said, "Hâhâ´, I bless you," he said. "I say this because I am blessing you," he said. (47) "I say this because I am blessing you," he said once more. "With these arrows I bless you," he said. "With these arrows I bless you," he said as well. The ones with whom he spoke were the Heroka ("Without Horns"). Finally, they made him hear. There they talked slowly with him. And they told him about what he was going to do. There they blessed him with an arrow, and no matter how far away it was, it would not miss a single thing, they told him. (48) Then as he came away, on the way there, he killed a deer. He tended to it there, then brought it to the lodge. Then he was hungry. He cut off a piece and tried to eat it raw, but he could not. Then he broiled a piece. When he ate it, then it was mighty delicious. There he did a lot. He ate enough.

Then the young man came to him. Korá, he was fond of him. (49) He tried to take him home with him. "How is it?" he said. "Also, you can go where I am. Do you live alone?" he said. Then the young man said, "No, I live with my wife as well as my little son," he said. "What do you mean by 'my wife', as you say?" he said. "I mean a woman," he said. "What does 'woman', as you say, mean?" he said. (50) He would tell him, but he would not understand. Then he said, "Now then, let's go home so you can see, and you'll understand how things are," he said to him. So he went home with him. So when they got home, they were in separate lodges. There he lodged with him. He called him 'friend', and he would say [the same]. And when they got home, he was once again surprised. (51) When he saw the woman, he gazed at her intensely. And again, when he saw his little son, he was very much surprised. Then he said, "Where were these when you came home with them? In coming home, did you not bring them the same way as you also did with me?" he said. "No, the parents of this woman are outside in the longhouse there," he said. "What do you mean?" he said. "I mean her father and her mother," he said. (52) Again he tracked this down for him. He tried to understand how they did it, and gave birth to one another. And he really did not know, although he was anxious to, and finally, he meant that it should be good to tell him if he could understand, as they were talking. On and on he told him, and made him understand. Then he also asked if he could have another one. (53) It was not said how children are made, and I have never seen such a thing," he said, and he said, "I have never seen you do such things, is why I say it," he said. Then he told him, "It is done in secret," he said. "The reason is that it is shameful," he said. He inquired into the reasons for all things. Then again one day, when they were to go back, he told him, (54) "Friend, we are going back," he told him. He also said that he would be going back to his lodge. Then he said, "Friend, if ever some day, I can help you with any single thing, I could come over," he said. "Howo," he said. Then they parted there.

Then they came back to his mother there. Then one day the woman said, "My son, I came from somewhere. (55) My parents and my brothers also come from a village where my father governs. From there I went away somewhere. We had four women. I was with three of my friends. He killed my friends. I caused him to be burned up. Since I have exceeded my bounds, I have dreaded to go back home. I myself coaxed away my friends and that is why they were killed. (56) About now we should go there, I think," she said. The young man became anxious. Then they started out. In time they returned. At that time they were in mourning. It was then that the princess arrived home. All of them were in mourning, but they fixed up their disheveled hair. (57) Then they gathered, and then she told everyone there what she had done. As the princess was back, they were all glad. Three were destroyed, but on the other hand, there they received benefits from the young man. Then they wanted to make him chief, but he would not do it. Then they wanted to make him governor of the village, but he would not do it.

The Emblem of the Great Star

Then one day, a very large band of man-eating Giants (Wąkručge) came upon them. (58) There the young man would be the only one, so he was in want of his own friend. Before long, he came. There they gambled with the Giants. The young man with his friend were very good at good shooting, long distance shooting, and wrestling. They say that one day the friend also wrestled with a great oak, (59) which he pulled up by the roots and tossed it somewhere. Inasmuch as he did it, the Giants were frightened. There they stopped gaming.

Then there they went home, each to where he had come from. This young man was a louse, they say. Therefore, when the princess threw him out, he would always come back. (60) In the beginning, he was one of the lice who belonged to the princess. Therefore, he became human there. It is said that he is the ruler over the lice. Therefore, wherever he was, he would not let the people be hungry. They would be afraid to let us to go hungry. They say that that's the way lice are. It would most assuredly be difficult for themselves should there be hunger. (61) If the people are hungry, and they have nothing else to do, they would do their utmost to treat their lice condition, that is the reason. And the strong man is the "Great Star." It is said that he alone is one of the mighty things.1

The end,

Commentary. "Wąkpanįka" — from wąk, "male, man, human, humanoid"; pa, "head"; nįk, "little"; and -ka, a definite article used to indicate a personal name. We therefore learn from the title that the name of the skull antagonist is "Little Human Head." We know from a story about Hare that he take his name from a generic wąkpanįgera, who are strange beings who live only has heads without bodies, and who get about by rolling along. Just as in our story, the wąkpanįgera chase Hare around until he finds a way to destroy them. Since the skull is a wąkpanįk who takes his personal name from the tribe to which he belongs, we can conclude that he is the chief of that tribe.

"it rattled like a snake" — the Hočąk is sosóx, which Miner defines as, "to be rattly (like a rattlesnake)." In the only other known occurrence of the word (Mązni’ąpra), it expresses the sound made by a gourd rattle. Sosóx is an intensive version of sox, "to rattle" (Marino), which also is used to express the sound of frying (Lipkind). So the paradigm is of a sound made by many particles tumbling together.

"where the sun straightens out" — this is the standard way of referring to noon, when the sun is directly above.

"duck" — the narrator has either forgotten that she was eating a swan, or he views swans (heǧ) as a subspecies of ducks (wîka, wîx).

"Human Head" — here the -nįk- ("little") is dropped, and the skull is called by the name Wąkpaga.

"a longhouse" — the cave inhabited by Lice Spirits symbolizes the space between the human body and its covering of clothing. It is in this dark cave or "longhouse" that the lice flourish. The same image is repeated below.

"do not allow a piece to remain. Otherwise it will come back to life again" — this notion is intertwined with that of the transaction of the sacrifice. When an offering is made to an Animal Spirit, and that spirit accepts the offering, he becomes obliged to be reborn among mortal animals of his type and to become food for human in exchange for the spirit gift that he had accepted. This skull has the power to make offerings itself, and if accepted by the human, they empower him to return to his fundamental nature. He is reborn to this nature on the basis of a holy transaction. The fire is the messenger of the sacrifice in the case of tobacco, and so too here in the reverse direction. The pan is more than merely produced, it is born, and tries to suckle at her breast as though it were a child. The skull is seeking this kind of birth for itself.

The strange episode of the skull may have some resonance with the episode in which Morning Star engages an evil spirit in a beheading contest.

"whenever it was the same" — the skull is something of a counterpart to the Giants, and is perhaps even the skull of a Giant, although nothing is said of its size. In Hočąk the name translated as "Giant" is actually Wągerúčge, literally, "Man-Eaters." The skull is certainly that. What's more is that the Giants are said to have skulls full of wampum, the white shell money that finds something of a Western counterpart in gold. This skull, which has something rattling around inside it, produces goods of every sort as it is being consumed in the fire, just as if the wampum-money had been converted to other valuables.

"he did not grow very large" — quick growth and small size are attributes of lice, of which he is the spiritual chief.

"a hoard of lice" — as the Lice Spirit, we can expect him to be lousy.

"his wife was just like him" — this seems to mean that she is also a Louse Spirit herself.

"a longhouse ... they would chase each other up and down" — this is a reëvocation of the image of the longhouse, an analogue to the clothed human body, where in the dark recess between the body and its clothing, the lice live. The body lice (see below) move up and down this "longhouse."

"hide-and-seek" — the primary skill of a louse is to be good at this activity. Both husband and wife play this game.

"mother-in-law" — the Hočągara had a strong father-in-law and mother-in-law taboo, which expressed itself in a prohibition of direction discourse with those having such a relation to the speaker. Hiding behind one or the other in a game is more appropriate to relatives with whom one has a joking relation, which manifested itself in unrestrained verbal or physical teasing. Lice, of course, are not respecters of formality and can even cross over to in-laws. Like his own mother, his mother-in-law is the (step-)mother of a louse. The louse hides in relation to a human, and tries hard not to be found.

"a bag" — the suspicion is that the kind of lice to which this refers are pubic lice known as "crabs" on account of their resemblance to that crustacean (see picture below). The "bag" is her vagina. It would be an outrage to mention such a thing undisguised, but in an allegory, it forms a humorous scherzo.

"suddenly came into consciousness" — Morning Star comes to consciousness much like Earthmaker, but the supreme deity is a god of life and begins his activities by creation, whereas Morning Star is a god of war, and begins his activities by teaching himself the use of the bow and arrow. He is given the supreme arrow by the spirits most in charge of the hunt, the Heroka, whose very symbol is the bow and arrow. The lice spirit shares his diminutive size with the Heroka, and the friendship between him and Morning Star is one of opposites: the infallible arrow meets the impossible target. Their mediation is in the Heroka, the small but perfect hunters.

"his mother-in-law" — the conversation that follows is an extreme violation of the in-law taboo. See above.

"spotted" — this word, kerekéreš (with many variants), has a more subtle meaning than just "spotted." Gatschet gives the definition as, "1) spotted in color ( or colors); 2) having lines, striped, as shirts. [StCyr] says (1) and (2) are not different in reality."

"a hunter" — since lice move about until they find a spot where they can draw blood, they are like hunters tracking down game. They also seek a human host, and may be thought of as hunters of humans. Both humans and lice are carnivores. The very name for the louse connects it to the hunt. In Hočąk, the word he means both "louse" and "horn." "Horn" became a slang term for an arrow, since most arrows were merely sharpened wood points called mąsąč p’áų, which therefore resembled a horn. Indeed, an arrow could be tipped with a sharpened horned point of deer or elk antler, but this was not especially common. Redhorn (He-šuč-ka), who is chief of the Heroka, is probably so called because of the red cedar (wax-šuč) arrow with a sharpened point, called the "red protruding horn" (he pųjoke šujra). The name of the He-roka themselves means "Without Horns," a superficially paradoxical expression, since the Heroka are spirits of the bow and arrow. The Heroka, because they are spirits of the arrow, are able to shoot by just pulling the arrow back and forth, and whatever they aim at will fall as if hit by an invisible arrow. The arrows of the Heroka are projections of their spiritual essence, and therefore need not be manifested materially. Oddly, by homonymy, the name he-roka also means "without lice."

"every sort of thing" — lice are found on a wide range of animals, so there are very few that they do not "hunt."

"as he sat, became conscious" — this is the way that Earthmaker himself came into existence. Creation ex nihilo is modeled on the equally mysterious emergence into consciousness from the oblivion of unconsciousness.

"they were the way he was" — the four men prove to be Heroka. So does this mean that he is like them in being a man, or does it mean that he was one of the Heroka? This seems highly unlikely, since he pulls an entire oak tree out by the roots, which ought to mean that he could wrap his arms around its trunk. Indeed, his size is noted in just one place, the title of one of his myths, given as "The Giant, or The Morning Star."2

"a great oak" — the oak is the tree of the Thunderbirds, since it is the tree most often struck by lightning.3 That Morning Star has power over such a tree is in part a reflection of his affinity to the Thunders. He is said to be He who is Girded in Blankets, a reference to clouds, and all his brothers were turned into clouds; he himself became the founder of the Thunderbird Clan.

"they stopped gaming" — the victorious contest against the Wągerúčge, "Man-Eaters," is an echo of the theme that lice protect people from famine which is also a man-eater, slowly eating away the flesh of its victims.

The Head Louse
Pediculus humanus capitis
  The Crab Louse
Phthirus pubis
  The Body Louse
Pediculus humanus humanus

"louse" — the Hočąk for louse is he, to which compare, Osage, he; Dakota, héya; Biloxi, ane; Ofo óⁿyi.4 The word he is also a homonym meaning, "top, roof" and "horn." In this latter sense, he metaphorically denotes hair. There are three varieties of lice: the head louse, the body louse, and the crab louse, also known as the "pubic louse."

"Great Star"Wiragošgexetega, the Morning Star of Venus.

Comparative Material. The Omaha have an interesting version of this myth. As the woman flees from the skull, she meets a man in a way very similar to the encounter in the "Woman Who Became an Ant." This man shatters the skull with his bow. There is no child, no lice, and no reference to contesting the Giants. The Omaha myth proceeds to the episode of the fire from which goods jump out and the violation of the prohibition against keeping them. It ends, however, with the woman dying as a result of her attempt to keep the forbidden wealth.5

The Arapaho version is like the Omaha. A princess who kept finding animals to bring home for meat wondered what spirit was giving her these prizes, so she concealed herself. She witnessed a skull arising from the ice of a river who vomited out a buffalo for her. Then he said to himself, "These people should be fat enough by now to eat." The girl and her family, thus forewarned, changed into geese and attempted to escape by flight. They left their clothes behind, and these clothes (like the doll in the Hočąk version) talked to the skull and forestalled him. The skull was finally able to engage in pursuit, and all kinds of object were thrown magically in his path, but in the end the skull sucked in the dog and both parents. Again, like the Omaha version, the woman encountered a man making arrows who in the end destroyed the skull. There is, however, no episode with the fire in which things of value jump out like embers.6

The Kitkehahki Pawnee version of the episode about the pursuit of the skull is an astronomy myth. Once a girl who went out for wood was kidnapped by a rattling skull. He told her that he would spare her life if she would clean him, but she could only uses the scales off his skull for food. He intimidated her so that she feared to flee. One day when he was gone for over a day, she ascended to the top of a high hill and wept. Suddenly a mysterious man appeared, and told her that he could help her by giving her three things: a bladder, a cactus, and an arrow. He instructed her on how to use these objects. If she were in danger, she was to sing this song:

My brother, the angry Skull is coming after me.
Yonder it is coming over the hill tops.
My brother, the angry Skull is coming after me.
My brother, the angry Skull is coming after me.

She took these objects, and fled north. The skull came rattling after her. Then she sang her song, and a mountain lion appeared. He offered to help, but when he found out that it was the skull who pursued her, he told her to go on to the next animal. As she fled, she threw down the cactus, and a hedge of cacti arose and held the human skull at bay; but eventually he rolled over the cacti, so she sang her song again. This time a bear appeared, but when learning about the skull, he told her to go on. The girl threw down the bladder full of water, and all of a sudden, a great river with steep banks appeared behind her. This stopped the skull until he saw some logs drifting by, and he rolled on to one of them and floated until he hit upon the opposite shore. After some time, he caught up to her again. She sung her song again, and this time a buffalo bull appeared. He too feared the skull, but he told her about three brothers who lived not far away, so she set out for them. As the skull gained on her, she stuck the arrow in the ground, and up sprang a wood full of thorny plants. The skull shot a jet of fire from his mouth, and burned a path through the woods. She reached the lodge of the brothers, who were 11, 13, and 15 years old. They saw the skull, and the oldest smashed it to pieces with his club. The girl took a large rock and smashed it to smithereens. She gathered up the fragments and burned them up completely. The boys told the girl that she could live with them until their older brothers returned. In the meantime she planted corn, squash, and beans, and they had much to eat. When the older brothers returned, the younger boys persuaded them to keep the girl as a sister, since she did much to feed them. Every night the boys would to into the sky, and one night they decided to take the girl with them. They were the Pleiades, and she was the seventh star among them.7

This version of the Pawnee story is much closer to the Hočąk. Instead of the skull tempting the girl, the girl tempts the skull with things of value. Four girls went out to gather wood in the dead of winter. While they were about, they smelled the pleasant aroma of a root. "Let's find out where that smell comes from," they said. They tracked the smell, but it took so long to track it down, that one girl after another turned back until there was but one girl left. As the remaining girl tracked the odor, she came to a copse of cedar trees within which was a lodge built of stone. When she arrived there, the stone door opened automatically, and a handsome young man came out. She told him about tracking the smell, and he said, "It comes from within." They went in and the stone door rolled shut by itself. At that moment, her companion turned into an old, ugly man. She was trapped, the only opening was the smoke hole. The old man told her that he would eventually kill her. Then he went back out, transforming once again into a young man. Then, at the smoke hole, a raven appeared to her. "The smell that attracted you comes from the medicine bundle hanging from the wall. Tomorrow, go pick some hackberries, but be sure to keep them concealed, then I will return with further instructions," he said. So the next day she asked to go outside, whereupon she quickly picked some hackberries, and returned. Again the old man went out in the guise of a youth, and the raven then reappeared. The raven told her that her captor was a rattling, rolling human skull called "Long Tongue." He told her what she must do when he returned. When he came back, he became a skull and told her, "Pick the lice off of my head and eat them." So she put the skull in her lap and picked the insects off. These insects, she knew, were really ticks, so she cast them in a pile, and bit down on a hackberry as she pretended that she was eating them. When she was done, he passed out, and she took the opportunity to grab all the ticks and cast them outside. She said, "Grandfather, close up the lodge," and the stone rolled shut. When the skull revived, he was none the wiser. The next day, he announced that he was going on a long expedition. She asked him to bring her a buffalo so that she might be able to make tallow. He soon returned carrying a buffalo, then he left for the distant country. As the girl was making tallow, the raven appeared again. "Now is the time to prepare for your escape. Take down the bundle and remove the stones used for smoothing the arrows. Then take out a piece of flint, some white powder made from white clay, the arrow, and the flint knife. We will flee to where there are people who can kill Long Tongue." She spread tallow everywhere, then got on the raven's back, and they flew as far as the raven could go before he was exhausted. Long Tongue was soon in pursuit. The raven told her to run for four days to the east until she came to a place that was blue in color. At this place were the people who would help her. When Long Tongue returned he found the woman gone, but there was tallow everywhere, even on the walls. He was quite fond of it, so he spent the better part of the day licking it up. Then he picked up her trail in pursuit. When he got close, the girl threw the smooth stones behind her, and they suddenly multiplied into a whole field of stones. Long Tongue was quite excited, and said, "This is too good an opportunity, I must gather these up," so he spent the day collecting the valuable stones. When next he caught up, she dropped the flint arrow points, and they multiplied. He could not pass these up either. The next time that he got near, she threw stuck the arrow in the ground, and all about sprung up a forest of straight branched dogwood. Long Tongue couldn't resist stopping and collecting the wood for arrow shafts. Then he resumed his pursuit, and when he did so, he was in the form of a rolling, rattling skull. When he got close, she threw down the flint knife, and suddenly a ravine appeared, and Long Tongue fell in and only with difficulty was he able to work his way out. She finally came to a mound which was in reality a lodge, and in front of it was a man making a bow. She asked him for help, and he told her to go into the lodge. Then Long Tongue appeared and demanded, "Where is the girl, I'm here to kill her!" The man struck it with his bow, and split the skull in two, but as soon as he raised the bow from the two parts, they snapped back together again. So he took a flint ax and this time he whacked one half so hard that it flew to the west and became the moon; the other piece he launched into the east, where is became the sun. There she stayed with the man and his youngest son. His other seven sons were out on the warpath. When they returned, they had to decide what relation she would be to them. They decided that she would be their sister. One day the girl opened a medicine bundle, and took out the ear of dried corn that it contained. "My daughter," said the father, "you must not take that. It is holy, a gift of Evening Star." "But I am the daughter of Evening Star," she replied, and so they let her take it. She planted the corn, and they had food in abundance. One day it became evident that she was pregnant, and the father was furious, as he did not know who could have done it. One day North Star appeared and declared that he was the husband, and that he had mated with her when he was in the form of a red bird. Then the father declared the destiny of all. The seven brothers were to become the Pleiades. The girl and her offspring would be with North Star. At the end of things, all of the family would join the seven brothers making their number ten. In the meantime, those who remained on earth would be warriors inasmuch as they were hawks.8

The first part of an Osage story, where birds replace the lice, has some interesting parallels. "The girl Mitsihi sends a crier to call women together and tells them she is going away, because her mother had whipped her. Several other girls and the crier go with her. The first night one of the girls is missing. This happens three other nights. The next night,the crier is missing. The next night another girl is missing. Mitsihi goes on alone, crying, and then a bird speaks to her. The bird tells her Mountain Lion had eaten her friends. The bird says she is to get into a hole in a rock and put a big rock in front and Mountain Lion will come at midnight. She does so and Mountain Lion comes and asks her to open the door. She tells it to come nearer. He comes nearer and she pushes the rock on to him and kills him."9

To the episode in which the hero defecates wampum, the Huichol have a story that is rather similar that involves their Trickster, Kauyumari. "Another time, Kauyumari was shown a donkey, which, when beaten, would defecate silver coins. Kauyumari bought this donkey. But when he himself beat the animal and lifted its tail, expecting to see money, his face was covered with manure."10

Links: Morning Star, Lice, Giants, Heroka, Redman, Ghosts, Wąkpanįgera.

Stories:mentioning lice (and nits): Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Ocean Duck, Journey to Spiritland (v. 8); featuring Morning Star as a character: Morning Star and His Friend, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families, The Origins of the Milky Way; about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; featuring the Heroka as characters: The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Morning Star and His Friend, The Claw Shooter, Redhorn's Sons, The Origins of the Milky Way; 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, 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; about the Wąkpanįgera: Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; about bodiless heads: Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, Bluehorn's Nephews; mentioning ghosts: The Journey to Spiritland, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Holy One and His Brother, Worúxega, Little Fox and the Ghost, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lame Friend, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Hare Steals the Fish, The Difficult Blessing, A Man's Revenge, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Two Roads to Spiritland; mentioning oak: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Turtle's Warparty, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waruǧápara, The Creation Council, The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), Sun and the Big Eater, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Roaster, The Shaggy Man, Wears White Feather on His Head, Peace of Mind Regained, The Dipper (leaves); mentioning dolls: Young Man Gambles Often; mentioning wampum: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), Turtle and the Giant, Snowshoe Strings, The Chief of the Heroka, The Markings on the Moon, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 2), Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka; mentioning sweat lodges or sweat baths: The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Lost Blanket, The Green Man, Bladder and His Brothers (v. 1), Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Thunderbird, Snowshoe Strings, Waruǧápara, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, The Birth of the Twins (v. 2), Lifting Up the Bear Heads, The King Bird, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, The Shaggy Man, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Dipper, The Two Boys, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 2); in which defecation plays a role: Ocean Duck, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster Soils the Princess; mentioning caves: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Silver Mound Cave, The Woman Who Married a Snake.

Themes: a girl grows up with numerous (nine or ten) brothers as her only siblings: The Chief of the Heroka, The Shaggy Man, Waruǧápara, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2); a malevolent spirit chases after a group of women: The Woman Who Became an Ant, The Seven Maidens; a princess is the sole survivor of a group of friends whom she persuaded to travel with her: The Woman Who Became an Ant; a severed head speaks: The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head; a person's life will be spared if and only if she can tell a stranger what his true biological relationship is to her: The Woman Who Became an Ant; a human marries a spirit: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (a Thunderbird, a Nightspirit, and two Waterspirits), The Thunderbird (a Thunderbird), How the Thunders Met the Nights (a Nightspirit), The Shaggy Man (a Bear Spirit), White Wolf (a Wolf Spirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (a Snake Spirit), The Star Husband (stars), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Spirit), The Phantom Woman (Waterspirit); a person endows an inanimate object with the power of speech and orders it to speak for him/her while he/she escapes: Ocean Duck (an arrow), Hare Kills Wildcat (acorns), cf. Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear (piles of dung); a woman faced with the choice of marrying an evil spirit or death, runs away: The Woman Who became an Ant, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister; the remains of a dead man speak to, bite, and chase after someone: Little Fox and the Ghost; ghosts chase after someone: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Little Fox and the Ghost; someone fleeing enemies hides in a crevice of a cliff: The Woman Who Became an Ant, Shakes the Earth, Turtle's Warparty, Porcupine and His Brothers; people are tempted by the dead to give into their purposes, but (could) succeed by following the advice of a friendly spirit and resisting with their utmost power: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Snowshoe Strings; a person endows an inanimate object with the power of speech and orders it to speak for him/her while he/she escapes: Ocean Duck (an arrow), Hare Kills Wildcat (acorns), cf. Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear (piles of dung); a powerful spirit lives in a cave: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Blue Mounds Cave, Silver Mound Cave, The Woman Who Married a Snake; a man pleases his father-in-law with his hunting prowess: The Thunderbird, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; someone defecates on a blanket: Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; someone excretes shells (or wampum): The Markings on the Moon; a spirit comes into existence as a fully mature human being but in a state of total amnesia: Morning Star and His Friend, The Nannyberry Picker, Wears White Feather on His Head; acquiring a holy arrow: Hare Acquires His Arrows, Morning Star and His Friend, Owl Goes Hunting; contests with the Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf, The Roaster, Young Man Gambles Often, 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.


1 Paul Radin, "The Man's Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #51: 1-61 (English only); Winnebago V, #13: 1-21, 26-61, and Winnebago V, #10: 22-25. The last citation was from what had been an unidentified syllabic text which proved to be the missing pages to Winnebago V, #13.

2 John Harrison, The Giant or The Morning Star, translated by Oliver LaMère, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago III, #11a, Story 8: 92-117.

3 From 1874-1890, in a much cited study, Richard Alexander Hess monitored lightning strikes in the forest of Lippe-Detmold in Germany, and derived the following results:

Broadleaved Trees

Oaks 310
Beech 33
Birch 10
Poplars 6
Ash 4
Willows 2
Other trees 8




Scots pine 108
Spruce 39
Larch 11
Austrian pine 1
Weymouth pine 1
Other trees 5



William Rogers Fisher, Manual of Forestry: Forest Protection, Volume 4 of Manual of Forestry, Sir William Schlich, William Rogers Fisher, Richard Alexander Hess, Karl Gaye (London: Bradbury, Agnew & Co., 1907) 661-664, citing [Richard Alexander] Hess, in Zeitschrift fur Forst- und Jagdwesen. Very similar results were obtained in the United States, and published in a pamphlet by Arthur Judson Henry, "Loss of Life and Property by Lightning," in Lightning and Electricity of Air; in 2 Parts, Weather Bureau Bulletin, #26 (Part II), Weather Bureau Document #197 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Weather Bureau, 1899) 45-74 [64-69], some of the results of which were reprinted in "Correspondence and Notes: Loss of Life and of Property by Lightning," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 25 (1899) 273-274. The idea that the oak has the religious prominence that it does, was first suggested by Gilbert Thomas Burnett (1800-1835): "It is not improbable, says Professor Burnet, that the liability of the oak to be struck by lightning may have led to the dedication of that tree to the god of thunder." John Claudius Loudon, Arboretum Et Fruticetum Britannicum: Or, The Trees and Shrubs of Britain, Native and Foreign, Hardy and Half-hardy, Pictorially and Botanically Delineated, and Scientifically and Popularly Described; with Their Propagation, Culture, Management, and Uses in the Arts, in Useful and Ornamental Plantations, and in Landscape Gardening; Preceded by a Historical and Geographical Outline of the Trees and Shrubs of Temperate Climates Throughout the World (Printed for the author, 1838) 3: 1812. This view is also expressed by Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, trs. james Steven Stallybrass (London: George Bell & Sons, 1882) 1: 172, 4: 1341; followed by William Warde Fowler, "The Oak and the Thunder God," Roman essays and Interpretations (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1920) 37-41; Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (London: Macmillan and Co., limited, 1913) 11: 298-300; Gregory Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1992) 195-196.

4 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, 248, sv he; Francis La Flesche, A Dictionary of the Osage Language, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 109 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1932) 290, sv "louse"; John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992 [1902]) sv "louse, lice"; James Owen Dorsey and John R. Swinton, A Dictionary of the Biloxi and Ofo Languages, in Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 47 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1912) 307, sv "louse" (Biloxi); 336, sv "louse" (Ofo).

5 Roger Welsch, Omaha Tribal Myths and Trickster Tales (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981) 276-279.

6 "The Flood," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 5: 8-12; a close variant for this part of the story is found in Blindy, "The Flood and the Origin of the Ceremonial Lodges," Story 6: 13-19; cf. Holding Together, "The Skull Acts as Food-getter," Story 124: 278-282.

7 White Sun, "Pursuit by a Rattling Skull; the Pleiades," in George Dorsey, The Pawnee Mythology (Washington, D. C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1906) 1: 119-122.

8 Little Chief, "5.Long Tongue, the Rolling Head," in Dorsey, The Pawnee Mythology, 1: 31-38. Dorsey adds an informative footnote (p. 31): "Told by Little Chief, the present chief of the Chaui and great nephew of Pitelesaru, the head chief of the Pawnee. He is the keeper of a sacred bundle and of the buffalo pipe, which when exposed, causes windstorms. This interesting version of the magic flight accounts for the origin among the Chaui of many objects the possession of which was made possible through the theft from the stone house of the Rolling Head of a sacred bundle, through the raven's assistance. This head was conceived of as an individual, round in shape, capable of traveling great distances with great rapidity, and as making while traveling a great noise. This being was finally overcome by the hawk, who was conceived of as striking it with a club, which is symbolic of the wing of the hawk by which it kills its prey, and severing the two parts by means of a flint axe, one part of the head becoming the sun and the other the moon. The daughter of the Evening-Star, who is instrumental in the accomplishment of the task just noted, later has connection with the red bird, which represents the winter storm, and she and her family become the Pleiades, which ultimately is to be increased to ten stars by the addition of herself, sister, and brother."

9 "24. The Girl and the Mountain-Lion," in George A. Dorsey, "Traditions of the Osage," Field Columbian Musem, Anthropological Series, 7, #1 (Feb., 1904): 56.

10 John Bierhorst, The Mythology of Mexico and Central America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 [1990]) 168.