The Omahas who turned into Snakes
by George Ricehill
Hočąk-English Interlinear Text
Five Omaha men went "visiting." They went after the Sioux. If they saw one, they might kill him, is the reason why they went. But they did not see anyone, so therefore they came back. By the time they were close to returning, they had become very hungry and thirsty, and so wishing to get a drink of water, they went to a spring there. They say that there was a snake there that had four legs. One of them said, "Kote! let us kill and eat it." One of them forbade it: "What a bad thing it must be." "Kote, but I am going to kill it anyway. I am hungry, that is why I am saying this." Then he killed it. Thus he did. He went after sticks. He boiled it and once it was cooked, he ate it. "Kote, this is delicious!" They ate every bit of it. Only one did not do it. The one who led them had a nephew. He was the one who would not eat it. After they ate it up, something began to happen to those four men. Like the animal that they had been eating, thus did they become. "Nephew, go tell the Omaha that next summer at this time you may come and see me, and we will be here. For four years you will do thus. After that, from then on you will see me nearby. Now then, this is the last time you will hear me talk. Therefore, go home now."
Commentary. The myth raises some interesting questions that are not easily answered. Why, for instance, are the snake-men of Omaha extraction? The name "Omaha" means "Upstream People," so in name they have some connection to the spring. "Sioux" in the lingua franca of the day, the Ojibwe language, means "Little Snakes," revealing a connection between their name and the four-limbed snake that the Omaha found while searching for four-limbed Little Snakes. Eating snakes is as taboo as eating Sioux; but in this case those who do become prescient four years into the future. The nephew of the warleader is always his attendant, and before going on the warpath, it is his duty to obtain the food for the feast that is held in connection with the gathering of the warparty. Thus it seems appropriate that the nephew forbid the "anti-food" that is obtained by others after the warpath is completed. The Fast Eating Contest held at this feast helps determine the success of the warpath; but here the failure of the warpath is connected to the violation of the culinary rules. If any food is left uneaten in the Fast Eating Contest, it indicates that some of the enemy will escape that might otherwise have been taken. In the post-warpath feast, the participants eat every morsel, but it is they who do not escape: they are, as it were, ingested into the nature of that which they ingested. They are in effect captured, causing the race of four-legged snakes to increase, in this case, fourfold.
Links: Snakes, Introduction.
Stories: mentioning the Sioux (Šąhą): The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee", Little Priest's Game, Berdache Origin Myth, Great Walker's Warpath, Potato Magic, The Masaxe War, White Flower, The Man who Fought against Forty, First Contact (vv. 2-3), The Love Blessing, Run for Your Life, Introduction; mentioning the Omaha: Quapah Origins, Ioway & Missouria Origins, Little Priest's Game, Introduction; mentioning snakes: The First Snakes, The Woman who Married a Snake, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Snake Clan Origins, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Serpents of Trempealeau, Rattlesnake Ledge, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, Wears White Feather on His Head, Creation of the World (vv. 2, 3, 4), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Waruǧápara, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Turtle and the Merchant, The Lost Blanket, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; mentioning springs: Trail Spring, Vita Spring, Merrill Springs, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 6, 8, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Bluehorn's Nephews, Blue Mounds, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Lost Child, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Wild Rose, The Two Brothers, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Nannyberry Picker, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧápara, Wazųka, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Turtle and the Witches.
Themes: a man becomes the sort of thing that he has eaten: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish; a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧápara (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (blackhawk, owl), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), The Spotted Grizzly Man (bear), Brass and Red Bear Boy (bear, buffalo), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Fleetfooted Man (otter, bird), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (otter), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); a man who has been turned into a spirit invites his friend or relative to visit him at the place where he was transformed: The Were-fish (v. 1).
1 George Ricehill, [no title], in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3899 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, prior to 1909) Winnebago III, #19: 19b-2, 17-20.