The Rounded Wood Origin Myth

by Jasper Blowsnake


Jasper Blowsnake

Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation


Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Sore Eye Dance


(107) In the direction where the day comes, where the Nights are, beyond that, those whom they call the 'Night Soldiers' blessed my grandfather, and made him try himself. (108) Going where it is the deepest, they placed the rounded wood in the middle of the Ocean Sea, but the Night Soldiers did not obtain it. But when grandfather tried it, he would never miss. "You have done well, human, you have won," (109) they would say to him. He said that, consequently, it was of good use in war, it is said. He said that if you did well in offering it tobacco, it is of good use in war, it is said.1


Commentary. "beyond that" — on the other side of the Ocean Sea is elevated land which holds the waters in place and prevents their pouring over the edge of the world. On this marginal land mass there are villages of Spirits. The Giants, for instance, have a village in the north, the Thunderbirds in the west, and the Nights, as indicated here, have their Spiritland in the east.

"the rounded wood"nąrųgízᵋra, from ną-rugis-ra, where means, "wood"; rugís, "to form or make a circle, to make something round (like a circle), to form a ring out of something" (Helmbrecht-Lehmann); and -ra, the definite article. They seem to be the same as the Ną́ Hųgᵋra, "the Chief Sticks" or more literally, "the Wood-Chiefs." These are described as hirokíkanągᵋrà, "staffs."2 They are sacred objects held by certain participants in the Sore-Eye Ceremony, and are said to be conducive to Life. However, they are also "of good use in war" (for which see below). On the other hand, holding them in the Sore-Eye Ceremony is conducive to gaining Life. In the rite, it is women who hold it, since among the Nightspirits, it is women who walk in front when they scatter the darkness with the coming night. Apart from being a phallic symbol by virtue of being a shaft with a rounded top, the spherical nature of the cap makes it particularly holy. The sphere is a circle in every direction, and the circle is the only line without beginning or end. Thus, we find that Hare, when he was trying to win immortality for humanity, did a circuit of the perimeter of the earth, but failed in his mission when he looked back (which is seeing the past as future). So the circle and the sphere can represent the unbroken line, and therefore, unbroken Life.

"Ocean Sea" — just as the ancients thought that Eurasia conjoined with Africa were surrounded by an ocean, so the same concept reigned in the western hemisphere, where the land mass was frequently referred to as "Turtle Island." In Hočąk, this body of water was called Te Ją, "the Encircling Lake." This expanse of water was contained on a flat earth, like Okeanos, by a ring of marginal land.

      
  BAE 37: Pl. 43   BAE 37: Pl. 43
  A Ball-Headed Warclub   A Flat-Headed Warclub

"good use in war" — this may mean that the nąrųgís could double as a warclub. If it is the size of a staff, then it is not something that could be inserted into a Warbundle, so its efficacy cannot owe to its being a sacred object that influences the outcome of battle. There is in fact a picture of a ball-headed Warclub that resembles perfectly a staff with a rounded wood head, as we see in the inset.

The immediate problem of identifying the nąrųgís as a Warclub is that the Nights, as celestial beings in league with the Thunderbirds, carried the hikíxaračkĕ, a flat-headed Warclub unique to the Upper Moiety among the Hočągara. Nevertheless, a complicating factor enters into the calculus here. The nąrųgízᵋra are a blessing from the Night Soldiers (Hąhé Mą́ną́pe). The mą́ną́pe in Hočąk society are police, in charge of discipline generally. The mą́ną́pe are exclusively members of the Bear Clan, which brings the Night Soldiers into a unique relationship with this clan, and in particular, the Black Bear Subclan. This subclan was re-founded (after having been rubbed out) by Fourth Universe, who was believed to have been a reincarnated Nightspirit. This explains why the Nightspirits could not themselves retrieve the rounded wood once it had been dropped into the depths of the Ocean Sea: the Nightspirits, as Upper World beings, cannot descend into the depths of the Waterspirit World, the realm of their enemies and the enemies most particularly of their friends the Thunderbirds. That the test should be whether a human could retrieve the club from the depths of the waters, shows that the club's natural affinity is with the Lower World. The human, being the intermediary by virtue of living in between the Upper and Lower Worlds, here navigates both by being able to retrieve a gift from the Upper World that is located at the depths of the Lower World. The Night Soldiers could possess such an artifact by virtue of being Mą́ną́pe, although their own warclubs are of flat-headed variety used also by the Thunderbirds.


Paul Radin's Translation. In the direction from which the day comes, there where the Nights are, live the night-soldiers, who blessed my grandfather and who made him try his powers in the middle of the ocean — there where it is deepest. They placed a round object of wood before him, and the night-soldiers said that they would not take it away, and that every time my grandfather tried to seize it he would not miss. 'You have done well, human, you have won,' they said to him. For this reason it was considered an instrument of war, he told me. If you do your utmost in offering tobacco, it will be an instrument of war, he said.3


Links: Nightspirits.


Stories: mentioning Nightspirits: The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Big Stone, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Fourth Universe, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Ocean Duck, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Sun and the Big Eater; mentioning the rounded wood (ceremonial object): The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance; mentioning the Ocean Sea (Te Ją): Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 1), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster and the Children, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Wears White Feather on His Head, White Wolf, How the Thunders Met the Nights (Mąznį’ąbᵋra), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), Redhorn's Sons, Grandfather's Two Families, Sun and the Big Eater, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (sea), The Dipper (sea), The Thunderbird (a very wide river), Wojijé, The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 1), Redhorn's Father, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Berdache Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Morning Star and His Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed.


Themes: spirits bless a man with an artifact: Waruǧápara (warbundle, warclub), The Warbundle of the Eight Generations (warbundle, flute), The Blessing of a Bear Clansman (warbundle), The Thunderbird (warclub), The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds (warclub), Origin of the Decorah Family (drum), Paint Medicine Origin Myth (magical paint), Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka (flute), Ancient Blessing (pot, ax, spoon), The Blessing of the Bow (bow and arrows), Heną́ga and Star Girl (Thunderbird Medicine, arrow); a spirit is quoted as he gives someone a blessing: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Completion Song Origin, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Difficult Blessing, The Blessing of Šokeboka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bow Meets Disease Giver, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Sunset Point, A Peyote Vision, The Healing Blessing.


Notes

1 Jasper Blowsnake, "The Sore-Eye Dance (Hišjaxiri Waši)," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n. d.) Notebook 23, 1-195 [107-109] (Syllabary with an interlinear translation). Jasper Blowsnake, "The Sore-Eye Dance (Hišjaxiri Waši)," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n. d.) Notebook 69, 1-37 [17] (phonetic text only).

2 Blowsnake, "The Sore-Eye Dance (Hišjaxiri Waši)," 131.

3 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, The Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1923]) 337.