Snowbirds (Wanik Zaganik)

by Richard L. Dieterle


The snowbird plays a role in a number of Hocąk waikąs. Its name in Hocąk, wanik zaganik, means "little fast bird."1 It is a species of bunting, the snow bunting, which bears the English language nickname "snowbird" on account of the peculiar fact that it often flies just ahead of winter storm fronts, so that the appearance of a flock of these birds is a sign of impending snow fall. Their white color also reinforces their connection to snow (see the inset painting). Snowbirds seem to be the favorite dice of the Giants, who are always engaging people in contests in which lives are wagered on the outcome.2 Grizzly Bear also kept snowbirds for the same purpose.3 They throw the snowbird-dice into the air and order them to land all right side up, or all upside down. Once a Giant who sat down to gamble, pounded his chest and coughed up eight snowbirds which he tossed about as dice.4 That snowbirds should come from the center of the Giant's being is not surprising, since it is the ice permanently lodging in the stomachs of Giants that makes them Wángerúcge, "Man-eaters," in the first place.5 The gambling between Giants and men is symbolic of the gamble of war — thus in all of these contests Turtle plays a prominent role as their adversary. He it is who invented war, an activity normally pursued only in winter. Thus, the snowbird is a kind of symbol of the imminence of the approach of enemy warparties, devourers of human life, who come with the snows of winter.

Links: Giants, Turtle, Sun, Mice, Blue Bear.

Stories: mentioning snowbirds: Redhorn's Sons, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants.

Themes: birds used as implements in a game of chance: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Sons, The Roaster, The Spirit of Gambling, Redhorn Contests the Giants; a Giant pounds on his chest and coughs up birds that he intends to use as dice: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Roaster.


1 Paul Radin, "Mązeniabera," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #21: 1-134.

2 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 123-129; Paul Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #36: 1-81.

3 Paul Radin, "Redhorn's Sons," Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #7, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1908-1913) Story 7a.

4 Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Notebook #36: 1-81.

5 Young Man Shoots for Them Often, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #8, Freeman #3861 [3891] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, pre-1930) Story 8s: 1-23.