Swallows (Nąnažožopke)

by Richard L. Dieterle


The most notable of all birds in the Wisconsin Dells is the Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota). The Hočągara call this bird, Nąnažožopke. This can be analyzed as, ną-na-žo-žop-ge, "he sleeps"; -na, "the one such that"; žo-žop, an emphatic reduplication of žop, "hollow"; and -ge, "the kind or sort of thing," with the /g/ hardened to /k/ as it is when -ga becomes -ka after a consonant. So the swallow is "the kind of thing that sleeps in something emphatically hollow," as may be seen in its hollow mud nest shown in the photograph.

 
Marlin Harms  
The American Cliff Swallow  

The Cliff Swallow is a strange cross between a Northern Mockingbird and an arrow. One day a boy named "Fool" (Wowąka) went out to hunt birds for the first time. When he heard a mockingbird imitate an eagle, he shot in the direction of the call, and instead of bagging an eagle, he shot a mockingbird. When the mockingbird's mate showed up, Fool took the arrow, whose stone tip was covered in blood, and fired at her as well, but a friendly wind deflected the arrow into a mud bank. When Earthmaker saw this, he was inspired to create a new creature among those who "walk upon the light." Thus was the Cliff Swallow created at the mud bank from which it has ever since made its nests.1

The swallow has been the constant companion of some notable spirits. The Red Star, who is Bluehorn, had swallows flying before him wherever he went. Since Bluehorn is both a star that appears in the red of the sky (and is probably, therefore, the Evening Star of Venus), and is the blue sky, it is appropriate that he attract a bird that is both blue and red.2

Sometimes swallows favor men of great renown as well as Spirits. Such a man was Red Cloud, who was a great proponent of peace and human welfare. Whenever he sat atop Sugar Bowl rock to sing songs in worship of the setting sun, Cliff Swallows would circle above his head. At his death, when a rock face there was transformed into the image of his head, the swallows could still be seen circling above his rocky likeness long after his death.3


Links: Bird Spirits.


Stories: mentioning swallows: The Origin of the Cliff Swallow, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Death of Red Cloud.


Themes: a man is accompanied by a flock of swallows: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Red Cloud's Death.


Notes

1 "The Legend of the Cliff Swallow," in Captain Don Saunders, Driftwood and Debris: Riverside Tales of the Dells of Old Wisconsin by the River Guides, 2d ed. (Wisconsin Dells: Wisconsin Dells Events, 1959) 75.

2 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 24-41. The original text is in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #2: 1-123 (syllabic text), 1-38 (English translation).

3 "The Legend of the Indian Head," in Captain Don Saunders, Driftwood and Debris: Riverside Tales of the Dells of Old Wisconsin by the River Guides, 2d ed. (Wisconsin Dells: Wisconsin Dells Events, 1959) 78-79.