Trickster and the Children (§3 of the Trickster Cycle)

translation based on the interlinear of John Baptiste

Hočąk-English Interlinear Syllabic Text

(39) And there he was going along when, unexpectedly, there was a man. "Hohó," Trickster said. "My younger brother, here he is walking about," he said. (40) "My younger brother, here he is going about," he said. "My younger brother, what are you doing about?" he said, but he did not answer. The man had a club. This man said, "Hohó, by now my children are very hungry," he said. (41) Trickster was bothersome with his questions, but he was never answered. The man did this: there sat a knoll and he used a club to strike it. (42) Unexpectedly, he killed a large, old bear. Thus he had done, then he built a fire. There he burned the hair off the bear. When he was done, he boiled it in a pail he had taken with him. (43) And immediately he dished it out. "Hurry up, my children must be extremely hungry," he was saying. He did it. He used a wooden bowl and dished out soup. He cooled it off. Then he did it. (44) A bladder which he had attached to his belt, that he took and untied. Unexpectedly, he uncovered four tiny children. Then he talked lovingly to them. Trickster was saying, (45) "Hohó my younger brother, what fine children you have," he was saying. And he let them eat. But he did not let them eat very much. And when he was done, he again put them into the bladder and (46) carried them hanging from his belt. And he did this: he broke off tree branches and dished out all of it from the kettle there. And there he sat and ate. He finished all of it. Again he cooled the soup (47) and drank from the pail and finished it completely. Then he said, "Hąhą́," he said, "I am busy, therefore I did not talk with you," he said. (48) Then Trickster said, "My younger brother, truly indeed you have cute children. My younger brother, our little children, two of the young ones, supposing that I myself should also care for them?" he said. "Certainly not, (49) that I could not do. As you are tricky, you would make them dead for me," he said. After that, Trickster said, "Hohó younger brother, you have made too much of it. I am only asking this because I want them for companionship. (50) In whatever way you are taking care of them, I would also do the same," he said. Saying this, he persuaded him.

Then he made a club for him. (51) Then he gave to him the pail and the plate. And the bear that he had killed and the bladder, both of these he put there for him. And he said to him, "Hąhą́ Trickster, if you kill them, you shall die. Wheresoever you may be, if you kill them there, there I will rise up and kill you. (52) You keep that. Once a month, give them something to eat. Do not change from it. If you change from it, you will kill them. You have seen what I've done. Do that," he said to him. (53) And Trickster said, "My younger brother, I have heard what you have been saying, and I will do that," he said. And they separated. (54) They attached the bladders to their belts and separated.

It was not very long. As he went along he said, "Hohó, perhaps the children are hungry about now," he said. "What am I saying? I will let them eat," he had said. (55) There was a knoll and he used the club and struck it. He killed a large, old bear. He acted quickly and built a fire. There he burned the hair off the bear. He had already cut it up and (56) boiled it. Just a little after it had begun to boil, he had already quickly dished it out. He cooled it off. Once it had cooled off, he opened up the bladder. He said, "I am very lonesome for my little children," he had said. He uncovered them. (57) He let them eat. He gave them that wooden bowl full. In spite of what he was told, he did a lot to them. Then after he did this, he put them into the bladder dangling them from his belt and (58) gathered together broken pieces of wood, he himself sat down and ate up the soup as well as drinking from the pale until he consumed it completely.

(59) And again he went on. All the animals that there are, everyone of them, called him "Trickster." Now again in a little while he was himself hungry. "At least the little children were to eat only once a month," he said, (60) but he himself was in want of food. Therefore, there again he said, "Hohó, about now the children are hungry perhaps," he said. "Hąhą́, I shall have made them eat that," he had said. (61) A knoll that was there he had already struck. He killed a large bear. He had already built a fire and burnt off the hair and cut it up and already he had boiled it. (62) Immediately after it was done boiling, he immediately dished it out. When he had cooled some of it off and opened the bladder, unexpectedly, they were dead. "Hohó, unfortunately the little children are gone."

Immediately after he had said that, (63) that man was coming close by. He said, "Now, Trickster, you will die. I told you that I would kill you. You have killed the children." He approached him. "Hohó my younger brother," (64) Trickster said, but anyway, sure enough, he came at him. Trickster bolted. He fled. He ran with all his might, but he was barely missed as he was struck at. (65) He was truly nothing. It was only by sudden turns that he barely escaped. In this way he was chased along. If he were to go up above, then he (the pursuer) would also go above. (66) Again, if he fled underground, he himself would chase him again. "Trickster, you will not be able to live anywhere. At any rate, I will kill you. So then give up right now instead. (67) You have exhausted yourself. You are not able to go anywhere," he was saying. He was following him. Then finally, only through quick dodging would he be missed from being struck. (68) Fear fell upon Trickster. Now he had fled through the whole earth. Now finally, he ran to the end of the earth whence the sun appeared. As he was going, he ran onto a pointed piece of land projecting out as a steep wall of rock that pressed up against the edge of the ocean. (69) So there he jumped into the water. He landed in the middle of the water. "Guwa!" he said. "You'll live, Trickster. You were to have been dead." (70) There he let Trickster go. "Hohohowá!" said Trickster. "I could never conceive of such a man myself. (71) They almost did me harm," he said.1

Commentary. The only animal that even remotely answers to having its newborns housed in a pouch, is the marsupial opossum. Their young are initially about the size of honeybees and remain in the female's pouch for 7 weeks. Five to twenty-one are born in each litter, but they have a high mortality rate. On the other hand, a couple of attributes of the story's animals are reversed from those of actual opossums. Among opossums, the male has no role in caring for the young, and does not have a pouch; nor is there any tradition known to me that opossum infants can die from being overfed. On this latter point, the opossum newborn seems to be the opposite of the infants depicted in this story. An opossum begins life by attaching itself to its mother's nipple within her pouch. The nipple then swells, filling the newborn's entire oral cavity. This keeps it in place until it grows to a proper size. Such a state of affairs is liable to create the impression that opossum newborn are in a continuous state of feeding. Since the opossum has but 13 nipples and there are as many as 21 born in a litter, many never find a nipple and die of starvation. In our story, the infants removed from the first pouch find too much food and die of hyperconsumption. In Trickster's topsy-turvy world, we seem to have encountered a kind of anti-possum, one that is carried around by a male in his detachable pouch and fed but rarely on a meat-based soup. This is a world of male mothers whose level of child rearing competence can only be described as embarrassing.

Of all animals, the possum is the most dependent upon its mother, being a marsupial. It must be contiuous fed on milk; but the male version of the possum found in this story is just the opposite: it takes in almost no nutrients at all, and has no dependence on women whatever. Just as child rearing is a paradigmatic female activity, so hunting is the mark of men. So the hunter's counterpart to the child-rearer's milk is meat broth (nipana, "soup"). The male's world is the opposite of the milk-and-honey world of female nutrition, where the supply is kept up at a constant state (none more so that the opossum mother). The man's world of nutrition is a boom-and-bust cycle: when hunting is good, men feast; but when it is bad, they must starve. To mitigate this feast and famine cycle, techniques are developed to conserve meat, and its consumption is spread out over a period of time. Broth is essentially blood mixed with water and cooked. In the story it is administered once a month (wižąga < wi-ižą-ga, "the one moon"). The milky, fluid-like moon also governs the female reproductive cycle, which is marked by a period of blood flow, a kind of blood that is inedible and dangerous to the wellbeing of males. Here, males offer a beneficial, edible, cooked (controlled, cultured) form of blood, but one also measured out by the dictates of the lunar cycle. However, they die if they consume this blood too frequently. This death corresponds to the actual opossum infanticide by starvation (inability to secure a nipple). It is "anti-starvation" that is the male counterpart to the female milk starvation seen in the opossum. In the male world of hunting and blood consumption, eating too much of a kill at a time of game scarcity will ultimately lead to starvation — it is only by preservation and economy of consumption that men are able to make their paradigmatic food, their counterpart to milk, last through periods of scarcity. Therefore, the paradox arises of feasting leading to starvation. Those who hyperconsume ironically end up dying later of starvation. This process of conservation is pictured in another constituent of soup, fat. It is no accident that the soup is made from a bear, the fattest of all animals. This white substance, which is also found in milk, helps sustain its consumers through periods of scarcity. Fat, like the white moon above, is particularly noted for waxing and waning. It is the image of a lunar-like substance that mediates or mitigates the male nutritional world's extremes of plenty and scarcity. Just as the moon waxes with light (hąp, which is also metaphoric for Life), so does the fat in our bodies wax as our life prospers; but when scarcity strikes, the white fat is eaten away, just as they say the moon's white light is eaten away by the bad spirits. The children fed on soup wax like the moon, then gradually wane until, in a month's time, they must be fed on blood and fat again. The bear is the perfect symbol of this lunar-like waxing and waning of the white, life-sustaining substance. The bear fattens up until winter, the time of scarcity, arrives. Then it enters hibernation, a period of metabolic quiescence, in which it consumes its fat reserves. It is through this internal built-in conservation technique that the bear is able to sustain itself through times of scarcity. Humans, and the imaginary children of our story, use a similar strategy to wane without completely extinguishing themselves. The children, like the bear, feast on blood and fat, then enter a period of hypo-activity inside a "den" until the time of plenty arrives again.

Links: Trickster, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Trickster Cycle: §2. Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, §4. Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean.

Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster's Warpath, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Elk's Skull, Trickster and the Mothers, The Markings on the Moon, The Spirit of Gambling, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Green Man, The Red Man, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster's Tail, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster's Penis, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Scenting Contest, The Bungling Host, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧápara, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; 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, 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: a man kills a game animal by simply striking the knoll (or stump) in which it is hiding: Redhorn's Father, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Snowshoe Strings; people are carried inside a bladder: The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons; bladders: The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Bladder, Bladder and His Brothers, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons (elk), The Birth of the Twins (turkey); otherworld journeys inside an animal skin sack: The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, How the Thunders Met the Nights; Trickster takes care of someone else's children, but causes their death: Trickster and the Mothers.


1 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 8-11. The original text is found in "Wakdjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 39-71.