Trickster and the Dancers

Version 1

by Felix White, Sr.

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Since Mą’ųna created Trickster first among those whom he sent down to help the two-legged walkers, he was called Kunu, "First Born Male." Kunu set about traveling the world and doing many foolish things. After he had his fill of traveling, he decided to go home to where he had lived in the Wazija.

On his way back he had to cross over a hill. It was not an easy climb, but when he got to the top he could hear a light drumming sound in an oddly syncopated rhythm, ta-tąm´, ta-tąm´. Then, no sooner had he descended this hill, than he came to another hill. He climbed this hill too, and as hard as the last hill had been, this hill was still more difficult; but when he got to the top, he noticed that the sound of the drummer had become still louder. "This must be the right direction," he thought. He descended this hill only to find one steeper still directly in front of him. This too he climbed, and it was more difficult than the one before, but when he reached the top the drummer was now really distinct. "I am almost home now." Thus he said to himself. Again he encounter a hill, and this he climbed as well. He had been climbing all the hills from the steep north side, rather than the south side which had been eroded into a more gradual slope. The last hill was the biggest yet, and when he reached the top he was almost exhausted. It was when the sun stood straight up, and the breeze blew back and forth across the hill. Despite the sound of the wind, the drums seemed as if they were right next to him. TA-TĄM´, TA-TĄM´, they seem to beat. When he looked down from the summit, there unexpectedly were many dancers swaying this way and that, decked out in their full plumage. He had seen many beautiful dance costumes, but as beautiful as they were, these were even more so. The feathers were of many colors: yellow, orange, co (blue/green), and even plum red.

Trickster thought to himself, "They knew I was coming, that is why they have done it." So he got up on a stump where they could see him all the better, and yelled down to them, "It is I, Kunu. I have come home!" Just the same, they went on dancing and the drumming was kept up unceasingly. It was as if he was not even there. This time Trickster yelled with all his might, Ahi ayiiiiiiiiii! Even though the echoes could be heard off each hill, yet the drumming continued and the dancers swayed this way and that as if they had heard nothing. Then he knew of it, and said to himself, "They do not stop because they are having a dancing contest. Well, I'll show them who can dance the longest and best." So he stripped down to do some vigorous dancing. He took off his back the box that contained his penis, and he removed his raccoon blanket in which he had rolled up all his meager possessions. There among them was his bundle of songs, and these he took out. "With this breeze, I should be able to stay cool and outlast all of them." Thus did Trickster speak.

Trickster danced hard and long, and now the sun was near setting. All the while the drums seems to keep beat with his dancing, but now the saving breezes had stopped. Trickster danced on, but unexpectedly the dancers had given up, even though the drums still beat for them. Trickster had won, and now took a well deserved rest. Soon the drums and quieted down and now could no longer be heard. Trickster decided that now was the time to go down and receive his accolades. So he packed everything up, and returned his penis to its place on his back, and went down the hill.

When he arrived at the dance ground, all he found there were a bunch of sumac bushes [inset]. Their leaves had turned many colors, for now was the time of the Hųwąjúgera (Elk Calling) Moon. It was the leaves that he thought were the feathers in countless dancing costumes. They seemed to dance because the breezes made them sway in the wind. Then he knew it. "This is why they call me 'Foolish One,' and Wakjąkaga." Indeed it was so, for the drum beat was the sound of his own heart.1

Version 2

by Oliver LaMère

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

The following variant was given in the course of a homily presented during a service in the Native American Church.

(17) Long ago the old people told of Wakjąkaga. Now, since we could not understand, it was told to us for us to know. Trickster was going there with a coonskin blanket around him, and (18) he went where they were dancing. So all day long he did it with his blanket. In the evening when they quit, he looked around and was all alone. The wind had blown the reeds around, and it was with that sort of thing that he had been dancing.

We Hocąks act that way. We dance and make noise, and in the end, we accomplish nothing.2

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Version 3

"One day Wak-chung-kaka [Wakjąkaga] was walking over a hill and he looked down into a hollow where reeds grew tall, and he thought he saw a throng of people with feathers on their heads. The wind blew through the reeds, and Wak-chung-kaka thought that the people danced and hallooed "Wu-wu-wu!" So he put a feather on his head and went in among the people and danced and shouted "Wu-wu-wu!" He danced all day long, till at evening the wind dropped and everything was still; and then Wak-chung-kaka looked around him and found himself alone among the reeds."3

Comparative Material: The neighboring Menominee have a similar story about Manabush. As Manabush sojourned through the countryside, evening came upon him. He was in a pleasant valley, and as the wind picked up he could hear the sound of rattles and drums. Then he saw that there were many dancers, their feathers waving back in forth as they moved. He wanted very much to join the dance, so he put his things next to a tree and waited for someone to greet him and invite him to the festivities; but no one said anything to him, so he finally began dancing anyway. Now at last the clouds parted from the moon, and its white light revealed not a tribe of dancers, but mere reeds swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the wind.4

The Ojibwe also know this story as told about their own trickster, Wenebojo. As Wenebojo was walking along, he saw a large tribe of people bedecked in feathers, dancing incessantly. He decided to join in, but first he got some bark and made head bands and ankle bands for himself. Then he went down and joined right in. He danced until it was about evening time, when all of a sudden, everyone just stopped dancing. So Wenebojo to a good look at them: they were just reeds, and their "dancing" was nothing more than their swaying in the wind.5

The Chiricahua Apache know essentially the same story. Their trickster, Coyote, had persuaded some rabbits to show him how to juggle his eyes. Unfortunately, his eyes ended up in a tree, leaving him blind. As he was stumbling along, he came to a place where he could hear the russelling of clothes. He believed that he was among dancers, so he joined in. He danced the better part of the day, until the wind died down. In fact the russelling sound was simply the wind blowing among the reeds. It was with them that he had been dancing.6

Links: Trickster, Earthmaker, The Wazija.

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 Plums, 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 Children, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Geese, 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, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; in which dancing plays a role: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Migistéga’s Magic, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Wolves and Humans, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Black Otter's Warpath; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; mentioning drums: The Descent of the Drum, The Friendship Drum Origin Myth, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Redhorn's Father, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Elk's Skull, Ghosts, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Great Walker's Medicine, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1b), Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster and the Geese, Turtle's Warparty, Snowshoe Strings, Ocean Duck, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Hog's Adventures, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts.

Themes: traveling over the whole earth: Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Pointing Man, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Death Enters the World, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Cycle, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews; Trickster mistakes the covering of vegetation for human clothing: The Pointing Man; Trickster thinks that people are ignoring him while performing a certain activity, so he competes with them in this activity only to learn later that the "people" were actually just vegetation seen at a distance: The Pointing Man.


1 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 4-6. Informant: Felix White, Sr. of the Nebraska Hocągara.

2 Oliver LaMère, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3862 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago I, #3: 17-18. An English translation is found in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 376.

3 Natalie Curtis Burlin, The Indians' Book: an Offering by the American Indians of Indian Lore, Musical and Narrative, to Form a Record of the Songs and Legends of Their Race (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1907) 245.

4 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Manabush: Menomini Tales, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1948) 3.

5 Tom Badger, "The Wenebojo Origin Myth," trs. by Julia Badger, in Victor Barnouw, Wisconsin Chippewa Myths and Tales (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977) Story 11: 26.

6 Morris Edward Opler, Myths and Tales of the Chiricahua Apache Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994 [1942]) 54.