Trickster Loses His Meal (§13 of the Trickster Cycle)

Version 1

Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation

(307) Then he took them (the cooked raccoons) out, and instead, this time he put the bottom ones on top. (308) Then he did this: he broke off some twigs and dished it out there, and was about to eat, when he took a piece and was about to put it in his mouth, (309) something uttered a squeaking sound. "Howá!" he said, and he did not put it in his mouth. The second time that he was about to put a piece into his mouth, and again it uttered it. Once more he did not put it in his mouth. Again a third time it did it. (310) The fourth time he did it, unexpectedly, there stood a big tree, and a fork in it had made the noise. The tree's own squeaking had made the noise. He climbed the tree. "I am trying to eat, (311) so why does this one try to tease me?" he said, as he did it. He tried to split the noisy fork of the tree when his arm got pinched in. There his arm was held fast. He was unable to free it.

(312) As he was doing this, unexpectedly, a wolf pack was going by there. He shouted to them, "Heyi, come back around here a bit farther. I was going to eat, but the reason that I'm here is that the one who did this is holding my arm fast. (313) What's below is mine. Don't eat it," he said. "Hahowo, something must be the matter," they said, and they came at a run. (314) When they got there, unexpectedly, the food was all prepared there. There was a great deal of fat. "Koté, since you have already eaten, you ought to leave me a little piece of the leftovers," he said, (315) but it was of no avail, as they had eaten it up. Again he said, "At least don't drink the soup, as you have finished off the meat," he said, but again they took the soup, and they drank it. They drank it all up. (316) Thus they did, and then they ran off. "Howá, hagáwažą, you coveters are the cause of my sorrowful heart, and my heart is sorrowful," he said, (317) and a fork of the tree, the one wrapped around him, he lifted up, split, and pushed aside. Thus he did, and dismounted. And where the wolves went, that's where he set out.1

Version 2

A variant of this story told by Felix White, Sr. of the Nebraska Hočągara, the events proceed exactly as they do in the present story, but when Trickster tries to free himself from the tree after the wolves escape, the Tree Spirit speaks to him:

Wakjunkaga began scolding the tree again and finally the tree spoke. "Brother," he said, "we only move when the wind moves us. We are not like you who have power and do not use it. We stand here for years in one spot and we don't move around. You have power and don't use it. We are not that way. We are powerless. We are put where we are and that is where we stand." In this way the tree called Kunu's attention to his gifts.2

The story then concludes with Trickster breaking free.

Version 3

"Trees sometimes punished even more powerful deities as the god Earthmaker. According to a Winnebago myth, Wakanda once killed a deer and was roasting some of its meat over a fire. While he was doing this some nearby trees began to sing. This irritated Wakanda and he shouted to them to be quiet. He did this several times, but the trees paid no attention to him. They continued to sing and more loudly than before. This made the god very angry, and leaving his meat he arose and struck one of them. His arm caught in a crotch, and despite his struggles to free it, the big tree held him fast. He then struck a blow with his other arm, and this the tree also caught and held. While he was thus a prisoner in the grasp of the tree, some wolves came along and ate all of his meat. The tree afterwards released Wakanda."3

Commentary. "Earthmaker" — this is not about Earthmaker at all, but about Trickster. See the next entry.

"Wakanda" — this is not a Hočąk word. It's actually an Ioway-Oto word for Earthmaker. The confusion, widespread in the works of C. E. and D. M. Brown (husband and wife), stems from a garbled hearing of the name Wakjąka, "Trickster." In some tales it is clearly Trickster that is meant, in other stories they freely substitute the name Wakanda in place of "Earthmaker." The actual cognate in Hočąk of the Ioway-Oto word Wakanda, is Wakąja, literally, "Divine Ones," which is used to denote the Thunderbirds.

Comparative Material. The Lakota variant is essentially identical to the Hočąk story, except that it follows the story Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks. Iktomi, the Lakota trickster, tries to eat the ducks that he slaughtered by trickery, but gets caught in the tree when he climbs up to silence it. Wolves also come along and eat his food.4

The Sioux (tribe unspecified) have another version. Iktomi is sitting down roasting some rabbits when two coyotes pick up the scent. They hatch a plot, and go down to him to unfold it. "Iktomi," says one of them, "can't you hear the trees trying to say something to you? They say if you give them some meat, they will give you a great gift in return." Iktomi asks, "How shall I give it to them?" "Well, first make sure you get their gift, then give them the meat. They always give their gifts at the crotch where they meet — see where this oak and the ash rub together, just reach where they join and you'll retrieve your gift. So Iktomi did just what they told him he should do, only instead of getting a gift, he found that his hand was caught between the pinching branches. While Iktomi was engaged in vainly trying to free himself, the coyotes helped themselves to all his meat. Despite Iktomi's pleas to leave a morsel for him, they eat everything, leaving just the heads behind. In time, the wind separated the branches, but by then it was too late.5

The Anishinaabe story is also very close to the Hočąk. One day Manabozho (Hare), also known as "Wenebojo," killed a fat moose. Just as he was about to take a morsel when the tree behind him made a loud creaking noise in the wind. Manabozho sternly rebuked the tree, but just as soon as he was about to take a bite of his repast, the tree again breached the peace. This time he climbed the tree to deal with the offending branches, when the wind blew and he found himself trapped in the fork of the tree. Right then a pack of wolves came along. Manabozho yelled, "There's nothing over here. What could you be looking for?" The wolves realized who it was and immediately headed for the voice. There they found the moose, and proceeded to eat every bit of it until nothing was left but the bones. The next day the wind shifted the tree again, and Manabozho extricated himself. He thought to himself, "I shouldn't have worried about little things when I had something good in my grasp."6

This story is similar to an episode from an Assiniboine trickster tale:

Coyote approaches [Inktonmi], pretending to limp. Inktonmi offers to give him food, provided he gets a bucket for him. Coyote gets several buckets, but Inktonmi is not satisfied with them and sends him off again. Finally, he obtains the desired vessel, and Inktonmi sits down on a rock, which holds him fast. Coyote notifies other animals, and they eat up all the food.7

In another tale, Inktonmi throws his eyes into a tree while trying to juggle them. When he climbs the tree, he gets stuck in its branches.8

The Omaha tell a similar story about Rabbit and Ictinike (the trickster). Rabbit shoots a bird that gets hung up in a tree. Ictinike persuade him to climb up the tree and fetch it. While he is up there, Ictinike says "You can just stay where you are," and Rabbit becomes glued in place. As Rabbit had taken off his clothes before climbing the tree, Ictinike now stole them and wore them himself.9

The Ioway story is essentially identical to the Omaha version.10 (See the Ioway website version)

It is said by the Ponca that Ictinike was the one who got stuck in the tree.11

In the Arapaho counterpart to this tale, the trickster Nih’āⁿçaⁿ persuades a group of beavers to set out overland for a better lake. On the way he kills all but two of them. While he is roasting the meat, two limbs of the nearby cottonwood tree rub together making a bothersome squeaking noise, so Nih’āⁿçaⁿ climbs the tree to separate the two "fighting" branches only to get himself stuck between them. While in this predicament, Coyote came along, and despite Nih’āⁿçaⁿ's entreaties, ate all the meat. However, later Nih’āⁿçaⁿ found Coyote asleep in the grass, and setting it ablaze, singed Coyote's legs. Thus ever after coyotes have had yellowish legs.12

A similar misadventure befalls the Kickapoo trickster Wiza'ka'a. As Wiza'ka'a was sitting beneath a tree cooking his meal, he heard the tree go, "Kii, kii!" He spoke to the tree saying, "Why do you cry, little brother, our parents are long dead. Sit there in silence, for if you don't, I'll whack you with this burning poker." Again the tree squeaked out, "Kii, kii!" At that point, Wiza'ka'a lit the end of his poker and started for the tree. He climbed up and whacked it a couple of times with his burning poker. Just then, he found himself trapped between two branches. He couldn't free himself. While this was going on a pack of wolves smelled Wiza'ka'a's food and walked by under the tree. Wiza'ka'a shouted, "Wolves, run away from here. Don't eat what I'm cooking!" The wolves said, "Wiza'ka'a said go ahead and eat!" So the wolves began eating his meal. Then Wiza'ka'a said, "Don't damage my plates." The wolves replied, "Well, Wiza'ka'a said we should bust up his plates!" So they not only broke his plates, but destroyed his utensils. By the time the tree released him the wolves were long gone.13

Links: Trickster, Tree Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Trickster Cycle: §12. Trickster and the Mothers,§14. The Elk's Skull.

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'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 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; relating to dogs or wolves: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, White Wolf, Wolves and Humans, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Worúxega, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Dog that became a Panther, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Wild Rose, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Big Eater, Why Dogs Sniff One Another, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Sun and the Big Eater, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Hog's Adventures, Holy One and His Brother, The Messengers of Hare, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Grandmother's Gifts, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, The Old Man and the Giants, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, Peace of Mind Regained (?); mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Necessity for Death.

Themes: a man's meal is stolen before he can eat it: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, A Mink Tricks Trickster, A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men; trees cause Trickster to suffer: Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb.


1 The original text is found in "Wakjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 307-317. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 31-32; Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 19-20.

2 Danker and White, The Hollow of Echoes, 20.

3 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Indian Fireside Tales: Ka Gwe Do Say ... Sunrise Walker, Wisconsin Folklore Society Booklets (Madison: 1947) 2-3, 9, 10, 36.

4 Zitkala-Ṣa, Old Indian Stories (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1901) 11-14.

5 Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz (edd.), American Indian Trickster Tales (New York: Penguin-Putnam, Inc., 1998) 96.

6 "Manabozho, or the Great Incarnation of the North," in Henry R. Schoolcraft, Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, ed. Mentor L. Williams (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1991 [1956]) 75. A variant with Wenebojo is found in 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 9: 23-25. Another variant with Winabozho says that it was a deer that he killed and that the tree was a poplar — Charles E. Brown, "The Poplar Tree," in Winabozho (Madison: 1944).

7 Radin, The Trickster, 99, #16. These tales are collected in R. H. Lowie, The Assiniboine, in The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1909) 4:239-244.

8 Radin, The Trickster, 100, #23.

9 Roger Welsch, Omaha Tribal Myths and Trickster Tales (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981) 40.

10 Lewis Spence, Myths of the North American Indians (London: George G. Harrap & Company, 1916) 266-268.

11 Radin, The Trickster, 128, #2. The Ponca trickster cycle is found in James Owen Dorsey, ¢egiha Texts, in Contributions to North American Ethnology (Washington, D. C.: 1890) vol. 6.

12 Found, "Nih’āⁿçaⁿ's Feast of Beaver Stolen by Coyote," George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeger, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 24: 57-58. Dorsey adds, "The Osage have a similar tale."

13 Kickapoo Tales, collected by William Jones, trs. by Truman Michelson. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1915) IX:15-17.