The Water Drum Origin Myth

by Stella Stacy

(4:41) This girl was hiding in a lake. By the shore was a water shadow. She lay there, because war were kill all her relatives. (5:03) Parents and brother and sister, the war killed them all. She lay there for several days, and she covered her face with big leaves that blowed in the water, but had [lily ?] on. Great big leaves, she covered her face with that, and she lived there. And she said, "Why should I going to try to live, because my relatives all were killed? (05:37) What's the use to live?" that's what she thought.

And something talked to her. And there's a something talked to her. He said, "No, girl, don't think that. You come with me. (05:57) You come with me to my home. Then you eat over there. And then I'm going to tell you something, be glad, you be happy." [...] So they got her going, took her to a home. (6:18) And they dressed her, and they fed her there. And they said to her, "After this, you told the other one, to have you make a drum, a great big drum, and you make this drum and this going to be end the war. This drum is going to be a friendship drum. (06:52) The people all praise each other, they give things to each other. When this drum going (?), they be all happy to see each other, and they be all friends to each other. They give things, they give nice things, to each other." (07:14) Then that drum was the end of war, and this little girl was blessed with something. And something that blessed her, and that's the time that this drum is adopted (?). People used to war against each other. That's what this drum ended. (07:42)1

Commentary. "water" — the word for water is ni (or ). In the context of life and death, the body is essentially ni. In death, in connection with the shallow Hōcąk graves, the fluid of the body as it decays into nothing more than dry bones, escapes to the surface. In death, the ghost (wanąǧí) goes the way of water. When the wanąǧí lives independent of the flesh, it's favorite habitat is water. This is a way of expressing the notion that when the independent soul unites with the flesh in conception, it is targeting its natural fluid environment. The Twins exemplify much of this philosophy. Ghost is always trying to lure Flesh into its favorite element of water, but there Flesh will die. To make sure that Flesh does not disappear with the escaping ghost into the water(s of the grave), the father of the Twins takes his breath, and inflates two turkey bladders, then ties them to the heads of each, so that the breath keeps the two from disappearing into ghost's element. The linguistic paradox is that the word for breath, which also functions as a metaphor for life, is ni (or ), a homonym of water! So the antithesis of the ni of death is ni, "breath". It keeps the shadow or image of the person, his soul, attached to his flesh. The ni of the body, most commonly, is blood, symbolized by the red of the turkey bladder that contains the ni that is breath and life.

"shadow" — there are several words for shadow in Hōcąk. One is hahązí, "shadow"; hoiráwahązí, "shade, shadow"; another is náǧitak, "1) dead man’s spirit, 2) soul, 3) shadow, 4) man’s reflection in the water." A cast image, whether negative (shadow) or positive (reflection), becomes at least an image of a person's life soul. It is insubstantial and incorporeal, yet an image of person. As we have seen above, it resides in the waters of the flesh whose likeness can be seen in shadows and water-mirror reflections.

Марина Химич from Pixabay  

"leaves" — the word used is ną̄’áp. This literally means, "tree leaf." The word ’ap, "leaf," forms a strong assonance with the word ’ąp, "to be animated, alive; alive, living" (Marino). ’Ąp is a shortened form of nį̄’ą́p. It is interesting that in the story, water, ni, and ’ąp, "leaf" are combined, so their conjunction, ni’ąp is essentially identical to the word meaning "life." The water, combined with the leaf that floats upon it, forms an image that is isomorphic with what the word for life denotes. Both are nį’ą́p (water-leaf = life). She attempts to shun death, the warparty that is stalking her, by embracing water-leaves, nį’ą́p, which is to say, life (nį̄’ą́p).

"blowed" — the image of the leaves that were blown on to the lake waters, originating from the breath (ni) of the cardinal wind from the direction in which the shadow was cast, again recalling in imagery the homonym of the breath-leaf, nį’ą́p, with the water-leaf, nį’ą́p, and their role in helping her to sustain her life, nį̄’ą́p.

"something" — this myth is from the old religion. Stella was a member of the Native American Church, and is apparently reluctant to recognize the existence of Waxopį́nį, "Spirits." So she left the generic identity of this being as vague as possible. This "something" seems almost certainly to have been a Waterspirit (Wakcexi), since the unique defining feature of this type of drum is the presence of water in it, and the Waterspirits are the supernatural force underlying the substance of water itself. The scene is set at a lake, and every lake is viewed as having its resident Waterspirit. It is not known how the Hōcągara honored the Waterspirits, or  the Waterspirit Warbundle, but among the Potawatomi, the Underwater Panther bundle rite features the use of a water drum, as it would seem that logic should dictate.2

"drum" — in the Hōcąk version, this is reǧorupórogᵋra, which means literally, "kettle made circular and built-over," from rex, "kettle", and harupórok, "to be rounded, built-over, domelike" (Miner), which in turn comes from ruporók, "to make something round (like a fist), to be filled up" (Helmbrecht-Lehmann), from ru-, a prefix meaning "to perform using the hand," and porok, "round." The water drum is a kettle with some water in it that is covered over, putting the water in the shade. It's sonic covering is therefore like the water-leaf, ni-’ap, which covered the little girls face as she lay in the shaded water. The sounding of this drum is against war, and extolls life (nį̄’ą́p).

"this drum ended"a Potawatomi shaman refers to this period when inter-tribal warfare ceased as "the Great Peace." It was marked by the introduction, in the upper midwest, of the Dream Dance or Drum Religion, which teaches inter-tribal amity.3 This makes it evident that this myth, the myth of the origins of the drum that makes the Great Peace, is about the eponymous drum of the Drum Religion. The theme of the Great Peace is seen among the Ojibwe where "it is customary for Drurn societies to raise one or more Arnerican flags at the dance site for the duration of the ceremony, ... the flag is understood to syrnbolize peace between the lndians and the United States Government as well as among all tribes under American jurisdiction."4 The Dream Dance or Drum Religon, which emerged from this pax americana, arose among the Dakota in the 1870s, perhaps due in part to the stress that their culture endured during the Civil War years. The Drum Religion quickly spread to the Ojibwe in Minnesota. By 1879 it had spread to the neighboring friendship tribe of the Hōcągara, the Menominee.5 There can be little doubt that the Hōcągara learned of this new cult not long afterwards. Stella Stacy, who tells our story, was born around this time in 1884. Paradoxically, it is clear that among all the tribes thusfar mentioned, the Drum Religion is in no way connected to the use of water drums. Yet in our story, the sacred drum that performs the central role in a cult of universal peace and amity, which is clealy the Drum Religion, is a water drum. Among the Central Algonkians, the water drum is, as we should expect, devoted to the worship of the Underwater Panther, essentially the same as the Hōcąk Waterspirit (Wakcexi).6 The obvious inference is that the Hōcągara have innovated, and have made the water drum into the new "Friendship Drum," which in every respect is to be associated with the Drum Religion. It appears that the Drum Religion among the Hōcągara was simply absorbed into the Native American Church, and the water drum, which is regularly used there for peyote rituals, was employed as part of this assimilation process.

Comparative Material. The Ojibwe have a small water drum which they use in their Medicine Rite. This drum was said to have been created by Little Boy, which recalls the little girl of the Hōcąk story.7

Links: Spirits (Waxopini).

Stories: mentioning drums: The Descent of the Drum, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Trickster and the Dancers, 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. about journeys to and from Spiritland: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Journey to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Lame Friend, Two Roads to Spiritland, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Foolish Hunter, Waruǧábᵉra, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Petition to Earthmaker, Wears White Feather on His Head, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man Whose Wife was Captured.

Themes: hiding under leaves: The Chief of the Heroka, Įcorúšika and His Brothers; a human being physically travels to Spiritland without having died: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Sunset Point, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Star Husband, White Wolf, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Shaggy Man, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Boy who would be Immortal, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Rainbow and the Stone Arch (v. 2), Trickster Concludes His Mission; spirits bless someone with an artifact: Waruǧábᵉra (warbundle, warclub), The Warbundle of the Eight Generations (warbundle, flute), The Blessing of a Bear Clansman (warbundle), The Thunderbird (warclub), The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds (warclub), The Rounded Wood Origin Myth (ceremonial object), Origin of the Decorah Family (drum), Paint Medicine Origin Myth (magical paint), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (flute and gourd), Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka (flute), Ancient Blessing (pot, ax, spoon), The Blessing of the Bow (bow and arrows), Heną́ga and Star Girl (Thunderbird Medicine, arrow); a spirit is quoted as he gives someone a blessing: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Completion Song Origin, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Difficult Blessing, The Blessing of Šokeboka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bow Meets Disease Giver, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Sunset Point, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Healing Blessing.


1 10-04. Fraenkel, Gerd. Stacy, Stella. "A war story about a young girl," recorded 1959-07-22, 1 .mp3; 00:07:42. Copy made by Gerd Fraenkel of an original tape held at the Archives of Languages of the World, Indiana University. This program comes from original tape 18. The correct description of the audio tape is given under APS accession number 7301, but the story is actually linked to 7309. Beginning at 04:41, Stella Stacy tells this story in English.

2 "According to James Kagmega the Wisconsin Winnebago have a sacred bundle ritual honoring the Underwater Panther. In the winter of 1955-56 Kagmega traveled to Wisconsin to assist the Winnebago priests in conducting the rite. "They were sure interested to hear my Underwater Panther songs," he reported. He did not mention whether or not a British flag formed part of the Winnebago bundle. So far as is known there are no acounts of the Winnebago ritual in the anthropological literature. Radin fails to note it in his The Winnebao Tribe." James H. Howard, "When They Worship the Underwater Panther: A Prairie Potawatomi Bundle Ceremony," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 16, #2 (Summer, 1960): 217-224 [223].

3 Howard, "When They Worship the Underwater Panther: A Prairie Potawatomi Bundle Ceremony," 219.

4 Thomas Vennum Jr. The Ojibwa Dance Drurn: Its History and Construction (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press: 1982) 125.

5 Julia Agnes Kaczmarek, The Dream Dance: an Examination of its Music and Practice among Woodlands and Central Subarctic Indians. A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, in partial FuifiIlment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts (Ethnomusicology) (Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba, 1999) 3.

6 Howard, "When They Worship the Underwater Panther: A Prairie Potawatomi Bundle Ceremony. 217–224.

7 Jewelry & fine art by ZhaawanArt > Stories > "Star Stories, part 18: The Boy Who Came From the Sun."