Wazųka

by John Blackhawk

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


Once there was Hočąk village in which there lived a great warrior named Mórajega, a man without equal for bravery. Whenever he went on the warpath he would always return with war honors, for when he engaged the enemy he would turn into a raging grizzly bear and none could stand against him. Mórajega was feared and admired by all and was a bulwark against the enemies of the nation. He had two wives, and they were the most beautiful women to be found anywhere. Mórajega, however, was very jealous of any attention paid to them by younger men, and kept a close watch on his wives. The old men always told their sons to stay away from these women. In this same village lived four brothers, the youngest of whom was named Wazųka. He greatly liked the younger of Mórajega's wives, Hinų, and waited for her at the spring where she drew water. There they talked long, and it grew so late that she began to fear returning to her jealous husband. It was not just for herself that she feared, for she knew that Mórajega would treat harshly with anyone who so much as talked to one of his wives. So they decided to run away to another Hočąk village.

As they were proceeding down the trail, Wazųka was suddenly overcome with a feeling of fear and a premonition of danger. There, nearby, was an old uprooted tree. He told Hinų to seek shelter under it while he made preparations. No sooner had she concealed herself than, unexpectedly, there appeared an enemy scout running down the trail. He did not see Wazųka, who drew back his bow and waited until the enemy warrior was within a couple of paces, before he fired. He killed the scout and dragged the body to Hinų's hiding place, where he took the scalp. Just then another scout could be seen running down the trail. Wazųka ambushed this one too, and took his scalp. Not far behind the last scout was an enemy warrior running after them. This one too, Wazųka took by surprise and killed. The fourth and last runner was not far behind, and Wazųka dealt with him in the same manner. He now had four scalps. This gave him an idea.

Wazųka and Hinų decided to return to the village, where they boldly entered into Mórajega's lodge. Mórajega and his wife were both asleep. Hinų awakened him, and presenting him with a single scalp, she said, "I purchase the privilege of myself with this." Mórajega grumbled sleepily, "What is this to me?" Then Wazųka set before him the three other scalps, and said, "Warleader, with these I purchase my life." Mórajega started up in amazement, and declared, "My friend, it is good! Brother, it is indeed good!" Right then and there Mórajega summoned his nephew to gather together all the most prominent warriors of the village. Wazųka's father was among those invited. A feast was hastily prepared. During the feast Mórajega announced that he was forming a special friendship relation with Wazųka on account of the great feat of arms that he had performed. Each of the warriors arose in turn and spoke with a big voice on the virtue of their bond, and how it even exceeded the relationship between brothers. Much was said of the bravery of the two. Then Wazųka's father spoke thus: "My son, what you have done is good. It is good that you have become friends with the best of warriors. Friendship is stronger than even blood, and no matter what happens, a man, it is said, can never desert his friend. Where a man's friend falls in battle, there is the place where he himself shall fall. Thus it is always said."

Not long afterwards an enemy warparty was caught on the way to the village. A great fight ensued, and the enemy was completely routed. In the fight the valor of Wazųka was surpassed only by that of the warleader himself. Not long after this fight, Wazųka had a vision in which he saw a spark of light fly from the arch of a warparty to his friend. When he told this to Mórajega, the warleader would not believe him, since he himself had no vision of the enemy. Mórajega was famous for his prescience: he could see the approach of a warparty four days in advance of their arrival, but this time he was blind. Wazųka knew that his vision was right, so he set about persuading his friend by pretending to fall into a trance in which the spirits communicated with him directly. We he woke up, Mórajega asked anxiously, "Friend what did you dream?" Wazųka replied, "Friend, I dreamed of a warparty led by a strong chief who wears a red buffalo head and the arch over him is smeared with red down feathers." Mórajega sent out scouts to find this warparty, and they soon returned with news that the enemy was just as Wazųka had described them.

The chief of the village sent out a crier to announce the approach of the enemy, and soon a host was gathered to meet them. Mórajega led the force out to meet the incoming warparty. The scouts soon collided with each other, and the two sides prepared for battle. They brought out their warbundles with the spiritual things that would strengthen them. Then they met in combat, with the whistles of birds sounding shrilly over the den of battle with its workhorse and animal roars. The arrows were as thick as porcupine quills, and when they ran low, the fighting became hand to hand. The warleaders, Mórajega on one side and Red Buffalo (Češučka) on the other, killed their opponents at will. When Mórajega saw Red Buffalo returning with a scalp, he rushed at him with a knife. Red Buffalo dropped his warclub and met him knife for knife. The fight was indeed a great struggle, but finally, Mórajega was forced to fall back. Three times Red Buffalo charged him, and on the fourth attack, the enemy warleader killed Mórajega.

Wazųka, who was on the other side of the battle, was told that his friend had been slain by the enemy warleader, the one who wore the red buffalo head. Wazųka hastened to the other side of the battle to avenge his friend. Wazųka challenged Red Buffalo to single combat, and the warleader heard him. They met in ferocious combat, and indeed it was very difficult for Wazųka to succeed where his warleader had failed; but he did not give up hope, and strengthened by his spirits, he was able to kill Red Buffalo. He snatched up the red buffalo head that had graced the brow of the enemy warleader, and held it up, taunting the enemy with the death of their best warrior. He took this head over to where the body of Mórajega lie, and placing it upon him said, "My friend, I present the head of the one who killed you." Then Wazųka turned to the warriors and said, "My father said that where my friend fell, there too should I fall. Tell him I died heroically with his words in my heart!" Then he charged at the enemy with no regard for his own life. Three times he charged them, and each time he killed more than one of the enemy. The fourth time he was so exhausted he could hardly stand, yet he charged them again. This time they were finally able to kill him. When he fell, the enemy shouted, Gu, gu! The fighting stopped immediately, for this is the sacred syllable which makes all fighting sacrilegious.1


Commentary. "Mórajega" — it is interesting that the name Mórajega, "He who Travels the Earth," is found in both the Bear Clan and the Buffalo Clan.

"arch" — it is not clear what is meant by an "arch," which unlike that of the foot, is said to be "over him." Perhaps Red Buffalo is a Buffalo Spirit and the arch is his hump. Red feathers are holy offerings that are prominent in sacrifices to Buffalo Spirits. Mórajega is able to turn himself into a raging grizzly, yet he is defeated by Red Buffalo. This certainly suggests that Red Buffalo is a Buffalo Spirit, probably of the Bad Buffalo tribe. The fact that the sacred syllable, gu, sounds like the cry of the buffalo, may add credence to this identification.

"to avenge his friend" — the fact that Wazųka set out to fight to the death in devotion to his friend, makes him a hot'ų, the Hočąk counterpart to the Roman devotio, who resolves to give up his life in a reckless assault on the enemy. The relationship among friends demanded nothing less.


Links: Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Buffalo Spirits.


Stories: about famous Hočąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath (Big Thunder, Čap’ósgaga), The Osage Massacre (Big Thunder, Čap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hočąk War (Čap’ósgaga), The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mąčosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse (Yellow Thunder), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), How Jarrot Got His Name, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter);featuring were-bears as characters: The Were-Grizzly, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Partridge's Older Brother, Turtle's Warparty, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, The Roaster, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Shaggy Man; mentioning grizzly bears: Blue Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Little Priest's Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistega's Magic, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, The Two Boys (giant black grizzly), Partridge's Older Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Dipper (white grizzly), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Creation of Man (v. 9), The Creation of Evil, cp. The Woman Who Fought the Bear; about two male friends: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Lame Friend, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Morning Star and His Friend, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Worúxega, The Fleetfooted Man, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Tobacco Man and Married Man; about buffaloes and Buffalo Spirits: Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, White Fisher, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Bluehorn's Nephews, Redhorn's Father, The Woman who became an Ant, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Buffalo's Walk, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Creation of the World (v. 3), The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Red Feather, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse; mentioning springs: Trail Spring, Vita Spring, Merrill Springs, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 6, 8, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Bluehorn's Nephews, Blue Mounds, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Lost Child, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Wild Rose, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Two Brothers, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Nannyberry Picker, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧápara, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Turtle and the Witches.


Themes: a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧápara (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (blackhawk, owl), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), The Spotted Grizzly Man (bear), Brass and Red Bear Boy (bear, buffalo), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Fleetfooted Man (otter, bird), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (otter), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Omahas who turned into Snakes (four-legged snakes), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); a powerful man becomes tyrannical: The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Manawa Village Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Iron Staff and His Companions; jealousy: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Diving Contest, Hog's Adventures, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Fleetfooted Man, Bluehorn's Nephews, Redhorn's Sons, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Lost Blanket; polygamy: Bladder and His Brothers (v. 2), The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Green Man, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Gets Swallowed, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Spirit of Gambling; a suitor rendezvous with a young woman at a spring where she draws water: The Wild Rose, The Stone Heart; a tough warleader and a man of his tribe come into conflict: Manawa Village Origin Myth; a woman runs away from her polygamous betrothed out of fear: Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister; seeing the approach of an enemy warparty in a dream: Moiety Origin Myth, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Dog that became a Panther; a man is blessed with the ability to foresee the approach of enemies: White Fisher, The Moiety Origin Myth, The Dog that became a Panther, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fleetfooted Man; descriptions of human warfare: Annihilation of the Hočągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fox-Hočąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, White Fisher, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, The Osage Massacre, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, The Spanish Fight, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man; a small bird flies right at a man's face (almost) hitting him: Holy One and His Brother; a man wears a buffalo head: White Fisher, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister; red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (hair, body paint, arrows), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Trickster and the Mothers (sky), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Deer Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hočągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Red Feather (plumage), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įčorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); two friends are both killed in action: The Four slumbers Origin Myth, The Lame Friend; when a Hočąk warrior's friend is killed in action, he rushes recklessly upon the enemy, killing a number of their warriors: The Four slumbers Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I; a warrior shows devotion to his fallen friend by attacking the enemy until he himself is killed: The Four slumbers Origin Myth; uttering the sacred syllable gu brings a battle to an end: The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), White Fisher, Thunderbird and White Horse.


Notes

1 John Blackhawk, "Wazunka," The Wisconsin Archeologist 7, #4 (1926): 223-226.