The Were-fish

Version 1

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


One day two friends were out hunting near a lake when they spotted a raccoon. As they chased after it, the raccoon jumped into the hollow of a tree and disappeared from view. The men went up the spot where the raccoon entered the hollow, and when they looked in, unexpectedly, there instead was a fish. One of the men grabbed it and began to prepare it right there by the lake. His friend remonstrated with him, for it was clear that they had caught some kind of spirit being. Nevertheless, he would not be persuaded and boldly began to cook the fish. As he was eating he kept offering his friend part of the fish, which was too large for him to eat alone. His friend refused a share in the meal, and both times his friend declined; but the fourth time he relented and ate just a small morsel to be polite. Immediately, his mouth went dry and he was overcome with such a thirst that every fiber of his being cried out for water. No drink was enough. Finally he had to wade out into the water, and that not being enough, he then had to immerse himself in it completely. Suddenly, he became fully a creature of the water and no longer a man, for he had turned into a fish. From the water the were-fish spoke in a human voice: "My friend, in four days return here with sacrifices of tobacco and red feathers, and I shall bless you with victory in war." So his friend did as the man-fish bid him. From that time forth, whenever he visited the lake and made offerings to the were-fish, the spirit blessed him with knowledge of what he would do on the warpath. As a result, he became great in war, and led many warparties to victory.1


Version 2

narrated and translated by George Ricehill


Hočąk-English Interlinear Text


(63) "Well, there two men went hunting and then they came onto a track of a raccoon. They went on tracking it. After going a distance the tracks ended at a large tree, and one of these men climbed that tree. Then a hole was there. And then he looked, and there was a very white fish there. He threw it down, killed it (64) and ate it. After consuming it, he was very thirsty. He went for water. When he got there he drank the water. He couldn't stop drinking and as he continued, he turned into a fish. He had started by chasing after a raccoon. They got a fish that he ate, and so the man turned into a fish, they say. That's all."2


Comparative Material. See the stories collected under "Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name."


Links: Raccoons, Fish Spirits.


Stories: featuring (spirit) fish as characters: The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Greedy Woman, Wolves and Humans, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Great Fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The King Bird, Fish Clan Origins, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; about man-fish: River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The King Bird, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Greedy Woman, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; featuring raccoons as characters: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Bladder and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Raccoon and the Blind Men; involving tree stumps: The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Pointing Man, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name; mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Waterspirit of Rock River, Disease Giver.

This is a close transformation of the stories, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, and The Spirit of Maple Bluff.


Themes: creatures turn into fish: Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, The Greedy Woman, The King Bird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds; hunters track an animal that turns out to be a spirit being: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name (raccoon), The Spirit of Maple Bluff (raccoon), Bird Clan Origin Myth (bear), The Wild Rose (wolf), The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter (deer); hunters corner an animal hidden from view, but when they go to take it, they find another kind of animal in its place: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Boy and the Jack Rabbit; a group of men hunt a raccoon and in the process are led to a spirit being: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Bladder and His Brothers an animal spirit transforms himself from one kind of animal into another: The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse (Thunderbird > horse), Bear Clan Origin Myth (bear > blackbird > bear), White Wolf (wolf > dog), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf > dog), The Dog that became a Panther, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name (raccoon > fish), The Spirit of Maple Bluff (raccoon > fish); a spirit-being comes from a stump or hollow log: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, The Dipper; a man becomes the sort of thing that he has eaten: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Omahas who turned into Snakes; a man who is metamorphosing into a fish (or other water creature) suffers from so extreme a thirst that he must live in water: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The King Bird, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; a man who has been turned into a spirit invites his friend or relative to visit him at the place where he was transformed: The Omahas who turned into Snakes.


Notes

1 From the letters of Rev. William Hamilton, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Chiwere & Winnebago 3.3 [292] (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, ca. 1885).

2 George Ricehill, [untitled], in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago III, #11a: 63-64. Cf. Paul Radin, "Short Tales," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, No. 7i: #19, "The Man who Turned into a Fish."