A Wife for Knowledge

by Jasper Blowsnake
translated by Richard L. Dieterle

Jasper Blowsnake

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(180) There was this man who was great in the Medicine Rite. He had a single son. Although he was his son, his only son, he did not tell him what he knew. He said to his son, "My dear son, this will help," he said to him, and right away he gave him something rather good that he had. Then he put on a kettle. Then that great one of the Medicine Rite said, "Son, be brave," he said. "What does he intend?," he thought. "Also when he does it, he must intend something when he gives away things and would say, 'Be brave my son.' What is it that he intends?," he thought. Back when horses were very valuable, he thought that the only one he had, a pony, was the very one that he intended to give him. (181) Again he said, "Son, be brave," he said to him. He thought that he knew what he meant. He meant that he would know his wife.

He married a woman of a different tribe, the kind that are called the Hit'enųke. The woman was pretty. That woman's hair was very red. He knew he was asking for the one whom he wished to have as a gift. He granted his wife to his father. He thanked him profusely. "Son, you have ascended," he said to him. He scooped up all his knowledge and gave it over to him.

Then he gave their new woman something bad, and he killed her. Then he made her head hollow. He put in place of this a song.1

Commentary. "know" — the word used here, hipérese, is the standard word for "to know." It is in this sense, "to have carnal knowledge of," that we find the word used in the Bible. This usage may reflect biblical influence, or it may merely represent parallel sense development. At this point it is hard to tell.

"Hit'enųke" — Miner says that these are "giants (large people who lived in the caves of Minnesota)." This may come from hit’e, "language"; nųx, "ear; the act or power of hearing"; and -ge, a suffix indicating a species. So the name might mean, "Those who have the Power to Hear Language." On the other hand, nųx also means ice, giving the odd meaning, "Ice Speakers." It is said that the Giants known as Wągerucge, "Man-Eaters," have a ball of ice in their stomach. If the Hit'enųke are the same Giants, then the name might be a pun drawing attention to the ice in their thoraxes. For more see the Commentary to the "Paint Medicine Origin Myth." In Young Man Gambles Often, it is said that at least some Giants have heads that are full of worušik (wampum), which is of interest since the woman's skull is preserved as a container.

"very red" — in stories, women with red hair are always beautiful, but come from foreign tribes, and are almost always Giantesses.

"he wished to have as a gift" — the taboo against in-laws of different generations interacting is extremely strong, so much so that the father-in-law and his daughter-in-law cannot even speak directly to one another, and for them to look upon each other is at least a breach of etiquette. We might expect under these circumstances for the son to be offended. The story, therefore, set up the extreme importance of the knowledge that can be passed on, that it is greater than in-law taboos and greater than the marriage bond.

"something bad" — it is probably safe to conclude that this is a euphemism for poison. Powerful members of the Medicine Rite were often feared for their powers of witchcraft, including their mastery of a lethal pharmacopoeia.

"hollow" — the word is nąkokonąk. A nąkok is a wood box (, "wood"; kok, kox, "box"). The expression konąk means "to place, put, erect." So he seems to have used the skull as though it were a wooden box. However, the word konąk also means "to marry," so he has "married" this wooden box, the head of the woman whom he had married when she was alive. It is probably more accurate to say that the Medicine Rite man was "married" to the contents of that box, representing the soul of the woman. That her brain cavity was used as a box, suggests in this context that magically potent items associated with the Medicine Rite were stored there. This would make them de facto equivalents to the woman's brain, the substance of which was the house of her soul, a soul of some potency (see the next entry). These materials of power stored in the head-box were connected to the Rite, making the man, in some sense, "married" to the Rite itself. The wrappings of warbundles were made by women having their first menses, making those wrappings things of potency in their own right, having had imparted to them the dangerous powers associated with menstruating women. The use of a dangerous, exotic woman's head as a storage box seems to be a parallel practice.

"put in place of" — the word is herehi-re, which carries with it the idea of substitution. Marino defines it as, "to make something of it"; Lipkind has, "to put in place of"; Miner renders it as, "to put something in the place of something else; to make to be; to cause." To have hollowed out the skull is to have removed the brain. This is typically what is done with the brains of animals, so much so that the word for brain is nąsurugop, from nasu, "head," and horugop, "to scoop out" (Miner). The brain is seen as a kind of marrow, hųšéregorugóp (< hųšerek-horugop), "that which is scooped out of the bones" (Miner). The stuff of life is thought to reside in the marrow, so if the song made by the old man is meant to take the place of the brain, it is a song of the soul-stuff, and is presented in this context as being the counterpart of the departed soul of the redhaired woman. As someone from the Outside, she may have been thought to possess magical powers in her own right, and to have command over her soul, or the powers that he soul possessed, would be highly desirable as an augmentation to the powers inherent in the Medicine Rite. She is made to be at its service much in the way that a slain enemy warrior is made to serve the soul of the victor's tribe when it journeys on to Spiritland.

"song" — this is an unrecorded "Completion Song," sung by the North Band after the telling of this story.

Internal Isomorphisms. The story, as short as it is, possesses significant internal parallels.

The father possesses a valuable thing, knowledge of the Medicine Rite (more valuable than a horse), The son possesses a valuable thing, an exotic, beautiful woman with red hair, The father poisons the woman and turns her skull into a box. (The hollowing of her head (konąk) is symbolic marriage (konąk).)
which the son would like to receive as a gift. which the father would like to receive as a gift.
(Medicine Rite = Light and Life) (Red = Light and Life) (Box contains Light and Life)
The father tells his son to be brave. (The son is brave, and)
The father gives his son the knowledge of the Rite. the son gives his father the red-haired woman. He replaces the woman's brain with a Completion Song.

Links: Pretty Woman.

Stories: mentioning poisons: Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Creation of Evil, The Island Weight Songs, The Seer, The Shaggy Man, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 3), Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Ocean Duck, The Diving Contest, Great Walker's Medicine (antidote); pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath.

Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite (The Road of Life and Death) in notebook order: The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Historical Origins of the Medicine Rite, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Creation of Man (v. 8), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), Testing the Slave, South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 1), The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Messengers of Hare (v. 2), North Shakes His Gourd, Grandmother's Gifts, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Messengers of Hare (v. 1), The Island Weight Songs, The Petition to Earthmaker, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Completion Song Origin, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Diving Contest, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 3), The Tap the Head Medicine, The Claw Shooter, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 4), Peace of Mind Regained, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 5), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), Death Enters the World.

The Woman's Scalp Bundle is a version of this story.

Themes: a being has red hair: Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn's Father, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (vv. 1 & 2), The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Heną́ga and Star Girl, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; 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), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), 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), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hocągara 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), Įcorúšika 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).


1 The original interlinear is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #1: 180-181. A highly legible hand written MS is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago II, #1: 200-202. For a loose English translation, see Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 179-180.