The Hokixérē Dance

narrated by a member of the Thunderbird Clan

Hočąk - English Interlinear Text

Original Texts: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17a | 17b | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 |

(1) Scalps:— this is how they used to bring scalps to one other, and they did this with the scalps: a man, if he has a human head, before they do anything with the human head, if the second one has not yet counted (coup) on that human head1 — the human head that the man took on the warpath — and then they would hunt for that human head, then (when he found it) he would be the first (to count coup), and then the second would be the second. The next one, the third one, when he would declare who he is there, would say his name this way: you would say it to the human head. He, the third one, would always do it this way. Then finally it would be the fourth who called out his name, and this way you would always do it. The fourth would say the same when he told his name. (2) At that point, they would tell them what kind of costume they could use. And they would go and tell him whom he might take. The messenger, when he got there, would tell you to put a post in the ground. He would tell them, "The warparty is returning," and to put a post in the ground. He who was thus informed would be thankful. "It is good," he would say. Then the warparty, wherever they stopped, they would come together to form a circle. And when they were done, they would go on again. The one who counted coup first would lead the four (honor winners) into forming a circle.

And when they got to the post, then to whomever they gave it (the scalp), when he got it, he would offer thanks there to the War Controllers. He made a spirit-offering to the Sun, and sang. And when this is finished, and he sat down, then he would sing the dancing song. (3) He would beat the drum, and as many as there were, all of them would dance.

Then he who is making the present, he himself would tell of it to the War Controllers. Four times he would clearly state it. Four times he gave the victory whoop. When he suddenly stopped, all the men, as many as there were, four times would strike their mouths and yell. And when they were finished, they would do the Scalp Dance. He to whom they made a present of the human head, he would let his sisters, aunts, and nieces select presents. And they would tie them around their bodies, and each one in turn would dance with the human head. The women who received presents, once it was evening, stopped the Scalp Dance, (4) and entered the lodge. The gift receiver would be seated at the feast, and there he would go and sit and then the gift giver a bit later takes his seat. Then the four men would sit in a row, sitting in sequence. And they say that the one who is giving the feast calls for them. They say that when the one who is giving the feast has taken care of the four, then it completes the meal. And the first thing done by the feast giver is singing to the Warbundle. Then for a second time, again the Warbundle is sung to. And when he finished the Night Songs the last two times, it was time to eat. As they were about to eat, all the (animal) heads were placed before the donor. Then he would select whomever he wanted to eat with. Before the meal was eaten they called a warrior who was there.

(5) He (the host) said, "The human head that's here, he himself will eat with him, our warrior." A human head, about at the center of the lodge, they put on a plate and placed it before him, that warrior ate with the human head, and when they had finished, then also all the others who were to eat heads took them, then all of those who didn't take a head to eat, they were all served food by the attendants, and then he was called to start the flute song at the same time they were eating their food. Once they had finished their food, then one would say, "The councilors from all of the clans who are seated, we greet you. Those who have taken the place of others, we greet you. The warriors have counseled us extensively, and they asked for Life, and thus when they came, how they made their ancestors' breaths appear, in such wise do I greet you. (6) The feast givers that we obtained for the human head, however many as there are, have come to be selected to eat with the human head who comes to the center of the lodge. It is good. I myself am seeking Life. It is good. They say that when we do this way with the human head in the center of the lodge, if a single village there is sick,2 when they do this, by this means it is thought that he could affect all the sick. They do not have hold of a weakling in that Grandfather, the human head, who stands in the middle.3 It is said that he whom they hold, they know to be holy, but the soul we are going to trample on,4 we trample on so that however much life that he left behind, we may inherit for ourselves. And we will use as many as are going to take part in this dance. All night we are going to dance with the human head, we asked that the soul of this human head be made slow, (7) this is the way that we are going for it. You must see that the women and men do the dance with vigor. Do not make light of Life. It's anti-life. They have always said that we gain Life from it.

"Councilors of the different clans who are seated here with us, I greet you all."

Then they sing the Hokixérē. And concerning the Hokixérē Dance: they danced the Hokixérē all night long. They never rested for a long time during the Hokixérē Dance. It is said that they tried to make the spirit of the human head slow, and they did it until it became light. Then very early in the morning just as the sun came out, about then they took the drum outside and danced to the Victory Pole, then once the sun was up aways they stopped and went to sleep.

Then on the second day, when the sun was about to set, again the Victory Dance took place, (8) and they were dancing. Then the host himself will be the source of all the food that will be furnished. The female relatives of those men, those who have received presents, those women took care of the food. Those women also took care of the kettle.5 Many gathered together and again the servants put on the kettles. And when the Victory Dance was over, they entered the lodge. Then the host spoke. When he had finished speaking, and had completed four songs, they got ready to eat. Then the host said that he who is making a present of those containing heads, will select people for them, and when they're ready to eat, if there is a warrior there, he is to select him to eat with the human head. (9) When the host began his songs, it was time to eat. Then as many as where there ate. Concerning the human head that he was going to eat with, they placed a dish for him right at the base of the pole. They say that the soul of the human head had to be made to feel defeated, that is why they were trying to make the soul slow down. They are trying to conquer the soul. If they conquered him, however much life he left behind, this they will take from him.

That, in any case, was how it was, and then when the meal was over, (10) the host poured out tobacco, then the feast makers asked the various Spirits that there might be more warfare again. War was what they were asking for; then when they returned, if they had killed some people, if they were among those who had achieved this, they would do it (offerings), inasmuch as they were full of thankfulness.

Then that, in any case, was thus, and then to begin with the host struck the drum there and sang, and when he was done, then again they took the drum to the one who was opposite the human head, the one who was giving the present, who then sang, and when he was done, then they placed it before each in turn. And still to whomever, and so on, until every man there had had it. If someone didn't know how to sing, they'd place it there for him anyway.6 Some of those there were stuck, (11) they coaxed each other that they end, that is, the singing.7 When the men there gave it (the drum) to others, they, without reservation, began to sing. They encouraged one another, whoever it was, to do songs that he himself knew. When they placed it for some of them, they knew a song, and without any reservations, they sang it very thankfully. And some, when they did not know one, wept. When they thought, "In the beginning I ought to have tried to sing," they cried. In time, it (the drum) went around. Then all of the men, if all had sung, sang the Hokixérē songs. And then they did the Hokixérē dance. Women mixed in with those women who had received presents, danced around the lodge, so that they led the dance fully all the time. One of those who had received presents carries the human head, and she herself is the leader. (12) They think that the soul is dancing with them, and they did it all night long, the Hokixérē dancers, never resting from the dance, and when daylight appeared, and the sun rose, from that point she came out again and took the drum to the post, and again the Victory Dance, until finally, when the sun rose high, they stopped and things quieted down. Then again in the evening, when the sun was low, from that point they began the Victory Dance again — this is in the evening when it is pretty near dark — and again in the Victory Dance they sing slowly and then they moved along slowly, going around the lodge and they enter at the door and remain for some time in the lodge, and returning to circling around, and then they caused the drums, the Messengers, to be placed in the center of the lodge with them. Then they quickly do the serving work for the feast. (13) When the host was ready, he put the kettles out and boiled deer, bear, and dogs; and after this, here the donor and all who were in his company, ate. And furthermore, those who counted coup went there, as well as their women. Their female relatives will eat there, so they went taking them with them. This food was holy, so just the same, you were helping yourself when you ate there, they think. That is why they try to eat there.

The host then greeted them and said: "The food which the attendants have cooked will hardly be enough, but we are furnishing nothing to yourselves. It is they themselves, your female relatives, who are doing the food. You should eat whatever morsels they are furnishing. (14) Then four times we will finish it." The host sang four times to the Warbundle, and sang twice to Night, and then when he had finished, they ate. The host said to them, "We will do this modest feast, in which it will be like we are trying to do it for Our Grandfather of the Boiling Water, and the donor along with the head is there with all those who have been called. And a warrior would eat together with the human head, as I had requested. And the host will eat together with whom he selected, and the warrior went towards the human head to eat with him. The warrior went towards the human head to eat with it. And after the warrior ate with the human head, there is danced holding a long stick to which he had tied the human head. (15) After he had finished the Holding Dance, the stick was taken to the center of the lodge and stuck in the ground. There it was. The warrior ate right there. That is what they have said. They're saying that he ate with the human head. Then they ate again, when they had finished, first the host sang, and when he was done, then the donor left the human head there. If he wanted to sing to the Warbundle, he would do so. Then again, if he wanted to sing to the Nights, he would do so. If he wants to sing to the Buffalo, he can give voice to it, and furthermore, if he wants to sing from the Sore Eye, he gave voice to it, then he finished singing. They danced to the Warbundle Songs. Then it was over.

Then they passed it (the drum) in turn to the first man (to have counted coup). (16) When they placed it there, he said, "The one who was our grandfather, also placed in their minds songs, and how they were taught is the way we are going to give them, but should one not present them correctly, if I didn't do it in the dark, the Night Spirits, they say, will not think anything of mistakes in the songs. They themselves will bless me if I correctly approximate what is proper. It is holy that we tramp under our friend8 as our grandfather, he himself, commanded. That is what you will say when they come, and if you also trample down our friend's soul, whatever you accomplish, I will be caused to think of myself as being in connection with Life. We'll begin by starting up a little song to be heard right away. I tell this by sending forth my utterance," he said. "Right away, a song will be heard. (17a) We greet you!"9

It was taken there in turn to the second man (to have counted coup). Then, taking tobacco, he said, "They have positioned Grandfather. What songs they have called on him to utter, I will do," he said, "Also our friend whose soul you are trying to tramp under, I myself must show up for the songs that I must do, and I will sing them that way. I too will sing them that I might obtain Life. Right away the songs will start up, the songs that are to be heard. Yet whatever I say to them will occur, in any case, I may not be able to say what they were saying, but they told us to cry often. (17b) The saying, 'Cry often,' is what they will have meant. I greet you all!"

Then there it was placed with the third man (to have counted coup). Then he said, "When what songs of our Grandfather have come, I won't be going around that much, but however that would be, I don't think that I have a song to be heard. Whichever way I do the songs, they will be (acceptable). I am not so much as acquainted with a song. I didn't listen to my parents,10 and I have always thought from the beginning that I should have asked intensely for song. When some of them did this way, the tears flowed. I myself am to blame. Yet however I say it, it will be (acceptable). Now they will start up songs to be heard," and immediately, they started the songs. He chanted, and (said), "It is time to give thanks to them!"

(18) They placed tobacco in his hands.11 "It is good! Those in the east have made a tobacco pouring for me to the human head. I shall do the songs to be heard. You also will help to trample upon the soul of the human head, and you also, if you are to gain Life, you also may expect for yourself the Life about which I am going to speak. I am about to speak about crying for Life. They say that in the beginning the old men, they themselves, had lived like the Spirits. The asking for Life they did to help each other, and all of them together did it, and they got together kettles for Life, it is said. We are being decisive in doing this that way. I am also going to speak about that kind of heart. What you are asking for, you do it, you who are sitting. I myself will say it, as my mind is that way. We greet you! (19) The Warbundle owners who are seated here, we send forth greetings to you!"

And the drum was passed around. As many men as there were there, everyone of them had sung, then they did the Hokixérē Dance all night long. They never continued beyond daybreak, after which they took out the drum they had brought, and they did the Victory Dance until the sun was high, at which point they stopped. Then all day they slept, and then when it was to be ready, on the fourth night, when the sun was low in the sky, then right away they did the Victory Dance again. When the sun was low as it went down, then they inched along. Then when they returned, they went around the lodge, and placed the Messengers (drums) there in the center of the lodge, stopping there again. They were to get the kettles ready, and they did so. (20) Then the attendants took care of the dogs, and then they put them on there. The various kinds of food that they had been eating, those kinds they cooked for them, then if they made them edible, and if they did it this way, then when all the men came, then when all of the feaster got ready, whatever they made for them, when they got finished pouring tobacco, then the one who had received the present said, "By the time that we have finished four (songs), the meal will be done. When the attendants have cooked what little there may be, we think there will be but little food." After he had sung four times, then they ate. He who is making the present in order to obtain all of them to feast with him, he called them. They gave out the kettles that had no heads in them. (21) When all of them finished the dish,12 then it was time to eat, and when all the food was finished, then he would eat with old man head. Again, after they had him eat with it, he finished, and some of them gave thanks on his behalf.

Then after that, when they were done, then the one who had received the present spoke: "It is good. This is responsible for what little I had expected to accomplish. All of you have tried to help. It is good. I am left speechless. It is good. Just now the drum is to be passed around so that it may be a help to one another," he said, "we will be helping ourselves."

Then when they placed the drum there for the very first one (to have counted coup), the donor sang. When he was done, and after the first man had also sung, (22) then one after another, everyone of them sang. After they had circled around, then when they did the Wokixérē Dance, they did it all night long without ever stopping. And towards dawn, they went outside, and to the post they went in fear. Then the Victory Dance was performed. If the donor had loved a child greatly, if he had died, he himself, the human head, for the man whose child was lost, his tears were wiped from him. He forbid the crying, and thus things are going to be better they think, as a result, he's made the mourner feel good again. On the fourth night, at daybreak, they danced the walking version of the Victory Dance. They used walking songs, and four times they walked around (the post), and (23) when they got there at the grave of the little child who had died, there again they did the Victory Dance, and the human head was placed there in the ghost womb. They stuck it in the ground at the head of the grave. And they did it in order that the human head would wither there. Thus they did, and the one who had lost him, his mind would be made happy. So this way they would make one another feel.

Notes to the Text

1 since the narrative is extremely awkward, Radin made a note at the top of the Notebook page, which he connected by a line to this text, clarifying what the informant was trying to say: "If unexpectedly you bring a scalp (to your uncle). When a man has a scalp he leaves it at the end of the village & then tells the warriors that he has brought a scalp. They then take their clubs & make a special scramble for the scalp in order to strike it first. There are three honors."
2 the Notebook has a comment here: "i.e. some (unknown) power has caused this illness".
3 in the Notebook Radin adds, "the man whose scalp they have in the middle of the tent was a gifted man."
4 Radin adds in the Notebook, "i.e. the spirits of the narrator plus the spirits of those who are in the tent together could trample & defeat the powerful spirits by the [power of the] owner of the scalp."
i.e. they had to furnish the food for the dance. (From the Notebook)
6 the Notebook adds, "In a case like that they'd have to call on some relative to do the singing."
Radin says, "i.e. the learning group" (Notebook p. 11). These last two awkward sentences are simply omitted from Radin's WT translation.
8 the scalp (the human head).
9 this is followed by "[The First Man]." This is meant to indicate that the speaker who has just completed his remarks was the first man to have counted coup.
this comment was made here in the Notebook: "i.e. I never had a chance to listen to them i.e. it was not really my fault".
11 the Notebook identifies this man as the fourth one to have counted coup.
12 in a comment in his Notebook, Radin indicates that this group, probably consisting only of men, ate from a common dish. When they were through, only then did everyone else begin to eat.

Commentary. "a human head" — the Hočąk here is wągᵋnásura, from wąk, "human, man, male"; násu, "head"; and -ra, the definite article. So wągᵋnásura means literally "the human head." The practice had been to take the whole head of the slain enemy. This conclusion is confirmed by the practice, during the "scalp" dance of dancing while holding the severed head, of which it was said, "he was singing his own song," an impression created by his slack jaw moving up and down as the dancer pranced to the music. Since the head was believed to have been the site of the life-soul, the possessor of the head, or the one who originally took it, had command of this life soul, which now dwelt in Spiritland. Consequently, he could command this captive soul to help any member of his tribe who had just died to find the path to Spiritland. At the wake of the deceased, the commander of this soul would then charge it with this task by making a public declaration to that effect.

"the human head that's here" — this is a reference to the human head (or scalp) that is one of the chief objects of the celebratory feast. The expression "our warrior" refers to the brave who was selected to be honored by being granted the most prestigious food, the head of the animal.

"they made their ancestors' breaths appear" — this seems to suggest that they had sung their own songs when they came to this feast. Since the songs were handed down from remote ancestors, by repeating them, they have made the breath of their ancestor reappear.

"Victory Dance" — for this dance, see "The Victory Dance".

"the Messengers" — this might superficially seem to refer to those whose role was that of messenger, but it is apparent that this is a reference to the drum as the Messenger, as it is called in the Medicine Rite (see Descent of the Drum, Version 2).

"this food" — refers to the animal heads that are being eaten at this point in the rite.

"Our Grandfather of the Boiling Water" — apparently, the spiritual manifestation of the feast itself. The boiling water is the foundation for the primary food, the soup or stew.

"they" — that is, he may not be able to recite his "lines", the words that the ancients had said at this point. Nevertheless, what he is saying in his own way is efficacious and binding.

"old man head"wągᵋnúnįk wągᵋną́su, which is rather alliterative in Hočąk. There are no definite or indefinite articles attached to either word, and there is no indication that the donor is an old man. Perhaps it was a gray headed scalp, but hitherto they have treated this victim as a brave (young) warrior rather than an elder.

"Wokixérē" — this is from wa-hokixérē, from wa, "them" and hokixérē, "to catch up with one another"; so wokixérē merely adds an object: "catching up with him/them." The meaning of this dance is discussed in W. C. McKern's lost notebook:

This is meaning of the name of the dance. After the war is over, and they came home, this dance is to catch up with the spirits of the men they killed in battle. Previous to this, warriors might be weak and fall down; but after holding this dance, warriors would be free from the weakening influences having their source in the ghosts of the slain enemies. Hence the name, "catching up dance."1

It was also believed that the ghosts could follow after the warparty and cause their slayers to trip as well as become weak.

"they went in fear" — this passage is omitted in Radin's translation. The cause for fear is largely explained in the previous comment. The purpose of the Hokixérē Dance, to tramp down (naną́sgap) the spirit of the human head, and until this is done the head possesses supernatural power that can be used to their detriment, inasmuch as the soul of a slain enemy would possess a considerable degree of animosity. Once he is "tramped down" and made to feel defeated (karasą́), only then may he be considered neutralized and subordinated. The one who took his head, then succeeds in making him his slave, and may offer the slain enemy's soul as a guide in the Otherworld for a member of the tribe whose soul in death has departed to Spiritland.

"ghost womb"wanąǧí-nįgǫka, a picturesque term for a grave.

Notes to the Commentary

1 The Hočąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 92a (MS: 92a).


Paul Radin, "The Hok'ixe're Dance," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 78: 1-23. Published in English only in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 331-335 (1990) = 379-383 (1923, Archive) = 379-383 (1923, Hathi).