Trickster's Buffalo Hunt (§2 of the Trickster Cycle)
Translation based upon that of John Baptiste
Hočąk-English Syllabic Interlinear Text
(27) From that time on he went alone there. Thenceforth, he called "brother" everyone and everything on the face of the earth. His "younger brethren" he called them. He would addressed them. (28) He had a mutual understanding with all creatures. His language was the same as theirs. And as he went along, unexpectedly, as he came within sight of a knoll, and there unexpectedly was an large, old buffalo. "Hohó," he said, (29) "if I had not thrown away the arrow, I would by now have killed and eaten this one," he said. And he did thus: with the knife that he had with him he cut hay to make it look like a person and placed them in a circle. (30) He left a place open there. It was a very muddy place there. And he went there, to the buffalo there. "Hohó, my younger brother, here he is, my younger brother eating without worry. (31) Don't let anything bother your heart. I'll keep a watch out for them for you," he said. Therefore, the buffalo did a great deal of grazing. After that he said, "My younger brother, there are many people surrounding you. (32) Only here is there an opening." And as he raised up, there unexpectedly, were a great many people surrounding them. At the place whereof he spoke, there only was there an opening. (33) So it ran that way. When it was mired, there he used his knife and killed it. And there was a grove of trees. There he took it and skinned it.
He did it with his right arm, (34) and as he was doing it, the left arm did it: the other arm grabbed the buffalo. "Give it back to me, it is mine!" he said as it did it. "Stop it! I'll use this knife to cut you to pieces," he said. (35) It did release it. Again it did it. It took hold of the wrist. Again as he started to skin it, it repeatedly did that way. He was making his own arms quarrel between themselves. (36) While he was doing this, he made his arms fight each other. "Hohó," he said, "why did I do this again? I have made myself suffer," he said. The arms bled a great deal.
(37) And then he dressed the buffalo there. When he got through, away he went again. There they would say it. Little birds would say, "Koté! over there is Trickster," they would say, and (38) they would flee. "Howá! they are naughty. I wonder what these nasty little birds are saying?" he said. Thus it was. Whatever ones he saw, they would call him that. (39) "Koté! Trickster is going around here," they would say.1
Commentary. The strange war between the right and the left arm is not necessarily pure fiction. There is an odd syndrome which has gained some attention recently (1997-99) in which one arm seems to acquire a will of its own. A person suffering from this disorder may begin buttoning his shirt in the morning with his right hand only to find, beyond his power to intervene, that his left hand is busy unbuttoning it. Some victims report that they will open a door with their right arm only to have their left suddenly and unexpectedly slam it shut again. The story just may reflect a Hočąk acquaintance with this disorder.
Nevertheless, the combat between the left and the right hand over the possession of the buffalo is a good parable about any kind of civil war, whether it be the Upper Moiety vs. the Lower Moiety, or male vs. female.
Comparative Material. A Crow tale has some interesting points of similarity to our story. Once when Old Man Coyote was about, he chanced upon a heard of buffalo. He was pretty hungry, so he bethought himself how he might make a meal out of them. Old Man Coyote spoke to the buffalo telling them what ungainly animals they were, heavy-headed, pot-bellied, short-legged. But the buffalo merely replied, "We are made that way." So Old Man Coyote challenged them to a race. Now the race course he selected ended at a steep cliff, unbeknownst to the buffalo. Old Man Coyote went over near its edge and laid his robe down. "This will mark the place where we will race with our eyes closed," he said, setting down the terms of the contest. The race began, and the buffalo charged ahead, but when they reached the robe, they all tightly shut their eyes and thundered full speed right over the edge of the cliff. They were all killed. On that day Old Man Coyote had himself quite a feast.2
Links: Trickster, The Sons of Earthmaker.
Links within the Trickster Cycle: §1. Trickster's Warparty, §3. Trickster and the Children.
Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster's Warpath, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Elk's Skull, Trickster and the Plums, Trickster and the Mothers, The Markings on the Moon, The Spirit of Gambling, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Green Man, The Red Man, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster's Tail, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster's Penis, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Scenting Contest, The Bungling Host, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster and the Children, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; 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, 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, Wazųka, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Story of the Medicine Rite.
Themes: posing as a benefactor, someone tricks a game animal into making a fatal mistake so that he can make a meal out of it: Porcupine and His Brothers; Trickster hunts buffalo: The Woman Who Became an Ant; a man's organ acts as though it had a will of its own: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster's Penis; someone inflicts harm on one of his own organs because it seems to have a contrary will of its own: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks.
1 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 7-8; Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 6. Informant: George Crow of the Nebraska Hočągara. The original text is in "Wakdjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 27-37.
2 "Old Man Coyote and the Buffalo," in Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz (edd.), American Indian Trickster Tales (New York: Penguin-Putnam, Inc., 1998) 44-45.