The Victory Dance

narrated by a member of the Thunderbird Clan

Hocąk - English Interlinear Text

Original Texts: | 1 | 2a | 2b | 3 | 3v | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 7v | 8 | 9 | 10 |

(1) A man who was about to go on a warpath looked for as many as he could take with him, then a feast, and when they came, there he told them, the feast giver making a date for war for all of the feasters. He said that the reason why he was telling them this was that he was going hunting. The reason why he was telling them this, is that whoever desired to come along may do so.

A great many went. He led a big crowd. As they went on the warpath, the first thing was to situate the war camp just outside the village. And there the man named for them four men to go after something to eat and material for fire. They returned. (2a) The newly appointed bear killers came back and the attendants took them. And with the latest ones that they appointed they did the same. For the fire that they were building for food, they gave the leader four bears that he had asked for. These were for the War Controllers. The female relatives of the men began to bring moccasins for them. And some men were to tell stories if they wished. Of the moccasins, some they took, and some they rejected. And then some of the Warbundle Bearers were made to keep the fire, and then two of the great warriors were appointed to be in charge of the camp. So they were in charge of all of them. Thus they did, and one by one hocū́git’ḗ warriors began to act. And in the morning, when they were ready to go, (3) they began to enter the camp one at a time.

The Warleader, who was first about to go into the camp, did this: he placed the Warbundle crosswise at the entrance of the higiǧá camp, he then sang, and when he stopped, his attendants posted themselves on either side of him, and they put on the Warbundle for him. Then he went into the higiǧá camp, and every single person followed after him. All of them went into the higiǧá camp.1 From that time on, just as they had done, every time that they camped, they always did it that way.

And where they were going to fight, when they were about to assault them, two distinguished men were appointed as scouts. When they went there to where they were going to fight them, after observing them, they returned. The braves of the warparty having seen them at a distance, commenced to jumping side to side. (4) When they arrived in their midst, one of the attendants of the Warleader filled one of the pipes, placing it at the ready, and when the scouts returned, they let them use it; and when they were done smoking, "Warleader, the ones you're after are not paying any attention to themselves." Everyone thanked them.

Then they started out. When they were nearly there, at that place they painted themselves from the contents of the Warbundle, and everyone of them did the Warbundle Race.2 Some in the warparty had been blessed with war by the War Controllers, to whom they offered tobacco, in order that they might not die, and that they might get hold of one of the war honors, this sort of thing they asked for. Then some of them said, (5) that they had not been blessed by any of the various Spirits, and in this way they spoke. They did the rite properly in that they offered tobacco in asking from them. They asked that they might be fortunate. The kind of things that they asked for is that they might not die, and that they might be directed to one of the war honors. And furthermore, some said that they had with them the kind of medicines that were good for war, that these were good medicines, and to them they offered tobacco, and they asked to be remembered in the battle that they were about to enter, and they also did hot water medicine. They asked for this: if they did well, they might be fortunate; in any case, they asked, if they had done the tobacco offering well, that they might kill a man; that he might get hold of a war honor, that's the kind of thing that they asked for. (6) And some offered tobacco to whatever unique Warbundle they possessed — that tobacco in order for the Warbundle to be mighty. Because it is heart-binding to the various different Spirits, it carries with it much of one's faith. In tending to it by offering tobacco, he asked that he might kill a man, he said, and again that he might win first war honors, that's the sort of thing he asked of the Warbundle. He asked that he not be shot, that he not be killed, and that he might get back to where he had come from. Some, being frightened because they did not possess any source of help, all they could think was, "How will I be?" and furthermore, they thought, "In the beginning I should have fasted." (7) They thought, "In the beginning I should have given a feast. In the beginning I should have offered something. I should have tried that I might know a good medicine, for if I had known of one, now I could have used it here in this fight we are about to have. If I had been a feast giver, now I would have a source of strength. If I had fasted, if one of the various Spirits among the War Controllers had blessed me, now I would know that in this fight we are about to have, they would not kill me."

Then all of them, as many as there were, when they had finished getting ready, (8) then the Warleader stood up and the four men appointed gave the war cry, and immediately after they had done it, they began a war rush. All of them made themselves run. They made the call of whatever (Animal Spirit) that had encouraged them. There were very many in the village. They killed everyone in the village. One of them won a war honor. "I shall go in first to take the wampum belt."3 Another man goes on to win the second war honor. Then another one receives the third war honor. And again, this time it was the fourth one. And again, someone seized a captive. And again, some won prizes in succession. And those who got nothing because they had seized them, were left to weep. (9) So afterwards, they burned down the entire village. They burned it up. Then they went home.

They went home happy, indeed, as happy as they could have wished for. When they got close, they sent someone there to tell the news. He put on the attire of mourning. When he came within sight, it was the He’ŭ, the Messenger of Death.4 The whole village cried. The messenger said that as many of the young men who had gone out, all were dead! Then he said of the one who had won the first war honor, that he had been the first to have been killed there. Then as many as there were of all the men who had gone, he told how if he had gone, in the order of his achievement, that thus he had been killed there. And whoever erected a pole would tell him about it secretly. (10) Right about then, they gave the victory whoop. When that happened, the whole village became happy. The whole village without exception, ran in a rush for the warriors. They did a lot with the scalps. They circled around the village with the scalps tied to sticks. Where the pole had been place, there they stood. And there they put their prizes on their sisters. Their sisters were exceedingly proud. In the daytime, they would dance the Victory Dance, and at night the Hokixérē Dance. For four days they danced the Victory Dance, and then for four nights they danced the Hokixérē Dance.

Notes to the Text by Paul Radin

1 Higiǧára is the special arrangement of the camp used on individual warpaths.
2 When a war party has located the enemy, they prepare for the attack and run about, practicing their individual magical powers. "The war-club running" (waruǧáp nągigireže) referred to is the practice of running about in preparation for the attack upon the enemy so that they may not get tired out too easily. (Waruǧáp, of course, means "Warbundle" and not "warclub". Perhaps the race also went by that alternate name. —Dieterle).
3 Radin writes in the Notebook (74.1:10): "the leader generally had prizes fixed before he went to [the] war-path (wampum belts or beads)".
4 In the Notebook (74.1:9), Radin has the note, "he’uⁿ = men telling of deaths". At 74.1:9, Radin remarks, "they generally told the bad news before they came to the destination".

Commentary. "hunting" — that is, hunting humans, a euphemism for war.

"the attendants" — this special role was assigned to the nephews (sisters' sons) of the Warleader. They did all the manual labor associated with preparing the food both before and during the warpath.

"War Controllers" — the Wonáǧire-hirokṓnōna are the various Spirits who are especially connected to the granting of war powers, among whose number are Great Black Hawk, Morning Star, Disease Giver, etc. W. C. McKern says,

Wonáǧere hirukána, the spirits prayed to, were the originators of the Warbundles. They are the ones who have the power to give whatever is asked when tobacco is offered to them. They promised to make their weapons sharper than those of their enemies. That is why it is asked. They also asked to have a long, happy life. Prayers are all made through the fire. Fire carries the message to the spirits. This is because fire was given by the great spirit to act as a mediator to the spirits.1

The context suggests that some portion of the bears brought in for food would be offered to the War Controllers to enhance the chances of success for the warparty.

"Warbundle Bearers" — the Hocąk text has sákērerá. Radin's translation for this term is simply "warrior." However, a Sákērerá is a Warbundle owner. Owning a Warbundle is highly prestigious. The owner's nephews would be assigned to carry the Warbundle itself. In this connection, they would be termed a Sak’į. This was part of their general role as assistants to their uncle to whom they had strong ties of devotion. In their role as attendants, in which they were generally responsible for all the manual labor connected with the warpath, such as preparing food in particular, they were termed wagíxanarà. So the term for the role of the wagíxanarà in this context should have been Sak’įna and not Sákērerá.

"hocū́git’ḗ" — these are warriors who were not invited to join the warparty, but who show up anyways. As Radin explains on the fragmentary page 2b, the hocū́git’ḗ present themselves often with a measure of indignation, and usually perform a song and dance in which they dramatize how the warparty has overlooked the powers with which they could augment those of the men who were invited. However, the text contradicts itself on this point, as it was said above that "whoever desired to come along may do so." 

"faith"woinąži in Hocąk. It is not faith in the Western sense. The term woinąži means at once both "hope" and "strength". What these concepts have in common is proceeding with a positive mental state about an uncertain future outcome. They are "faith" in the sense that the psychological state engendered gives the person the power to proceed in the face of doubts. The term seems to derive from wa-, "something"; ho-, a nominalizing prefix; and hinąžį́, "to depend on (someone or something that is reliable), what one stands by, as social support." This last definition suggests that the stem of the compound is nąžį, "to stand."

Brooklyn Museum, Creative Commons-BY
Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund, 46.96.3.
A Hocąk Beaded Belt

"the wampum belt" — apparently, what made it a wampum belt (worušī́k hąkšák) as opposed to an ordinary decorative beaded belt, was that it had symbolic significance. In Black Otter's account of his warpath, he himself had won first war honors and was given a bone and bead belt. The criterion for first war honors appears to have been set by the Warleader. Black Otter won his award for being the first to present Dog Head, the Warleader, with a captive.

"they burned down" — it was a trade mark of the Thunderbird Clan to inflict the enemy with fire, since their spiritual affinities are most particularly with the divine Thunderbirds, who "eat" things upon the ground with the fire of their lightning strikes. So the burning of the village was no doubt done by those warriors who happened to be members of the Thunderbird Clan.

"a pole" — Hocąk nąbóza, "wood driven into the ground." This is the Victory Pole. McKern's informant told him, "The namṗósa was a pole, topped with fork of white oak, to hang scalps and war bundles on. This was erected in an opening before the door on the east side of the feast house. When scalps are to be presented to a man, he must put up a War Bundle Feast. He must have a war bundle, but he cannot be of same clan."2 In Black Otter's account of an actual warpath very similar to the one described here, there is a scene in which a young Black Otter enters an enemy lodge only to find one of the warriors calmly eating hominy while massive slaughter is taking place all around him. He tells the boy that "when they returned, this would be a great story worth while telling among his people. ‘When we have returned to the village, we can say that while there was a big battle going on, we were eating; and when they have set up a victory pole and they ask us to talk, we can tell them what we did here today’." Apparently, the pole was set up by a secret arrangement, and that a member of the warparty would guide train of warriors to the appropriate spot once they had made a circle of the village.

"circled"hakiri-hawagįx, where hakiri means, "to come back"; and hawagįx means, "to circle about; one complete circuit, as an hour hand around the face of a clock." A circle has neither beginning nor end. When Hare walked around the edge of the world to gain immortality for humanity, he became distracted and made the same mistake as Orpheus: he looked behind him, an action in temporal terms which is symbolic of death: forward time is no longer seen, but only the past. Just as hunting, a kind of killing, is viewed as being blessed with Life, since it supplies food, so killing the enemy gives a blessing of Life to the village by the double negation of preventing these enemies from living to kill the people.

Also the circling approach appealed to the Bird Clan, as raptors typically fly in circular patterns —

Most of war bundles originated from Thunderbirds. That is the reason; when the Thunderbirds came on earth, they always circled around before lighting. They went according to the action of the Thunderbirds, the patrons of war. When the warriors came back, after this circling ceremony, those at home were expecting them, and some of these received presents of scalps from the returned warriors. They appointed somebody to receive the scalps.3

"scalps" — the word here is wągᵋną́sura, from wąk, "man"; and ną́sura, "heads". This shows that originally, the victim's whole head was taken, not just his scalp. Since the head contains the stuff in which the soul resides, taking a head secures for the victor control over the soul of the defeated. This allows him to present to a deceased person during his funeral wake, the service of those whom he killed in battle as guides for the departed in his journey to Spiritland. W. C. McKern's notebook contains more details about how the scalps were treated:

As soon as the ceremony is over, the scalps and associated presents are turned over to the war bundle man selected from another clan. The man receiving scalps and associated presents is called gikiríhirĕ. This stunt is called "feeding his own war bundle" (waruǧáp warucgigi). After dancing around inside once, all sit down. Assistants represent him in this ceremony. After all are settled down, scalps are offered to the man, who spreads his war bundle down before him. The scalps are suspended from a stick (wõkąnosúkhi, "man's head on") like snakes are at Wisconsin Rapids. Then the roskĕ ("stick") goes on with the ceremony. The scalp receiver then goes thru same preliminary ceremony with the bundle as White did. He gives tobacco to the fire, then makes a prayer and burns cedar leaves. He thanks the spirits for what is received from the war leader who celebrates his victory. Giver and receiver sit opposite each other, with fire between them. The bundle of the receiver is put away, then the others are put away. They are never on the ground except during this ceremony. Then there occurs a set of dances. They prepare food for the feast. It's the waiters who prepare the food. The giver speaks to the receiver, telling him of his gift and of what he expects in return. He also tells him what he will offer him from what is being prepared in the way of a feast. Then all of the food is placed before the receivers. A dish of food set aside for the scalp. Since they don't know his name, they say, "Our friend should have something to eat about this time." Somebody is appointed to eat this food with the scalp, in honor of the scalp. This man must be a warrior, usually an old man or man of recognized bravery. A dish is placed near the war bundle. He sits there and eats the food for the scalp. The receiver distributes the food placed before him amongst maternal female relatives. He then, after the feast, gives thanks. He says that they should receive good health and long life for observing these old customs.4

"Hokixérē Dance" — 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."5

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

Notes to the Commentary

1 The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 91 (MS: 91).
2 The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 86 (MS: 86).
3 The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 86 (MS: 86).
4 The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 89-91 (MS: 89-91).
5 The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1927): 92a (MS: 92a).


Paul Radin, "The Victory Dance," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 74: 1-10. Published in English only in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 110-112 (1990) = 158-160 (1923, Archive) = 158-160 (1923, Hathi).