Manataka American Indian Council









Traditional Stories





A Wife for Knowledge
by Paul Radin


Once there was a man who was very powerful and respected among the people.  He was a member of the Medicine Rite. This man had only one son, and because the boy had no brothers, he knew very little. In the course of time, the father began to give his son presents. He put a kettle on the fire for him, and told him to be brave and to be a real warrior. The son wondered to himself why he was giving him gifts and advice. The father kept giving his son gifts, and eventually he gave him a fine horse and told him, "My dear son, in order to be a warrior, there are certain things you must know." Then his son understood what he meant.

In the course of time the young man married a beautiful woman with red hair who came from another tribe. His father was smitten by her beauty and cast longing eyes upon her. His son did not fail to notice it. So the son gave his father this woman. The old man was very grateful and said, "How can I ever repay you, you have made my heart glad." So the father gave his son all the knowledge that he possessed.

In time the red haired woman sicked and died. The old man made a bowl of her skull and then composed a song which is used to this day in the Medicine Rite.

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.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories


Berdache Origin Myth

By Paul Radin

A 'berdache' is a man who, in conformity with social convention, assumes a woman's role in every respect. The Hotc‚k word for "berdache" was dedjángtcowinga, "blue lake woman." A young man became a berdache if and only if during his fasting vision quest, he was blessed by Moon and ordered by this spirit to "take up the skirt." If he failed to do this, it was thought that the moon would take his life. Part of his blessing was the power to foresee the future, and the virtue of being able to excel anyone in the performance of women's duties. [1] Berdaches have the reputation of being the cleverest people, the sort who would be good at gambling. [2]

Berdaches were once held in high esteem, and although said to be shameless, they wanted for nothing and were often taken to wife by men. [3] In contradistinction, men who showed cowardice in battle could be forced to assume the role of women upon pain of death. These men were not considered berdaches nor were they held in any other status than contempt. [4]

The berdache, albeit in mirror image form: he is physically a man, but he does not carry on the essential function of men (to fight). It is this mirroring that recalls a blue lake: it is the color of the sky, but it lies opposite the welkin: it is low rather than high, facing up rather than down.

Furthermore, on its clear, unmuddied surface, it reflects everything around it, only as a mirror does: all is reversed: left is right, right is left; top is bottom, bottom is top. In cultures that assign left to females and right to males, up to males and down to females, such inversion is a rich model of the condition of the berdache. Such a living coincidential oppositorum is naturally very wŠk‚tc‚k ("holy").  As such, not having powers of war, nor of life in its essence (reproduction), his wak‚ expresses itself in terms of prophesy. Just as right has become left, and top has become bottom, so the future has become as history, to be seen in the mind's eye as if a remembrance of things past. Contrary to what the raconteur thought, this is actually a good story. The raconteur probably felt the current, white inspired shame about berdaches and thought the subject matter was what made the story "bad." Contemporary men who would have been berdaches in classical times, are called by the word cÓange, which nowadays translates as "fag."

[1] Nancy Oestreich Lurie, "Winnebago Berdache," American Anthropologist 55, #1 (1953): 708-712.
[2] Paul Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," [unpublished] Winnebago Notebooks (American Philosophical Society Library) #33, p. 52.
[3] Lurie, "Winnebago Berdache"; Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," 50-53.
[4] Lurie, "Winnebago Berdache."

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories


Buffalo Dance Origin

By Paul Radin

The Buffalo Dance is most usually given in conjunction with the Buffalo Feast. The dance, which originated with HodjŠnoka (Hodjanaga), can be given by anyone who has been blessed by the Buffalo Spirits. This is the story of its origin.

In the earliest times the Hotc‚gara existed in the form of animals, as it was in this form that they had come together to found the clans that make up the nation. At that time they had all the power that they needed, but as they evolved into human form, they had to fast to obtain those powers necessary for life. When he had just reached puberty, HodjŠnoka (Young Man Just Maturing) therefore began to fast, and went off to seek blessings from the spirits.


After he nearly fasted to death, a spirit came to him in his dream, and said, "Mortal, I bless you. I bless you with a victorious warpath, and with a long life." He made it known that he was one of the Buffalo Spirits. "Remember us in your offerings," he said, "and from time to time pour tobacco for us and give us Dog Feasts. When you make offerings, present eagle feathers, tobacco, and food. Indeed, we bless you mortal, for you have made yourself very pitiable. We shall soon come for you and bring you to our camp that you may obtain what you truly long for." Then one day he dreamed again, and the Buffalo Spirits came to him and took him to Spirit land where they had their village. There in the village of the Buffalo Spirits, he saw an old man and a child. The child had heard his prayers, and it was he who had taken pity on him by blessing him. The child gave him an herb and told him, "This is what we give you. With this you may cure the sick; but since it will also increase your strength when you run, you may also use it in war." They gave him a holy buffalo tail, and flutes. Then they taught him four songs:

Let him walk in the road;
Let him walk in the road.

Walk by, HodjŠnoka;
Walk by, HodjŠnoka.

Say, 'Walk by HodjŠnoka'.
HodjŠnoka, go towards;
'It is coming, it is coming';
Say it to them, say it to them.

Then they showed him the Buffalo Dance. After all this instruction, he returned to earth. It is said that when the dance is announced they do not go about with invitation sticks, but invite people through the use of an emissary. In the appointed lodge they prepare for the dance by creating a loose mound of dirt which is called the "buffalo mound." On top of the mound, or M‚nuserek, they place a plate of maple sugar. The host appoints someone from the Buffalo Clan to be the leader of the dance. This man puts upon his own head the head of a buffalo and attaches to himself a buffalo tail. He then leads the dancers in line to the dish of maple sugar and licks some of it up just as a buffalo would without using his hands. Each in turn does this, and as they dance towards the earth mound, they bellow like buffaloes. As each dance is completed the drummer passes the drum to the next person. Once everyone has been the drummer, they are ready to eat. Each person has his own plate; however, there is a special plate in the center of the lodge with wild rice on it. The host tells the dance leader that this plate is intended for him and anyone else he chooses to share it with. When they have done eating, the ones in the center of the lodge then take their heads and flip the plate in the air as if they were buffalo goring it. Only when they have caused it to land upside down using only their heads, is the ritual over. Then the host rises and sings a dancing song, and everyone dances out of the lodge each with his own plate in hand. Thus ends the Buffalo Dance.

Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 296-297, 299. Informant: a member of the Bear Clan.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories