Tag Archives: Native American?

Native Version of “Hansel and Gretel”

Main Piece:

Informant: Ok, so there is like a legend and you know how Natives, they travel? Like, when one place kinda dries out or doesn’t have any buffalo or food, they move to the next place.  Well, that kinda like happened. There was these children and their mom asked them to get berries before they left. They kinda got distracted when they were picking berries. And when they came back they had already left. So they went and said, “ok, maybe this is the way they went.” They went and found a small cottage and, so this is kinda like a Native story of Hansel and Gretel. So they knocked and the lady welcomed them in and got them food and stuff. And then that night when they went to bed and the lady thought they were asleep she started singing a song about eating them. And then they secretly got out of their beds and slowly looked and when the lady, when they were sure the lady got into bed they saw their little sister in a cage. So they had to quickly get her out of it. And they escaped, but the witch was coming after them, because they heard her. But the end of this story can change either way, like they got home safely, or the witch ate them. But the good way is that they got out to a place where the witch couldn’t go and the witch was blocked off by this force field, or something like that. And then they went safely looking for their family and their tribe. And the bad way, is that she got them and ate them.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. My sisters and I were sharing stories one night when I asked if she recalled any old stories she heard.

Thoughts:

I have heard many variations of this story growing up. I’m curious to know how much it has evolved over the years, especially after European contact. It was interesting to hear my sister’s take on it. It shares many similarities with the Hansel and Gretel story; children lost in the woods who stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic.

Jingle Dress Origin

Main Piece:

Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.

Interviewer: What other variations are there?

Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance. 

Thoughts:

One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.

Stick Ball

Main Piece: 

Informant: One of the games our Choctaw people play is called “ishtaboli,” also known as stickball. While it is a game, the name is roughly translated into “little brother of war” because we would often play this game between tribal communities to settle disputes.

Interviewer: What was the game like:

Informant: It is played with each player having 2 “kabocca’s” or sticks. There is a webbing on the end, similar to modern day lacrosse sticks. Long ago, we would play these games between tribal communities, which may be 3-5 miles apart. Each community would have a tall pole in the center of their village and the winner would be the first team to throw a small leather ball and hit the pole. 

Interviewer: 5 miles apart!!! That’s a long way!

Charles: Yes, and sometimes the game would go for days until someone scored. Many tribes had similar games, but this is how the Choctaw played.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

In a way, it is reminiscent of the world olympics and how sports can be used to bring people together. Stickball allowed an outlet to settle disputes without turning toward bloodshed. There was still warfare amongst indigenous people groups, so reality played was not as idealistic; but it was a model to strive for. It is interesting to see how integral sports have been to culture and society in its many variations. Lacrosse finds its origins in the Native American game of stickball.

Oka Falalla

Main Piece: 

Informant: The Choctaw of old tell the story of Oka Famalla, “the returning waters.” This story has been told among the Choctaw for as long as we know.

Interviewer: What is the “returning waters?”

Informant: Long ago, the Choctaw began to be influenced in a bad way by other people. And they began to lose traditional Choctaw values, like taking care of each other. The Creator, Hashtala, had warned the people that they needed to return to our ways, or something bad would happen to them. One man, though, was a good man. He tried to keep our traditional ways. So Hashtala told him to make a large raft out of limbs from the sassaphrass trees, a tree common to the Choctaw lands. He made this large raft, and then it began to rain. It rained for many days, no one really knows how long. Then it stopped. The man floated on the raft for many days after the rain stopped. Then he saw a small blue bird. This bird’s name translates into the English phrase of “turtle dove.” This small bird stayed with the man and as it would fly, the man paddled his raft in the direction the bird flew. Then they came upon land. The bird became a female and she and the man stayed together, had children, and began to populate the earth.

Interviewer: That story sounds a lot like the Bible story of Noah and the ark.

Informant: Yes. When the Choctaw heard the Bible story, they wondered how the writers of the Bible knew the story of Oka Famalla. But we also knew that many tribes had similar stories, so it was not a complete surprise when the white man had a story like theirs also.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

From Deucalion and Pyrrha of Greek Mythology to the story of Noah and the Ark in Judeo-Christian culture, flood stories have been a central theme in cultures all around the world. The Great Flood has pre-biblical origins, the oldest known account featuring Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia. After hearing the story of Oka Famalla, it was interesting to see the commonalties between these stories. They usually involve humanity becoming corrupt and a deity sending a flood to destroy the world as a result, a sort of a global baptism if you will. A morally righteous person is set apart and tasked to build a large boat to preserve his species. I thought it was interesting how the bird is featured in all of these stories, specifically the dove. This particular story stood out in that it has the bird transforming into a woman but other than that the similarities are quite note-worthy

Whistling at Night

Main Piece:

Informant: Throughout my childhood, I’ve been told you’re not supposed to whistle at night. So of course, I didn’t believe them and would whistle at night. One day I was at my grandparents house and my cousin and I were at the window and it was night time. We were bored because there’s not much to do out there. It’s a small community called Stand Off. (Laughs) My cousin and I, we heard someone whistling in the distance. So, they whistled at us (whistling sound), so we whistled right back. Then they did it back again, so we did it back again. Then we started making patterns with our whistling and the other person started making patterns with their whistling. And the person began coming closer and closer and the still kept laughing. And then we got busy, the person was so close, but we got bored and something happened in the kitchen, but we left the window open. As we were in the kitchen, all of a sudden we began hearing banging in the bedroom we were just in. And we went walking towards the bedroom. And the door began swinging BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH (emphasis on her voice as she said these words). My cousins began to get freaked out and started screaming. So I grabbed a broom and was like “Wait, stop. NO.” And I went running into the bedroom and the door just stopped. Our window was still wide open, but our cat was standing on the window seal looking down. And that was it. So, to this day, I don’t whistle at night, because I’m told it calls the spirits.

Background:

The informant is a Native American woman in her early forties. She is part of the Blackfoot and Lakota Nations and grew up on the Blood Reserve up in Canada. She currently resides in Tennessee with her husband and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my mother. We were in the kitchen preparing supper when I asked her why she doesn’t whistle at night. She recalled an old incident that had happened.

Thoughts:

In many cultures it it thought that whistling or making whistle noises at night will attract bad luck, bad things, or bad spirits. In the UK there is the belief of the “Seven Whistlers” who are seven mysterious spirits or birds who can foretell tragedy or death. Some believe that if you whistle indoors it will bring poverty or bad luck. In any case, I have been warned many times of the danger of whistling at night. It is something I heard quite often growing up. It is interesting how this plays into the larger idea of being spirited away or being kidnapped by the little people; that whistling is a way of communicating with the supernatural.

The Piasa Bird

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Would you tell me your version of the legend of the Piasa Bird?

Informant: My version… back in the olden days, tribes of Indians lived on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. Which was not even the Mississippi river then, but, umm, uhh, and their nemesis was a – a uhh dragon, who lived in the caves on the bluff below them someplace. And the dragon would, umm, periodically umm, come and take a-an Indian, uhh, for it’s-for it’s its meal. Uh. The uhh… Indians would shoot arrows at it but uhh the-the-the it had kind of a… bunch of scale plates on the outside that umm, would deflect the arrows, and uhh, they couldn’t kill it! Finally the chief said, “this is enough of this.”

Interviewer: (laughs)

Informant: So he said, uhh, “what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna get the, the uhh, dragon to a place where i can do a better job of killing it.” And he thought and thought and though for a while, and then he said – he took his daughter, good looking lady young lady and put her out on the edge of the bluffs, and he hid himself where he could uhh, see her and also, see the-the-the dragon coming in… to get her. And as the dragon came in it raised up, and the chief stood up, and shot… the only spot… on the dragon that wasn’t protected, and put the arrow into the dragon. The dragon uhh was… mortally wounded, ummm did not get the daughter, umm, flew back over toward the river, umm crashed into the river, and was never seen again. And so then – the chief was renowned for his skill at archery and uhh saving the rest of the tribe.

Interviewer: Wow.

Informant: To this day… nobody’s ever found that dragon. Haven’t found where it is, and people have looked. Umm. I looked.

Interviewer: (laughs)

Informant: Up and down the river – the bluffs. We used to go down there and climb on the bluffs and up and down the roads and all over the place. But to this day the dragon has never been found, and people wonder whether it’s really true or not. But I guess you have to figure that out for yourself.

Background: My informant lived most of his younger life in Alton, Illinois, where the Legend of the Piasa Bird originated. The legend is well known, at least in the southern Illinois region, though there is much mystery around the legend and that causes many slight variations in the story. It’s one large source of pride for the city of Alton.

Context: The informant is my Grandpa, and this piece was collected after I asked him if he knew any ‘folklore’ and gave him a day to think about it, on his request. He is certainly getting old, but he’s still rather sharp for his age.

Thoughts: The legend of the Piasa Bird supposedly comes from a traditional Native American story, but the story that most people know is some version of a telling by a professor, John Russell, at the nearby Shurtleff College in Alton. This is a strange example of reverse authorship. Did Russell make up the story? If he did, why? Why would he make up a legend for another group of people? In all the Piasa Bird is an interesting study of folklore.

Names

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Can you tell me how your children get their names?

Informant: Yes. Traditionally, in our Native ways, someone may change their name 2-4 times throughout the course of their life.

Interviewer: You mean they would get nicknames?

Informant: No, they would change their names. When they are born they may be given a name that speaks to how their parents want them to be. But over time, there may be a defining moment or incident in their life that would cause them to be known by another name. This might be from an act of bravery, an accident, or just an unusual experience.

Interviewer: And everyone, including their family, would then call them by this new name?

Informant: Yes, especially their family. And this might happen a few times throughout their lives.

Interviewer: Do you have an “Indian name?” 

Informant: Yes, my name is “Atsiniki.”

Interviewer: What does it mean?

Informant: Story Teller.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

Names are an interesting thing. They travel with us, shaping how we see ourselves and the rest of the world. They help build our reality and draw meaning within chaos. When we can name something, we come a bit closer to understanding it; or at least conceiving it a bit better. A lifespan shows movement so it’s interesting to see that reflected in names as well. Many people have nicknames or change their name to mark a new phase in their life, which shows the importance of identity that can be found in a name. 

Native American Raven Creation Myth

Context:

The informant – BL – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He learned the following creation myth in elementary school, on a field trip that aimed to teach students about the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. He told me this story after I asked him of any folklore he knew growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

Piece:

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we have a very close connection with our Native American roots. We try to preserve their culture, and language, and stories by passing them down, um, to our children. I learned this one when I was in elementary school, on a field trip where we learned about, uh, the native salmon, the native peoples, and our watershed.

This is a story from the Haida people, who inhabited – and still do inhabit – the coastal Pacific Northwest region. And this is the story of how the Raven – Raven, the trickster – brought light to the world.

In the beginning, the world still existed, but in darkness. Raven existed from the beginning of time, he was on of its first creations, but he eventually grew tired of stumbling around in the dark, bumping into things. One day, he stumbled into something that didn’t feel like a piece of nature. It was a sideways log – many of them stacked on top of each other. Knowing it was a house, Raven peered inside the window, where there was light. And he saw an old man and his daughter. The light was emanating from a box in the corner, peeking out from the cracks of it. Realizing that this must be the only source of light in the world, the clever Raven quickly devised a plan. Um.

He took to the air and flew circles over the house for hours, until he saw the old man’s daughter exit to go collect water from the river. And went she went to the river to fill her basket with water, he transformed himself into a pine from an evergreen, which landed in her basket. And when she drank it, he was ingested. Um. When she returned to her house, he again transformed, only this time, into a tiny human in her stomach. There, he bided his time, waiting until, finally, the girl gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

The old man was so overjoyed at having a grandson that he quickly took to the raven, thinking that he was his own. But the boy, um, turned out to be very curious and very eager to learn about new things. He always pestered the old man about what was in the box in the corner…what the light was coming from. But, the old man threatened his grandson to never touch the box, and to never look inside it, as it held great treasure.

But, Raven pestered and pestered, until, finally, the old man gave in. He went over to the box and opened it, and light poured throughout the house, illuminating all. The old man reached into the box, and took out the sun and threw it to the boy to play with. But, as the boy caught it, he transformed back into his raven form, and caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney… there’s a chimney… out into the world where he… released the sun into the world. Um. No no no. So as the old man threw it to him, the boy transformed back into Raven, caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney. He didn’t know how to release it into the world, so he shook it back and forth, little flecks of light flying off, which then became the stars. Eventually, he threw it upwards, where it continued flying, never losing speed. And that’s how we got our sun and stars.

 

Analysis:

As is common with myths, this creation story is likely steeped in the culture of the Native American Haida peoples to whom it belongs, and, therefore, it seems strange to someone not part of this culture. This can be said of the informant, BL, here, who’s personal disconnect from the story was apparent. It was clear from the way he told the story that it was a story with which he was not intimately familiar, but, instead, learned in school when learning about the native people of his hometown. It was clear that he was attempting to recall parts of the story as he told it, occasionally backtracking to correct himself. Either way, the story is a fascinating creation story, and it is interesting to hear a filtered version of this creation myth told from an outsider who had merely grown up learning about this culture.

For further information regarding the Raven as the predominant trickster archetype in Coastal Northwestern America, see David Vogt’s (1996). Raven’s universe. Archaeoastronomy, 12, 38.

Lonnie Lake

Main Piece
Lonnie Lake
Well there is the Lonnie Lake tale. Well, So, there was a horror story they would tell us at YSSC, Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp. There was a story that, this is told to 13-year-old boys, so, there is a lake in Yosemite that is not even on the map. so, like, It was a lake in kind of like the finger lakes area, on the Yosemite side of the national forest whatever boundary, and it was a place apparently so dangerous that they removed it from the map. So not even on the map. So the story goes that there was the spirit this Native American women who was hurt brutally hurt by young braves, and her way of revenge was drowning young boys in the lake. It’s called Lonnie Lake, and that’s where she died, and that’s where her spirit lives, a native American spirit, who drowned boys in the lake. And you’re not supposed to go to Lonney Lake, because if you go in the lake, she drowns you. I was told this by the staff of the camp, so don’t ever go to Lonney Lake and don’t go in, because there will a native American spirit and she will drown you.

Background
Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp is a Christian Adventure camp located near Bass Lake, California, right near Yosemite National Park. The camp includes all sorts of different activities, including lake activities like water skiing and wakeboarding. The campers range in age from 8-16, with the informant recalling a time when he was 13-years-old. The camp is located on Bass Lake, with the story about a different lake named “Lonnie Lake”.

Context
The informant is a 25-year-old man, born and raised in a Christian family in Southern California. The information was collected while inside his family home in Palm Desert, California, on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I thought it was really interesting to hear about this tale, for I had also attended this same camp, but had never heard this tale. I enjoyed how the informant identified this story correctly as a tale, instead of legend or myth, which would have been incorrect. Upon further research, I cannot find any evidence of this “Lonnie Lake”, yet tales involving Native American spirits are common. I wonder about the purpose of creating a cautionary tale about a lake that truly doesn’t exist. I also think it interesting for such a tale to be shared at a Christian camp, for the religion does not endorse ghosts or vengeful ghost-spirits. I think it must be really fun for the participants of the tradition to tell the story and try to scare the campers, but I do not think that the telling of the story has any meaningful link to Native American tradition. Instead, it utilizes the native american tradition in another way.

The Haunted Escanaba, MI Lighthouse

Informant, a screenwriting major, was talking about his screenplay for his class and mentioned it took place in Northern Michigan. The conversation is as follows, the informant is TP, I am PH:

PH: Of course it’s about Michigan [because the informant talks about his home state very often]

TP: If I knew of any other lakeside town with a haunted lighthouse, it’d take place there, but I only know of Escanaba

PH: A haunted lighthouse? Can I write this down for my folklore collection?

TP: Yes

PH: Okay, can you tell me about the haunted lighthouse?

TP: So there’s a famous lighthouse in Escanaba [in Northern Michigan] because people think it’s haunted because when Michigan was founded, the Menominee tribe used to have land in Northern Michigan but we slaughtered them so their official reservation is just in Wisconsin now but the land is still sacred spiritual ground and they built a lighthouse on this sacred ground… I think it was a burial ground

PH: Who is “they”?

TP: I think the Michigan people? The people who slaughtered the tribe… So people say the lighthouse is haunted by the tribal chief from the time and that, like, if you visit the lighthouse you’ll see his spirit and he’ll try to chase you out and that’s pretty much it