Friday, May 30, 2014

The Hero Saved, The Trickster Punished

Ziŋtkála Ša, Red Bird, reads in this photo. 
The Hero Saved, The Trickster Punished
Shooting Of The Red Eagle

By Ziŋtkála Ša (Red Bird)
The following story, "Shooting of The Red Eagle," comes from Ziŋtkála Ša’s “Old Indian Legends,” and includes minor edits. D/Lakȟóta words, when used, are spelled using the Lakota Language Consortium’s standard orthography.

A man in buckskins sat upon the top of a little hillock. The setting sun shone bright upon a strong bow in his hand. His face was turned toward the round campground at the foot of the hill. He had walked a long journey hither. He was waiting for the chieftain’s men to spy him.

Soon four strong men ran forth from the center thiyúktaŋ (a.k.a. wikiup, wigwam) toward the hillock, where sat the man with the long bow.

“He is the avenger come to shoot the red eagle,” cried the runners to each other as they bent forward swinging their elbows together.[1]

They reached the side of the stranger, but he did not heed them. Proud and silent he gazed upon the cone-shaped wigwams beneath him. Spreading a handsomely decorated buffalo robe before the man, two of the warriors lifted him by each shoulder and placed him gently on it. Then the four men took, each, a corner of the blanket and carried the stranger with long proud steps, towards the chieftain’s thípi.[2]

Ready to greet the stranger, the tall chieftain stood at the entrance way. “Háu, you are the avenger with the magic arrow!” he said, extending to him a smooth soft hand.

Háu, great chieftain!” Replied the man, holding long the chieftain’s hand.[3] Entering the thípi, the chieftain motioned the young man to the right side of the doorway, while he sat down opposite him with a center fire burning between them. Wordless, like a bashful Indian maid, the avenger ate in silence the food set before him on the ground in front of his crossed shins.[4] When he had finished his meal he handed the empty bowl to the chieftain’s wife saying, “Mother-in-law,[5] here is your dish!”

Háŋ, my son!” answered the woman, taking the bowl.

With the magic arrow in his quiver the stranger felt not in the least too presuming in addressing the woman as his mother-in-law.

Complaining of fatigue, he covered his face with his blanket and soon within the chieftain’s thípi he fell asleep.

“The young man is not handsome after all!” whispered the woman in her husband’s ear.

“Ah, but after he has killed the red eagle he will be handsome enough!” answered the chieftain.

That night the star men in their burial procession in the sky reached the low northern horizon,[6] before the center fires within the thípi had flickered out. The ringing laughter which had floated up through the smoke lapels was now hushed, and only the distant howling of wolves broke the quiet of the village. But the lull between midnight and dawn was short indeed. Very early the oval-shaped doorflaps[7] were thrust aside and many brown faces peered out of the wigwams toward the top of the highest bluff.

A photo I took of the sun over Dead Buffalo Lake in North Dakota.

Now the sun rose up out of the east. The red painted avenger stood ready within the camp ground for the flying of the red eagle. That terrible bird appeared! He hovered over the round village as if he could pounce down upon it and devour the whole tribe.

When the first arrow shot up into the sky the anxious watchers thrust a hand quickly over their half-uttered “Hinú!”[8] The second and third arrows flew upward but missed by a wide space the red eagle soaring with lazy indifference over the little man with the long bow. All his arrows he spent in vain. “Ah! My blanket brushed my elbow and shifted the course of the arrow!” said the stranger as the people gathered around him.

During this happening, a woman on horseback halted her pony at the chieftain’s thípi. It was no other than the young woman who cut loose the tree-bound captive.

While she told the story the chieftain listened with downcast face.[9] “I passed him on my way. He is near!” she ended.

Indignant at the bold imposter, the wrathful eyes of the chieftain snapped fire like red cinders in the night time. His lips were closed. At length to the woman he said, “Háu, you have done me a good deed.” Then with a quick decision he gave command to a fleet horseman to meet the avenger. “Clothe him in these, my best buckskins,” he said, pointing to a bundle within the wigwam.[10]

In the meanwhile strong men seized Iktómi[11] and dragged him by his long hair to the hilltop. There upon a mock-pillared grave[12] they bound his hands and feet. Adults and children sneered and hooted at Iktómi’s disgrace. For a half-day he lay there, the laughing stock of the people. Upon the arrival of the real avenger, Iktómi was released and chased away beyond the outer limits of the camp ground.

On the following morning at daybreak, peeped the people out of half-open doorflaps.

There again in the midst of the large camp ground was a man in beaded buckskins. In his hand was a strong bow and red-tipped arrow. Again the big red eagle appeared on the edge of the bluff. He plumed his feathers and flapped his huge wings.

"He placed the arrow on the bow," appears in the Bison Book edition of "Old Indian Legends," the Bison Book edition, by Angel De Cora.

The young man crouched low to the ground. He placed the arrow on the bow, drawing a poisoned flint for the eagle.

The bird rose into the air. He moved his outspread wings one, two, three times and lo! The eagle tumbled from the great height and fell heavily to the earth. An arrow struck in his breast! He was dead!

So quick was the hand of the avenger, so sure his sight, that no one had seen the arrow fly from his long bent bow.

The village was dumb with awe and amazement. And when the avenger, plucking a red eagle feather, placed it in his black hair, a loud shout of the people went up to the sky. Then hither and thither ran singing men and women prepared a great feast for the avenger.

Thus he won the beautiful Indian princess[13] who never tired of telling to her children the story of the big red eagle.

[1] Pointing, as with one’s index finger, was considered rude and impolite. To this day the polite Lakȟóta, points a variety of ways including one’s elbows (as is the case in this story), by cupping one’s hand and gesturing in the general direction of one’s attention, by pointing somewhat indirectly with one’s smallest finger, or with one’s lips, the latter to some mild amusement to those nearby. 

[2] A very high honor, to be carried into the village in this manner.

[3] Shaking hands isn’t generally an everyday Lakȟóta practice. When the occasion arose to shake hands it was with the left hand, the hand closest to one’s heart that was used. When a Lakȟóta shakes hands, it is careful and light, never a crushing or firm grip.

[4] Before chairs, the Lakȟóta man sat down upon the ground with crossed legs and straight back. Women sat upon the ground, knees together, calves tucked beneath their legs, feet extended behind or off to their side.

[5] Uŋčíši is “mother-in-law.” As a rule, a man never spoke to his mother-in-law. If a man took issue with his in-laws, he spoke through his wife, and they in turn spoke through her. The reverse is true. Not speaking to one’s in-laws was considered polite and respectful.

[6] The stars, Wičáȟpi, were/are considered to be a nation of people. When one dies, or takes his or her last journey, his or her spirit goes to the heavens where he or she is received by all those who’ve gone before. The brightest stars in the Wanáği Tȟačháŋku (The Spirit Road, aka the Milky Way) are said to be the campfires of the spirits.

[7] Thiyópa, the door or door flap of the thiíkčeya (thípi, tipi, teepee).

[8] An exclamation of surprise, usually uttered by women.

[9] The Lakȟóta consider it impolite to make and maintain direct eye contact.

[10] Ziŋtkála Ša’s use of this word is probably in reference to what most Americas knew also as a “wikiup,” a temporary lodge made by bending saplings into a small dome. Sometimes it was covered with a robe or blanket. The Lakȟóta call this type of temporary lodging thiyúktaŋ.

[11] The Trickster! He had been masquerading as the Avenger so that he could marry the chieftain’s daughter!

[12] Ziŋtkála Ša uses an interesting turn of English words to describe a wičháagnakapi, or burial scaffold. In this case, the mock scaffold may have been erected to provide temporary share in the village.

[13] Ziŋtkála Ša uses the term “princess” to describe the chieftain’s daughter. The Lakȟóta do not have royalty. The use of the term here reflects when the story was recorded by Ziŋtkála Ša at the turn of 1900.

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