Buffalo Dance Origin Myth

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


The Buffalo Dance is most usually given in conjunction with the Buffalo Feast. The dance, which originated with Hojánoka (Hočą́noga), 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 Hočągara 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, Hočą́noga (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 Spiritland 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, Hočą́noga;
Walk by, Hočą́noga.

Say, 'Walk by Hočą́noga'.

Hočą́noga, 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 Mąnuserek, 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.1


This is an account of the Buffalo Dance and Ritual given by Alice C. Fletcher.


Symbolic Earth Formations of the Winnebagoes
By Miss Alice C Fletcher of New York, N. Y.
[Abstract]

(396) Having mentioned in previous papers the symbolic earth formations which appear in every religious ceremony I have witnessed among the Sioux, I will call attention to similar structures noticed among the Winnebagoes.

This tribe is admitted to be one of the older branches of the great family to which it belongs. Not only is this antiquity shown by the language, but by finding many of the religious ceremonies of different tribes referred to the Winnebagoes, and Winnebago words discovered in the religious ritual of other tribes.

The Winnebago tent used for sacred dances is long and narrow; not more than twenty feet wide and varying from fifty to one hundred feet long.

In the Buffalo dance which is given four times in the month of May and early June, the dancers are four men and a large number of women. As the dancers enter, each woman brings in a handful of fine earth and in this way two mounds are raised in the centre at the east, that is between the eastern entrance and the fire, which is al out fifteen feet from the eastern entrance. The mounds thus formed are truncated cones. An old man said to me "That is the way all mounds were built; that is why we build so for the buffalo."

The mounds were about four inches high and not far from eighteen inches in diameter. On the top of the two mounds were placed the head-gear worn by the men, the claws, tails and other articles used by the four leaders, or male dancers.

The men imitate the buffalo in his wild tramping and roaring, and dance with great vigor. They are followed by a long line of (397) gayly-decked women in single file. Each woman as she dances keeps her feet nearly straight and heels close together, and the body is propelled forward by a series of jerks which jars the whole frame, but the general effect on the long, closely packed line is that of the undulating appearance of a vast herd moving.

The women dance with their eyes turned to the ground, and with their hands hanging closely in front palms next the person. The track left by their feet is very pretty, being like a close-leaved vine. It is astonishing to notice how each woman can hop into her predecessor's track. Water is partaken of and the entire dance is clearly indicative of the prayer for increase and plenty of buffalo.

The two mounds remind one of larger structures and suggest many speculations, particularly when taken in connection with the manner of their building.

In the great mystery lodge whence so many of the sacred societies among other tribes professedly take their rise and inspiration, the fire is at the east, and is made by placing four sticks meeting in the centre and the other ends pointing to the four points of the compass. Just at that part of the initiation of the candidate when he is to fall dead to the old life, be covered as with a pall, and then be raised to the new life, the remains of the four fire sticks are taken away and the ashes raised in a sharp conical mound; again suggesting hints of a peculiar past.

Upon the bluffs of the Missouri, on a promontory overlooking a stretch of landscape thirty miles in every direction, is a little depression cut in the ground, circular in form, with an elongated end at the east. The depression is one foot in diameter and about six inches deep. Placing my compass in the centre, the long end or entrance was found to be exactly to the east.

To the south of this sacred spot for it is cleared and cleaned by secret hands every year, stood a large cedar tree, now partly blown down. This was the sacred tree on which miraculous impersonation of visions lit; and here the spirits tarried as they passed from one resting place to another going over the country. About every fifty miles there is one of these strange, supernatural resting places.

The history of the earth symbols is not yet clearly understood, and it is to be hoped that students will carefully observe these strange relics of customs which were once, perhaps, on a grander scale.2


Commentary. For the Buffalo Feast, to which the Buffalo Dance is regularly a part, see the Buffalo Clan Origin Myth.

"Hojánoka" — cf. the only known instance of this word is in Col. Kinzie's wordlist: hoatshar´noa, "boy."3


Links: Buffalo Spirits, The Creation Council.


Stories: mentioning the Buffalo Dance: Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Little Priest's Game; 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, The Buffalo's Walk, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, 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, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse; in which dancing plays a role: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Migistéga’s Magic, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Trickster and the Dancers, Wolves and Humans, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Seer, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; about the Creation Council: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Tobacco Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Winnebago Chief, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; about journeys to and from Spiritland: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Journey to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Lame Friend, Two Roads to Spiritland, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Foolish Hunter, Waruǧápara, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Petition to Earthmaker, Wears White Feather on His Head, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man Whose Wife was Captured; mentioning a small, sacred, earthen mound in the center of a lodge: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5); mentioning sacred (artificial) mounds: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 1), The First Fox and Sauk War, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 12), Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Little Priest’s Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Resurrection of the Chief’s Daughter, Bird Clan Origin Myth; mentioning flutes: The Love Blessing, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Partridge's Older Brother, The Fox-Hočąk War (v. 1), Redhorn's Sons; mentioning drums: The Descent of the Drum, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Trickster and the Dancers, Redhorn's Father, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Elk's Skull, Ghosts, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Great Walker's Medicine, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1b), Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster and the Geese, Turtle's Warparty, Snowshoe Strings, Ocean Duck, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Hog's Adventures, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; mentioning feasts: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (Chief Feast), The Creation Council (Eagle Feast), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (Eagle Feast), Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth (Waterspirit Feast), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (Mąką́wohą, Waną́čĕrehí), Bear Clan Origin Myth (Bear Feast), The Woman Who Fought the Bear (Bear Feast), Grandfather's Two Families (Bear Feast), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (Wolf Feast), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Feast), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Feast), The Blessing of Šokeboka (Feast to the Buffalo Tail), Snake Clan Origins (Snake Feast), Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief (Snake Feast), Rattlesnake Ledge (Snake Feast), The Thunderbird (for the granting of a war weapon), Turtle's Warparty (War Weapons Feast, Warpath Feast), Porcupine and His Brothers (War Weapons Feast), Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega) (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), White Thunder's Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Fox-Hočąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Kunu's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Trickster's Warpath (Warpath Feast), The Masaxe War (Warpath Feast), Redhorn's Sons (Warpath Feast, Fast-Breaking Feast), The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits (Fast-Breaking Feast), The Chief of the Heroka (Sick Offering Feast), The Dipper (Sick Offering Feast, Warclub Feast), The Four Slumbers Origin Myth (Four Slumbers Feast), The Journey to Spiritland (Four Slumbers Feast), The First Snakes (Snake Feast), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (unspecified), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (unnamed).


Themes: blessings from Buffalo Spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Blessing of Šokeboka; a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, Great Walker's MedicineŠųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Heną́ga and Star Girl, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Sunset Point, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; a spirit is quoted as he gives someone a blessing: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Completion Song Origin, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Difficult Blessing, The Blessing of Šokeboka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bow Meets Disease Giver, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Sunset Point, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Healing Blessing; a human being physically travels to Spiritland without having died: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Sunset Point, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Star Husband, White Wolf, Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Shaggy Man, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Boy who would be Immortal, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Rainbow and the Stone Arch (v. 2), Trickster Concludes His Mission; someone is blessed with a medicine: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Seer, The Healing Blessing, A Weed's Blessing, A Snake Song Origin Myth, Young Man Gambles Often, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Elk's Skull, A Peyote Vision, The Sweetened Drink Song; a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of a sacred dance: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance; a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of sacred songs: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Holy Song, The Island Weight Songs, A Snake Song Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Song to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, The Origins of the Nightspirit Starting Songs, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; a mortal is returned to earth from the spirit village that he is visiting: Waruǧápara, The Thunderbird, Two Roads to Spiritland, The Shaggy Man, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, White Wolf, The Foolish Hunter, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Petition to Earthmaker; a man wears a buffalo head: Wazųka, White Fisher, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister.


Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hočąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mąčosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).


 
Alice C. Fletcher

Notes

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

2 Miss Alice C. Fletcher, "Symbolic Earth Formations of the Winnebagoes," Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 32 (1884): 396-397.

3 Col. John Harris Kinzie (1803-1865), Notebook compiled at Prairie du Chien in 1826 (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society).