Hare Acquires His Arrow (§1 of the Hare Cycle)
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
A virgin who lived with her mother became pregnant even though she had never been with a man. After only seven months, she gave birth to a boy, Hare. However, she soon died, and the child was raised by her mother. He proved to be a mischievous child, and as he grew, he played farther and farther from his grandmother's lodge. One day Hare came upon what the spirits call "a two-legged walker." He seemed so fragile that Hare tried to blow him over. The two-legged walker became aware of a white thing blowing at him from a distance, so he took out an arrow and shot it. Hare cried out in pain and ran home to his grandmother, who pulled the arrow out and told him, "You must have bothered one of your uncles, otherwise he would not have shot you." "My uncles must be great," Hare replied, "for he was able to strike me from afar." Hare kept the arrow and cared for it with great devotion. He soon went out to hunt with his arrow, and sighting an elk, he placed the arrow in the fork of a tree and said, "Arrow, go!" When nothing happened, he tried flattery, but it still lay there motionless. Having told his grandmother of his failure, she was able to clear things up for him: "You need a bow to shoot an arrow. Go out and get a hickory branch and I will make you one." Only on the fourth try did he find the right wood. To make arrows, she sent him after turkey feathers, arrow wood, and a sturgeon for glue, but he succeeded in finding the right materials only after four attempts each.
One day when Hare was climbing a steep hill, he was seized by an eagle and carried off to its nest. When he was alone with the four young eaglets, he asked them when their parents would return, and they said, "Not until late in the day." So Hare killed all four of them, skinned one of them, and took the feathers off the rest. He wrapped himself in the skin and circled to earth like an eagle. Once he got near home, he put the eagle feathers in the hollow of a tree. Then he told his grandmother, "I found some really good feathers, but I left them in the hollow of a tree. Could you get them for me?" Grandmother searched until she found the tree he described, but when she reached in to get the feathers, a bolt of lightning shot from them. She ran home in terror, and told Hare that she feared to touch them. Hare kept sending her back out, but only on the fourth occasion did she get the feathers, and then only with her eyes shut tight. They were magnificent white feathers, and grandmother asked Hare if she could have one, but he refused to give her any. From that time on, he did not allow her to make arrows for him, but made his own.1
Commentary. A "two-legged walker" is a formulaic expression for a human being. Since Hare's mother was human, his uncles and aunts are also human, so when Grandmother talks to Hare she often refers to humans as "your uncles and aunts." Grandmother Earth is clearly associated with the Earth Moiety, but given cross moiety marriage rules, if her daughter had been the offspring of a marriage, she would have been a member of the Upper Moiety. Had Hare been the product of a marriage, he would have been a member of the Lower or Earth Moiety; but of course, she did not marry, and Hare's is a virgin birth. So Hare ought to belong to his mother's clan, since he has no father whatever. Therefore, his associations are with the Upper Moiety. Nevertheless, the matter remains deliberately ambiguous, since rabbits are clearly earth creatures, and we do not know whether the daughter of Earth was not also the product of a virgin birth. Those who do not have a clan, however, are placed in the Thunderbird Clan. Furthermore, as the champion of law and order, he would be expected to be most particularly associated with the Thunderbird Clan, the clan of the chief.
The eagles that Hare kills are in fact Thunderbirds, since lightning emanates from their feathers. Thunderbirds may assume any avian guise as well as human forms. That Hare is picked up and put in their nest suggests adoption, although in the end he kills his "siblings." This would make Hare a member of the Thunderbird Clan, the clan to which all those who are not born into a clan would normally be assigned. Hare will not let Grandmother have any of the eagle feathers or make his arrows, since these object are holy war weapons, and it was believed that contact with women under certain circumstances could weaken their power. White is especially the color of holiness.
In the Hare Cycle, Hare kills everyone with whom he has a confrontation. The exception is the first being that he confronts, a human, and therefore one of Hare's uncles. The avunculate in Hočąk culture is especially strong, and nephews and uncles are profoundly devoted to one another. So Hare does not shoot the fragile creature. Humans are the last and in some ways the least of Earthmaker's creations, and in consequence have no natural weapons. They are therefore rather like squirrels or rabbits, making Hare a nice enough analogue to humanity in the state of nature. However, man has ingenuity, and in this lies his greatness. It is this that Hare appreciates, and the claims of the evil spirits to greatness he treats with abject contempt, even though they are relatives of his Grandmother. The humans possess the particular ability gained through culture rather than nature, of being able to project action from a distance. This is effected through the bow and arrow. Hare's creation of his arrow, which is the counterpart of nature's supreme weapon, lightning, corresponds to the creation of his own physical characteristics later in the cycle. Culture and nature both, in Hočąk thought, operate through processes of evolution. The arrow becomes the expression and embodiment of the supreme power, the power that is the entitlement to chieftainship which the Thunderbird Clan possesses, although its chief is a figure of peace. Be that as it may, the power to make decisions for the whole tribe must rest on superior strength, and it is this strength that is expressed in Hare's peerless weapon.
In succeeding episodes, Hare embarks on a campaign against three forms of arrogation: the grasshopper arrogates to himself tobacco, which Earthmaker gave to humanity alone; Flint arrogates to himself the arrowheads made of the stone which bear his name; Sharp Elbow arrogates to himself Hare's arrow, the symbol and expression of supreme and sovereign power.
Comparative Material: The Mandan have a story that is parallel to the virgin birth episode. Lone Man, who had helped create the world, desired to be born among the humans. So he picked a virgin and while she was eating, he changed himself into a kernel of corn. She ate this and conceived. Lone Man was born to this virgin and grew up unlike others in that he was a man of perfect purity. He did not even marry.2 The version of Foolish Woman says that the virgin became pregnant when she ate the kidney fat of a buffalo. Lone Man had placed himself in the fat.3
The Ponca have a parallel to the second part of our story. One day Rabbit was walking about, when eagles began circling overhead. One swooped down and seized him. The eagle carried him off to its nest where its two hatchling were huddled, then it flew off to look for more game. While the adult eagle wasgone, Rabbit killed both the eaglets and put on their feathers. Thus attired, he flew away. Eventually, he returned home and used the feathers to make his arrows.3.1
The Algonquian speaking Blackfeet also tell a similar story to that of the birth of Hare. An old couple had three daughters who all married the same man. This man would not give his wives' parents any food. The old man would hunt with his son-in-law, but the latter would send him away empty handed. On the way back one day, the old man found a blood clot in the snow and took it home for his wife. They put it in a pot of boiling water, and soon they heard a child crying. There she saw a baby boy in the pot, so she pulled him out. They told their son-in-law that it was a girl, otherwise he would have killed the baby. The baby instructed the old man to hold him next to each lodge pole in succession, and when the ritual was over, the boy had reached full size. The boy informed them that he was the Smoking Star and had descended to earth to help them. They called him "Blood Clot."4
The Kickapoo have a parallel to one episode of this story. Lynx was hunting for Hare when the latter created to boys to shoot at Lynx. The arrow narrowly missed Lynx, but in his flight he scooped it up and escaped with it. Later on he saw a deer. He stuck his arrow in the ground, and said, "Arrow, this is Lynx, go!" but the arrow remained stuck in the ground. Every time Lynx said this, the arrow went nowhere. So Lynx said to himself, "If I had been a boy, the arrow would have traveled swiftly."5
In the Gosiute tales about Cottontail, he finds within his own guts a stone weapon with which he shoots dead not only the Sun, but Wood and Water, who would not yield their substance willingly to his aunts.6
Similarly, the kindred Western Shoshone tell of Hummingbird and the insect Pi Ak meeting Big Cottontail. They complained that Wood and Water often chased after them. Big Cottontail shot the sagebrush and parted the waters with his arrows, and thereafter they ceased to attack people.7
Links: Hare, Earth, The Sons of Earthmaker.
Links within the Hare Cycle: §2. Hare and the Grasshoppers.
Stories: featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; featuring Grandmother Earth as a character: Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Maize Origin Myth, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Grandmother's Gifts, Owl Goes Hunting, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Kills Wildcat, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Necessity for Death, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Steals the Fish, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Kills Flint, The Gift of Shooting, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man (vv 4, 6), Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Redhorn's Father (?); about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧápara, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds.
Themes: failing to blow a fragile creature over with a puff of air: Hare Kills a Man with a Cane; when a young man is sent out to get the material for making a bow and arrows, he fails to get the right things the first time: Redhorn's Father; Thunderbirds capture a boy who is out looking for material with which to make arrows: The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds; being carried (off) by a bird: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Old Man and the Giants; someone is abducted and led off into captivity: The Captive Boys, A Man's Revenge, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Lost Child, Wears White Feather on His Head, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Bladder and His Brothers, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Green Man, Brave Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Šųgepaga, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, Wolves and Humans, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Thunderbird and White Horse, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Boy who Flew, Testing the Slave; a prisoner escapes by killing (some of) his captor(s): Wears White Feather on His Head, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Captive Boys; wearing the skin of a spirit bird: Holy One and His Brother, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, The Lost Blanket; acquiring a holy arrow: Morning Star and His Friend, Owl Goes Hunting, Little Human Head; a hero kills Thunderbirds and uses their feathers to make arrows: The Twins Disobey Their Father; someone kills Thunderbird nestlings and makes use of their feathers: The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father; a young man who has never shot an arrow before, fixes it in his bow and orders it to go, then later places it in a fork of a tree and issues it the same command: Redhorn's Father, Morning Star and His Friend.
1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 93-98. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) §§1-4, pp. 63-65. The original Hočąk text is missing, but the English translation of Oliver LaMère is preserved in Paul Radin, "The Hare Cycle," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3851 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago IV, #1: 1-13.
2 Martha Warren Beckwith, "Myths and Hunting Stories of the Mandan and Hidatsa Sioux," Publications of the Folk-Lore Foundations (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1930) #10: 1-116 .
3 Beckwith, "Myths and Hunting Stories of the Mandan and Hidatsa Sioux," 11.
3.1 Nudáⁿ-axa, "How the Rabbit Went to the Sun," in Rev. James O. Dorsey, "¢egiha Texts," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 30-32.
4 Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, compiled and translated by Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 ) 53.
5 Kickapoo Tales, collected by William Jones, trs. by Truman Michelson. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1915) IX:25-27.
6 Commodore, "Cottontail Shoots the Sun," in Anne M. Smith, Shoshone Tales (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993 ) 22-23.
7 Annie Bealer, "Cottontail Shoots the Sun," in Smith, Shoshone Tales, 99-100.