Trickster's Warpath (§1 of the Trickster Cycle)

translated by John Baptiste

Hocąk-English Syllabic Interlinear Text

(1) There was a village. One chief was there. Once in the course of time, the chief was to go on a warpath. They were going to fetch material with which to build a fire, they had said. He commanded them to fetch for food four bucks. (2) And not long after they had gone they had fetched back four bucks. And immediately they (his nephews) put the food on to cook. (3) And he invited those who were invited. They came and he said that he was going on the warpath. Therefore, the chief was going because as many as were able to walk, all these were to go. (4) As many as were going to fight were over there. And when they were through feasting, the chief went home to his lodge. They waited for him, but he was gone. Therefore, they went to see him, but then to their astonishment, (5) there he was lying with a woman and playing with her. So he said to come back. So the people dispersed.

Again in time they announced that the chief was going on the warpath. (6) They said that they would be going to fetch material with which to build a fire. There again he asked for material with which to build a fire. He commanded them to bring two bucks and two bears as well. (7) When the Warbundle Bearers went out, before very long as many as he had said, that many they fetched coming back. And immediately they put them on. The ones invited had already gone. (8) They came to the feast. Again already the chief was standing up for war. When the guests had been given something, while they were eating, indeed even before they had finished eating, he went out. (9) They had waited for him, but he did not appear. He had not spoken about dispersing, so one of them went to see him. Again he was lying with a woman at home. (10) "They are waiting for you," he said to him. He replied, "What else more would I do there? When you are through eating, then you're done," he said. So he came and told it, (11) what he had said when he had told them. Then they scattered. Again there was nothing to be done.

Again in time they once said, "Because the chief is going on the warpath, they are going to get for him the materials for a feast," they had said. (12) And when he asked for the offerings, he specified able-bodied bears, commanding that four of them be fetched. And the Warbundle Bearers again went hunting for him. (13) Before very long, they brought that kind back for him. Then the aides put them on and then the aides had already called and invited them. (14) And immediately after naming those who would eat the heads, he went out from there. Again, now, he was gone. Again when they had gone to look for him, once more he was already lying in bed with a woman. (15) Those who were invited now dispersed again. They expected to go on the warpath, but again there was nothing to be done.

Again in the course of time, for the fourth time again he said, "This time it is not so." They knew the one who said this. (16) They went — they were going to have a feast at least — but the matter of war, at any rate, was not so, as they knew the one who said it. Then when he commanded them to fetch offerings, it was to be a she-bear as they are called, (17) they mean a very large one. He commanded four to be brought, of the kind they said, she-bears. Before very long, the Warbundle Bearers brought that back for him the sort of thing that he meant. (18) Again, immediately, they had already put the kettles on. Those invited gathered at the feast. This time he sat there until the feast was over. (19) He took the warbundle and the arrow bundle and quickly arose. "Hąhó! I am going to war now," he said. Thus it was. Down towards it he went. The boat there was his own. He went toward it. Once he got to the boat, he got in. (20) Also all the others assembled. All those who loved war, all of them got into their boats. Then, because it was the chief, all the able-bodied men, everyone of them, followed him. (21) Already they had pushed out. They went downstream on a large body of water. As they were going along, the warleader did it, he got out on land. He said, "I am going on this warpath! I am the one who is going to fight. You cannot fight. (22) Why should you go?" he said to his boat. Then he pulled it up and smashed it to pieces. There those who thought him to be bad went back alone.

(23) Again they started on foot. There again they crossed a swamp there. There was flattened bunched grass standing on the ground. Again he said, "As to my warpath, I am able to fight, therefore I am going. (24) I can move about easily. Not one good thing could you do. Only when I pack you can you move. How can you move? You cannot. (25) On the warpath you are a bother and nothing more," he said. There he stamped the warbundle into the ground. Now he started off. There again some turned back. Now they were few.

(26) Again there, as he was going along, again he threw away his arrow bundle. "You are unable to go on the warpath. I could fight this myself, that is why I am going," he said. This time they all returned (27) because he was a bad one.1

Commentary. "those who would eat the heads" — the head, as the highest part of the animal and as a delicacy, goes to the highest ranking warriors. They are recognized by the warleader at the feast. This is a practice reminiscent of the "hero's portion" of the Celts and other Indo-Europeans, where at any feast the best portion of the meat is reserved for the greatest warrior.

In the Hocąk political system, the chief never goes on the warpath, so the story begins with a very odd state of affairs. The story consists of a whole series of inversions:

Chief's Conduct in the Story Proper Conduct for a Chief
Goes on the warpath Never goes on the warpath
First one to leave the feast, before it is over Last one to leave the feast
Cohabits with a woman Warriors cannot cohabit with women before going out on the warpath
Breaks up his canoe Warleader secures means of transportation
Stamps his warbundle into the ground Utilizes his bonds to the war spirits
Throws away his arrows Secures his weapons

One thing that is not obvious from this account is that the chief has left out the first encampment rituals: there is no presentation of moccasins by the men's sisters, nor is there the Farewell Dance. The absence of moccasins corresponds to the destruction of the canoe, one being a method of making transportation on land easier, the other of making that on water easier. The cohabiting with a woman weakens the war weapons, and therefore is like throwing away the arrow bundle. Leaving the feast, which is a sacrifice to the spirits among other things, is an act of alienating the support of the spirit world, just like throwing away the warbundle, which contains various wákącąk items that can summon spiritual power.

It might be said that the chief should be the opposite of a warleader, but in this story we learn that there is more than one way to be opposite: there is counterbalance and there is just plain wrong.

One point of interest is that during the whole course of the 27 page story, not once is the name of this odd chief ever given. We only learn later in the Trickster Cycle who this character is.

It is conceivable that this Trickster story is meant as a parody of the great waiką, "Young Man Gambles Often." In that story, a seemingly reckless young man is promoted to chief. He is addicted to gambling and loses not only his own possessions, but that of his entire family. He is always joining a warparty, but never completes the warpath, as some way along he orders that a good percentage of the participants return home with him. In the end he makes good and saves the tribe through his success at gambling. In the Trickster story, those who are constantly frustrated by their premature return from the warpath do not hold faith forever with their chief, and in the end conclude that he is "no good."

Comparative Material: To Trickster's illicit sex in place of a promised warpath, we find an Arapaho tale that has some interesting similarities. Nih’āⁿçaⁿ, the trickster, lusts after his own mother-in-law, so he invites her to go on the warpath with him as his companion. They go out alone, and he finally tricks her into letting him sleep with her.2

Links: Trickster, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Trickster Cycle: §2. Trickster's Buffalo Hunt.

Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Soils the Princess, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Markings on the Moon, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Spirit of Gambling, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Red Man, Waruǧábᵉra; 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, Waną́cĕrehí), 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), Buffalo Dance Origin Myth (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 Cap’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-Hocąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Black Otter's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Kunu'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: animals insult Trickster as he sojourns on earth: Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4); the (peace) chief of the tribe goes on a warpath: Young Man Gambles Often.


1 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 4-7. The original text is found in "Wakdjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 1-27.

2 Adoped, "Nih’āⁿçaⁿ and His Mother-in-Law," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 39: 75-77. Cf. Story 40.