Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico


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[The term wakonda is] employed by the Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Quapaw, Kansa, Oto, Missouri, and Iowa tribes of the Siouan family when the power believed to animate all natural forms is spoken to or spoken of in supplications or rituals. . . . The word wakonda, spelled wakanda by Riggs in his Dakota Dictionary, is given by him as a verb signifying ’to reckon as holy or sacred, to worship’; the noun is wakan, and is defined as ’a spirit, something consecrated.’ The same authority gives the meaning of wakan, as an adjective, as ’spiritual, sacred, consecrated, wonderful, incomprehensible, mysterious.’ The same general meaning that runs through the Dakota words wakanda and wakan inheres in the word wakonda as used by the Omaha and their cognates; with the latter the word may be regarded as an appellative, for while it is the name given to the mysterious all-pervading and life-giving power to which certain anthropomorphic aspects are attributed, the word is also applied to objects or phenomena regarded as sacred or mysterious. These two uses of the word are never confused in the minds of the thoughtful. When during his fast the Omaha sings, "Wakonda, here needy he stands, and I am he!" his address is to "the power that moves," "causes to move," that is, gives life; for the ability to move is to the Omaha mind synonymous with life. In this prayer the Omaha is not crying to those forces or forms spoken of as wakonda in songs that relate to objects seen in dreams or to symbols of magic. This distinction is sometimes difficult for one of another race to follow, but that there is a distinction to the native mind is not to be doubted. The wakan tanka, the great wakan or spirit of the Dakota, is not quite the same as that which the Omaha means by wakonda. The term ’great’ in wakan tanka implies a comparison, and such an idea does not seem to belong to wakonda, for wakonda stands by itself, unlike any other, and represents a concept that seems to be born of the Indian’s point of view toward nature and natural phenomena, including man himself. To the Omaha nothing is without life: the rock lives, so do the cloud, the tree, the animal. He projects his own consciousness upon all things, and ascribes to them experiences and characteristics with which he is familiar; there is to him something in common between all creatures and all natural forms, a something which brings them into existence and holds them intact; this something" he conceives of as akin to his own conscious being. The power which thus brings to pass and holds all things in their living form he designates as wakonda. That he anthropomorphizes this power is evident from his supplication, made with fasting and symbols of humility, by which he seeks to awaken pity or compassion, human attributes, as "here needy he stands," and thus expects to win some kind of recognition. He is taught that when he fasts and prays he must not ask for any special favor or gift; that which he is able to receive will be given him. This teaching throws a side light on his concept of wakonda, showing that it implies intelligence as well as power; but the concept seems to be vague, and ideas dissolve into indefiniteness in the "mysterious," the "incomprehensible" atmosphere that surrounds the unseen power denominated wakonda.

That there is a creative aspect to wakonda is made clear from the use of the word wakondagi: gi is the sign of possession, therefore the phenomena termed wakondagi evince something belonging to or of the power denominated wakonda. For example, when a child is first able to walk this new manifestation of ability to move about is called wakondagi; but should a person, from sickness or other disability, lose the power to walk, but recover it, the act of resumption would not be called wakondagi. The first speech of the child is the manifestation of a new power, and is wakondagi. Wakonda is invisible, and therefore allied to the idea of spirit. Objects seen in dreams or visions partake of the idea or nature of spirit, and when these objects speak to man in answer to his entreaty, the act is possible because of the power of wakonda, and the object, be it thundercloud, animal, or bird, seen and heard by the dreamer, may be spoken of by him as a wakonda, but he does not mean that they are wakonda. The association in which the term wakonda is used determines the character of its meaning. Wakonda, the power addressed during the fast as having power to help the one standing "in need," is not the same wakonda as the thunder that speaks to a man in a dream is sometimes called; yet there is a relation between the two, not unlike that signified by the term wakondagi when applied to the first manifestation of an ability; for all power, whether shown in the thunderstorm, the hurricane, the animals, or man, is of wakonda. Whatever is mysterious and beyond ordinary experience or effort approaches the realm of the concept which the word wakonda signifies to the Omaha and his cognates.

Wakonda is difficult to define, for exact terms change it from its native uncrystallized condition to something foreign to aboriginal thought. Vague as the concept seems to be to one of another race, to the Indian it is as real and as mysterious as the starry night or the flush of the coming day.1

1Fletcher, A.C.n/an/an/an/a, "Wakonda," in Hodge, F. W., (Bur, Amer. Ethnol., Bull. 30).


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Chicago: Hodge, F. W., ed., "Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico," Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=76BT76AFVHK78SZ.

MLA: . "Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico." Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, edited by Hodge, F. W., in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=76BT76AFVHK78SZ.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico' in Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=76BT76AFVHK78SZ.