'snake' and 'god' terms.

Rankin, Robert L rankin at ku.edu
Sat Aug 12 20:18:09 UTC 2006

The similar words for 'god' and 'snake' are apparently not a coincidence, since in Sac-Fox (I think) Shawnee and Kickapoo the same two terms are also closely related according to Paul Voorhis and Dave Costa, with whom I corresponded about this a long time ago.  The Algonquian words are completely different from Siouan /wakhaN/, of course, but 'snake' and 'manitou' are related in at least those Algonquian languages.  So somehow there was evidently a connection seen between snakes and deities at one time.  The connection may have been via the Siouan cognate set for 'medicine'.   I believe I posted the follow note sometime back.  It was in my computer files written in "net Siouan", so it's probably in the list archive.  I can't seem to get the file to format properly into columns, but the sets should be obvious.

The recent discussion of the lexical class of Dakota 'wakhaN' brought to mind a historical comment I recently made in a paper that Giulia Oliverio and I are publishing. It is possible that the nominal status of 'medicine' has affected the status of 'sacred, mysterious', ordinarily a stative verb. 

Is it also possible that the root of 'sacred' was just -hkaN and that the wa- nominalized it? Here, in any event are the two cognate sets. 

                          'medicine'                 'sacred'

*PSI:                 *wáN:hka                *wahkáN

Dakotan:               makhaN                 wakháN 'spirit, sacred'

Chiwere:              máNkhaN               wakháN 'snake' 

Winneb:               maN:káN                wakáN 'snake'

Omaha:               maNkkáN                wakkáNda 'sacred, god' 

Omaha                maNkkáN               wakkáNdagi 'water monster'

Kansa:                 mokkáN                 wakkáNda 'holy, god' 

Osage:                 maNhkáN              wahkáNta 'holy, god' 

Quapaw:              makkáN                 wakkáNtta 'spirit, god'

*OVS:               *muNka 'snake' 

Biloxi:                      n-dé:si 'snake' 

Ofo                        oNktéfi 'snake' 

Saponi                 "moka" 'snake' 

In 'medicine' and 'sacred' we have two semantically similar, but derivationally unrelated, roots which, quite by chance, differ only in nasalization and accent placement. Their superficial similarities appear to have led to a certain amount of mixing. The 'medicine' column is where this Ohio Valley Siouan set properly belongs phonologically, but it has undergone the semantic specialization, acquiring the meaning 'snake', that is typical of the 'sacred' set in particular geographical areas. 

'Sacred' underwent an exactly parallel change in Winnebago, Chiwere and Omaha. Here it should be noted that the concepts 'God, sacred' and 'snake' were related in much of the prehistoric eastern and central U.S. Nevertheless, there is identical semantic specialization in all three OVS languages. 

Paul Voorhis provided comments on the areal nature of this phenomenon. Voorhis points to similar parallel conflation of 'snake' and 'deity' in Kickapoo. Shawnee maneto is similarly 'snake' (David Costa, personal communication).

Here, as usual, Biloxi and Ofo lose initial labial resonants, while Virginia Siouan keeps them. The -(k)desi portion of the Biloxi and Ofo cognates means 'striped' or 'spotted' and has good cognates throughout Siouan. 


From: owner-siouan at lists.colorado.edu on behalf of goodtracks at peoplepc.com
Sent: Fri 8/11/2006 9:19 PM
To: Earl Fenner
Cc: siouan at lists.colorado.ed

I believe I can explain it out for IOM in regard to the word for "God"/ "Thunders" (in an older traditional application) and the word "snake."  There was a Snake Clan, long extinct, which still exists among the Ponca and Winnebago.  How would you render an explaination to someone who noted the similarity?
[NOTE:  Wakánda = God.  (It may noted the coincidental similarity of the word - Wakánda - and the word Wakán (snake).  The root of both words is "kán-" (holy; sacred; consecrated).  This does not infer to some kind of reptile divinity.  To the contrary, the term Wakánda is most likely related to the Lakota term, "wakan: holy, mysterious" both sharing the same root of origin].  

More information about the Siouan mailing list