The two meanings of wakan.

Greer, Jill Greer-J at MSSU.EDU
Fri Nov 1 21:13:26 UTC 2013

Hi, All!
Sky,  there is also a waxobriN I believe,  (stress on second syllable)  meaning sacred/mysterious/even frightening in connotation,  and the name of the famous Mr. FawFaw who had started the 19th century Dance Society/religion came up in discussions of the meaning of this word, since he was a rather unique and spiritually powerful person.

Trying to relate a waxo- to wakhaN seems like a bit of a stretch to me.  I would think that there could be many roots that relate to different senses of being holy or sacred,  rather than trying to relate them phonologically.  That being said,  it does make me wonder if the sound symbolism of stops in words related to color and noise might also apply to the spiritual realm.  Has anyone found a parallel for that semantic domain in any other Siouan languages?

Think also about concepts like awe and awe-full >awful in English,  great snakes do inspire awe (fear, dread, etc) in me,  and according to some recent scientific studies,  there may be a genetic component to that fear!  Venomous snake bites can still cause permanent nerve damage today, even when people have anti-venom available.

Relating to what Bob said about the Otoe, Ioway, and Sac & Fox…  It’s not so far to the Great Serpent Mound of Adena/Hopewell times in Ohio comes to mind,  as well as rattlesnake iconography in the SE ceremonial artifacts.  War bundles might include rattlesnake rattles, too.  (Remember the NMAI, Sky?).

Interesting stuff!

From: Siouan Linguistics [mailto:SIOUAN at] On Behalf Of Rankin, Robert L.
Sent: Friday, November 01, 2013 3:50 PM
Subject: Re: The two meanings of wakan.

Subject:  > Sky wrote: And one more thing while I’m thinking about it.  In the same paper I mentioned above by Dorsey, he is a big fan of “Wakąnda” being translated as “great serpent” (waką + dana) although he does go through a few other possibilities.  Still, “great serpent” seems to be the translation he likes the best.  I can see how he came to that conclusion.  But he also notes that “In the Dakota language, wa-kan’ means mysterious, wonderful, incomprehensible;”  And in “Early Western Travels – 1748-1846, Vol. 24 (pages 223-224), Maximilian (via Thwaites) writes, “This name is composed of two words; and, therefore, is not to be written as one.  The first word, uakan, less correctly wakan,  is the expression for god, divine, supernatural; the second, tanka, not tunka, means great.”

>  So that got me thinking about our term waxoñita/xoñita for sacred/holy and I am curious if that “waxo-“ is related to the “waką” that Dorsey mentions and if the idea is really closer to the “great mysterious one” rather than “great serpent.”  Or do they both mean the same thing and it just depends on what sense you are using?  I can only think of one other instance off the top of my head where “xo-“ is used by itself to indicate sacred and that is Jimm Goodtracks’ translation of William Whitman’s term “mixoge” (berdache…mi- (female) + xo- (sacred) + -ge (quality of)).

Jimm wrote: The (IOM) dictionary also contains an in depth discussion of the relationship between “wakan (snake)” and “Wakanda (God/ Thunders)”.

The relationship between wakhan 'holy' and wakan 'snake' is areal.  In other words, the term means 'holy, sacred, mysterious', etc. throughout most of Mississippi Valley Siouan, Dakotan and Dhegiha, and that was likely its original meaning.  The change in meaning to 'snake' (IOM) or (in Omaha) 'water monster' occurred in an area of the old midwest extending from around Ohio in the East to Iowa and Nebraska in the West.  This might be thought of as accidental except for the fact that exactly the same change in meaning is found in the Algonquian languages spoken in the same region.  These included Shawnee, Kickapoo and Sac-Fox.  It seems evident that there was some cultural factor operating in this area that led to identical changes in meaning in both language families.  There appear to be archaeological correlates in this area also, but I am not qualified to talk about those.

I talk about the terms themselves in:  Oliverio, Giulia R.M. and Robert L. Rankin.  2003.  On the Subgrouping of Tutelo within Siouan.  In David Costa and Blair Rudes, eds., Festschrift in Memory of Frank Siebert, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.  A copy of this paper is attached as a .pdf.

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