The two meanings of wakan.

Cal Thunder Hawk calthunderhawk at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 19 20:01:04 UTC 2013

I found "Tutelo Classification-1.pdf" very, very helpful, about "wakan".
Thank you.
Regarding "wakan", Victor Douville, who teaches at Sinte Gleska University
on the Rosebud Sioux Indian reservation, made the following statement in a
2007 shockwave flash presentation, "Lakota Thought and Philosophy: A
Universal View": "The term Wakan is controversially translated as sacred in
an all embracing context.  It is in a certain context that this term can
mean sacred but it cannot be applied to everything because everything would
be sacred.  Hence, this term means something else, other than wakan, if it
is applied to everything.  A case in point is the term wakankan s'a (a
liar).  Wakankan literally means double sacred, if the term is translated
as sacred.
"Christian interpretation of wakan has stubbornly retained the meaning to
be sacred and it has persisted to this day."
Also, regarding this word, in the mid-80s, at USD, the Lakhota language
teacher there, Robert Bunge (with his informant Seth Noisey), translated
"wakan" as "something ancient" as a compound of "wa-" and "kan" (to be old).
So, there has been that kind of confusion regarding this particular word.
Bunge and Noisey have since died.  Several months ago I wrote to Douville
with questions about his statements but he has not replied yet.
I would deeply appreciate any input about "wakankan s'a" as "a liar" and
"wakankan" as "double sacred".
Thank you.

Cal Thunder Hawk


On Fri, Nov 1, 2013 at 4:50 PM, Rankin, Robert L. <rankin at> wrote:

>        *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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