The two meanings of wakan.

Sky Campbell sky at LEGENDREADERS.COM
Tue Nov 19 20:54:30 UTC 2013

I am not sure if this will help but I've come across a term that MAY apply here.


Rev. Moses Merrill wrote Wdtwhtl Wdwdklha Tva Eva Wdhonetl (spelled nowadays as Wadota Wawagaxe Etawe Yąwe Waxonyitą) in 1834 which literally translates as "Otoe book his/her/(their) song sacred" or as Merrill puts it, "Otoe Hymn Book."  There are 13 hymns in this book, 10 of which are in his book First Ioway Reading Book from the following year.  This second book has these hymns translated.  However, there are 3 hymns from the first book that aren't translated.  The first of these he names "Togkaka" which I translate as "Liar(s)."  The hymn has such lines as:


Wd kun tl   tog ka   wo jif ik (spelled now as "Wakąnda tothke woshinge ke") - God hates liars.


Another line reads:


Tog kaj ko new e ra (spelled now as "Tothke skunyiwi re") - (You-all) do not lie.


Your "kankan" portion of "wakankan s'a" had me think of the "kaka" that Merrill had in his song title "Togkaka."


I don't know what the "kaka" (pronounced "keke") is doing here exactly.  Dorsey has "tothke" as lie but since Merrill doesn't differentiate between g and k in his books, I don't know if the second "ke" is actually "-ge" which can refer to a quality or intrinsic value of something (IE "tothkege" = intrinsic value of someone who lies to mean a liar???) or if there is some reduplication going on here.  Now let's take this a step the first "thke" used to refer to "like" or "similar" to something (I've often wondered if the suffix -thke (like/similar) and -ge (quality of) are related)?  And if so, what would the "to-" be?  A contracted form of something?  What is a "liar" like or similar to?  Or is "tothke" just more or less its own word?


Like I said, this is only based on the "kaka" (again, pronounced "keke" (kege??)) from Merrill's term "Togkaka."  I have no idea if it might be related to your "waKANKAN s'a."  At any rate, I hope this helps (even just a little :) ).




From: Siouan Linguistics [mailto:SIOUAN at] On Behalf Of Cal Thunder Hawk
Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 2:01 PM
Subject: Re: The two meanings of wakan.


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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