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Iktomi And The Ducks

Source: Old Indian Legends

IKTOMI is a spider fairy. He wears brown deerskin leggins with long soft
fringes on either side, and tiny beaded moccasins on his feet. His long
black hair is parted in the middle and wrapped with red, red bands.
Each round braid hangs over a small brown ear and falls forward over his

He even paints his funny face with red and yellow, and draws big black
rings around his eyes. He wears a deerskin jacket, with bright colored
beads sewed tightly on it. Iktomi dresses like a real Dakota brave. In
truth, his paint and deerskins are the best part of him--if ever dress
is part of man or fairy.

Iktomi is a wily fellow. His hands are always kept in mischief. He
prefers to spread a snare rather than to earn the smallest thing with
honest hunting. Why! he laughs outright with wide open mouth when some
simple folk are caught in a trap, sure and fast.

He never dreams another lives so bright as he. Often his own conceit
leads him hard against the common sense of simpler people.

Poor Iktomi cannot help being a little imp. And so long as he is a
naughty fairy, he cannot find a single friend. No one helps him when
he is in trouble. No one really loves him. Those who come to admire his
handsome beaded jacket and long fringed leggins soon go away sick and
tired of his vain, vain words and heartless laughter.

Thus Iktomi lives alone in a cone-shaped wigwam upon the plain. One day
he sat hungry within his teepee. Suddenly he rushed out, dragging after
him his blanket. Quickly spreading it on the ground, he tore up dry tall
grass with both his hands and tossed it fast into the blanket.

Tying all the four corners together in a knot, he threw the light bundle
of grass over his shoulder.

Snatching up a slender willow stick with his free left hand, he started
off with a hop and a leap. From side to side bounced the bundle on his
back, as he ran light-footed over the uneven ground. Soon he came to the
edge of the great level land. On the hilltop he paused for breath. With
wicked smacks of his dry parched lips, as if tasting some tender meat,
he looked straight into space toward the marshy river bottom. With a
thin palm shading his eyes from the western sun, he peered far away into
the lowlands, munching his own cheeks all the while. "Ah-ha!" grunted
he, satisfied with what he saw.

A group of wild ducks were dancing and feasting in the marshes. With
wings outspread, tip to tip, they moved up and down in a large circle.
Within the ring, around a small drum, sat the chosen singers, nodding
their heads and blinking their eyes.

They sang in unison a merry dance-song, and beat a lively tattoo on the

Following a winding footpath near by, came a bent figure of a Dakota
brave. He bore on his back a very large bundle. With a willow cane he
propped himself up as he staggered along beneath his burden.

"Ho! who is there?" called out a curious old duck, still bobbing up and
down in the circular dance.

Hereupon the drummers stretched their necks till they strangled their
song for a look at the stranger passing by.

"Ho, Iktomi! Old fellow, pray tell us what you carry in your blanket. Do
not hurry off! Stop! halt!" urged one of the singers.

"Stop! stay! Show us what is in your blanket!" cried out other voices.

"My friends, I must not spoil your dance. Oh, you would not care to see
if you only knew what is in my blanket. Sing on! dance on! I must not
show you what I carry on my back," answered Iktomi, nudging his own
sides with his elbows. This reply broke up the ring entirely. Now all
the ducks crowded about Iktomi.

"We must see what you carry! We must know what is in your blanket!"
they shouted in both his ears. Some even brushed their wings against the
mysterious bundle. Nudging himself again, wily Iktomi said, "My friends,
't is only a pack of songs I carry in my blanket."

"Oh, then let us hear your songs!" cried the curious ducks.

At length Iktomi consented to sing his songs. With delight all the ducks
flapped their wings and cried together, "Hoye! hoye!"

Iktomi, with great care, laid down his bundle on the ground.

"I will build first a round straw house, for I never sing my songs in
the open air," said he.

Quickly he bent green willow sticks, planting both ends of each pole
into the earth. These he covered thick with reeds and grasses. Soon the
straw hut was ready. One by one the fat ducks waddled in through a small
opening, which was the only entrance way. Beside the door Iktomi stood
smiling, as the ducks, eyeing his bundle of songs, strutted into the

In a strange low voice Iktomi began his queer old tunes. All the ducks
sat round-eyed in a circle about the mysterious singer. It was dim in
that straw hut, for Iktomi had not forgot to cover up the small entrance
way. All of a sudden his song burst into full voice. As the startled
ducks sat uneasily on the ground, Iktomi changed his tune into a minor
strain. These were the words he sang:

"Istokmus wacipo, tuwayatunwanpi kinhan ista nisasapi kta," which is,
"With eyes closed you must dance. He who dares to open his eyes, forever
red eyes shall have."

Up rose the circle of seated ducks and holding their wings close against
their sides began to dance to the rhythm of Iktomi's song and drum.

With eyes closed they did dance! Iktomi ceased to beat his drum. He
began to sing louder and faster. He seemed to be moving about in the
center of the ring. No duck dared blink a wink. Each one shut his eyes
very tight and danced even harder. Up and down! Shifting to the right of
them they hopped round and round in that blind dance. It was a difficult
dance for the curious folk.

At length one of the dancers could close his eyes no longer! It was a
Skiska who peeped the least tiny blink at Iktomi within the center of
the circle. "Oh! oh!" squawked he in awful terror! "Run! fly! Iktomi is
twisting your heads and breaking your necks! Run out and fly! fly!"
he cried. Hereupon the ducks opened their eyes. There beside Iktomi's
bundle of songs lay half of their crowd--flat on their backs.

Out they flew through the opening Skiska had made as he rushed forth
with his alarm.

But as they soared high into the blue sky they cried to one another:
"Oh! your eyes are red-red!" "And yours are red-red!" For the warning
words of the magic minor strain had proven true. "Ah-ha!" laughed
Iktomi, untying the four corners of his blanket, "I shall sit no more
hungry within my dwelling." Homeward he trudged along with nice fat
ducks in his blanket. He left the little straw hut for the rains and
winds to pull down.

Having reached his own teepee on the high level lands, Iktomi kindled
a large fire out of doors. He planted sharp-pointed sticks around the
leaping flames. On each stake he fastened a duck to roast. A few he
buried under the ashes to bake. Disappearing within his teepee, he came
out again with some huge seashells. These were his dishes. Placing one
under each roasting duck, he muttered, "The sweet fat oozing out will
taste well with the hard-cooked breasts."

Heaping more willows upon the fire, Iktomi sat down on the ground with
crossed shins. A long chin between his knees pointed toward the red
flames, while his eyes were on the browning ducks.

Just above his ankles he clasped and unclasped his long bony fingers.
Now and then he sniffed impatiently the savory odor.

The brisk wind which stirred the fire also played with a squeaky old
tree beside Iktomi's wigwam.

From side to side the tree was swaying and crying in an old man's voice,
"Help! I'll break! I'll fall!" Iktomi shrugged his great shoulders, but
did not once take his eyes from the ducks. The dripping of amber oil
into pearly dishes, drop by drop, pleased his hungry eyes. Still the old
tree man called for help. "He! What sound is it that makes my ear ache!"
exclaimed Iktomi, holding a hand on his ear.

He rose and looked around. The squeaking came from the tree. Then he
began climbing the tree to find the disagreeable sound. He placed his
foot right on a cracked limb without seeing it. Just then a whiff of
wind came rushing by and pressed together the broken edges. There in a
strong wooden hand Iktomi's foot was caught.

"Oh! my foot is crushed!" he howled like a coward. In vain he pulled and
puffed to free himself.

While sitting a prisoner on the tree he spied, through his tears, a pack
of gray wolves roaming over the level lands. Waving his hands toward
them, he called in his loudest voice, "He! Gray wolves! Don't you come
here! I'm caught fast in the tree so that my duck feast is getting cold.
Don't you come to eat up my meal."

The leader of the pack upon hearing Iktomi's words turned to his
comrades and said:

"Ah! hear the foolish fellow! He says he has a duck feast to be eaten!
Let us hurry there for our share!" Away bounded the wolves toward
Iktomi's lodge.

From the tree Iktomi watched the hungry wolves eat up his nicely browned
fat ducks. His foot pained him more and more. He heard them crack the
small round bones with their strong long teeth and eat out the oily
marrow. Now severe pains shot up from his foot through his whole body.
"Hin-hin-hin!" sobbed Iktomi. Real tears washed brown streaks across his
red-painted cheeks. Smacking their lips, the wolves began to leave the
place, when Iktomi cried out like a pouting child, "At least you have
left my baking under the ashes!"

"Ho! Po!" shouted the mischievous wolves; "he says more ducks are to be
found under the ashes! Come! Let us have our fill this once!"

Running back to the dead fire, they pawed out the ducks with such rude
haste that a cloud of ashes rose like gray smoke over them.

"Hin-hin-hin!" moaned Iktomi, when the wolves had scampered off. All
too late, the sturdy breeze returned, and, passing by, pulled apart the
broken edges of the tree. Iktomi was released. But alas! he had no duck

Next: Iktomi's Blanket

Previous: Fairy Song

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