Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Old Man (also known by his Blackfoot name, Naapi, or spelling variants such as Napi, Nape, Napa, Napiw, Napioa, Na-pe, Na'pi, Na'pe, or Old-Man.) Naapi is the benevolent culture hero of the Blackfoot tribe (sometimes referred to as a "transformer" by folklorists.) He is a trickster, a troublemaker, and sometimes a foolish person, but he is also responsible for the shaping of the world the Blackfeet live in and frequently helps the people. He is assisted in these tasks by his wife, Old Woman or Old Lady (Kipitaki or Kipitaakii in Blackfoot). In some Blackfoot Indian legends both Old Man and Old Woman are associated with coyotes (some Blackfoot storytellers even call them "Old Man Coyote" and "Old Lady Coyote," as the Crow Indians do.) In other Blackfoot legends they have no particular connection with coyotes and are instead described as the first man and woman made by the Creator, who in turn made the rest of humankind. Naapi shares some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Cree Wisakejak, Wabanaki Glooscap, and Anishinabe Nanabozho, and many of the same stories are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing. Napi is pronounced similar to nah-pee, and Kipitaki is pronounced similar to kih-pih-tah-kee.
Napi stories have been passed down from generation to generation in the Blackfeet Nation. All Blackfeet people knew of Napi, from the serious side of his creation to the foolish and spiteful deeds he performed. At one time it is said that Napi could talk with all living things--the animals, plants, rocks, everything. He teased, pulled pranks, many times on himself. His actions began a cycle of existence. Each family has their own interpretation of the various Napi stories, but in the final analysis each story has a common moral in the ending.
from here
It's quite common for Napi stories to feature Him being benevolent and the very next second, doing something treacherous or selfish. He not only provides an example of what to do, but what NOT to do and He often gets caught up in His own schemes. Here are two stories about Napi. In the first one, He's being kind (though He did let the animals quarrel on until it started to bother Him). In the second story, He attempts to steal the Sun's pants.
Why Blackfeet never kill Mice

There was much quarreling among the animals and the birds. You see the Bear wanted to be chief, under Old-man, and so did the Beaver. Almost every night they would have a council and quarrel over it. Beside the Bear and Beaver, there were other animals, and also birds, that thought they had the right to be chief.

They couldn't agree and the quarreling grew worse as time went on. Some said the greatest thief should be chosen. Others thought the wisest one should be the leader; while some said the swiftest traveler was the one they wanted. So it went on and on until they were most all enemies instead of friends, and you could hear them quarreling almost every night, until Old-man came along that way.

He heard about the trouble. I forget who told him, but I think it was the Rabbit. Anyhow he visited the council where the quarreling was going on and listened to what each one had to say. It took until almost daylight, too. He listened to it all -- every bit. When they had finished talking and the quarreling commenced as usual, he said, 'stop!' and they did stop.

Then he said to them: 'I will settle this thing right here and right now, so that there will be no more rows over it, forever.'

He opened his paint sack and took from it a small, polished bone. This he held up in the firelight, so that they might all see it, and he said: "'This will settle the quarrel. You all see this bone in my right hand, don't you?'

'Yes,' they replied.

'Well, now you watch the bone and my hands, too, for they are quick and cunning.'

Old-man began to sing the gambling song and to slip the bone from one hand to the other so rapidly and smoothly that they were all puzzled. Finally he stopped singing and held out his hands -- both shut tight, and both with their backs up.

'Which of my hands holds the bone now?' he asked them.

Some said it was in the right hand and others claimed that it was the left hand that held it. Old-man asked the Bear to name the hand that held the bone, and the Bear did; but when Old-man opened that hand it was empty -- the bone was not there. Then everybody laughed at the Bear. Old-man smiled a little and began to sing and again pass the bone.

'Beaver, you are smart; name the hand that holds the bone this time.'

"The Beaver said: 'It's in your right hand. I saw you put it there.'

Old-man opened that hand right before the Beaver's eyes, but the bone wasn't there, and again everybody laughed -- especially the Bear.

'Now, you see,' said Old-man, 'that this is not so easy as it looks, but I am going to teach you all to play the game; and when you have all learned it, you must play it until you find out who is the cleverest at the playing. Whoever that is, he shall be chief under me, forever.'

Some were awkward and said they didn't care much who was chief, but most all of them learned to play pretty well. First the Bear and the Beaver tried it, but the Beaver beat the Bear easily and held the bone for ever so long. Finally the Buffalo beat the Beaver and started to play with the Mouse. Of course the Mouse had small hands and was quicker than the Buffalo -- quicker to see the bone. The Buffalo tried hard for he didn't want the Mouse to be chief but it didn't do him any good; for the Mouse won in the end.

It was a fair game and the Mouse was chief under the agreement. He looked quite small among the rest but he walked right out to the center of the council and said: 'Listen, brothers -- what is mine to keep is mine to give away. I am too small to be your chief and I know it. I am not warlike. I want to live in peace with my wife and family. I know nothing of war. I get my living easily. I don't like to have enemies. I am going to give my right to be chief to the man that Old-man has made like himself.'

That settled it. That made the man chief forever, and that is why he is greater than the animals and the birds. That is why we never kill the Mice-people.

You saw the Mice run into the buffalo skull, of course. There is where they have lived and brought up their families ever since the night the Mouse beat the Buffalo playing the bone game. Yes -- the Mice-people always make their nests in the heads of the dead Buffalo-people, ever since that night.

Our people play the same game, even today.

Napi Steals the Sun's Leggings
Once Old Man was traveling around, when he came to the Sun's lodge, and the Sun asked him to stay awhile. Old Man was very glad to do so.

One day the meat was all done, and the Sun said, "Kyi! Old Man, what say you we go and kill some deer?"

"You speak well," replied Old Man. "I like deer meat."

The Sun took down a bag and pulled out a beautiful pair of leggings. They were embroidered with porcupine quills and bright feathers. "These," said the Sun, "are my hunting leggings. They are great medicine. All I have to do is put them on and walk around a patch of brush, when the leggings set it on fire and drive the deer out so I can shoot them."

"Hai-yah!" exclaimed Old Man. "How wonderful!" He made up his mind he would have those leggings, even if he had to steal them.

They went out to hunt, and the first patch of brush they came to, the Sun set on fire with his hunting leggings. A lot of white-tail deer ran out, and they each shot one. That night, when they went to bed, the Sun pulled off his leggings and placed them to one side.

Old Man saw where he put them, and in the middle of the night, when everyone else was asleep, he stole them and went off. He traveled a long time, until he had gone far and was very tired and then, making a pillow of the leggings, lay down and slept.

In the morning, he heard someone talking. The Sun was saying, "Old Man, why are my leggings under your head? He looked around, and saw he was in the Sun's lodge, and thought he must have wandered around and got lost, and returned there. Again the Sun spoke, and said, "What are you doing with my leggings?"

"Oh," replied Old Man, "I couldn't find anything for a pillow, so I just put these under my head."

Night came again, and again Old Man stole the leggings and ran off. This time he did not walk at all, he just kept running until pretty near morning, and then lay down and slept.

You see what a fool he was. He did not know that the whole world is the Sun's lodge. He did not know that, no matter how far he ran, he could not get out of Sun's sight.

When morning came, he found himself still in the Sun's lodge. But this time the Sun said: "Old Man, since you like my leggings so much, I will give them to you. Keep them." Then Old Man was very glad and went away.

One day his food was all gone, so he put on the medicine leggings and set fire to a piece of brush. He was just going to kill one deer that was running out when he saw that the fire was getting close to him. He ran away as fast as he could but the fire gained on him and began to burn his legs. His leggings were all on fire.

He came to a river and jumped in, and pulled off the leggings as soon as he could. They were burned to pieces.

Perhaps the Sun did this to him because he tried to steal his leggings.
Glenbow Museum - this is their Blackfoot section. You can listen to stories told in Blackfoot while you read them in English and learn a bit more about the culture. If you're really adventurous, you can even set the website language to Kainai Dialect Blackfoot.
Wiki page on the Blackfoot Confederacy

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