The Native American Trickster Tales: a Different Kind of Hoax

Trickster Tales may be humorous because of all the chaos the Trickster causes, but the Trickster helps cultures in many ways. These tales entertain as well as teach valuable life lessons to the reader or listener. Trickster Tales are very diverse, and the Trickster character changes, depending on the region the tale comes from. One of the only things all Trickster Tales have in common is that the Trickster is always male, but can alter his sex at will.

He may cause chaos, but also can create order and meaning. A study of selected Native American Trickster Tales will show their characteristics of diversity, entertainment, and didacticism. The Native American Trickster differs from region to region and from tribe to tribe in many ways. To begin, the Trickster has many names; the Winnebago Trickster is Wakjankaga as well as Kunuga, whereas the Sioux call him Iktomi. However, the difference does not stop there, “The term Trickster has no equivalent in any Native language” (100).

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He is mostly referred to by an animal name, “Coyote in California, Oregon, the inland plateau, the Great Basin, the Southwest, and the southern plains; Rabbit or Hare in the Southeast; Spider in the northern plains; Raven in the Arctic; and Jay or Wolverine in parts of Canada” (100). The differences between the Trickster Tales does not stop there, as his name suggest the Trickster likes to play tricks on humans and cause chaos wherever he goes, but he has also done things to help mankind as well.

As Felix White Sr. ays in “Felix White Sr. ’s Introduction to Wakjankaga” from his book Stories about Wakjankaga (103), Wakjankaga was sent to earth to teach monsters not to hurt humans or kill them if they would not learn, a job he forgets to do. Iktomi, the Sioux Trickster, does kill a monster that eats people in “Ikto Conquers Iya, the Eater” (112). The Trickster is the one who steals fire from the gods for the benefit of man and the Trickster introduces death to the world, which might not seem good at first, so humans may truly know the value of life.

These are just a few examples of how each Trickster story can differ. However, one thing all Trickster Tales can do is entertain the listener or reader. Trickster Tales from every region and tribe have the ability to entertain us. The Trickster causes mischief and chaos whenever he goes and when he does it is usually funny. “The Trickster is a wandering, bawdy, gluttonous, and obscene figure. Usually male but able to alter his sex at will, The Trickster can have sex with his daughter or daughter-in-law or send his penis swimming across rivers in search of sexual adventure” (100).

The Trickster stories are so entertaining I believe because of his crude humor and almost human like urges. In The Winnebago Trickster Cycle chapter 23 precisely, a bulb tells the Trickster that if he eats it then the Trickster will defecate. Well just to prove a point and show the bulb who is boss that Trickster eats it. That is when all the Humor begins, he begins to fart and fart, so hard in fact that it blows him forward and he has to hold on to something to keep from blowing away.

Then after that concludes, he begins to defecate and defecate, again so much so that he has to move higher and higher off the ground to stay away from all the feces. The Trickster farts, defecates, eats, and wants to have sexual satisfactions that are all inherent human urges and needs. Because of this, the humor seems almost slapstick in nature that allows the listener or reader to laugh and enjoy the story even more. Even though these stories are extremely entertaining they all have valuable lessons embedded in them that we can learn.

The Native American Trickster Tales entertain the reader or listener; however, they also teach valuable lessons to those who read or listen to them as well. As Felix White Sr. says, “The story character, he does so many unthought-of things in there that it causes the listener to start thinking, ‘Why does he do that? ’ It’s a process of making somebody exercise his mind to think” (100-101).

So the reason the Trickster does all of the crazy things he does is to help the reader or listener to think about what is happening and ask “why? . With this process, the reader or listener can learn a new lesson with each new story. Like all literature these stories are up to the reader or listeners interpretation; however, because of the enjoyment they bring people are more apt to read or listen more closely and pull every meaning they can from every story. In conclusion, of course all Tricksters do what their name suggests, play trick and cause chaos in one form or another for man. However, I believe I have shown how diverse they can be, from foolish to culture hero.

I have also shown how entertaining their stories can be and why they are so entertaining for readers or listeners. Finally, I have shown that even though it is hard to see these stories have valuable lessons they can teach readers and listeners. Because of these reasons, I believe Trickster Tales will live on through the ages as a great part of American Literature.

Works Cited

  1. Norton Anthology. 8th ed. Vol A. Ed. Nina Baym, et al. New York: Norton, 2012. Pages 100-114

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