Great Plains: Unktomi and the Bad Songs

This story is part of the Great Plains unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Great Plains by Katharine Berry Judson (1913).

Unktomi and the Bad Songs
Dakota

Unktomi was going along; his way lay along by the side of a lake. Out on the lake there were a great many ducks, geese, and swans swimming. When Unktomi saw them he went backward out of sight, and picking some grass, bound it up in a bundle. He placed this on his back and so went again along by the side of the lake.

“Unktomi, what are you carrying?” asked the ducks and the geese and the swans.

“These are bad songs I am carrying,” said Unktomi.

The ducks said, “Unktomi, sing for us.”

Unktomi replied, “But the songs are very bad.”

But the ducks insisted upon it. Then Unktomi said, “Make a grass lodge.” So they went to work and made a large grass lodge.

“Now, let all the ducks, geese, and swans gather inside the lodge and I will sing for you,” said Unktomi. So all the ducks and the geese and the swans gathered inside and filled the grass lodge. Then Unktomi took his place at the door of the lodge and said, “If I sing for you, no one must look, for that is the meaning of the song.”

Then he began to sing,

Dance with your eyes shut;
If you open your eyes
Your eyes shall be red!
Your eyes shall be red!

When he said and sang this, the geese, ducks, and swans danced with their eyes shut. Then Unktomi rose up and said,

I even, even I
Follow in my own;
I even, even I,
Follow in my own.

So they all gabbled as they danced, and Unktomi, dancing among them, commenced twisting off the necks of the fattest of the geese and ducks and swans. But when he tried to twist off the neck of a large swan and could not, he only made him squawk. Then a small duck, called Skiska, partly opened his eyes. He saw Unktomi try to break the swan’s neck, and he made an outcry:

Look ye, look ye!
Unktomi will destroy us all.
Look ye, look ye!

At once they all opened their eyes and attempted to go out. But Unktomi threw himself in the doorway and tried to stop them. They rushed upon him with their feet and wings, and smote him and knocked him over, walking on his stomach, and leaving him as though dead. Then Unktomi came to life, and got up, and looked around.

But they say that the Wood Duck, which looked first, had his eyes made red.

Then Unktomi gathered up the ducks and geese and swans he had killed and carried them on his back. He came to a river and traveled along by the side of it till he came to a long, straight place where he stopped to boil his kettle. He put all the ducks and geese and swans whose necks he had twisted into the kettle and set it on the fire to boil, and then he lay down to sleep.

As he lay there, curled up on the bank of the river, he said, “Mionze [familiar spirit], if anyone comes you wake me up.” So he slept.

Now a mink came paddling along on the river and, coming close to Unktomi’s boiling place, saw him lying fast asleep.


Then he went there. While Unktomi slept, he took out all the boiling meat and ate it up, putting the bones back into the kettle. Then Unktomi waked up. He sat up and saw no one.

“Perhaps my boiling is cooked for me,” he said.

He took the kettle off the fire. He poked a stick into it and found only bones. Then he said, “Indeed, the meat has all fallen off.” So he took a spoon and dipped it out; nothing was there but bones.

This is the story of Unktomi and the Bad Songs.





(600 words)




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