Monday 8 September 2014

One Who Walks with the Stars: her name

As you can see in my original post on One Who Walks with the Stars, she appears under various names in the documentation. Maine calls her 'Walks with Stars Woman' and Miller prefers 'Woman-Who-Walks-with-the-Stars'. Capitals, hyphens and word order vary, and these days we tend to leave out gender but that's all just so many translation issues.

Walks with the Stars original name was in Lakota. I wasn't sure how to translate it, but the internet being fantastic, I discovered the name of a contemporary Lakota woman named Wichapi Ob Mani Winyan. I think this must be the correct translation based on Wichapi-Star, Mani-Walk and Winyan-Woman. Perhaps she's named for the One Who Walks with the Stars of Little Big Horn fame.

The words 'woman' and 'walk' or 'walker' are quite common in 19th century Lakota names, but 'star' wasn't so much, even though star quilts and blankets became common since. Walks with the Stars sounds like the prettiest girls' name you could imagine but stars didn't always get a particularly good rap in Lakota culture. They were a long, long way from having their Old World astrological meanings, or even, rather to my surprise, being considered as navigational aids. Ringing Shield explained them at length to James Walker in 1903, p.114:
A wise man said this. The stars are wakan. They do not care for the earth or anything on it. They have nothing to do with mankind. Sometimes they come to the world and sometimes the Lakotas go to them. There are many stories told of these things. No medicine can be made to the stars. They have nothing to do with anything that moves and breathes. A holy man knows about them. This must not be told to the people. If the people knew these things, they would pull the stars from above. There is one star for the evening and one for the morning.One star never moves and it is wakan. Other stars move in a circle about it. They are dancing in the dance circle.

 There are seven stars. This is why there are seven council fires among the Lakotas. Sometimes there are many stars and sometimes there are not so many. When there are not so many, the others are asleep. The spirit way is among the stars. This moves about so that bad spirits can not find it. Wakan Tanka begins at the edge of the world. No man can find it. Taku Skanskan is there and he tells the good spirits where to go to find the beginning of this trail. The bad spirits must wander always on the trail of the winds. The stars hide from the sun. They must fear him. So mankind should not try to learn about them. It is not good to talk about them. It is not good to fight by the light of the stars. They must be evil for they fear the sun.

We should remember that by 1903, Lakota culture had been intensely affected by white America. Walker's informants were usually older men specifically chosen for their memories of traditional culture, but some of Ringing Shield's emphasis may be a response to white ideas about astrology which came through in Walker's questioning. All the same, I have another reference which says something similar, but more briefly.

Anyway, since names were often acquired or changed at various points in a Lakota person's life and since they often had meanings, sometimes humorous ones, I did begin to wonder if being called One Who Walks with the Stars was analogous to being called something like Head in the Clouds. Or perhaps she sleep-walked! But that's a lot more than I know for sure.

If anyone can tell me more, that would be fantastic.

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