Vol. 112 (2021)  

Tunkashila: A Mythological Saga of Native America


By Gerald Hausman

Santa Fe, NM, USA


Tunkashila means grandfather in Lakota. In the book of that name, I included eighty stories of love, loss, and leaving. I gathered stories about weather of all kinds. I included many stories about the ancient struggle of creation, human and animal and insect.


In all of these memorable tales we see the interaction of animal and insect and the difficulty of two-legged, four-legged, winged, and scaled beings. This is, among other things, the great cycle of co-creation.


Weather plays a part in this pantomime. The Great Flood, for instance, is an integral part of going from earth to air. Water figures here. For it is the rising water of a great flood that raises the Navajos into the fourth, and some say, the fifth world.


When Tunkashila came out in 1992, I received a handwritten letter from the granddaughter of Last Horse, whose face is on the cover of the book.

The cover image came from a piece of stationary dated 1903 and everything but the handsome man himself was crowded with "high German" cursive writing. I had it translated and learned the writing was a letter describing the severe drought in Germany during the early years of the new century.


According to Beverly Last Horse, no one in her family had seen "Grandfather Last Horse" since before the long-ago days of the "Wild West Show" when he performed in Europe with other talented natives from various tribes. Beverly told me Grandfather Last Horse was a traditional Thundermaker. Such a man would have been crucial during the drought time described in the letter which became the book cover.


Sitting Bull was another powerful visionary who could make dream images manifest. In a vision he saw soldiers falling upside down into the Hunkpapa encampment. While dancing and staring at the sun, Sitting Bull, arms bleeding from ritual bloodletting, lost consciousness and fell down. That is when he had the vision of blue-coated soldiers, as numerous as summer grasshoppers, raining down, upside down, into the Sioux camp.


Sitting Bull was not just a great man; he was a great dreamer, creator of visions, solver of problems.


In one of his last visions, not too long before his death, he envisioned a meadow lark, speaking in Sioux, saying that his own people would eventually kill him. Sadly and prophetically, this came to pass.


In what we might call "reality," the visions of Sitting Bull were proven to be accurate more than once. Soldiers did fall at Custer’s Last Stand on the Little Bighorn. And it was as if they fell from the sky. So many tumbling grasshoppers. Snowfall numbers of them. But these grasshoppers wore blue and were killers.


One of things I learned while doing research and listening to elders tell stories was that most tellers believed that the stories I most admired were told by witnesses of one kind or another. They were thundermakers, dreamers, medicine people. They could see things others could not.


Often, in writing their visions, I was challenged to unravel something far out of my own reach. For that I called upon Joogii, Larry Little Bird and others to help me see as a visionary might have seen these apocryphal events.


Here is an example—"Between the first frost of autumn and the third moon of winter, something lives between. It has eyes that see and ears that hear. It is made of unbridled water and the riffling dust of pollen. It breathes, it sings, it dances. Let us do the same."


The lesson of lightning, Joogii told me, was about healing. It came, he said, with the power of winter thunder. In the whirlwind of storm, it came and went. It anneals and strengthens, and of course, destroys. Joogii told me of the lightning struck tree that no one came near because they were afraid of its power.


Lightning moves along the ground, slides between our feet, and may be seen as Great Snake in the ancient myths. The stories in Tunkashila, move snakelike from one story to another. I have heard some people say the stories, "enlighten."


"All things on earth change and exchange bodies. So, too, the life forms of the sky." This was said by more than one mystic weather-watcher that I interviewed.

Gerald Hausman

My friend, Robert Boissiere, who lived among the Hopi, was told by his Hopi brother to shoot an arrow to the sun. "Bring down the rain," he said. Robert did this, and the rain came down. "This was not a miracle," Robert told me, but a force of nature responding to a man’s dream.


A Lakota man I met after I, myself, was struck by lightning (yes, it actually happened to me), said, "I was hit seven times and now I don’t get sick anymore." However, when our longtime friend Joogii, spoke of lightning, he said, "Rattlesnake is the earth. Lightning is the universe."


My lightning strike in 2015 was the beginning of my own personal encounter with the powers of the universe. I like to remember the tribal orator, Black Elk, who said so modestly and correctly, "We are not bodies only."


Medicine people from various tribes said to me: "We are composed of all that is outside, and inside, us. The universe, the earth, our family, our friends, the tiniest ants."


The teachings of Tunkashila remind me that if a pebble can speak wisdom and be called Grandfather, our relations must be everywhere, and in everything we see and touch.


I feel blessed to have been touched by lightning. And to have had devoted friends who told me, "You are lucky to be alive, make the most of it."

(Header: Portrait of Sitting Bull courtesy of Gerald Hausman)


Gerald Hausman      



Gerald Hausman is the author of Tunkashila, Speaking Volumes, Santa Fe, NM; and, Turtle Island Alphabet: A Lexicon of Native American Symbols and Culture, St. Martin’s Press, New York. He is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.






All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.