Tell me if you have a topic you'd like to see. (Contact: .)
Please also let others know about this site.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Mooney - The Origin of the Groundhog Dance - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

This whole long holiday began on Thursday with the Fourth of July (although fireworks started up even earlier).  With Thursday being so close to the weekend, many have st-r-e-t-ched the holiday all the way to Sunday.  

I'll work Saturday since one of the things I do besides storytelling is substitute at two local libraries.  (I also am in the troupe performing The Dinner Detective -- so if you see me, don't tell as it might put you ahead solving the mystery!) 

At one of the libraries where I'm a sub I saw a sign celebrating Independance Day.  I like that idea since I love to dance.  It made me think back to the Degas exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts back in 2002 when I told "Stories That Dance."  Of course that made me want to put a story that danced here.  December the 31st of 2023 numerically was 123123, making it Waltz Day!  At that time I posted the Rabbit version of today's story, but the Cherokee version, collected by James Mooney in Myths of the Cherokee tells it as "the Groundhog Dance."  It's also a good choice for audience participation (more about the song Groundhog sings after the very brief story).


Seven wolves once caught a Groundhog and said, “Now we’ll kill you and have something good to eat.” But the Groundhog said, “When we find good food we must rejoice over it, as people do in the Green-corn dance. I know you mean to kill me and I can’t help myself, but if you want to dance I’ll sing for you. This is a new dance entirely. I’ll lean up against seven trees in turn and you will dance out and then turn and come back, as I give the signal, and at the last turn you may kill me.”

The wolves were very hungry, but they wanted to learn the new dance, so they told him to go ahead. The Groundhog leaned up against a tree and began the song, Ha′wiye′ĕhĭ′, and all the wolves danced out in front, until he gave the signal, Yu! and began with Hi′yagu′wĕ, when they turned and danced back in line. “That’s fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to the next tree and started the second song. The wolves danced out and then turned at the signal and danced back again. “That’s very fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to another tree and started the third song. The wolves danced their best and the Groundhog encouraged them, but at each song he took another tree, and each tree was a little nearer to his hole under a stump. At the seventh song he said, “Now, this is the last dance, and when I say Yu! you will all turn and come after me, and the one who gets me may have me.” So he began the seventh song and kept it up until the wolves were away out in front. Then he gave the signal, Yu! and made a jump for his hole. The wolves turned and were after him, but he reached the hole first and dived in. Just as he got inside, the foremost wolf caught him by the tail and gave it such a pull that it broke off, and the Groundhog’s tail has been short ever since.


Mooney in his notes at the end of the book says: 

the song, which is without meaning, is Ha′wiye′ĕhi′ Yaha′wiye′ĕhi [twice]


Hi′yagu′wĕ Hahi′yagu′wĕ [twice]


If, like me, your Cherokee language is less than fluent, you may wonder how to chant that.  Mooney gives a glossary at the book's end, saying the "g medial (semisonant), approximating k" and this is how to pronounce these vowels:

a as in far

          i as in pique

          u as in rule

          the letter "e" has two different sounds:

         eas in they.
         ĕas in net. 

Since Mooney also says the song has no meaning, it would be fair to tell your audience you are teaching a slightly simplified version. I like the similarity in Ha′wiye′ĕhi′ and Hahi′yagu′wĕ so this is how I would shorten it, breaking it down into syllables.

Ha′ wi ye′ ĕ hi′ Ha′ wi ye′ ĕ hi′ Yu u for the first song and then for the second song Ha hi′ ya gu′ wĕ Ha hi′ ya gu′ wĕ Yu yu.

If even that seems too tough, you could use just one song (I'd use the first to avoid the troublesome "g ...  approximating k"  and let it be the same song for all seven of the trees.  If you do that be sure to say you are simplifying the songs as Groundhog sang a slightly different song at each tree, but those songs are made of meaningless sounds, just like in many lullabies.

Perhaps the Thompson Motif K606 "Escape by singing song" and K606.2 "Escape by persuading captors to dance" is a bit of folklore indexing that interests you further.  Thompson also lists variants in Africa, India, Indonesia, plus similar ones in Iceland and Ireland where the watchmen are sung to sleep.  

Enjoy your own Independance and don't let any wolves catch you!




No comments: