Wooing Wohpe – a retelling of an Oglala Sioux myth by Ed Ahern
As retold by Ed Ahern
In the old time, the Oglala Sioux spent the warm seasons scattered and wandering. But once The Moon That Makes the Leaves Yellow came, they traveled to a sheltered valley where they camped through the winter. There were story tellers among those gathered together, the best of whom were shamans. This is a retelling of one of their stories.
Before the world became, five brother winds lived together in the land of the ghosts. North Wind was called Yata. He was oldest: a keen hunter who killed many things, but he was cold and stern.
West Wind, the second brother, called Yanta, was a helper. He sometimes hunted with Yata, and sometimes made things with South Wind. He was noisy and clumsy.
The third brother was East Wind, called Eya. Eya was lazy and sometimes cross and angry, but he would help if his heart was touched.
South Wind was the fourth brother, His name was Okaga, and he was a builder and maker of things- bows and lances and sometimes trinkets. He was strong, but always mild and pleasant.
The youngest brother, Whirlwind, was called Yamni, and he would try to help if he was not playing and dancing, for he was still a child.
After a long time spent together, a beautiful being named Wohpe fell from the stars into their camp. Her hair shined in the sun beams, and her dress and ornaments were red and blue and white and green, and all the colors possible.
She greeted the five brothers and begged them to give her a place to rest. They took pity on her and invited her into their tipi. Once she stepped into the tipi, it glowed bright and pleasant, and the brothers were pleased.
The skins Wohpe dressed for them were soft and white, the moccasins she made were comfortable, the food she prepared was plenty. She kept the fire burning and the talk pleasant.
And each brother, except for Yamni the Whirlwind, wanted her to be his woman, so each one asked her. She said their tipi was good, and that she would be the woman of the brother who pleased her the most.
So Yata the North Wind went hunting and brought to her the deer and rabbit he had killed. But the presents he brought turned to ice as he laid them before her, and the tipi was cold and dreary.
Then Yanta the West Wind brought his drum and sang and danced in front of her. But he made too much noise, and tripped into the tipi side so that it fell down, and Wohpe had hard work to put it back up again.
Then Eya the East Wind sat down next to her and talked and talked, so foolishly that Wohpe looked like she wanted to cry.
But Okaga the South Wind made beautiful things for her, a ladle with a fox head handle, and an antler grip skinning knife. She was happy and the tipi turned warm and bright. And she said she would be Okaga’s woman.
This made Yata angry, and he claimed that as the oldest brother he should have Wohpe by right. But Okaga would not give her up. The two brothers argued so much they almost fought, and Okaga told Wohpe they would go away and live in peace.
The two left the tipi, and the camp, and moved away. But Yata followed them and tried to steal Wohpe while South Wind was foraging for food. When she saw Yata come near, Wohpe took off her deer-skin dress, spread it out, and hid underneath it.
Yata moved toward the dress, thinking it was Wohpe. But as he did, Wohpe pulled her ornaments under the skin, so they could not be seen or taken.
Yata spoke “I know you are under the dress, and I am going under it too.” As Yata almost touched an edge of the dress, the woman stretched the hide out further, beyond his reach. Yata ran from edge to edge, but each time the woman stretched her dress, until there was no edge or end of the dress to be seen. Yata knelt down and put his hands flat on the deer skin dress, freezing it and turning it hard and gray.
Yata heard Okaga returning and ran off. When Okaga arrived, he too knelt on the frozen dress and saw that it was his woman’s. And he knew that Yata had embraced it. He called out to Wohpe, and she answered from under the dress. “Okaga, I have stretched my dress so long and wide that there is no end or edge to it, and I cannot get out from under it.”
Okaga went away, following the trail of Yata until he came back to the brothers’ tipi. Yata was in the tipi, bragging to his brothers. “I know where the woman is sleeping under her dress, and I will go back and claim her.” Okaga threw open the door flap and yelled at Yata. “You lie. Wohpe is always my woman. Where she is, she will have to stay, but you will never claim her.”
Yata grabbed Okaga, and the two winds wrestled each other to the ground, rolling through the burning fire pit and knocking out the sides of the tipi. Yata crouched on top of Okaga and began striking him, but Yanta the West Wind jumped into the fight and together, South and West defeated North. Yata could not be killed, so they bound his feet and hands tightly and left him lying in the tipi.
Okaga, Eya, Yanta, and Yamni the Whirlwind agreed that they could no longer live with Yata, so they prepared to leave. But before they left, Yata defied them, saying he would break loose and make war against each of them.
He told Okaga, “I know where your woman is. I know what covers and hides her. When I break free, I will go to her. I have discolored and frozen her beautiful dress. If I cannot reach her, I will again tarnish the dress. I will fight you forever for her.”
When the brothers left, Yanta went to live where the sun sets, and Eya to where the sun rises. Okaga went far away in the opposite direction from Yata. Little Yamni was too small to have his own tipi, so he went to live with Okaga. Sometimes he went away to play with Yanta, But Eya was so lazy and disagreeable that little Yamni rarely visited him.
On his trip, Yanta came again to’ Wohpe s dress. He called to her and she spoke, but she could not come up and he could not go under, for the dress had no edge or end. Yanta was a maker of things and wanted to warm and restore the dress. He went to his brothers and asked their help in warming the dress. They agreed, but when they first warmed the dress it stayed ugly and gray, like a dead thing. Wohpe saw that they were warming her dress and pushed the ornaments back through, so the ground was again beautiful with greens and reds and blues.
The brothers continued warming the dress, but Eya was so lazy that he only warmed the dress a little, and then in the evening. Yamni the Whirlwind was too small to do much work, but he would dance over the dress and throw things in the air to keep South Wind from feeling too sad.
Finally the dress warmed and became as it had been. Okaga grew tired and went to his tipi to rest, leaving Yanta to guard the dress. Yata, meanwhile, had broken free from the leather thongs that bound him, and attacked Yanta. As they fought, the ornaments were broken and bent.. Yamni the Whirlwind saw the fight and spun to Okaga’s tipi to warn him. But South Wind would not wake up.so Yamni went to Eya and begged for his help. And Eya surprisingly agreed.
The brothers woke Okaga, who blew in a rage to help Yanni. Together they drove off Yata and chased him back to his tipi, where they tied him up again.
But Yata still breaks free and fights his brothers, clutching Wohpe’s dress and freezing it. And each time as Okaga and his brothers bind Yata and warm Wohpe’s dress, she pushes through her beautiful green and blue and white and red ornaments
*A retelling of a myth recorded by James R. Walker during his time with Oglala Sioux, from 1896 to 1914, transcribed by him during the early 1900’s, and republished as part of his collected writings by The University of Nebraska Press in 1983.
The narrators for most of the myths recorded are listed — Left Herron, Bad Wound, George Sword, etc. But this myth has no narrator’s name.