Sacred Texts  Native American  Iroquois  Index  Previous  Next 


This is a band of women organized to propitiate the otters and other water animals who are supposed to exercise an influence over the health, fortunes, and destinies of men. The otter, which is the chief of the small water animals, including the fish, is a powerful medicine-animal, and besides having his own special society is a member of the Ye:'dos, or I?'dos, and the Hono?'tcino?'gä`.

The Otters may appear at any public thanksgiving, as the Green Corn dance and the Midwinter ceremony. After a tobacco-throwing ceremony, hayänt'wûtgûs, the three women officers of the Dawan'do` each dip a bucket of the medicine-water from the spring or stream, dipping down with the current, and carry it to the council house where they sprinkle everyone they meet by dipping long wisps of corn husk in the water and shaking them at the people. If the women succeed in entering the council house and sprinkling everyone without hindrance, they go for more water and continue until stopped. The only way in which they may be forced to discontinue their sprinkling is for someone, just before she sprinkles him, to snatch the pail and throw the entire contents over her head.

p. 122

The Otter woman will then say, "Hat?gaii:`, niawe:`!"--meaning, "Enough, I thank you!" She will then retire.

The Otters are especially active during the Midwinter ceremony, and when the water is thrown over their heads it very often freezes, but this is something only to be enjoyed. When possessed with the spirit of the otter, the women are said to be unaware of their actions, and sometimes, when they are particularly zealous, the whistle of the otter is heard. This greatly frightens the people, who regard it as a manifestation of the presence of the "great medicine otter." The women afterward deny having imitated the otter's call, saying that they were possessed of the otter and had no knowledge of what they did.

The Otter Society has no songs and no dances. Its members are organized simply to give thanks to the water animals and to retain their favor. When one is ungrateful to the water animals, as a wasteful fisherman, or a hunter who kills muskrats or beaver without asking permission or offering tobacco to their spirits, he becomes strangely ill, so it is believed. The Otters then go to a spring and conduct a ceremony, after which they enter the sick man's lodge and sprinkle him with spring water, hoping thereby to cure him.

Next: Society of Mystic Animals