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Arapaho Legends and Traditional Stories

This is our index of Arapaho folktales and traditional stories that can be read online. We have organized our American Indian legends section by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to each other. In particular, though these legends come from the Arapaho tribe, the traditional stories of related tribes like the Gros Ventre and Cheyenne are very similar to Arapaho Indian legends.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Arapaho legend for this page, please let us know.

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Important Arapaho Mythological Figures

Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Arapaho mythology.

Nihancan (also spelled Niatha, Nih'oo3oo, and several other ways): Nihancan is the spider trickster of the Arapaho tribe. In modern Arapaho the pronunciation of this name is Nih-aw-thaw, but speakers of some Arapaho dialects in the past may have pronounced the "th" sound as an "s" instead, a common substitution in Plains languages. Nihancan is an interesting figure-- in some tales he plays the typical trickster/transformer role common to Algonquian tribes, making more or less benign mischief and shaping the world for the Arapahos as he goes. But in other tales, Nihancan is depicted as a more violent, anti-social trickster type similar to Siouan spider spirits like Iktomi. In any case, the literal meaning of the character's Arapaho name is "Spider." It is given as "White Man" in many older translations, but this is a misleading translation-- the Arapahos named white people after the trickster character, not vice versa! He is also sometimes referred to as Crazy Man, Trickster, or Fool.

Hichaba Nihancan (also spelled Hixcéébe Nixóó3o, Chebbeniathan, and other ways): This means "Spider Above" or "Spider of Heaven" in the Arapaho language, and is the Arapaho name for the Creator (God,) as distinguished from the earthly Nihancan (see above.) Sometimes the name is translated in English as "Man Above," since the literal form of a spider is not ascribed to Hichaba Nihancan. Some people believe that Nihancan and Hichaba Nihancan were originally the same mythological entity, and split into two figures after trickster legends were borrowed from the Crow and Sioux.

By-The-Door and Spring-Boy: These mythical twins whose mother was killed by a monster are common to the folklore of many Midwestern and Plains tribes. They are generally portrayed as heroic monster-slayers in Arapaho legends.

The Thunderbird (Boh'ooo, Baha, or Boh'ooonii'eihii.) A huge bird of prey, common to the mythology of most Plains Indian tribes,who is responsible for creating thunderstorms. To the Arapahos, Thunderbird is a symbol of summer and was diametrically opposed to White Owl, who represents winter. The name is pronounced similar to ba-h-aw.

Whirlwind Woman: Powerful storm spirit of Arapaho mythology.

Splinter Foot Girl (or Foot-Stuck-Child): An Arapaho heroine with magical powers, born from the swollen leg of a male hunter. She and her family of hunters turned into stars, usually the stars of the Pleiades.

Hecesiiteihii (Little People) (also spelled Hantceciitehi and other ways:) Although benign races of small magical creatures exist in many Native American tribes, the Little People of the Arapahos (also known as Cannibal Dwarves) are dangerous man-eaters and particular enemies of the Arapaho tribe. Their name is pronounced similar to heah-chass-ee-tay-hee (the first syllable rhymes with "yeah.") Sometimes their name is given as "Nimerigar" in anthropology texts instead, although our Arapaho volunteers do not recognize this name.

Hiincebiit (also spelled Hiintcabiit): A great horned water serpent. Although they are powerful and dangerous, in Arapaho legends, horned serpents often do not harm people who pay them the proper respect, and sometimes even reward people who give them offerings with good luck in hunting or war. The name is pronounced similar to heen-chabb-eet.

Found-In-The-Grass: A rags-to-riches hero of Arapaho folklore. In some variants of the myth he is an orphan, while in others, he is an older version of the magical twin Spring-Boy.

Arapaho Indian Folklore

*The Sun Dance Wheel * Arapaho Story of Creation:
    Arapaho creation myths.
*The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky * The Star Husband:
    Arapaho legends about a woman who married a sky spirit.
*How Medicine Man Resurrected Buffalo:
    Arapaho legend about a medicine man who saved his people from starvation.
*The Lame Warrior:
    Story of an Arapaho warrior rescued by a skeletal visitor.
*Nihancan and the Dwarf's Arrow:
    Arapaho story about the trickster Nihancan learning a lesson.
*Splinter Foot Girl:
    Arapahoe Indian legend about a mythical girl born from a splinter.
*Trickster Kills The Children:
    Arapaho legend about Nihansan the spider murdering a bear family.

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Recommended Books on Arapaho Mythology

Arapaho Historical Traditions:
    Legends, oral histories, and folklore in the Arapaho language with English translations.
Arapaho Stories, Songs, and Prayers:
    Bilingual anthology of Arapaho literature and mythology.
Traditions of the Arapaho:
    Classic book of Arapaho legends, symbols, and oral history.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Arapaho and other Algonquian tribes.
Full Moon Stories:
    Children's book of traditional legends narrated by an Arapaho author.
The Ghost and Lone Warrior:
    Children's picture book based on an Arapaho legend.
Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies:
    Anthology of folklore from the Arapaho and other Northern Plains tribes.
American Indian Trickster Tales:
    Compilation of more than a hundred stories about Ni'hancan and other Native American tricksters.
    (Use discretion sharing these with kids as some of the stories contain adult humor.)

Additional Resources

 Arapaho ceremonies
 Books of Native American legends
 Native American religions
 Arapaho words
 Wyoming Indian tribes
 Plains Indian culture
 Algonquian Indians
 Arapaho culture
 American Indians



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