Native Languages of the Americas: Arapaho Legends and Traditional Stories
This is our collection of links to Arapaho folktales and traditional stories that can be read online.
We have indexed 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 or think one of the ones on here
should be removed, please contact us and let us know.
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.
(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 Eastern 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.
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.