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Legendary Native American Figures: Kokumthena (Our Grandmother)

Name: Kokumthena
Tribal affiliation: Shawnee
Alternate spellings: Kohkumthena, Kokomthena Paboth'kwe, Kokomthena, Kohkomthena, Kuhkoomtheyna, Kohkomhthena, Kohkumthena
Pronunciation: koh-kumm-theh-nah
Also known as: Our Grandmother, Grandmother Spirit, Cloud Woman, Paboth'kwe, Papoothkwe, Papoothkwee, Pabothkew, Inumsi Ilafewanu, Shikalapikshi, Lithikapo'shi
Type: Transformer, goddess, heroine, culture hero, grandmother
Related figures in other tribes: Sky Woman (Iroquois), Nokomis (Anishinabe), Old Lady (Blackfoot), Grandmother Woodchuck (Abenaki), Nukumi (Mi'kmaq)

Most Algonquian cultures have a Transformer hero in their mythology-- a revered human-like supernatural being who created people, shaped the world into a better place for them, and taught them the arts of civilization. Kokumthena is somewhat unique in that she is female (the Blackfoot tribe have a married couple, Old-Man and Old-Lady, in this role; all the other Algonquian tribes we know of have male Transformer figures.) In Shawnee legends, Kokumthena is depicted as an old woman (her name means "our grandmother") and does not take part in any of the monster-slaying or humorous exploits other Algonquian Transformer heroes engage in. Kokumthena may originally have been important primarily as a grandmother goddess, similar to the wise grandmothers of other Algonquian mythology like the Anishinabe and the Wabanaki. Her role as Transformer is not mentioned in earlier collections of Shawnee legends and oral history, though that could have been an omission by the non-Shawnees doing the recordings.

Paboth'kwe (or Papoothkwe) is another Shawnee name for this matriarchal figure, meaning "cloud woman." Perhaps this may be an indication that she is related to Sky Woman of the Iroquois tribes. In some books Kokomthena's name is given as "Inumsi Ilafewanu," "Shikalapikshi," or "Lithikapo'shi," but our Shawnee volunteers do not recognize any of these names and we're not sure where they could have come from (the first one, in particular, is definitely not from the Shawnee language and looks like it might be African.)

Kokumthena Stories

*Our Grandmother of the Shawnee:
    Academic study about Kokumthena and the nature of Shawnee folklore.
*Kohkumthena and the Shawnee Creation:
    A summary of Shawnee mythology including several descriptions of Kokumthena the Grandmother Spirit.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

Kohkumthena's Grandchildren:
    Book of Shawnee oral history and traditions.
Indian Tales:
    Collection of Miami, Wyandot and Shawnee folklore.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Shawnee and other Algonquian tribes.

Additional Resources

 Algonquian mythology
 Shawnee history
 Ohio tribes
 Northeast Woodland Indians
 The Algonquian tribes



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