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Legendary Native American Figures: Nihancan (Niatha)

Name: Nihancan
Tribal affiliation: Arapaho
Alternate spellings: Nih'ancan, Ni'hancan, Nihansan, Nihanca, Nihaca, Nihatha, Niatha, Nia'tha, Nih'oo3oo
Pronunciation: nih-haw-thaw or nih-haw-saw
Also known as: White-Man, Crazy Man, Trickster, Fool
Type: Culture hero, Transformer, trickster
Related figures in other tribes: Nihata (Gros Ventre), Veeho (Cheyenne), Naapi (Blackfoot), Manabus (Anishinabe), Iktomi (Sioux), Gluskap (Wabanaki)

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. 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 Nihancan, not vice versa! He is also sometimes referred to as Crazy Man, Trickster, or Fool.

Nihancan Stories

*Nihancan and the Dwarf's Arrow:
    Arapaho Indian legend in which Nihancan learns a lesson.
*Nihansan Kills The Children:
    Arapaho Indian myth about Nihansan the spider murdering a bear family.

Recommended Books of Nihancan Stories

Traditions of the Arapaho:
    Collection of Arapaho legends and oral history, including four stories about cannibal dwarfs.
American Indian Trickster Tales:
    Compilation of more than a hundred Nihansan and other trickster stories from many different tribes.
Use discretion sharing these with kids as some of the stories contain adult humor.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Arapaho and other Algonquian tribes.

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Additional Resources

 Tell Me, Grandmother
 Arapaho storytelling
 Arapaho language
 Arapaho words
 Wyoming languages
 Native American Plains tribes
 The Algonquians



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Learn more about the Arapaho tribe.



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