Iktomi and the lake of ducks is a Lakota story about Iktomi using their singing to trick some ducks, because they believed in Iktomi's illusion.
emsenn's traditional version of Iktomi and the lake of ducks
Iktomi woke up and he was hungry. Those of y’all who know Iktomi know, this is how he always woke up: hungry. So, Iktomi went to work, looking for a way to sate his hunger. But Iktomi didn’t “work” the way most folk did. His work was to talk and trick, that’s how he got what he wanted.
So when Iktomi woke up, he looked round at the sky, at the crows. “What is there to eat?” Iktomi asked. “Not much!” the crows replied, and it was true. None of the berries were ripe yet, and though Iktomi’s stomach hurt from hunger, he could also remember how it hurt from eating green berries. “Thanks for nothing,” Iktomi murmured to himself, and started walking, looking for food. While wandering, he heard laughter.
“Where folk are happy enough to laugh, they’re fed enough to share,” Iktomi reasoned to himself, and set off looking for the source of the laughter. After a while, Iktomi was close to the laughter. He was at the top of the hill, looking down on a lake, where a big group of ducks were playing. Iktomi thought for a bit, then got to work.
Some time later, Iktomi began walking down the hill, carrying a dense bundle of branches on his back. As he came down, the ducks playing on the lake took notice of him. They were familiar with Iktomi and called out, “Iktomi is coming, run!” Many of the ducks immediately took flight. But Iktomi kept walking past the lake. That wasn’t like Iktomi, thought the ducks, and they came back to the lake. Iktomi was now nearly past the lake, slowly moving under the weight of his branches, and the ducks were real curious. “Iktomi, what are you doing?” they called out at him.
“Hmm?” Iktomi slowly turned around, shifting the branches on his back. “Where are you going?” the ducks asked. “What are those sticks?”
“Hmm?” Iktomi repeated. By now some of the ducks were gathering near Iktomi, but still a safe distance away. “What are you up to, Iktomi? Where are you going with those branches?” the ducks asked.
“Oh. These aren’t branches. They’re sacred songs,” Iktomi said, and turned to continue walking. “Songs? Where are you taking them? We want to hear the songs!” the ducks called out, growing excited. Iktomi looked at the branches on his back and at the group of chattering ducks.
“I don’t think so. These are sacred songs. They’re very powerful. In fact, I was told to sing them with my eyes shut tight, or else something awful might happen,” Iktomi explained.
“Please!” the ducks asked again. “We want to dance to the songs!” By now, all the ducks around the lake were waiting to see what happened with Iktomi and his songs.
“Well… I don’t know… maybe one… but you’d have to keep your eyes shut tight, too!” Iktomi said. Immediately the ducks were overjoyed, and quickly promised they would keep their eyes closed. Iktomi deliberated out-loud, musing the sacredness of the songs against the pleading of the ducks, until he finally agreed: “One song.”
Iktomi took the bundle of branches off his back and laid them out, carefully. He lifted up one branch, examining it while humming. He set it down and picked up another, giving it a look and humming a different tune. He did this with every branch, while the ducks patiently waited. Eventually, Iktomi narrowed his choice down to two branches, and then, one. “Alright, ducks. Gather around and get ready to dance – but remember: keep your eyes closed, or else something awful will happen!”
When all the ducks were ready and their eyes shut, Iktomi began to sing. Iktomi has a lovely singing voice, and the ducks were eager to dance to it. Soon the ducks were dancing all around the muck, laughing and splashing. Iktomi began singing louder and louder, holding the branch as he began to pace back and forth on the shore. He paced rapidly, turning his head as he sang, until his voice seemed to be coming from all across the lake, a loud song mingling with the sounds of the dancing ducks, all with their eyes closed tight.
As the song continued, Iktomi quickly swung his branch out across the shore, knocking dead a duck, who began to float on the water. But with their eyes shut tightly, no duck noticed. Iktomi bashed another, and another, and another, as he continued singing across the lake. Soon, nearly half the ducks were dead. One duck noticed the lake was a little quieter, and opened their eyes.
“Iktomi is killing us!” the duck shouted, and at once the rest took to the sky. But Iktomi didn’t care. He took those he’d killed, roasted them, ate them, and went to sleep.