Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dog-Face Star

Q: I read a story online about the star Sirius being called the Dog-Face Star in Blackfoot. Of course this is really interesting because Sirius also means Dog Star in Latin. In the story I read, Dog-Face was a peasant boy and he taught the Blackfeet the Sun Dance and then became a star. Have you heard about this story? What is the name Dog-Face in Blackfoot language?

A: The information you found is not entirely accurate. The name in question is Payoowa (often anglicized "Poia,") an important Blackfoot mythological figure who was fathered by the Morning Star (Venus.) However, this name actually means scar-face, not dog-face. Also, we've always heard that his astronomical reference is Jupiter, not Sirius. A lot of star lore has been diluted or lost over time, so it's not impossible that Poia was actually Sirius, but since the legend always connects the wanderers Poia and Morning Star, it would be strange for Poia to be a fixed star like Sirius (most ancient cultures were well aware that the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mars moved around the sky differently than other stars.)

"Sirius" doesn't literally mean "Dog Star," by the way... it means "searing" in Ancient Greek. The Romans called the star Canicula, "little dog" or "she-dog," and associated it with the dog of the hero Orion, whose constellation is nearby.

Q: Thank you very much for your time on this. What about the Pawnee name for Sirius? Wikipedia says it is the Wolf Star.

A: Very close... the Pawnee name for Sirius is Ckiriti'uuhac, pronounced tskee-ree-tee-oo-hots, which means "fools Wolf." This comes from folklore in which Wolf foolishly mistook Sirius for the Morning Star.

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
The Blackfoot tribe
Native American star myths

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