Old Man

views updated May 14 2018

Old Man

Old Man, also known as Napi, is a creator god and trickster figure in the mythology of the Blackfoot Indians of North America. He is said to have created the world and all the creatures in it.

To make humans, Old Man fashioned figures out of clay and breathed life into them. The first man he created was satisfied with the world, but the first woman was not. She wanted to know

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

if people would ever die and if life would be the same forever as it was now. The question surprised Old Man, who had not really thought about whether humans would live forever.

To answer the question, Old Man threw a piece of wood into the river. If the wood floated, he said, humans would die and come back to life after four days. If it sank, they would die and never live again. The wood floated, but the woman was still not satisfied. She decided to try the test herself. However, instead of a piece of wood, she threw a stone into the water. The stone sank, so Old Man decreed that death for humans would last forever. Similar stories, in which a trickster throws an object into water to determine whether humans will live forever, appear in the mythologies of other Native American cultures.

Another story says that after the world was filled with people, Old Man decided to experience life for himself. He lured a woman to a nest of rattlesnakes, and she mated with one of them. When her husband found out, he cut off her head. But the woman's headless body chased her two children. They saved themselves by throwing a piece of magic moss on the ground. A river formed, and the body drowned. One of the children was Old Man, who continued to live on earth before he died and disappeared behind the mountains.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

The Blackfoot identify Old Man with the sun, which also disappears behind the mountains every evening. Like the sun returning in the morning, Old Man is also supposed to come back to earth one day.

See also Native American Mythology; Tricksters.

old man

views updated May 23 2018

old man • n. 1. inf., often derog. one's father, husband, or boyfriend. ∎  (the old man) a man in authority over others, esp. an employer or commanding officer: the old man wants a progress report. ∎  used with a surname instead of “Mr.”: old man Roberts.2. another term for southernwood.