Arapaho Legends

Hichaba Nihancan (also spelled Hixcéébe Nixóó3o, Chebbeniathan, and other ways, meaning Spider Above or Spider of Heaven) is the Arapaho name for the Creator God, as distinguished from the earthly Nihancan (see below.)

Sometimes the name is translated in English as Man Above, since the literal form of a spider is not ascribed to Hichaba Nihancan. Some people believe that Nihancan and Hichaba Nihancan were originally the same mythological entity, and split into two figures after trickster legends were borrowed from the Crow and Sioux.

Characters of Arapaho Legends

Nihancan (also spelled Niatha, Nih’oo3oo, and several other ways. Pronounced Nih-aw-thaw, but speakers of some Arapaho dialects pronounced the “th” sound as an “s”) – A  spider trickster. 

He is called “White Man” in many older translations, but this is a misleading because the Arapahos named white people after the trickster character, not the other way around. He is also sometimes referred to as Crazy Man, Trickster, or Fool.

In some tales Spider 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.

By-The-Door and Spring-Boy – Mythical twins whose mother was killed by a monster are common to the folklore of many Midwestern and Plains tribes. They are generally portrayed as heroic monster-slayers in Arapaho legends.

Found-In-The-Grass – A rags-to-riches hero of Arapaho folklore. In some variants of the myth he is an orphan, while in others, he is an older version of the magical twin Spring-Boy.

Hecesiiteihii or Hantceciitehi (heh-chass-ee-tay-hee)- The Little People of the Arapahos (also known as Cannibal Dwarves) are dangerous man-eaters and particular enemies of the Arapaho tribe.

Sometimes their name is given as Nimerigar in anthropology texts but Arapaho volunteers do not recognize this name.

Hiincebiit or Hiintcabiit (heen-chabb-eet ) – A great horned water serpent. Although they are powerful and dangerous, in Arapaho legends, horned serpents often do not harm people who pay them the proper respect, and sometimes even reward people who give them offerings with good luck in hunting or war.

Splinter Foot Girl (or Foot-Stuck-Child) An Arapaho heroine with magical powers, born from the swollen leg of a male hunter. She and her family of hunters turned into stars, usually the stars of the Pleiades.

Thunderbird (Boh’ooo, Baha, or Boh’ooonii’eihii, pronounced ba-h-aw) – A huge bird of prey, common to the mythology of most Plains Indian tribes,who is responsible for creating thunderstorms. To the Arapahos, Thunderbird is a symbol of summer and was diametrically opposed to White Owl, who represents winter. The sound of Thunderbird’s flapping wings make the sound of thunder, and lightening comes from the blink of its eyes. Thunderbird also owns the rainbows.

Whirlwind Woman – A powerful storm spirit of Arapaho mythology.

White Owl – Represents winter.

Modern Day Arapaho Tribes

Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) (F)
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (Oklahoma) (F)

Famous Arapaho
Arapaho Language
Arapaho Treaties
More articles about the Arapaho Indians

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The Comrades’ Pranks

Two boys were living together as comrades. They said to their parents, “We will go to look for people.” The father of one of them raised objections, but the other consented, and they went away. On the third night of their journey one of them said, “Let us sleep in separate shelters.”

The Magic Springs

An old man was living with his son, his daughter and her husband, who was a great hunter. The two brothers-in-law hunted every day one winter, but could not find any tracks.

There was a great deal of snow, and the young husband made himself snowshoes. He passed through an unfrozen spring. When he came home, his wife saw blood on his snowshoes.