2017-04-20 / Voices

The Mystery of Tayamni

Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies
CAIRNS - Etanhan Wotanin

Have you ever stood in your backyard and wondered what sorts of fantastic creatures you might have seen in your backyard hundreds or thousands of years ago? For those who wander into such daydreams, there are clues to help solve these mysteries. Ancient skeletons and fossilized remains help us to paint a picture of beings that no longer exist. But while we often look underground to find clues of creatures buried by the sands of time, perhaps there also are clues in the night sky.

One of the most fascinating and largest constellations in the Lakota sky is called Tayamni. It is the representation of some creature, but we do not know much beyond its basic anatomy. It is comprised of seven stars which are also shared by three Greek constellations. One of its stars is in the Taurus constellation, five are in the Orion constellation, and one is in the constellation Canis Major.

The head of Tayamni is called Tayamni Pa. It is the modern star cluster Pleiades, which is in the constellation Taurus. This star cluster is also called Wicincala Sakowin, the Seven Sisters. But even though Tayamni Pa consists of at least seven stars, all of them are grouped together and constitute one of the seven stars of Tayamni.

The backbone of Tayamni, called Tayamni Cankahu, consists of the three belt stars of Orion: Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak. Tayamni Tucuhu, the ribs of Tayamni, consists of two stars: Rigel and Betelgeuse. These stars are also in the constellation Orion.

Tayamni Sinte is the brightest star in the night sky—Sirius. It is in the Canis Major constellation. Tayamni Sinte is the tail of Tayamni.

All seven stars of Tayamni are visible in the night sky from mid-August to mid- April. To find Tayamni during this time, locate Tayamni Cankahu, the belt stars of Orion, then perpendicular to them will be the bright stars Rigel and Betelgeuse. Rigel is below the belt and bright white, whereas Betelgeuse is above it and reddish in color. Both stars are Tayamni Tucuhu, and are approximately the same distance in opposite directions from Tayamni Cankahu, the belt of Orion. Parallel to Tayamni Cankahu is Tayamni Pa to the west, and Tayamni Sinte to the east.

What type of creature is Tayamni? We do not know. It could be a creature that walks or crawls on earth, swims in water, or flies through the air. All we know about it is based on the names of its seven stars: it has a head, a backbone, ribs and a tail. That narrows the potential animal candidates down, but the list of possible creatures that we know about today is still quite long!

Further complicating this mystery is the matter of extinction. We cannot rule out the possibility that this creature that inspired Lakotas of long ago to see it reflected in their night sky is no longer wandering the earth.

The two Lakota men who told Reverend Eugene Buechel about Tayamni around a hundred years ago, apparently did not share if the creature was living then or if it had only lived sometime in the past. Their names were Big Turkey and Cleve Bull Ring.

So it might be fun this coming Earth Day to go out that evening and try to find Tayamni in the sky. After locating its seven stars, take some time to imagine and make a drawing of what Tayamni might have looked like. Perhaps doing so will remind us that the creatures we see in our own backyards might one day exist only in the daydreams of future generations.

*CAIRNS is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South

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