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Literal meaning: ‘old man’. The creator deity of the Blackfoot Indians, a tribe of Algonquin stock. It is suggested that Napi is a god of light rather than a solar deity. This would make his name ‘dawn-light-colour-man’.

In character the Old Man is a curious mixture of opposite attributes. At the creation of the world he is spoken of as the thoughtful and wise sky father; but, in other dealings with mankind, he displays an impishness, even in spite worthy of the trickster god Coyote. The Blackfeet, however, are sure about his immortality. They say that he has simply withdrawn into the mountains and has promised to return one day. Natos, ‘the sun’ appears to have taken the place of Napi as their supreme deity: his wife is Kokomikeis ‘the moon’. According to legend, all the children of Natos and Kokomikeis were eaten by pelicans, except Apisuahts, ‘the morning star’.

Having created the world and set it in order Napi made the first people out of clay. By a river he introduced himself to them, and was surprised at a question from the first women. She asked: ‘How is it? Will we always live, will there be no end to it?’ He replied: ‘I have never thought of that. We must decide. I will toss this chip of wood into the river. If it floats, when people die, in four days they will breathe again; death will last four days. But if it sinks, there will be no end to death.’ Napi threw the chip in the river and it floated. The first women picked up a stone and said: ‘If it floats we will always live, but if it sinks people must die.’ The stone immediately sank and Napi said: ‘You have chosen.’ Later the woman's baby died so that she realized what she had done.

Subjects: Religion.

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