The Buffalo and the Porcupine

This piece is based on one version of an Arikara children’s story about a porcupine and a buffalo crossing a river and trust.  A lone tree stands for the tree of life- this is the tree the porcupine climbed looking for a place to cross the river; he wishes to dine on the bark of trees that stand tall on the other side. Buffalo enters the picture when he too wishes to cross the river to dine on the tall grasses.  In the story, the Porcupine and the Buffalo refer to each other as brother, friend and relative; this is presented to demonstrate healthy boundaries; the collection of people we allow or don’t allow into our life.  To help the porcupine solve his problem of getting to the other side, Buffalo welcomes Porcupine into his mouth and promises he will swim him safely to the other side.  Buffalo has one request, “Please put all of those sharp pokey things down so I don’t get hurt”.  As the porcupine crawls into the stomach of the buffalo he explores the buffalo’s vulnerable interior to find the weakness of this powerful animal, his heart. When Porcupine gets what he wants, which is over to the other side, with a shake of his tail, Porcupine kills Buffalo with a single quill to his heart. The moral: “Be careful of the ones that you allow closest to you, they are the individuals who can hurt you the most”.

Porcupine is depicted with very trusting and innocent characteristics to demonstrate that the exterior of an image can be deceptive. Buffalo is illustrated in a silhouette with the colors blue and red to represent the heavenly spirit connected with flesh and blood. The background includes colors such as red which is symbolic for the blood of humanity, blue representing the presence of heaven and a sunburst for the morning and evening of each day. The river is portrayed as a diagonal line. Porcupine quills, six grouped together and one that is set apart represents the quill that kills the buffalo in the end. Two feathers symbolize the two worlds; traditional/contemporary, life/death and positive/negative decisions. Six rectangles correspond with the semi-cardinal directions of the Arikara people.