Bishinik April 1980 Page 6 & 7
Origins of the Choctaw People Retold from Old Legends
By Len Green
This is the seventh in a series of Bishinik historical features designed to correlate and retell the origin legends of the Choctaw People, who called themselves Okla. In the first six episodes, we met Hatakni (first born man) who found the Sacred Stick, designated Chahta and Chiksa as chiefs and led Okla on a long march eastward to find a bright land promised them by Hashtahli, the Sun Father. We saw how death came to Okla and how the Sun Father decreed that Okla must respect and honor its dead. We learned how Okla crossed deserts, wastelands, mountains, swamp and fire and a great river which they called Mississippi (father of waters) before reaching the land they named Nanih Waiya, which had been promised them as a homeland by Hashtahli. Last month, the story of the building of the burial mound was accomplished and of the creation of the annual Festival of Mourning for the Dead.
The Second Mound
With the completion of the giant burial mound, most of the people of Okla were well pleased, with the exception of the witches, conjurers and spirit talkers, who had lost a good base for the sales pitches when the bags of ancestral bones were placed inside the mound. Before the creation of the burial mound, there had grown among Okla large delegations of Chuka ishi Kanchak (witches), Tatak Fappo (conjure men) and Mahichi Chunkash (spirit talkers). They labored not, but rather lounged about the towns taking their living from the tables of those families to whom they acted as advisors in matters of the spirit and the ancestral bones.
During the final years of the long journey to the promised land and while the people were being settled in, the witches, spirit talkers and conjure men criticized each other and often battled to see which group could collect the ear of more Okla. However, with the burial of the bones, many of the families began to turn away from the conjure men, spirit talkers and witches since the best “talking points” this group had was now taken from the homes. So, this group of lazy, indolent people were forced to band together in an effort to present a united front before the working people and the leaders in order to keep their easy way of life continuing. But more and more, the families were becoming disenchanted with the conjurers, witches and spirit talkers and soon approached their Minkos with complaints concerning this society of leeches which had grown up among the hardworking and happy people. More and more often, delegations from the various towns were approaching their Minko, Chahta, and their spiritual leader, Hatakni, with problems concerning the horde of “freeloaders” who were camped out in their homes and villages.
And in the meantime, Hatakni was becoming obsessed with yet another type of problem. It was the Sacred Stick, which had led the people from the great waters far across the lands and through the wilderness to their new home around Nanih Waiya. While the Sacred Stick remained standing before Hatakni’s sleeping place, the spiritual leader could feel a sense of unrest among the people. And, he also suffered from a growing feeling that his task was not yet done. Thus it came to pass that Hatakni, now growing old and feeble, one day took the Sacred Stick from its resting place and climbed with it to the highest point atop Nanih Waiya, where he prayed to the Sun Father.
“Oh, Hashtahli, father of us all, hear my lamentation. I am grown older. My strides are no longer long, and dust stains my moccasins. My hand has grown less and sometimes trembles when I hurl my spear or bring my drinking bowl to my lips. My eyes grow dimmer. From my sleeping place I can no longer see Ossi (the eagle) perched on the big Oak tree atop Nanih Waiya. “Chahta, your chief, grows weary of hearing complaints about the conjure men, the spirit talkers and the witches, and yet they persist feeding upon our people while contributing nothing to Okla. “I ponder about the Sacred Stick. People passing my sleeping place see it and often wonder if suddenly the Sacred Stick will begin pointing again thus uprooting them from the place they have come to love and call home. “Send us a sign, Oh Hashtahli,” Hatakni prayed.
Hatakni returned from the top of Nanih Waiya, met with Chahta and told him of his climb, his prayer and the signs given to him by the Sun Father, Hashtahli, following the prayer. Upon hearing Hatakni’s report, Chahta was highly pleased, saying “It is good. In this manner, we can perhaps kill two birds with one stone, Chahta chose a spot south and west from Nanih Waiya and on a true north-south line with the People’s new burial mound, had it marked and sent runners forth with a call to all of Okla for a general council at the base of Nanih Waiya. When the day of the gathering had arrived, all of Okla had gathered and feasted, they came together at the base of their sacred mountain to hear the words of their Minko.
“Since we have arrived here in the promised land, our people have been very happy,” Chahta told the assembly. “We have just completed a marvelous burial mound as a repository for the respected bones of our ancestors of which we may all be proud. “But the time has come when we must again become builders, because we are directed by our beloved Sun Father, Hashtahli, to build still another mound in his honor. “However this mound will not be the work of the families. All of the work in building this mound, which shall be 100 paces in length, 75 paces in width and 12 men high (roughly 70 feet), will be done by the conjure men, the spirit talkers and the witches. “All of you witches, spirit talkers and conjure men will report to this spot when the Sun Father opens his eye upon the world tomorrow morning to begin this great work. “Each day, each of the families will contribute one handful of food which will be used to sustain the conjurers, the spirit talkers and the witches while they are engaged in this great work,” Chahta concluded.
Most of the people rejoiced at the news, but the witchmen grumbled because they were not accustomed to work and would much rather have continued to sponge free meals and lodging from various families about the six towns. However, once the Minko had spoken and Okla had responded with such enthusiasm, the conjure men, spirit talkers and witchmen had little recourse but to report to Nanih Waiya the following morning to begin the effort. Chahta had called forth the tool carriers to make their tools available to the witchmen and to supervise the work necessary in constructing the new mound. But the witchmen were apparently a lazy lot, and the work proceeded very slowly and amid much grumbling complaining and cries of sickness from the witches, conjure men and spirit talkers. Many days had passed before the mound began to take shape, and its rise was extremely slow as it took one of the witchmen three days to complete the work which might have been done in one day by a child. And each day, the ranks of the witchmen reporting for work at the mound became thinner and thinner as one by one they sneaked away to join the hunting parties which were out most of the time or to hide out in the home of some sympathetic family. But, as time passed, the hunters grow more and more angry with the witchmen who lazed about the hunting camps, neither going out to seek game or helping with the skinning and smoking of the meats killed by the hunters. Finally, the hunters became enraged and rose up to kick the witchmen out of their camps, so the conjure men, spirit talkers and witches crept back into the villages to seek hiding places or returned sheepishly to putter about the mound building project.
At long last, Chahta became very angry and again sent out his runners to call all of Okla to still another general council meeting at Nanih Waiya, where he again addressed them saying:
“I have given these conjure men, witches and spirit talkers a task to perform, and they have not accomplished it. They hide away, they will not work or they will complain of sicknesses which they do not have to try to avoid that which is required of them. “Therefore, when the Sun Father opens his eye upon the earth tomorrow, each and every conjure man, spirit talker or witch man must be at the mound and working. And each day, each of the witchmen working must complete as much work as any man, or he will be whipped. “The witchmen, conjurer or spirit talker who fails to appear for work upon the mound when the Sun Father appears tomorrow shall be hunted down, slain and left to rot where he has fallen so that his spirit must always wander homeless in the darkened land between the day and night.”
After Chahta’s dire warning, the People went to their homes to await the coming of the following day. But when the day dawned, only a few of the conjure men, witches and spirit talkers showed up to work on the mound. So, Chahta sent forth his warrior bands, Tushka, into the villages to round up the other witchmen. But no sign of them could be found. During the night, the witchmen, conjure men and spirit talkers had fled, taking with them many of the women of Okla, some young wives who abandoned their children to accompany their lovers. Many of the women leaving with the witchmen were wives of the hunters, who spent much of their time in the woods providing food for their families and other people of their towns. It was sad to see a young huntsman seeking his wife, trying to provide and care for his children and to the children crying for their lost mothers who would return to their sides no more.
Search parties were sent forth for many days in all directions, but the witchmen and the runaway women had apparently covered their tracks well and were not found by Okla seekers. It was later said that the runaways had traveled east and south from the promised land, where the settled along four creeks and founded a tribe of their own. It was the ancient Choctaw belief that these conjure men, spirit talkers, witches and the runaway women became the Creek tribe (who called themselves Muskhogee).
This perhaps explains the animosity which appeared to have existed between the Choctaws and Creeks throughout most of the recorded history of the two tribes. They were often at war with each other, with the Choctaws fighting alongside Andrew Jackson in the war against the Creeks which is recorded in history as the “Red Sticks Rebellion.” Even during times of relative peace, ball play between the Choctaws and Creeks was the bloodiest and most vicious. In fact, it was only after the removal when the two tribes were forced to band together against a common enemy, the Osages, that friendly relations between the two tribes began to grow.
The few witchmen who had remained among Okla continued their work on the mound, but forever after, conjure men, witches and spirit talkers would be viewed with distrust by the People. With so few workers now involved in construction, work on the mound dragged. But, it was through the defection of the witchmen that the task was finally completed. The answer was found in the children who had been left without a mother when theirs had fled with the witchmen. Widows, mothers with grown families and grandmothers were gathered and were encamped near the base of Nanih Waiya and they were given the task of caring for the orphan children. And the children, aided by their surrogate mothers and the tool carriers, took over the task of building the mound and when Blackberry month had arrived in the land, they had completed the structure. When the mound had been completed 100 paces long, 75 paces in width and 12 men high, grasses were transplanted on its slopes and top and the people were gathered for a celebration.
And after Okla had feasted and danced, the People were gathered about the new mound, where Hatakni took the Sacred Stick in his hand and clambered to the top of the mound. Signaling the people for silence, Hatakni jabbed the Sacred Stick into the very top of the mound. The Sacred Stick jumped and jiggled, jabbing itself further and further into the mound until it completely disappeared from sight. Okla murmured in awe. And when their astonishment at the sight had passed, Hatakni again raised his hands for silence and addressed the people, saying:
“At last we know that this is indeed the place chosen for Okla to live forever by Hashtahli, our great Sun Father, on that day so long ago and so far away beside the great western waters. “From this day forward, Okla, the People, shall forever call Chahta ‘Father’, in honor of the mighty Minko who walked behind the Sacred Stick leading you over the mountains, across the burning sands, across the plains, through the swamp, through the fire, across the mighty river to this, our Promised Land. “I have grown old and weak. My job among you is complete. Henceforth, may Hashtahli, our Sun Father, lead your footsteps upon the brighter path,” Hatakni said.
Whereupon, Hatakni raised his arms above his head and, like the Sacred Stick before him, slowly sank from sight into the top of the mound with his fingertips being the last to disappear. And, when the people looked at the ground on top of the mound, not a blade of grass or a single clod had been disturbed where the Sacred Stick and its bearer had disappeared. But the next morning when the eye of the Sun Father opened upon Nanih Waiya and the two sacred mounds, there, atop the second mound, stood a full grown scaly bark hickory tree. And although it would be several months before the season for such things, the tree was laden with ripe nuts of such size and succulence as to put every other hickory tree in the forest to shame.
By the time the mound had been completed, the huntsmen who had lost their wives to the witchmen had found new ones to provide homes for their orphaned children, and once again peace and happiness descended upon the children of Chahta.
NEXT: Tanchi & Shukhushi