Bishinik August 1980 Page 8 & 9
Origins of the Choctaw People Retold from Old Legends
By Len Green
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This Is the tenth In a continuing series of special features designed to coordinate and delineate ancient legends concerning the origins and pre-history of the people who called themselves Okla, and who would later be known as Choctaw by the white man.)
The Great War
For many years after Oklatibishi and his Dove bride has survived the returned waters of the great flood, peace and happiness reigned In the promised lands of Okla. The rich lands around Nanih Waiya grew huge crops of corn, beans, peas, squash and melons, the vines and trees hung heavy with fruits in season and the nut trees produced huge crops each autumn. Game animals were plentiful, and whenever Okla hunters fared forth they found ample game. Game was even plentiful during the moon months called “Little Famine” and “Big Famine” (February and March). And like the land, the women who are the givers of life were fertile and fruitful, bearing many children who soon replenished the land of the Okla with tall and handsome children through many generations.
Occasionally, the hunters of Okla ranged too far afield or the People’s hunting grounds were Invaded and there were skirmishes with neighboring tribesmen, the Chickasaw or the Creek. But these contacts amounted to not much more than a few running battles, with only a half-dozen or so Oklans per year being destroyed by an enemy. It was a time of peace and plenty, and the People soon grew great in number, strong in the hunt or battle and happy In their life under the watchful eye of Hashtahli, the Sun Father.
But one day among Okla there appeared a man claiming to be a special envoy of the Sun Father, who forecast a great war to come and urged the People to flee In order to save themselves. His name was Hopainla (thought to be a mixture between the words “Inla” meaning strange or peculiar and “hopaii” meaning war chief or seer, thus making the name mean “strange chief” or “strange seer”). Hopainla told all who would listen that a race of light-skinned giants, some with horns on their heads, would descend upon Okla from the north and that all of the People would perish if they could not save themselves. About blackberry season one year, some of the villages of Okla were visited by two or three towering, light-skinned giants. They were made welcome, given food and sleeping place and took their leave in a friendly manner. When the news that these giant men had visited the nation was brought to the Council of Chiefs and later to the General Council the people were much perturbed.
Whereupon the Chief called upon their Iksas (war chiefs, later also called hopaii) to form scouting parties of warriors to range to the north and be on the lookout for the “Nahullos” (at that time the word apparently meant “giant” but later In Choctaw history, the meaning of nahullo became “white man,”). And as the scouting parties prepared to move out to intercept the expected invaders, the Council of Chiefs again met and directed that Hopainla be brought before them.
“For several years now, you have been telling us that we were to be invaded by a race of light-skinned giants,” the Chiefs told Hopainla. “We did not believe you then, but we believe you now.” This is the land given us forever as a home by Hashtahli and we do not wish to leave it it we must flee before the Invader. Is there any way we can save our People while at the same time saving this land we have come to know and to love?”, the Chiefs asked.
“I have done much studying and much looking,” Hopainla replied, “And, the Sun Father in his great wisdom and strength has shown me a way In which Okla may continue to survive in this land.” Whereupon, Hopainla led the Chiefs to a large stone on the river end of the Sacred Mound, Nanih Waiya, and here he slipped Into an almost hidden, passageway behind the rock, with the Chiefs following. Suddenly, they found themselves In a huge cavern underneath the Sacred Mound. Hopainla Informed them that there was a giant crisscrossed concourse of caverns, numerous springs offering fresh, pure water and below an underground river also filled with drinkable water.
“We must bring to this cavern all of the corn we can gather, all of the nuts, all of the pigs and all other foodstuffs that we can store. We may also eat of the white and the grey mushrooms that grow In these caverns. But, we must not touch the black mushrooms, for they are filled with a terrible poison,” he told the Chiefs.
“Why don’t we wait until the scouting parties return?,” asked one Chief. “Our men have always been strong and brave. Perhaps they will be able to turn back these giant men who threatened to invade us.”
“You cannot,” cried Hopainla, “if you wait, you doom not only yourselves but all of Okla. When the Invasion begins, there will be no time to transport food and store It In the caverns. This must be done as soon as possible.”
On the spot, the Chiefs voted to again call a General Council of all the People to place before them the threat of invasion and the measures for safety outlined for them by Hopainla. Though some argued that It would be cowardly of Okla to hide and tremble in some cave in the face of any enemy, the majority of these attending the General Council agreed that the People should Immediately begin to stock the caverns with non-perishable foodstuffs. At the urging of Hopainla, women, children, old men and even the hunters and gathers were pressed into service to prepare food, place it in storage baskets and transport it to the caves. In the meantime, the tool carriers and the boys were set to the task of preparing underground sleeping places for the far-flung families of Okla. When the work was nearly complete, remnants of the scouting parties, many of them sorely wounded, began to struggle back into the villages and came before the Council of Chiefs to report humiliating defeats at the hands of the giant men.
“Our arrows and darts but pierced their skins deep enough to make them angry,” the warriors reported. “With their huge clubs and axes, they scattered us as a flurry of dried leaves before a high wind. “The ground became so slickened from our blood and our escaping entrails that we could hardly stand to fight and the streams and rivers ran red with the blood of Okla,” they cried.
A lookout was immediately placed atop the highest point of Nanih Waiya to warn of the approach of the Nahullo, and the women, children and old folks were moved into the caverns, although there was much mourning and many tears because the People did not want to leave their pleasant houses and happy villages. The younger women came forth from the caverns at night to finish harvesting the year’s corn crop to be placed In the filled storage baskets In the caverns beneath Nanih Waiya, while others gathered nuts for the same purpose.
With the first cool winds of autumn, the Nahullo swept down upon Okla from the north, burning the villages, smashing the buildings and slaughtering everything that happened across their paths. Okla fled Into the caverns, taking with them some of their Chickasaw and Creek neighbors who had fled to them for safety when the huge enemy soldiers had invaded their own countries.
For many years. the caverns became a way of life for the People (one set of legends say three generations or about 70 years and another says five generations or about 110 years.) Bolder people of Okla developed the habit of sneaking out of the caverns at night to fish in the Pearl River or other nearby streams or to plant corn, which would also be gathered In the dark of night after it had ripened. Small Okla hunting parties would sneak from the caverns at night and keep themselves hidden in the woods from the Nahullo while they killed and smoked game to furnish meat for the People. Occasionally, an Oklan sneaking out to fish, plant corn, hunt or gather food would be caught in the night by a Nahullo, and the following morning his place around the breakfast fire would be empty.
After many years, an intense young Oklan was born. And, when he had reached the age of 18 summers, he informed his parents and the Council of Chiefs that henceforth his name would be “Pelichitoti” (literally translated as “war leader.”)
“War leader Hah!,” the old Chiefs told young Pelichitoti. “Our arrows and axes cannot kill the Nahullo. Our legs are too short to run from them until they die from exhaustion. How can you be a war leader when there is no way you can fight against them?
“Never fear,” replied Pelichitoti, “Call now a Council for three years from today. At that time, I shall tell you how the Nahullo can be defeated or you may rename me Hobak (coward or eunuch).”
True to his word, as the date of 21st summer neared, Pelichitoti asked that the Council of Chiefs again be assembled on that date to hear a message from him. When the Council of Chiefs had gathered, Pelichitoti asked that the largest of the hogs be brought in. When the animal had been led into the Council area, Pelichitoti took up a length of thin hollow reed. Reaching Into a small sack hanging from a string about his neck, he took out a small, thin dart, sharpened at one end to a fine point and dressed upon the other with small feathers to make it fly true. Fitting the dart Into the hollow tube, he pointed it at the large hog. With a puff of his breath, the dart flew from the blowgun and lodged firmly in the hog’s side.
“With these, we shall kill the Nahullo,” Pelichitoti said.
The Chiefs started to laugh, crying, “How can a tiny dart kill a pig, much less a giant man as large as the Nahullo?”
But, their laughter slowly died and stopped completely, as the large hog, with a sigh suddenly tumbled from Its feet onto Its side, kicked briefly and then stopped moving. A quick inspection proved the hog to be quite dead.
“The dart must be sharpened to a fine enough point to pierce the skin of the Nahullo,” the young warrior said. “To him It will be only like an insect bite which he can brush away. But the points of the darts have been soaked in a special poison I have made, which will kill the Nahullo in a short while after it has entered his body,” Pelichitoti told the Chiefs. “From certain black mushrooms I have found in the dark places of this cavern and from the poisonous berries of the night blooming plant (either belladonna or buckeye) I have extracted this poison. In the night, I crept from this cavern and with this blowgun and these darts, I shot two Nahullo on the leg and ankle with my darts. Both were dead before the moon had moved a single hand span,” Pelichitoti said.
Again the Chiefs called for a General Council, and within a few days Pelichitoti. headed a small band of young warriors who had been equipped with blowguns and supplies of the hopefully fatal darts. At night, the warrior band would creep from the caverns and with their blowguns shoot as many Nahullo as possible. Thus each morning, the light-skinned giants would awaken to find several dozen of their number dead. Possibly thinking they had been attacked by a new form of poisonous insect, the Nahullo moved their camp several miles away from the base of Nanih Waiya.
But, the young warriors crept after them, quietly visiting the Nahullo camps each night to leave more of the giant men dead by the following morning. Perhaps thinking that the area had become infected with a new and killing disease, the Nahullo fled from the Okla country as abruptly as they had come, never to return. This meant that the People could once again emerge from the underground world which had been their home for at least 70 years. So long had they been imprisoned beneath the earth that Okla had to again become accustomed to the bright, burning eye of Hashtahli, the Sun Father. But after many days, the People again became used to the sunlight and the freedom which they had been denied for so long. The members of other tribes who had been exiled to the caves with the People were gathered by the elders of their tribes and started off to reclaim their own homelands again.
A few of the families had refused to enter the caverns years before when the Nahullo attacked and had fled before them southward as the giant men swept into the country. Because of the growing number of the Nahullo, these families had been forced to seek refuge deep in the swamps far to the south of Okla country, to eke out a bare existence on the swamp’s island. They were to become the Seminole tribe.
Once free of the caves, which had been closed and sealed by Achafa Chito, the Great One, the People began to rebuild their villages around the base of their double-sacred Nanih Waiya.. Many of the younger Oklans had been born inside the caverns and their emergence into the world of light, sound and wildlife was a thing of true wonderment to them. Many forgot the stories they had been told of their emergence from the great waters and their People’s long march eastward toward this land that had been promised to them by the Sun Father. To them, the caverns beneath Nanih Waiya was their birthplace and they would tell their children how they emerged from the land of darkness beneath the sacred leaning mound into the new world of light. This was later to be considered as one of the “origin” legends of later day Choctaws and would cause confusion among Okla story tellers for many years to come. Even today, some authorities credit the “Emerged from Nanih Waiya” story as the original and say that the other origin legends were made up to approximate Biblical progress. For example, the migration to approximate Moses and the exodus, the flood story, the Nahullo invasion to copy the slavery of the Hebrew children, to Babylon, etc.
However, ask yourself, If this were the case, why didn’t the purported Choctaw forgeries more closely copy the Bible stories, rather than branching out into areas far distant from anything found In the Old Testament? However, the long years spent In the caverns did have a drastic and far-reaching effect upon the religious practices of the People. Though Hashtahli, the Sun Father, was still recognized and revered by Okla, they had come to realize that their God had a much more universal sway upon the earth. They determined that their God had four faces, just as there are four directions, four seasons in the year, four winds and four things given by God to sustain his chosen People … the earth, the water, the air and the animal and plant life. The name of Hashtahli shrank swiftly In use, and now Okla made ha prayers to Achafa Chito, the Great One, who was everywhere and in everything at once rather than marching daily across the sky.
NEXT: Shakchi and Other Imps