Ancient Choctaw Legend of the Great Flood…
By W. B. Morrison
One of the most interesting things in history is the fact that almost every race, however remote may be its habitation on the face of the earth has a tradition of the Great Flood similar in many respects to the account given us in the early portion of our Bible. Students of the classics will at once recall the story of Ducalion and Phyrra, who, according to the Greek myth alone of all humanity survived the deluge on the summit of a high mountain, and repeopled the earth at the command of Zeus by throwing stones over their heads. The stones thrown by Ducalion became men, while those thrown by Phyrra became women.
But stranger yet is the fact that when the earliest explorers came to the shores of America, they found traditions of a great flood in the folklore of many Indian tribes. Some of the traditions have a remarkable likeness to the Bible account, and while a few of them were later changed or influenced by contact with Europeans, it is doubtless true that the American Indians must have learned of the Great Flood long before Columbus first touched the shores of San Salvador. Who knows but that the story in its various forms may have been carried down through the ages from the time when the ancestors of the American Indian lived in Asia? And is not the general prevalence of this remarkable legend a proof of Paul’s statement that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth”?
When the missionaries first came to the Choctaws in Mississippi in 1818, this tradition was told them about as follows: In ancient times after men had lived a long period upon the earth they became very corrupt and wicked, and deluged the earth with so much blood and carnage that the Great Spirit finally decided to utterly destroy them. He, therefore, sent a prophet among them, who went from tribe to tribe and from village to village proclaiming the fearful tidings that the race was soon to be destroyed. No one paid any attention to him, however, and people went on in their wickedness as carelessly as ever. But one year, with the coming of autumn, mists and clouds gathered over the earth, so that there was no sun shining by day nor did the moon and stars light up the gloom of night. The situation grew gradually worse until the earth became shrouded in total darkness. The air was chill and all animate nature became silent. People too became silent and perplexed, but yet they gave no evidence of repenting for their evil deeds. They were compelled to find their way from place to place by light of torches.
The food that they had stored away became mouldy and unfit to eat. Soon the silence of the skies was broken by muttering thunder. As time went on, the thunderings grew louder and spread to almost every quarter of the sky. The wild beasts, overcome with terror, lost their dread of man and crept up around the village fires that gave the only relief from the general darkness and cold. People grew despondent, and the death songs were chanted everywhere. The Medicine Men could offer no explanation and had no hope to offer the striken people. But yet there was no repentance, no turning of a sinful people back to the Great Spirit – only a sullen fatalism.
One day very suddenly there came a crash of thunder much louder than had ever been heard before. The whole earth seemed to shake and tremble with the reverberation. Then, as people looked towards the north, they seemed to see a light – the first they had seen for many a long dark day. But whatever hope may have been aroused in their breasts was dissipated. For what they saw was not the return of the long lost sun, but it was the gleam of a great mountain of water, advancing in great billows from the north, covering the entire earth and destroying everything in its path. With the cry, “Oka Falamah, Oka Falamah” (the returning waters, the returning waters) the doomed people turned away in one last vain effort to escape. But there was no escape. The whole earth was soon covered even to the tops of the mountains by the vast flood, and men and animals alike perished, leaving only a desolate wilderness of waters.
Of all mankind, only one remained, and that was the mysterious prophet who had so faithfully yet vainly proclaimed the warnings of the Great Spirit. This prophet had been directed by the Great Spirit to build a raft of sassafras logs, upon which he floated safely above the destroying flood, while he gazed sadly upon the dead bodies of men and beasts as they floated past him in the dark waters.
The prophet floated aimlessly about for many weeks, until at last one day he saw a large black bird circling over his raft. He cried to it for help, but the bird only uttered a few harsh croaks and flew away to be seen no more. Some days later the prophet saw a smaller bird, bluish in color, with red beak and eyes, hovering over the raft. Again he asked this bird if there was a spot of dry land to be found anywhere in the waste of waters. It hovered over him for a few moments as if trying in its soft mournful voice to give the desired information, and then flew off towards the west where the new sun was again setting in splendor. Almost at once a strong wind arose which carried the raft in the direction in which the bird had gone. All night, it floated on under the moon and stars which shone again with renewed brightness.
When the sun rose the next morning the prophet saw in the distance an island towards which his raft seemed to be drifting. Before the sun went down again, the raft had moved along until it touched the island, and the tired prophet landed, and glad to be on the earth once more, he lay down and slept until the sun rose the next day. Much refreshed, he then began to look about the island, where to his surprise, he found every variety of animal formerly found on the earth (except the mammoth), and all the birds and fowl also. Among the birds he noticed the great black bird that had visited and deserted him upon the waters. This bird he named “fulushto” – the raven – always thereafter regarded as a bird of ill omen by the Choctaws.
He was overjoyed also to find again the little bluish bird that had hovered over him and caused the breeze to blow that brought his raft safe to the pleasant island. Because of its beauty and of its kindly deed he named this bird “Puchi Yushuba” (Lost Pigeon).
The prophet lived on this island for many days, until finally the waters passed away, and the earth once more took its former appearance, with hills, valleys, and grassy prairies. Then the strangest of all things happened Puchi Yushuba was changed by the Great Spirit into a beautiful young woman, who soon became the wife of the prophet, and by their children the world was repeopled. But the Indian people never again became so rashly disobedient to the Great Spirit, and never forgot the lesson of Oka Falamah, the “Returning Waters.”