One Choctaw version of the Great Flood

February 1996 BISHINIK, page 7

One Choctaw version of the Great Flood is as follows:

In the far distant ages of the past, the people, whom the Great Spirit had created, became so wicked that he resolved to sweep them all from the earth, except Oklatabashih (People’s mourner) and his family, who alone did that which was good. He told Oklatabashih to build a large boat into which he should go with his family and also to take into the boat a male and female of all the animals living upon the earth.

He did as he was commanded by the Great Spirit. But as he went out in the forest to bring in the birds, he was unable to catch a pair of biskinik (sapsuckers), fitukhak (yellow hammers), and bakbak (large red-headed woodpeckers); these birds were so quick in hopping around from one side to the other of the trees upon which they clung with their sharp and strong claws, that Oklatabashih found it was impossible for him to catch them, and therefore he gave up the chase, and returned to the boat; the door closed, the rain began to fall increasing in volume for many days and nights, until thousands of people and animals perished.

Then it suddenly ceased and utter darkness covered the face of the earth for a long time, while the people and animals that still survived grouped here and there in the fearful gloom. Suddenly far in the distant north was seen a long streak of light. They believed that, amid the raging elements and the impenetrable darkness that covered the earth, the sun had lost its way and was rising in the north. All the surviving people rushed toward the seemingly rising sun, though utterly bewildered, not knowing or caring what they did. They saw, in utter despair, that it was but the mocking light that foretold how near the Oka falama was at hand, rolling like mountains on mountains piled and engulfing everything in its resistless course. All earth was at once overwhelmed in the mighty return of waters, except the great boat which, by the guidance of the Great Spirit, rode safely upon the rolling and dashing waves that covered the earth. During many moons the boat floated safely o’er the vast sea of waters.

Finally Oklatabashih sent a dove to see if any dry land could be found. She soon returned with her beak full of grass, which she had gathered from a desert island. Oklatabashih, to reward her for her discovery, mingled a little salt in her food. Soon after this the waters subsided and the dry land appeared: then the inmates of the great boat went forth to repeople another earth. But the dove, having acquired a taste for salt during her stay in the boat continued its use by finding it at the salt-licks that then abounded in many places, to which the cattle and deer also frequently resorted.

Every day after eating, she visited a salt-lick to eat a little salt to aid her digestion, which in the course of time became habitual and thus was transmitted to her offspring. In the course of years, she became a grand-mother, and took great delight in feeding and caring for her grandchildren. One day, however, after having eaten some grass seed, she unfortunately forgot to eat a little salt as usual. For this neglect, the Great Spirit punished her and her descendants by forbidding them forever the use of salt.

When she returned home that evening, her grandchildren, as usual, began to coo for their supply of salt, but their grandmother having been forbidden to give them any more, they cooed in vain. From that day to this, in memory of this lost privilege, the doves everywhere on the return of spring, still continue their cooing for salt, which they will never again be permitted to eat. Such is the ancient tradition to the Choctaws of the origin of the cooing of doves.

But the fate of the three birds who eluded capture by Oklatabashih, their tradition states: They flew high in the air at the approach of Oka falama, and as the waters rose higher and

higher, they also flew higher above the surging waves. Finally, the waters rose in near proximity to the sky, upon which they lit as their last hope (perching upside down upon the sky). Soon, to their great joy and comfort, the waters ceased to rise, and commenced to recede. But while sitting on the sky, their tails, projecting downward, were continually being drenched by the dashing spray of the surging waters below, and thus the end of their tail feathers became forked and notched, and this peculiar shape of the tails of the biskinik, fitukhak and bakbak has been transmitted to their latest posterity.

But the sagacity and skill manifested by these birds in eluding the grasp of Oklatabashih, so greatly delighted the Great Spirit that he appointed them to be forever guardian birds of the red men. Therefore these birds, and especially the biskinik, often made their appearance in their villages on the eve of a ball play; and whichever one of the three came, it twittered in happy tones its feelings of joy in anticipation of the near approach of the Choctaws’ favorite game.

But in time of war, one of these birds always appeared in the camp of a war party, to give them warning of approaching danger, by its constant chirping and hurried flitting from place to place around their camp. In many ways did these birds prove their love for and friendship to the red man, and he ever cherished them as the loved birds of his race, the remembered gift of the Great Spirit in the fateful days of the mighty Oka falama,

From: “Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians” by John R. Swanton, pages 204-205.