The Legend of Oklatabishi and the Oka Falamah

Bishinik, September 1978, page 6 & 7

The Legend of Oklatabishi and the Oka Falamah

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout ancient Choctaw legend, the great flood is referred to as Oka Falamah, which means “the returned waters.” This can be explained in two ways. Either the Choctaws believed that at the time of creation, all of the earth was covered with water, or that in pre-history, the people of the tribe had escaped to this continent from an island which sank into the sea.)

By Len Green

There came a time in the glory that was the land of Okla (the people) when man become corrupt and wicked, with brother fighting brother, the stealing of wives, murder, pillage and lust, that Achafa Chito (the great one) become displeased and sickened with those chosen of Hashtahli. First, he sent warnings in storms, trembling of the earth and other signs, but after the storms and tremors ceased, the people again resumed their wicked ways. Achafa Chito become so displeased, that he finally determined to destroy the people if they did not cease their wickedness and return again to the paths of light. So, therefore, Achafa Chito sent forth a great prophet who went from village to village, from iksa to iksa and from moiety to moiety warning the people that if they did not return immediately to the way of light, all of the wicked would be destroyed. None believed his words. They heard him, laughed and then returned to their incessant gambling, murder and lusting after the carnal knowledges of the flesh.

Among all of Okla, the chosen people of Achafa Chito, only one heard and heeded the words of the great prophet sent by Hashtahli to warn them of their impending doom. His name was Oklatibishi, which means “he who holds himself apart from people.” In another version of the legend, he is identified as Oklatabashih, which means “mourner for the people.”

Oklatibishi had withdrawn from the companionship of other men and had built for himself a small house high up on a mountainside, from where he could observe the evil and lust being shown in the land of Okla. When he was visited by the great prophet, Oklatibishi listened, heard the words of the prophet and was saddened that mankind had so transgressed that it would be removed from the face of the earth. His sadness was marked by Achafa Chito, and he called the spirit of Oklatibishi into the mid-world between death and the great land and instructed him, saying: “You will fell the eight largest sassafras trees to be found upon your mountain, trim them and from them you shall make a great raft. Upon this raft, you will construct a house. You will stock your house with enough corn, nuts and dried meat to feed you and those you take with you for three times as many days as you have fingers and toes. With you, you will take three doves, two gray doves and one white dove. You must have this task completed before Hashi (the sun) shows his face on a count of ten times the number of fingers upon your hand. (100 days) On that morning, you must have your doves in cages, your stores and yourself in your house aboard your raft,” Achafa Chito told Oklatibishi.

As soon as his spirit had re-entered his body, Oklatibishi began his labors, choosing and felling the eight largest Sassafras trees on the mountain, trimming them and lashing them together to create a great raft as instructed by the Great One. One day, as Oklatibishi labored, he was chanced upon by a group of hunters, who laughed at him, and inquired what he was doing.

When Oklatibishi told them, they called him a crazy old man and laughed because he was building such a large raft so for from the river, saying “How will you ever get it to the water?”

But, when they saw that Oklatibishi was ignoring them and continuing to go about his labors, they went away laughing merrily at the strange antics of the “crazy man up on the mountain.”

But even as Oklatibishi labored and the long summer days shortened into autumn, a change was slowly coming upon the land. The skies grew cloudy, so that the people saw neither the sun by day nor the moon and stars by night. it slowly became difficult for the people to tell night from day.

Finally, all light seemed to have been withdrawn from the earth, so that one could not tell the night from the day and a coldness seemed to settle upon the earth. The people had to carry torches to light their way losing track of day or night. Fearfully, they went to their magic men, their healers, their spirit talkers and their conjurers, but the “spiritual” leaders could not help them, become despondent, and some even began to chant their death songs. Mankind, wearied and perplexed but not repenting their misdeeds or reforming as directed by the great prophet, slept in the darkness only to awaken to more darkness. The food that had been stored away against the coming of the winter become mouldy and unfit to be eaten, and the wild animals of the forest gathered around the fires bewildered, even entering the towns and villages, seeming to have lost all fear of men.

Suddenly, a fearful crash of thunder, louder than ever heard before, seemed to shake the earth, and almost immediately a light was seen glimmering far away to the north. It was soon discovered that the light was not the returning of the sun, but the gleam of great waters advancing in mighty billows, wave after wave, rolling onward to destroy everything in their path. The wailing cry of “Oka Falamah, Oka Falamah,” (the returned waters) was soon heard coming from all directions, as the giant waves rushed down upon the land of Okla, destroying everything in its path.

From his house on his raft, Oklatibishi heard the wailing and the roar of the returning waters, but remembering the words of Achafa Chito he had to content himself with peeping out of the doorway of his house. At one point, Oklatibishi was able to discern the hunters who had goaded him and laughed at him but days before trying to clamber up the side of the mountain to reach the raft. But the angry waters swept them away, and soon Oklatibishi’s raft floated upon a sea of angry waters that continued to rise, and rise, and rise and rise. For several days, Oklatibishi could still observe the bodies of many people floating upon the face of the waters, but after several days they disappeared and the waters became so deep that he could not make out the tops of the tallest trees or see fish swimming in the waters.

Even the birds were swept from the sky by the winds or battered down by pouring rains and were lost in the returned waters. However there were two exceptions. These were Bishinik (the split-tailed yellow crested woodpecker, now called the Spotted Flicker, and also identified as Bishinik) and Filichik (also identified as Fituktak, and modernly known as the scissor-tailed fly catcher or sapsucker). Fighting the winds and the rain, these two birds flew as high as they possibly could and when they become too tired to fly, they lit upside down upon the sky, digging in, their claws to hang on. The returned waters rose so high that the tops of the waves dashed against the tail feathers of these two birds, so that the feathers were permanently separated to form the distinctive scissor-tail appearance of the birds. (One legend also adds, Bakbak, the red-headed woodpecker) to the blessed birds.

So impressed by their performance was Achafa Chito, that he blessed the birds and appointed them to be the guardian birds for the descendants of Oklatibishi and the new Okla (people). Thereafter, these birds, especially Bishinik, made appearances at villages on the eve of a ball play or other great events, twittering happily and raising the spirits of the Choctaw. In time of war, Bishinik always accompanied the war parties or appeared at their camps, giving them warning of approaching danger by twittering and flitting about their camp or tapping upon trees in the night to warn of enemy approach. The huntsmen, too, loved Bishinik coming to believe that their tiny yellow crested friend would lead them to,the best hunting areas and help their arrows fly truly to fell game.

But, back to Oklatibishi and the returned waters. The raft floated on the waters for so many days that the last of mankind lost count of the days and nights, and watched his stores of corn, nuts and dried meats dwindle rapidly. After many days, Oklatibishi began a practice of sending one of the gray doves out each day to fly about and see if it could spot land. And at darkness each night, the dove returned to the raft. To show his gratitude to the dove, Oklatibishi developed a practice of mixing a bit of salt with the cracked corn he gave to the dove with its evening meal.

One morning when he come out of his house onto the raft, Oklatibishi espied a huge, black bird, which flew toward his raft, circled several times and answered with a sullen croaking screech when Oklatibishi asked if land were near. The black bird flew away, and did not appear again so that Oklatibishi came to know that even upon the earth cleaned by the returning waters evil would still exist.

As usual, he sent the gray dove forth and a few hours later she returned and deposited into his hand several blades of grass, indicating that land was not far away. As Oklatibishi fed the dove with corn and salt, a strong wind arose and shortly had carried the weary warrior to the shores of a beautiful island. During her stay on the raft, the dove had acquired a taste for salt, so thereafter every day after feeding she would find a salt lick and take a little salt to aid her digestion. In the course of time her visits to the salt lick become habitual, and in the course of the years she became first a mother and then a grandmother, leading her children and grandchildren to the salt-lick each day after eating. One day however, after having snacked upon some grass seed, she forgot to visit the salt lick as usual. For this neglect, Achafa Chito punished her and her descendants by forbidding them to ever again have the use of salt. When she returned home that evening, her children and grand-children asked that they be taken to the salt-lick for their usual bit of salt. But, she could not take them there. They mourned because they could no longer have their beloved salt, but they cooed in vain. From that day to this, doves everywhere on the return of spring, still continue their cooing for salt, which they will never again be permitted to eat. This accounts for the mournful cry of the dove.

But let us again return to the story of Oklatibishi.

When his raft arrived at the island, Oklatibishi found the island to be green, well supplied with fresh water and occupied by animals enough of all types to repopulate the world and furnish him with meat for his cooking pot. Near the center of the island, Oklatibishi even found a house already built for him, with a store of nuts, dried fruits, corn and dried meat hanging inside. There was even a well-tended garden with vegetables beginning to ripen in the light of the sun.

For several days, Oklatibishi was content, but soon he began to realize that something was missing from his life. As the days crept by, Oklatibishi became slowly and painfully aware of what was troubling him. As he walked in the woodlands, he noted that each of the animals had a mate. But Oklatibishi had none. How could the race of man survive if there were no mate for the last man left after the ebbing of the returned waters?

As Oklatibishi turned his steps slowly back toward his house, he slowly become aware of a new sound in the forest. He listened intently until he realized that the sound was the voice of a woman singing. He hastened his steps toward home, and there washing his clothing and preparing him a supper was the most beautiful young woman that Oklatibishi had ever seen. He realized that Achafa Chito had turned the white dove into a beautiful maiden to be his mate. That is why, until this day, when a man is especially pleased with his lovely wife, he will call her “His little dove” as an extra special sign of his love for her and his gratitude to Achafa Chito for allowing him to have her as a mate.