Bishinik November 1979 Page 8 & 9
Origins of the Choctaw People Retold from Old Legends
By Len Green
This is the second in a series of feature articles reconstructing and placing more or less in chronological order legends of the origin of the Choctaw people from the day they emerged from beneath the sea to follow the Sacred Stick eastward to the ancient Okla homeland which is now parts of the states of Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. In the first installment, we met Hatakni (first born man), learned how he secured the Sacred Stick and became the voice of Hashtahli, the Sun Father, on the earth.
Chahta and Chicksa
While his people, Okla, were gathering and preparing food for their first meal in the new land, Hatakni strolled about pondering how he would be able to discharge all of the responsibilities placed upon him by the Sun Father, Hashtahli. As he strolled, his attention was suddenly caught by a youth who was squatting on the sand. Instead of hunting food or gathering nuts, the young man seemed to be gazing with rapt attention at a spot on the beach. Hatakni walked up behind the youth and looked down at the sand which seemed to be claiming all of the young man’s attention. However, Hatakni saw nothing but sand.
“What are you seeing, young brother,” Hatakni asked.
The young man replied, “Over here I see two very tiny shellfish fighting for the attentions of a female shellfish, and over there by the pebble are three insects. “They have just killed a much smaller insect and are dividing up its meat to carry back to their nest over near the base of that small bush to feed to their youngsters,” the youth concluded.
“Very good, young brother,” replied Hatakni. “Now, look at the person approaching us and tell me what you can about that person.”
Glancing up, the youth replied: “I see a young woman, who appears to be between 18 and 20 summers. Her hair is black, shoulder length and well oiled. She has brown eyes and is more attractive than average. “At a time perhaps about a year ago, she was apparently attacked by some of our enemies and she has a small scar on her neck as if from the bite of human teeth and another scar near her left breast, which appears to be a knife cut scar. “She is wearing a kirtle made from the skin of an antelope, which shows she is well loved by her family because of the care with which her garment was prepared, fitted and laced,” the youth concluded.
“Well done,” said Hatakni,” I have a place for you.
“I am willing,” said the youth.
“Henceforth,” replied Hatakni, “Your name shall be Anoli (in ancient Choctaw this meant literally “story teller,” in modern Choctaw It means “to speak.”). “Anoli, you will gather about you a small group of young people like yourself. You will observe Okla (the people) and remember the things that they do and say,” Hatakni said. “Each night, when we are gathered around our fires after we have eaten, you and your group will tell us stories reciting all the things you remember and keeping within your mind a history of Okla from this day forward,” he concluded.
“So it shall be,” said the newly named Anoli.
A few moments later as he continued his walk, Hatakni approached a group of Okla, who appeared to be complaining bitterly about the beach, the heat of the sun. the length of the walk necessary to get fresh water and the difficulties of finding sufficient food to feed themselves and their families. As Hatakni prepared to make a statement to Okla, a young man spoke up suddenly. His voice was deep and assuring and he immediately captured the attention of the complainers.
“Complain not, brothers and sisters,” the man said. “Instead, be thankful to Hashtahli that he has given us this land, that he has provided fresh water and food and that he has allowed us to live.”
Shamed, the complainers lowered their eyes and moved away from the man to return to their tasks of seeking food or preparing a shelter for their families.
To the speaker, Hatakni said, “I have need of you.”
“What would you have me do?” the man asked.
“Henceforth, your name shall be Aholbikbi,” Hatakni answered. (The name is thought to be from the Choctaw words “aholba” which means image and ikbi which means maker … thus “image maker.”).
“You will be the inspirer of the people. You will give them words of encouragement and you will walk just behind the Chief when we move from this place,” Hatakni replied.
By this time, food had been gathered and prepared and all of Okla sat down on the sand to partake of their first meal in the new land prepared for them by Hashtahli. But after the meat the people seemed to be confused, milling about on the beaches and babbling to themselves or each other.
“Hear me!”, Hatakni called out. But his voice was lost in the continuing confusion. The Sacred Stick jumped in his hand, and sensing its desire and obeying its unspoken command, Hatakni raised the Sacred Stick up into the air above his head. As he did, all conversation ceased and the eyes of every one of the people from youngest to eldest turned upon Hatakni. Hatakni addressed his people:
“I have been selected by the Sun Father to organize you and to lead you, with the help of this Sacred Stick, to the new land promised you by Hashtahli. “Each mother will gather her family and choose for them a family rallying spot, which will be theirs for three trips of the Sun Father across the skies. The father of each family will go to the sea to catch fish for his family to eat. The oldest son of each family will fare into the land with sticks and stones to capture or kill meat for his family. The oldest daughter of each family will go forth to pick tender young greens, fruit and nuts, and the second oldest daughter shall gather shellfish along the shore. If you gather more food than you need to fill the bellies of your family, you will share your surplus with families who have no children or with families who have more children then their hunters and gatherers can properly feed. Within three days, we shall be organized and on the fourth day we shall move out from this place following this Sacred Stick to the land promised us by Hashtahli. Our journey shall take many moons (months) and the grass shall be dead many times (many years shall pass) before we reach this promised home. The journey will be long and hard, and perhaps some of you will not live to enjoy the richness promised us by Hashtahli. However, we must never lose faith. These things have been promised to us by our Sun Father, Hashtahli, and we are always in his hands.”
When he had finished speaking, Hatakni lowered the Sacred Stick.
Gone was the confusion and wonderment among the people. Having heard the commands of the Sun Father, spoken to them through the mouth of Hatakni they began their assigned labors. As he moved about among the working families, Hatakni pondered the commands of Hashtahli and continued to seek the two leaders the Sun Father had charged him to find. Thus as he walked among his people, he studied carefully the men as they went about their labors. Although he received no inspiration from Hashtahli, Hatakni suddenly noted that his attention kept returning to two brothers, whom the family called Chahta and Chicksa.
Despite the fact that they were brothers, the two young men outwardly appeared as different as day and night both in physical appearance and in action. Chahta was tall and clean of limb, like Hatakni, while Chicksa was shorter and more blockishly built with long, strong arms and heavy muscular thighs. Chahta bore an air of quiet authority. He had helped his mother to locate a sheltered family rallying point and then moved about quietly and ably assisting other families to do the same. Then in a few minutes, Chahta would be at the sea helping his father to spear fish, or in the woodlands to help his sisters in gathering greens, nuts and fruit, or in the forest helping the huntsmen to kill one of the larger game animals. Hatakni soon noted that other families were beginning to ask questions of Chahta, and when he answered they accepted his suggestions with seemingly full satisfaction. “Is this one of our chiefs?”, Hatakni asked himself.
In the meantime, the brother, Chicksa, had apparently taken charge of the hunting chores for the family, dashing into the woodlands and returning shortly with hands full of squirrel and rabbits for the cookpot. Noting his successes, other young men of the tribe joined him and trailed after him as he jubilantly headed back into the woodlands. Soon their shouts of pleasure could be heard floating back toward the beaches as they chased and battled game in the woods. Even when not hunting, Chicksa seemed to be never still. He busied himself fashioning spears and with strings and swatches cut from old garments had built himself a sling and gathered small rounded stones to serve as missiles. After fashioning his weapons, Chicksa found a quiet place not far from the family’s rallying point and spent the time waiting for his evening meal in practice with his weapons … again joined by the young men.
As night fell on the first day, all of the families had been fully fed and all had gathered small branches, leaves and moss to make soft beds and furnish needed warmth against any chill the night might have.
On the morning of the second day, Hatakni again addressed the people.
He told them that they should begin gathering and smoking fish and larger game animals killed by the hunters, gather nuts, dry fruit and secure whatever non-perishable edibles they could find against the beginning of their journey. Again, Hatakni noted with pleasure how Chahta seemed to work with the Okla in lighting and sustaining the drying fires and how he quietly seemed to assume a mantle of leadership. In the meantime, Chicksa seemed to be taking over the hunting and fishing. He would dart to the ocean with suggestions on how to capture more and larger fish and in the next moment be in the forests helping to bring down a bear or buck. And, with each dart from place to place, it seemed that a growing contingent of other young men yapped at the heels of Chicksa, joining him in kills and yelping with satisfaction when he landed a large fish.
And so it was that, before night fell, Hatakni again convened the Okla and told them:
“You have one more day in this place. The second time from now that Hashtahli opens his eye upon the morning, we must go out from this place and begin our long march to the land promised us by the Sun Father. I have been told by Hashtahli that I must choose two chiefs, one to march before and one to march after. As the chief to march before, I choose Chicksa. It will be his job to lead the trail breakers and direct the hunters who will kill and furnish fresh meat for our people during our march. One son from each family will be furnished to Chicksa’s group, and a selected number of young, freshly married families without children will join this group so that the men will have women to cook for them. Runners will apprise Chicksa each morning of the route of march decreed by the Sacred Stick. The majority of Okla, the people, will march after, several miles behind Chicksa’s group. And, their leader shall be Chahta. Chahta will see that all families have food, will organize them for the journey, will arbitrate their disputes, will keep them together on the trail and his word will be the law, both for himself and for Chicksa.”
Chicksa seemed momentarily disturbed that Chahta should have more power them himself. But though his unhappiness was evident, he did not challenge the words of Hatakni, and shortly the smile had returned to his face. Hatakni was slightly perturbed by the flicker of jealously in Chicksa, and silently to himself determined that he would watch the stocky young chief closely.
The third day came and went with the people continuing to dry food and gather nuts and pack it into bags of skin against the journey they would begin on the morrow. Several times during the day, Hatakni took himself away from the people and standing alone, with the Sacred Stick thrust above his head, would try to summon the voice of Hashtahli.
“Oh, mighty and powerful Sun Father,’ Hatakni would say, “I await a sign, You have told me that we must leave this place tomorrow. Yet you have not told me, which way we shall go nor what we shall do.”
But Hashtahli would only glare down at him from his sky path, and answer not. As darkness arrived and he made his way to his bed, Hatakni stuck the Sacred Stick upright into the ground at his feet and lay down to a troubled sleep with still no answer to his question from the Sun Father.
When he awakened the next morning, the first thing his eye saw was the Sacred Stick .. but it had changed. The stick, which when stuck into the ground had been standing straight and true, was now badly bent. Hatakni jumped from his bed quickly, and pulled the Sacred Stick from the ground. As the stick cleared the soil, it snapped immediately back straight.
“This is strange,” murmured Hatakni.
So again he thrust the end of the stick into the ground, and as he did it again bent. He pulled it from the ground. It straightened. He put it back into the ground. It bent.
“It is pointing,” marveled Hatakni. “The Sacred Stick is pointing our way. We must travel east.
Quickly he summoned his chiefs, Chicksa and Chahta.
“You will gather your people and we must leave this place as soon as possible. The Sacred Stick has pointed our way,” Hatakni told the two young chiefs. “Chicksa, you must travel eastward toward the spot where the Sun Father opens his eye each morning. Keep some of your young men hunting game for your own food and for the remainder of the people. Mark the trail well, so that the Okla may follow in your footsteps. Before darkness falls each day, send runners back to spend the night so that they may speed to you each morning with the direction in which you must travel on that day,” Hatakni said.
“All will be done as you say,” said Chicksa, and with a small wave he raced off to organize his party.
Turning to Chahta, Hatakni said, “You will lead the remainder of the people. See to it that they do not stray from the path, protect them from the large animals, the serpents and the elements and minister always to their needs.”
Thus began the long journey of the people (some legends claim that the Choctaws were on the trail 43 years) to the land promised them by Hashtahli, the Sun Father. As they began to move out on the march, Hatakni strode before them, the Sacred Stick grasped firmly in his hand following the trail signs left by the children of Chicksa. Along or slightly behind Hatakni walked Chahta, surrounded by his appointed sub-chiefs who dashed up and down along the line carrying messages or reporting problems. Behind Hatakni and Chahta, leading his bevy of bearers strode Lopina, with the bearers behind him carrying in a sling of poles the golden sun symbol left for the people by Hashtahli as a token of his promise to his chosen people. Behind the leaders came the families. Aholbikbi ranged up and down the line of the marchers, offering words of comfort here, words of encouragement there, softly cajoling them to trust in Hashtahli and his chosen leaders. Meanwhile, Anoli and his bright-eyed group of young assistants darted up and down the march line, observing and listening, as their alert minds wove stories to be told around the campfires at night.
Each night, the Sacred Stick would be stuck into the ground at the feet of Hatakni. And, each morning, it would be bent to the east and south showing the direction of march for that day. Each morning as soon as first light appeared, Hatakni would reveal the route of march to a runner, and he would speed away to Chicksa’s camp with the information. Late each day, members of Chicksa’s group would come to the main camp with game for the cooking pots, or during the day would leave meat or other edibles beside the trail marked with rock cairns or sticks so they could be found by the children of Chahta.
Hashtahli’s chosen people were on their way to the promised land.
NEXT- Them Dry Bones.