told by D.L. Birchfield
originally published in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, Tonawanda, NY
In the oldest memory of The People, there was a time when The People did not have a home. They wandered here and there until their numbers became many. Everywhere they went they carried the bones of their dead. It was a great burden, but The People would not abandon the bones.
One day, two of The People were out hunting when they saw a glow of light on a hill in the distance. They hurried to it but found nothing. They camped nearby, and the next morning the light appeared again. It was a woman, who said, “I am very hungry.” The two hunters did not have much food, but they gave her what they had. She ate a little of it, and then she said, “Come here tomorrow and I will give you something.”
The next day the two hunters returned. Where the woman had been standing they found a beautiful plant. It was corn. They took it to The People. The People learned to grow the corn, but they had to camp for a long time before it was ready to eat. Before long, some of The People began to complain when it was time to move.
Two brothers, Chahtah and Chickasah, who were leaders of The People, heard the complaints and consulted with a hopaii about what to do. The hopaii erected a pole. He said,”In the morning, if the pole is leaning in any direction, we must follow it to find a home.” The next morning the pole was leaning toward the rising sun. Chahtah and Chickasah gathered The People together. They started on a great journey. Each night the hopaii planted the pole, and each morning the pole was found leaning toward the rising sun. The journey lasted a long time. It was a hard journey and many died. After a while The People found it necessary to go forward only one half day, carrying the bones of the dead, and then returning for the rest of the bones.
They came to a great river. It was so mighty that it had to be beyond age, so they named it Misha Sipokni. They built rafts and spent many days crossing the river. Not long after crossing Misha Sipokni, they came to a beautiful stream and followed it to its source. It was time to plant the corn, so they camped for a long time. The land was abundant in game and berries and many useful plants. The corn produced a big crop. When it came time to move, the hopaii planted the pole. But the next morning the pole was found standing straight. The People rejoiced when the hopaii announced they had found their home.
The People built a great mound, and when they saw that it was leaning, they laughed and named it Nanih Waiya. They said this mound will be our mother and we will spread from here to make our homes.
Chickasah led the first ones out to make their homes. One evening he was smoking some tobacco and dropped some fire. When Chahtah went out to see where Chickasah had gone, he found that the fire had destroyed the trail, and he could not find him. Many years later the ones who had followed Chickasah were found again, but they had been gone so long that their speech had changed slightly. They now call themselves Chickasaws, and the ones who had followed Chahtah now called themselves Choctaws, and they became two separate nations, always living near each other.
POSTSCRIPT.- Many different versions of the Choctaw migration story have been recorded, beginning with the French, who settled near the Choctaws in present-day Mississippi early in the 18th century. Some versions incorporate the story of the gift of corn, some do not, some tell of the two brothers leading the migration, some tell of only Chahta, while others mention only a nameless prophet. Some versions are short, some run to thousands of words. Today, traditional storytellers will tell the story differently, and at different length, depending upon the occasion and the audience. There are also a number of other stories which account for the origin of the Choctaws, many of them centered around the sacred mound Nanih Waiya (the “leaning hill,” now preserved as a state park).
The most thorough analysis of many early Choctaw origin stories can be found in Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians, by John R. Swanton, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 103 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931), pps. 5-37.
For a more recent analysis see “Choctaw Oral Tradition Relating to Tribal Origin,” by William Brescia, Jr., in The Choctaw Before Removal, edited by Carolyn Keller Reeves (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985), pps. 3-16. For an excellent recent example of two Choctaw traditional stories told by a Native American storyteller (among two dozen stories from several different nations), see Native American Animal Stories, told by Joseph Bruchac (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992).