Choctaw origin legends and southeastern indian culture.

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Choctaw History and Legends

It is well known that the Choctaw traveled the trail of tears in 1830 after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit was signed.  And in recent years it has become well known that the Choctaw people originated from the mound building culture and that they refer to the mound at Ninah Waya as the mother mound.  However, finding more information about the Choctaw, especially more ancient information seems to be much more difficult than for other tribes.  Volumes are written about the Cherokee, even the Chickasaw and Creek have many texts written about them and in most books about Indians you will find maybe one page or in some cases as many as 10 about the Choctaw.  From what have been able to find it is very difficult to find out much information about the Choctaw before removal.  The Choctaw culture seems to have Europeanized much more than that of other tribes I have read about.  Even the current Choctaw ceremonial dress originates from the style that white women wore in the 1830's.  For me this has never been enough.  It seems to be a borrowed culture.  I have always wanted to know where we came from before that.

Legends vary somewhat in the way that the mother mound Ninah Waya fits into the history of the Choctaw.   There are several stories of origin that I have been able to find after much searching.  One such legend has them crawling out of the sea in the land of the setting sun and then packing up their possessions and making a long journey across deserts and mountains led by a man carrying the sacred stick of Hashtahli, the Sun Father.  As they traveled east many died but as was the custom they carried their bones with them.  When they finally arrived at the 'promised land' it was at the mound Ninah Waya when they then buried the bones of their ancestors which they had carried with them. 

Another of the legends has the people emerging from the soil inside the mound Ninah Waya on the morning of creation when Hashtahli, the Sun Father, opened the mound.  This tells of some of the people traveling north and east away from Ninah Waya to become the Chickasaws and how they were not as well formed as the people who emerged from the mound later.  Those that emerged later stayed around the mound and became the Choctaw. 

As we well know, in legends there usually exists some truth that has been passed down through the generations and some is simply story to keep things interesting and facilitate the continued passing of the information.  As the mounds have been shown to be encampments and burial places we can see that both of these legends may contain some fact.  Fact, bones of the ancestors are buried in some of the mounds.  Fact ancient Indians lived on and around the mounds.  It is also believed that the Indians of the southeast came from migrants that entered from the extreme Northwestern area of North America and pushed their way down into the western plains and gradually out into the southeastern part of the country.  This gives credence to the idea of the long journey from the west to the east.  As these things happened over centuries many things changed as generally happens over such a long period of time and the Indians of the southeast developed into a culture that was rich in art and ceremony and has much in common with the ancient cultures of central and south America. 

Although there is evidence of trade across a broad range of the North American continent the culture of the southeastern Indians differed greatly from that of the plains Indians.  The southeastern Indians tended to be farmers as well as hunter gatherers and the nature of farming precludes the nomadic life that is commonly seen in the plains Indians.  This leads to the building of more substantial villages and temple complexes.  Evidence shows that the southeastern Indians were sun worshipers which also ties into the legends of origin.  Plains Indians on the other hand were not sun worshipers.  In many ways the culture of the southeastern Indians more closely resembles that of the Indians of central and south America than that of other North American tribes.

As is also common in the more stationary cultures art tends to flourish.  Furthermore the stationary nature of the culture leads to more art being found intact in later centuries.  The Southeastern Indians were no exception here and  there are numerous examples of art in the forms of carved stone, engraved copper and ceramic vessels that have been found in the excavation of the mounds.  The majority of the art that has been found dates to the Woodland Period (around 1000 BC to around 400 AD) and the Mississippian Period (around 800 to 1600 AD).  In the Woodland period the culture developed into a more agricultural one and the weapons had evolved from the simple throwing stick to the bow and arrow.  The agriculture produced grains which facilitated the development of ceramic vessels in which to store them.  Further development in the Mississippian period led to more refined pottery and the use of pottery for ceremonial and burial purposes.

Perhaps it is these aspects of their life that also led to them readily assimilate into the European culture as it emerged.
More Choctaw Legends can be found at Mike Boucher's page on the Choctaw Link.