Pre-Removal Choctaw Traditions History Essay Example
THE CULTURE OF CHOCTAW
History is a significant heritage of every community, which marks the extent to which the community has progressed in terms of political, social, and economic organization. Different communities thrive on distinct histories. History helps people of any community to understand where they come from, what they are, and hence can determine their destiny. Loss of the community’s history is heavily detrimental to the existence of the community in question. It can lead the people of the community to being assimilated by alien cultures. Interaction with the individuals from other communities and increased inclination to formal education can blur the community’s customs and traditions. This has weakened many communities around the world, especially as they struggled to embrace modernity. Customs and traditions of the same community can only be practiced if the subjects embrace their history and have a sense of belonging. Through the customs and traditions, communities emerge uniquely in the complex society and are henceforth recognized basing on their historical background. For instance, America contains innumerable communities with diverse histories which have blended harmoniously contributing to a solid and indivisible multicultural society. The Choctaw is one of these communities. Their roots can be traced from the Southeastern United States. They used to live in current Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama states. However, with the course of the time they migrated and lived in different parts of the nation though remaining conservative with their culture up to date. Choctaw people belong to the linguistic group called Muskogean, which is among the prominent linguistic groups forming the United States of America. Choctaw community was full of rich traditions in the pre-removal era. Their traditions were showcased in different scenarios such as ceremonies, political system, social life, and daily activities of the community.
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The cultural life of the community of Choctaw was based on various aspects which formed its identity. Most significant of all was its religious organization. People of this community valued religious life, as well as they valued their own breath (Jeltz 31). Their supreme power was the Sun which they worshipped all the time. They believed that the Sun gave the life and death. Failure to worship and to perform the associated rituals towards the Sun was unthinkable, because no one would risk his or her own life by contravening this rite. They also believed in the existence of both good and evil spirits. They could often pray to the Sun and conduct a number of rituals in order to keep away the evil spirits as they invited the good spirits in their midst. Good spirits were associated with successful life, prosperity, peace, and harmony both among the relatives and neighbors, boost harvest as well as health. On the other hand, evil spirits were connected with illnesses, conflicts, famine, drought, accidents, and other calamities. Appeasing their god, the Sun, and their progenitors was the only way they could stay aloof from the evil spirits.
The people of Choctaw also had religious leaders in form of priests, who worked hand in hand with community’s governing council. These priests were believed to bear important information pertaining to every member of the Choctaw community. For instance, the priests were believed to have a revelation of the people’s death. This made the people of the community to have high regard for them, because everyone would want to be informed about his or her fate. The priests were literally adored by people, as no one dared to challenge them or antagonize their decisions (Akers 67).
Occasionally, the governing council could convene a meeting with their subjects upon the advice from priests. The meeting would be attended by all the representatives of the tribe, as they were eager to hear about the latest news and the progress of their community. Such meetings were believed to have a spiritual and symbolic value. People would associate these gatherings with the divine spirits which were on a special assignment as directed by their god, the Sun. This belief instilled in people unquestionable trust and reverence for priests and governing council, as they represented the supernatural power. They made important decisions of the community and interceded between god and the people. They also determined the exact time of worship and the kind of sacrifices to make to god and ancestors. Through them, the community was directed on the best activities which were in agreement with the will of god. The tribal policies and actions could not be adopted until the priests and the governing council had approved them.
All activities in Choctaw community were aligned to spirituality, as they had a religious implication. For instance, farming could not be practiced unless god was present. The time when the Sun could not be visible was never used for farming. The people believed that god did not appear while having a rest. They, therefore, would utilize that time to relax, too. The season of drought was viewed as a punishment from god who released intense heat to scourge their crops. During this season, priest and governing council could conduct a series of rituals together with the people of the community to appease god and the spirits. They could also contemplate on their past activities to recall where they might have deviated in order to seek forgiveness from the god. Whenever the rains resumed, the people could carry out numerous sacrifices in honor of their god. This was believed to be the time when god would have answered their prayers and forgiven them for their iniquities. Every stage of growth of their crops would thereafter be marked with a ceremony of thanksgiving. After germination they could give thanks by making sacrifices during weeding, flowering and ripening of crops and, finally, during the time of harvesting.
The usage of their farm production was also spiritually governed. Any forms of wastages were highly rebuked for they aggravated god and the spirits. People were called upon to share everything in equal measure similar to the way their god, the Sun, shone on all of them without discrimination. Selfishness was viewed as a bad omen and would attract harsh punishment from god. In fact, everyone had a responsibility of ensuring that their neighbor had enough to eat before they could focus on their own welfare, as that was the only way that would attract blessing from god for more prosperity to come to them. In case one would be tempted to steal, the entire community could be held responsible for neglecting the person’s needs. This warranted tough punitive measures as well.
The people of Choctaw also had an elaborate way of communication. Every year they had a ceremony called the ‘head flattening’ ceremony to commemorate the defeat of the evil spirits and the triumph of the divine sprits. The ceremony would be marked by conducting sacrifices that involved slaughtering animals which they beheaded and flattened their heads using special kinds of stone tablets (Galloway 18). The ceremony was also marked by song and dance and included people of all ages from the community. Nevertheless, they never invited aliens. However, it is believed that as people of Choctaw community began educating their children, they slowly started to interact with foreigners and embrace other cultures. This resulted in intermarriages that later made the flattening ceremony lose its value.
Apart from the head flattening ceremony, Choctaw community conducted a number of ceremonies in line with the rites of passage. First, whenever a child was born, the community congregated to celebrate the birth of new life. They sung all kinds of songs and danced as they thanked god for bringing a new member in their tribe. Here, the priest and governing council also took the lead in performing some significant rituals on baby as a way of formal welcome to the community (Howard and Levine 26). The parents were also required to be prayed and rewarded for being the conduit through which the new life found its way to the world. Many gifts could be given both to the parents and the baby.
The naming ceremony would follow a few days after birth. This was a special event when the governing council would unveil the rightful name for the newly born baby. The name given was to have significance in the community’s traditions and was said to be given by god through the priests. The ceremony also entailed sacrifices and libations spat on the baby as a symbol of blessing. Elders also uttered special words to the baby and its parents. The words were regarded as counsel to the baby to grow up into a responsible and resourceful person and become a part of the community. A boy was to become a strong man who would defend the community during the time of crisis, while a girl was to become a strong and responsible woman who would take care of everybody in the community.
Apart from that, the child could also undergo initiation at some point in their life to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. This involved circumcision for the boys, while the girls were only supposed to be face- tattooed following a certain pattern that was agreed upon by the governing council. Circumcision was marked by song and dance as the parents ushered their sons and daughters into adulthood (Mould 235). A number of rituals were also carried out including appeasing of god and the ancestors. The initiates were not supposed to show coward behavior during the rite, because this would be tantamount to being a bad omen and a disgrace to the community. Immediately after the initiation, men and women were mature enough to begin courting. However, as modernity gradually crept in, this practice was changed and people were only circumcised at their will and could not be obliged to court immediately. Girls also began embracing beauty as a lifestyle but not for the cultural functions the way it used to be in the pre-removal era.
Other than initiation, Choctaw community also embraced the rite of marriage. This took place shortly after someone had been initiated and courted a woman who was the choice of the community. The priest was in charge of conducting the marriage, after which the loved ones would be allowed officially to live together as a husband and a wife. The governing council also took responsibility to utter special words to the couple as a blessing for them to be productive during their marriage life. During the marriage, a woman was expected to bear as many children as possible. Barrenness was viewed as a bad omen brought by evil spirits. This would be highly rebuked. Sometimes the barren women were literally driven out of the community for they were seen as a curse for the tribe. Men were allowed to marry several women as long as they conformed to the provision of the community pertaining to their responsibilities as men in their families.
Similarly, the Choctaw community conducted other ceremonies which were related to the coronation of leaders and priests. This took place wherever there was a need to have another priest or a member of the governing council, especially after one would have passed on. Such ceremonies were eventful and full of rituals. There were specific qualifications that would be considered for a person to be eligible to be inaugurated as a priest or a member of the governing council. The restrictions were connected with the age and track record of a candidate in their paternal responsibilities, as well as their contribution to the community. The candidates were carefully vetted, as they would become important members of the society in providing spiritual directions to the community.
Finally, Choctaw community also celebrated the death as a rite of passage. Although they condemned causes of death such as diseases, accidents, calamities, and hunger among others, they regarded death as a reunion of a person with their creator. Therefore, this was marked by a festive ceremony in which every activity was halted in honor of the dead. The corpses were later buried to the rest under certain rocks which were believed to be the dwelling places for divine spirits that would raise them on the last day (Sprague 68). Other than these aforementioned ceremonies, the people of Choctaw were also engaged in a number of social games and sports activities which brought members of the community together. Through this arrangement, participants got an opportunity to showcase their talents and skills in playing certain games. The winning groups were rewarded, while the losing ones were encouraged to continue trying. This cultivated the spirit of competition in the community and has been popular till today.
The Concept of the Community about Their Role in the World
Choctaw community believed that every person existed only for one purpose, namely the capacity to be productive. Productivity was measured in terms of the number of children that a couple would bear in their lifetime, the amount of crops they would be harvested from their farm in a single harvest, the number of people that a single family would be able to feed other than themselves, etc. Laziness was never condoned in the Choctaw community, as it would infuriate god and cause the community to suffer the notorious consequences (McKee and Schlenker 47). Apart from that, all incidents that would slow down the rate of productivity such as diseases, disability, accidents, etc would only result into execution of that person. The community had little regard for the sick and more often than not people who fell sick never dared to mention their state, unless where they were completely ill, perhaps to the point of death.
Among the members of the community, there were the healers who played an instrumental role in providing medical service to those who were completely ill. However, whenever illness prolonged, the victims would be executed in public as they believed evil spirits had vested into the sick person. The people believed that if a sick person were not executed, the illness would spread to the other members of the community. Such deaths, however, were never celebrated since they were associated with evil spirits. The disabled people, in their turn, were never regarded as the members of the community. Whenever a child was born, the governing council had a responsibility to examine the baby thoroughly to ascertain whether it had any disabilities before they decided on the name to give it. In many occasions the children born with disabilities were thrown into the fields to be eaten by wolves which were prevalent by then.
Concept about Existence Concerning Space
Furthermore, people of Choctaw community held a firm belief that they were created by their Supreme god the Sun so that they could occupy the whole space and improve it. In fact, they believed that the world was large and fully belonged to the Choctaw. Before they could meet other foreign people, the Choctaw believed that they would enlarge until they covered every part of the world. This was the main reason as to why they believed in hard worw. Their god authorized them to always work towards improving the space which they occupied (McKee and Schlenker 38). Anyone who failed to add value to the space which they occupied was also viewed as an outcast, and no one would want to get associated with them. In fact, they became subjects of execution if they did not heed to the advice given by governing council.
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Effect of Their Perception of Life
The perception of life among the people of Choctaw affected them in various ways. First, their strong belief in their god the Sun contributed to their strength in spirituality as well as their morality (Kidwell 43). This is because they believed that god watched them every day and though he slept at night, he had always assigned the divine spirits to look after them and give a report every morning. Their belief that their tribulations were a direct and generalized punishment from god made them live an impeccable life and always avoid mistakes that would anger god. It also prevented people from making their own decisions, as they solely relied on priests for every direction as to what was to be done. No one dared to challenge the priests and members of governing council even if they made decisions that would harm people. According to the people, their leaders were always right, as they acted on behalf of god. On the contrary, this perception made people of Choctaw community to lag behind in civilization, which brought development for other communities very fast. Their continued belief in the Sun as their god made them repugnant to other communities, especially those that believed in other gods who was not connected with the Sun. It took them time to acknowledge the existence of other world cultures and religions.
Similar to many other communities of the world, the Choctaw people rated the value of life in the community basing on the productivity of a person. People who were productive would be valued by their community and given extra responsibilities of serving the community as custodians of moral or religious values, etc. Those who were unproductive were highly disregarded to a point of executing them. Though this practice in no longer practiced in the contemporary society, lazy people are still condemned in most cases. The best punishment they receive is usually denial of means of survival, such as job for earning income or being denied food. The political system of the Choctaw community also adversely affected the people’s social and religious life. People were meant to believe that the world comprised only of the Choctaws who were created by god to fill up the space. When they saw other people from various regions they treated them with contempt. This attitude has for long remained the norm of the community. The lives of these people revolved around religion. This also made it very difficult for them to accept other world religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. Although this perception would later be eased following the embracing of education, the rate at which the beliefs were relaxed was low as compared to the other communities. Today, the community has progressed politically and is living in harmony with other people, embracing civilization and partly discarding their traditions.