|
|
|
Morning Sun
  • OKIE IN EXILE: Chickasaw Spring

  • You can get yourself into trouble by referring to our indigenous American peoples as Indians, but I still do. I think it’s a good reminder that Columbus started out to go someplace else, didn’t realize where he was when he got here, and when he did get here wouldn’t admit it was the wrong place.



    If he’d brought his wife along, he’d’ve never heard the end of it.

    • email print
  • You can get yourself into trouble by referring to our indigenous American peoples as Indians, but I still do. I think it’s a good reminder that Columbus started out to go someplace else, didn’t realize where he was when he got here, and when he did get here wouldn’t admit it was the wrong place.
    If he’d brought his wife along, he’d’ve never heard the end of it.
    All of that having been said, words are very important. Our words hold the power to create, to influence, and to provide identity.  I got a reminder of that recently as I went to visit the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
    It is quite a place.
    I went to school at McLish Public Schools near Fittstown, Oklahoma. I was there kindergarten through twelfth grade.  When we played cowboys and Indians, there were real cowboys and real Indians.  Though there were a lot of little cowboys playing Indians and vice a versa. Most of the Indians were Chickasaws.  This worked out nicely with my family history because the Chickasaw tribe is related to the Choctaw tribe and my dad had grown up among the Choctaws over in the Forks of Boggy.  His family had come to be there from Mississippi where they had been among the Choctaws as well.
    In the Chickasaw Cultural Center, I discovered that what I’d known of the Chickasaws was superficial. They left school, went to their own churches, and had cultural lives that I couldn’t guess at.
    The churches are ever so important a part of that.  They provided a safe place in which the culture was preserved.
    My trip through the Cultural Center gave me a glimpse into that.  I don’t want to kid myself that it’s any more than a glimpse.  I don’t want to kid myself that it’s not a little rose-colored.  But it did open my eyes to see at least a glimpse whatever shading there might be.
    One thing I saw was the degree the Chickasaws had influenced Southern culture. This was done at lunch.  I ordered the Chickasaw Special which consists of an Indian Taco, pishofa, and grape dumplings.
    You already know what an Indian taco is, or at least can guess, so I won’t go into that.  Pishofa, on the other hand, you might not know about.  It is a dish that is based on hominy and pork.  Eat a mess of that, and it won’t take you long to figure out where grits came from.  Just saying. I am ashamed to say that I’d grown up around folks making pishofa and had never had any until that day. Wasted time!
    Then there were the grape dumplings.  I’d never even heard of them before. Never.  In order to explain them, I have to go into an area of my marriage that is very sensitive: cobbler.  I love cobbler of all kinds.  When I first married, Jean was delighted to learn this because she could make cobbler, and she did.  It was utterly--and I mean utterly--unlike the cobbler that my mother and grandmother made.  It wasn’t bad; there is no bad cobbler. But it was different, not the cobbler of my youth.  After momma died, I thought that I would never taste it again without going to a soul-food restaurant or a Southern Baptist potluck.
    Page 2 of 2 - Until, I had grape dumplings, that is.
    When I tasted the grape dumplings, a little voice in my heart said, “Grandma? Is that you?”
    In any case, it’s pretty clear that my southern ancestors learned a lot from the indigenous peoples.
    They are making a real effort to preserve the Chickasaw language at the Cultural Center.  Every time a native speaker dies, it is like a book being burned.  You have to copy it or it will be lost forever.  They are getting young people excited about their culture.  Part of this is through sports--stick ball--and some is through the stomp dance.
    There was a young docent who was teaching about the stomp dance who explained about the songs that went along with them.  They were in Chickasaw, for the most part, but the chorus is in Muskogean.  The chorus is the same throughout all of the Five Civilized Tribes (for Kansans: Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole). The meaning of these words are lost in modern Chickasaw, but their preservation through tradition provides a means of showing the underlying unity of the Tribes.
    In the gift shop, they sell a lot of curios made in China, but the Chickasaw woman at the cash register was filling her spare time using beads to decorate a Christmas tree ornament.  The different colored beads were strung on a monofilament line. Language is like the line that the beads are strung on.  The ancient Muskogean chorus unites the Tribes; the Chickasaw language unites the Tribe.
    And doesn’t the One for whom the Christmas tree ornament was made unite me to them?  Something to think about.
    Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at okieinexile@gmail.com.

      calendar