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Rated: E · Short Story · History · #1614872
Story of the Pascagoula Indians who gave this River its fame.
Word count: 3623

The legend of Singing River
Halito (greetings) friends!

My name is Humma Luksi (Red Turtle) but you may simply call me Turtle. This is the true story of my people, named The Pascagoula. I am telling this story from memory as the White Man has moved those left in my clan to a place called Oklahoma, far beyond the Father of Waters.

Pascagoula in our language comes from paska (bread) and okla (people). I guess we’d be called the Bread People in English. We were a small tribe of the great Choctaw People, who consist of the Ahi Apet Okla (potato eating people), Okla Hanalli (six people or six towns) and Okla Falaya (long people).

We lived on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and I guess I need to tell you a little about our people’s customs before I go into the sad story I want to tell.

When I was young our moiety (town) sat along the Pascagoula River not far from the ocean, what is today called the Gulf of Mexico. Our homes were round, with the frame being made of rivercane, wood and vines, which were tied at the top to form a dome roof. The outside was a mixture of mud plaster and thatch. It was very warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Our family unit was made up of several families, one of hunters, one warriors, one builders, banded together in an iksa {clan.} Our clan adopted the symbol of Chula (fox) and our clan color is Humma (red.} We wear our clan color with pride because we are the Chula Humma (Red Fox Clan.) Our moiety (town) was made up of the White Dog Clan and Yellow Deer Clan and the Red Fox Clan. The chief of our town was Altama but his story goes with the end of my story. In the past, the chief was always a man and we usually had two chiefs at one time, but today a Choctaw woman can be chief too.

We were a very small moiety (town) and had a lot of trouble with the Biloxi (Billochy) People not far away to the west. This I will talk about a little later because it is important to the sad story you are about to hear.

The White Man calls our way of life a matriarchy, which means to you that the women made most of the rules and owned the property. Our laws state that upon marriage the husband lives with his wife's clan and their children are members of her clan, although the husband is never admitted to full clan membership but remains a member of his own (or his mother's) clan.

Women are considered - the givers of life. “Does she not birth the children, cause the corn to grow, cause the vegetables to grow and prepare life giving food for her husband and children.”

Men are known as the - takers of life. “Does he not kill the game for the family table, fight the enemy of our family and people and stand protectively between our family and the world?”

When a Clan member, particularly of the hunting and warring iksas, makes his first kill he is allowed to add the word "obi" (killer and pronounced ubbi) to his name. Thus you know when you meet a Choctaw whose surname ends in "obi" or "ubbi" that you are speaking of the descendant of a once mighty Choctaw warrior or hunter who earned the right to have "killer" added to his name. As a boy I hoped that some day I can earn the honor to use the title of Obi. (Obi Wan Kanobe! - Sound familiar to you?)

Our beliefs play a very large part in our lives. Please bear with me as I explain some of our legends and history.

One of the stories of our origin begins "The people came out of the water and spread themselves upon the warm sands and rocks to dry out... .", and the same legends tells of a 43 year movement eastward from some unknown point to the our homeland around Nanih Waiya, the sacred mound in what is now the state of Mississippi. Some say we descend from a race of people who were great ocean dwellers. Perhaps this is where the legend of Lemuria or Atlanatis came from!

On the morning of creation, Hashtahli, the Sun Father, opened Nanih Waiya and from the soil inside the sacred mound grew Okla (the people). As they emerged from the ground, they lay themselves in the sunlight on the sides of Nanih Waiya to dry.

The first who came out were poorly formed, some short and squatty and others too lean and hungry looking. When they had dried out, this group traveled south and east away from Nanih Waiya and became known as the Creeks.

The second group coming out of the sacred mound were better formed, but Hashtahli had not quite yet perfected his art. These people, when they were dry traveled north and east from Nanih Waiya and became the Chickasaws.

The last group were perfectly formed, clean of limb, beautiful of face and blessed with strength and intelligence. They chose to reside in the area surrounding the sacred mound and would become the people called Choctaw, my people.

The holy number of our beliefs is four, much as your three is the holy number of Christianity. Why four? For us all things come in fours. “Does not the basic government unit ... the family . . . come in fours . . . the mother, the father, the sons and the daughters? There are four elements.. . the earth, the water, the sky and the living things (animals and plants), four seasons ... winter, spring, summer and fall, and four directions, north, east, south and west.

Our Great Spirit is called "Hashtahli," which comes from the word "hashi" (sun) and "tahli," which means (to complete the action). Other words used by our forefathers when speaking of God are Achafa Chito (great one), Chictokaka (might one), and Hashi Ikba (sun father). Since Christianity entered our lives we often use the terms Uba Pike or Uba Pisku (our father) and Shilup Chitoh Osh (the great spirit).

We call the moon "Hashi Ninak Anya" (little sun that shines at night), and it is the wife of Hashtahli. The stars are their children, and fire is a blessing bestowed by Hashtahli upon his earthbound children. But fire was also a mixed blessing, as the fire will report any transgressions to Hashtahli even though it cooked our food and warmed us on cool nights.

Once each month, the sun's wife sends the children out to play and begins house cleaning. The full moon is a clean house. And then the children will dirty it up again until (when the last quarter moon arrived) mother again starts her monthly cleanup.

Some of the bad spirits or spirit beings we believe in are:

Na Lusa Chito – Is a big black being who will pounce on and eat any person it finds alone in the forest, particularly women and children. Some of our people thought the Black Slave Man to be a member of Na Lusa Chito’s family.

Impashilup - The "soul eater," which, if you allowed him through evil thoughts or depression, will creep inside you and eat your soul.

Bohpoli - "The thrower," is a small man who lives alone in the woods and who would never let himself be seen by the People. Bohpoli, also known as Kowi Anukasha (one who stays in the woods) he is more mischievous than evil. He will make sudden noises to startle you or toss a stick or stone at you when your head is turned.

Kashehotopolo – Is part man and part deer and is noted for great speed and agility. If you anger Kashehotopolo, he will race ahead of you and warn the game or the enemy of your approach.

Okwo Naholo or Oka Nahullo - The "white people of the water," who are almost transparent and invisible when swimming below the surface. These beings reportedly sometimes kidnapped children and turned them into beings like themselves.

Koklo Noteshi – Is a bad spirit which is able to assume any shape it desires and which has the ability to read people’s thoughts. A Shapeshifter in other beliefs.

Naluso Falaya - The "long black being," resembles a man but has small eyes, long pointed ears and prefers to approach man sliding on his stomach like a snake. His powers are similar to those of Na Lusa Chito.

Hashok Okwa Huiga - "Grass water drop," is a being connected with the will-o-the-wisp. Only its heart is visible at night, and if you look directly at that heart you will become addled and your mind will be led astray.

Thunder and lightning are two great birds. The female, Heloha (thunder) lays her giant eggs in the clouds and they rumble as they rolled around atop the clouds. Despite his size, her mate Melatha (lighting) is extremely fast and leaves a trail of sparks as he streaks across the sky.

To protect ourselves from evil spirits and assure success in battle, each of we men, upon reaching his manhood, must make for himself a totem or medicine bag, which we carry upon our person at all times. Each medicine bag is different, being made up of items the individual feels will word off evil or bring good fortune ... such as a claw from his first bear kill, a bit of earth from his house, etc. The warrior never tells another the contents of his medicine bag, and if asked what the bag contained, he will answer "You would not be any wiser thereby." If a our medicine bag is ever stolen, destroyed or lost, our effectiveness as a warrior, a hunter, a digger, a builder or whatever, our profession is gone and we cannot operate until we find and build ourselves a new totem.

We do not possess a "soul" in the way Christians think. Instead we possess an inner shadow or spirit, "Shilup" (which now means ghost), and an outer spirit, "Shilombish" (which now means soul).

Upon our death, the Shilup or inner shadow immediately begins its long trip to the west toward the "Happy Land." And the Shilombish or outer shadow remains about the place of its abode in life for a more or less indefinite period of time. The Shilombish generally remains around the home until funeral ceremonies have been completed, and then if all is well with its family it will slowly fade away.

However, if the body to whom the Shilombish belonged has been troubled in life or was murdered, the outer shadow will remain around the family until the problem is solved. In this event, the Shilombish will let the family know at night that it was still about by issuing pitiful moans or barking like a fox or hooting like an owl near the house.

They are like your ghosts. How do you know that a Shilombish is around your house? When a fox barks or an owl calls, another will answer from a distance away. However, when a Shilombish cries, there is no answer from another fox or another owl.

In the meantime, the Shilup or inner shadow has made the long journey westward toward the "Happy Land." It has felt neither hunger nor thirst nor the need for sleep pressing on westward for days and days until it reached the gateway to the Happy Land.

However, to enter the Happy Land, the Shilup has to cross a deep, dark canyon by means of a freshly-peeled and therefore slick "footlog." As the Shilup starts to walk across the slick log, it is bombarded with sticks and stones, thrown by the guardians of the gateway to the Happy Land. If the Shilup is brave and ignores the guardians, it will reach the other side of the canyon.

Here was the Happy Land, where exist one continual day and a world where trees are always green and bear fruit and nuts eternally, where the sky has no clouds and where there are fine and continually cooling breezes. Feasting, dancing and rejoicing go on always, there is no pain or trouble and people never grow old but live forever young, enjoying all of the peaceful pleasures throughout eternity.

However, if you are a bad Shilup or fearful of the guardians of the gateway to the Happy Land and try to dodge the stones and sticks tossed at you, you will fall off the log into the canyon below.

Here you will land in water which is dashing over rocks and is stinking with dead fish and animals. There you are carried around and brought back to the same place again and again by whirlpools. The trees are all dead and bare and the waters are full of toads, lizards and snakes. The dead in the water are always hungry, but have nothing to eat; are always sick, but cannot die; are always in the dark smelly waters where the sun never shines. From this place, the dead may look into the beautiful country which makes up the Happy Land, see the sunshine from afar and hear the laughter and singing of the souls who reached there but then can never reach it themselves."

To get back to the ways of my people: we were farmers and hunters. Our women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, melons and sunflowers. Our men did most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys, and small game. Men also caught fish in the rivers, lakes, and seacoast.

Our meals included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths dried fish and dried meat. We also enjoyed sassafrass tea, what you call rootbeer. Our hunters primarily used bows and arrows. Fishermen generally used fishing spears and nets. In war, we used our bows or fought with tomahawks and war clubs.

Our women wore dresses made of deerskin decorated with things like beads. They were not as long as those of other tribes. Shirts were not necessary in our culture, but men and women both wore poncho-style capes in cool weather. We also wore moccasins on our feet. Our mothers, like many Native Americans, carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

We didn't wear long head dresses like the Sioux tribes. Both men and women wore their hair long, but some men cut their hair in the Mohawk style, decorating the fringe with feathers. We often painted our faces and bodies bright colors during battles, lacrosse games, and festivals. Some men also wore tribal tattoos on their arms and legs.

Many of our games are similar to the ones you play today. We played a game called toli (stickball) which actually is similar to your La Crosse and we played against other tribes instead of waging war. Another popular game was called Chunke in which a flat disk was thrown down an alley and the object was to be the first to hit it with a stick. Twist that around a bit and you have your modern game of bowling.

Dances were very common and we had elaborate wedding and funeral ceremonies. We also enjoyed guessing games and playing with beaded dolls . Chunkey, football, swimming, and footraces were also popular pastimes among the kids.

Everyone took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. Story telling was a very important part of our lifestyle.

Thank you for your patience.

Now, I will return to the tragic sad tale of my people. As I noted we were called the Pascagoula People or The Bread Eating People. We lived along a gentle flowing river a few miles from the ocean. We were a happy contented and very peaceful tribe and never made war on any of our neighbors because our women were good gatherers and growers and our men great hunters, so we had no need to take from others.

However, one of our neighbors to the west, called the Bilocchy (Biloxi), did not like us because they always insisted that they were the First People and that we were new people who stole their land. They were also a very powerful and warlike tribe.

One day our chief Altama fell in love with Anola, a princess of the Biloxi tribe.  She was betrothed to a chieftain of her own tribe but fled with Altama to our village. (Sound like Helen of Troy?)

Altama refused to return Anola to the Biloxi Tribe because she also loved him and hated the man her family was forcing her to marry.

The spurned and enraged Biloxi chieftain led his many Biloxi braves to war against Altama and the Pascagoula. Our tribe members swore they would either save the young Altama and his bride or perish with them.

Early one morning I was out playing with my ofi (dog) and I could hear Anola. She was a beautiful ohoyo (woman) and could taloa (sing) like a hushi (bird). I could see why Altama had fallen in love with her, she was a wonderful person and the entire moety (town) was in love with her.

I walked down to the river to get a drink of oka (water) and saw a siti (snake) blocking the trail. The siti (snake) was small and trying to get away from brother ossi (eagle). The eagle often looked for snakes for breakfast if he could not catch a nyni (fish).

After getting a drink of water I started walking along the muddy bottom looking for a luksi (turtle) for my own breakfast. I often caught turtles in the morning and threw them on the hot coals from the fire and baked them. They are delicious when cooked this way.

I waded a long way down river then I noticed strange warriors heading up stream and I could haklko (hear) many more behind them hidden by the reeds. I could tell they were not of our tribe because they had lvkna (yellow) and lusa (black) colors for their totems and they had war paint on their faces and arms.

I ran like a chula (fox) back towards our village as fast as I could with brother fyni (squirrel) and brother chukfi (rabbit) fleeing before me. But when I got to the village I was too late. Biloxi warriors had already surrounded the people and they were fighting for their lives. I butted one of the enemy warriors with the power of brother nita (bear), and ran into the middle of the village looking for my family.

We were out-numbered and faced with enslavement by the Biloxi tribe or death. But, we were also a proud people. With our women and children leading the way, we joined hands and began to chant a song of death as we walked into the river until the last voice was hushed by the dark, engulfing waters.

The Singing River today is famous worldwide for the noise it makes, like a swarm of bees. The music, which grows nearer and louder until it seems to come from under foot, is best heard in the still of evening, during late summer and autumn. Various scientific white man explanations have been offered for the phenomenon, but none have been proven. Many believe, but we Choctaw know, it is the death song of my people, the Pascagoula People.

How, you may ask did I not die with the rest of my people when they walked to their deaths in the river? I did drown, but my Shilup did not leave my body. I was found by a black white man and he brought me back to life by blowing air into my mouth. Many years later, the Great White Father made all of the tribes move across the Father of Waters to the land of Oklahoma (okla humma) or the land of the Red People.

Ykoke (thank you) for letting me tell my story. I know it is a sad one but it is said around the campfires that it is a true story, and white people today still hear my people singing their death song.

If you are interested in learning some of my people’s language, here are a few words and some others that I used in my story that may be useful:
One- achaffa
White-hanta or tohbi
Leave-filvmmi or issa

I will end my story here and hope I have not confused you.

Remember, all Native American Tribes have histories and customs just as your European, African or Asian ancestors did. Plus, most Native Americans had different languages and cultures just as your ancestors did. America is a melting pot of not only people from around the world, but Native American People from around the northern and southern hemispheres. Just as the French and Germans could not understand the Japanese and Africans, the Choctaw, Cherokee and Seneca could not understand the Mayans or Inca or Aztec.

(WRITER’S DISCLAIMER - I am not an expert or a highly knowledgeable source for Choctaw history or life. I have not gone into detail in any area as this story is meant merely as an introduction to Choctaw life for young students. There are many wonderful sources on line if you want to learn more about Native Americans in general or The Choctaw in particular. This story is a brief one to highlight the mystery of the Singing River and of the Pascagoula and to “introduce” young school students to Native American culture.

© Copyright 2009 Oldwarrior (oldwarrior at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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