In Creek history . . . leaders were completely anonymous
Celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Creek Confederacy (People of One Fire)
There is something very unusual in Creek literature at the time of the arrival of British colonists. Not once is the name of a famous leader or warrior mentioned. I have gone through all the documents sent to the Colonial Office and Archbishop Wake by Georgia’s Colonial Secretary, Thomas Christie. They primarily consist of the migration legends of several branches of the Creeks, interviews with Creek leaders, minutes of speeches given by Creek leaders and the dialogue when James Oglethorpe walked around the future site of Savannah with Tamachichi. Nowhere is there a person’s name mentioned . . . only a title. Tamachichi pointed to the “Indian King’s Tomb” and said, “That is where our first emperor is buried,” but he did not mention his name.
There are absolutely no Creek myths describing the the supernatural deeds of gods and goddesses. This includes the time when the Kusate people were fleeing Mexico . . . which is the best known migration legend. There are no Water Spirits, Mountain Spirits, Forest Spirits, etc. that one sees in the legends of virtually all other tribes in the Americas. There are no giants as one reads in many Southwestern Indian legends or among the Scandinavians. Well . . . actually . . . perhaps the ancestors of the Creeks WERE the giants. The Spanish called them, Indios Gigantes.
There are no stories like you hear from the Cherokees about giant buzzards creating the mountains or from Lenape about the earth being the back of a great turtle. The Creeks merely say that the Master of Life created everything. The closest one comes to a supernatural creature in Creek literature is a mountain lion somewhere in southeastern Tennessee, who was inclined to eat humans. He was described merely as a large mountain lion, who was especially skilled at avoiding traps set by human hunters. Well, there was a red rat . . . but this rat was not super-sized or particularly clever.
Even the terms Master of Life or Master of Breath are rarely used when the Creek speakers are describing the Muskogean equivalent of the Hebrew YHWH. More typically they use the term, “the One.”
The Uncle Remus Tales are based on Creek children’s stories that Joel Chandler Harris read at the Georgia Historical Society, while he was a young reporter for a Savannah newspaper. Federal Agent to the Southeastern Indians, Benjamin Hawkins, assembled and documented them. Harris did not give Hawkins credit for their first publication. The animals in the children stories can talk and have some human traits, but they are certainly not supernatural, otherwise. The Tar Baby was actually a tar manikin that Creeks created to trap pesky bugs.
When High King Chikili opened his speech to the leaders of Savannah, he stated, “I Chikili, joana (High Priest) of the western towns, who was chosen to replace Bemarin (Brim in English) . . . He did not use the title of High King, which was Paracusite. Paracusite means that the High Kings claimed descent from the people, who created the field stone symbols of animals on the Nazca Plain in Peru. A later people created the Nazca lines.
A fear of megalomaniac leaders?
It is definite that ancestors of the Creeks worshiped the same deities, worshiped by the Itza Mayas between around 800 AD and 1400 AD. A gorget unearthed in Mound C at Etowah Mounds in northwest Georgia portrays a woman wearing the crown of a Maya priestess of Kukulkan. It was adopted as the logo of the Eastern Band of Cherokees Cultural Preservation Office the same year that its staff made several public announcements, stating that the Mayas never came to the Southeastern United States. The numerous stone serpents on the mountaintops of Georgia and Alabama are typical of the Itza Maya worship of the Sky Serpent god. Both at Etowah and Ocmulgee, copper plates portray Great Suns wearing the crown of the Maya sun god. There are also numerous crescent shaped mounds in the lower Southeast, which were used for the worship of the Maya goddess, Ixchel.
There was a radical change in the religious architecture of the Creek’s ancestors between 1375 AD and 1400 AD. This probably reflects a religious and political revolution. Principal mounds were no longer oriented to the Winter Solstice Sunset and instead were oriented to the east and west. They were no longer five-sided, but went back to the ancient tradition of Georgia going back to at least 1000 BC of oval mounds. They also were much smaller than the mounds built earlier.
Creek political organization as described by Thomas Christie was based on two levels of representative assemblies, plus check and balances. In fact, the political structure of the Creeks was virtually identical to the one created in 1790 by the US Constitution. The High King was elected by the upper and lower assemblies, but served for life or else when impeached. The High King could take no significant action without the consent of the Upper and Lower Houses. The High King could not shed blood or even be present on a battlefield. No human or animal blood could be shed within two miles of a Creek temple or religious shrine.
These traditions are definitely not the characteristics of a “chiefdom” or “paramount chiefdom” as Southeastern anthropologists like to label our ancestors. They are the characteristics of representative democracies and very sophisticated political relationships.
One can therefore assume that the society that arose around 1400 AD had a revulsion toward too much power being given to one man or one woman. Most likely, prior to that revolution, there were despots or despotic cliques of families, who created misery among the people.
Don’t you wish that we had a time machine so we could know really what happened back then?
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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