Series on Muskogee-Creek cultural traditions by The Ghost continues
Muskogee-Creek Keeper, The Ghost, has graciously provided the People of One Fire with over a dozen new articles on the traditions of the Muskogee-Creek People of Alabama and West Georgia. These will be provided readers regularly in September 2017.
For those readers not familiar with the complexities of Creek culture, perhaps we should explain that the Creek Confederacy was composed of approximately 26 remnants of Native American provinces in the Lower Southeast. Many of these branches originally spoke different languages and certainly had different architectural, cultural and religious traditions. Over time as more and more of Creek territories and South Carolina and Georgia were ceded, the branch now known as the Muskogee Creeks became culturally dominant. However, the word Muskogee really did not appear until the late 1740s or even 1750s. Muskogee is the Anglicization of the word Mvskoki, which means “Herbal Medicine People.”
The diversity of the Creek People will be discussed later in this article, but first get to know “The Ghost” a little better!
The Creek Keeper, Ghost Dancer, is a mixed-heritage Southeastern Creek elder whose Native roots run deep in northern Alabama. From an early age, Ghost felt a compelling pull toward his Native heritage which has informed and guided his entire life. As an active seeker, he soaked up the wisdom of the surviving elders in his own family and sought mentors among the elders on the Seminole reservation near a childhood home in Florida. He was privileged to sit for a time with the great Muskogee elder, Phillip Deere, as well as wisdom keepers from other Native Nations.
As a warrior fighting for the rights of all Native peoples to practice their traditional religions, Ghost is both respected and feared for his outspoken activism. As a leader, teacher, elder, and friend, Ghost is respected and beloved by all whose lives have been touched by his wisdom, kindness, and generous spirit.
While Ghost has a working knowledge of many Native traditions, his primary interest lies in the ancient customs and beliefs of the First Peoples of the Southeastern United States. For more than 40 years, Ghost has studied, lived, experienced, and taught these traditions for the benefit of hundreds of others. Ghost has been described by those who know him best as a “Gentle Giant” and a “Walking Encyclopedia” of SE Native culture and history.
Original diversity of Creek cultural traditions (text by the editor)
Muskogee-Creek traditions dominate the Creek Culture that the public sees today, but that was not always the case. The Early Colonial Period was a time of catastrophic population declines in Alabama, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, South Carolina and Western North Carolina. It is currently believed by anthropologists that the population of the region dropped by somewhere between 90% and 95%. This holocaust was followed by a consolidation of the remnant populations into a smaller land area and ultimately, the formation of the modern Creek Confederacy at Ocmulgee Mounds in 1717.
There are several “Creek” traditions. If you read of or see some practice that is not traditionally what your family or tribe did, that does not mean that either you or the other people are wrong. There were several legitimate cultural traditions practiced by branches of the Creek Confederacy. Consider the situation equivalent to the many different recipes for barbecue sauce found in the Southeast, Texas and Oklahoma.
For example . . . today anthropologists consider the Creek Square to be an icon for all Creeks and certainly is assumed by Oklahoma and Alabama Creeks to be a universal cultural tradition among all Creeks. Although its Creek name, Chokko Rakko, means “Warm House – Big,” the Creek Square was actually, at least by the late 1700s, an open air square, bounded by roofed bleachers. Readers will be surprised to learn that no prehistoric Creek Square has been found by archaeologists. It is a relatively recent architectural tradition that probably derived from the earth-bermed council houses of the Kansa People in Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia. As you will see below, it never was a tradition in a broad swath of Creek tribal territory.
The Upper Creeks and Koasati’s built oval plazas and did not build “Creek Squares.” The Itsate Creeks built town centers that were little different than those in Itza and Chontal Maya towns a thousand years before. The Uchees built and still build circular plazas and do not build “Creek Squares.” The Apalache Creeks in Northeast Georgia built oval plazas and oval mounds, but their community meeting buildings were actually massive rectangular structures that were fully enclosed and might have several smaller “club meeting” rooms. The Apalachicola Creeks on the Lower Chattahoochee River built rectangular plazas that had large public structures on the two ends and bleachers on two sides. Seminole villages were originally miniaturized copies of the town in the second image, which is a photograph of the model of a town on the Ocmulgee River. Seminoles did not originally build “Creek Squares” at all.
William Bartram spent about 95% of the time, he devoted to exploring the Southeast, in either Creek or Seminole-Creek territory. It is amusing that the only TV documentary on the Bartram Expedition is devoted to the two weeks that Bartram spent among the Cherokees at the extreme southern edge of their territory. LOL Bartram stated that the Cherokee village of Etchoe was about 20 miles north of the Tallulah River (in northern Habersham County, GA) which then was the northern boundary of the Creek Nation. Despite a one hour PBS documentary being based on that visit to Etchoe, Bartram had to leave quickly because the Cherokees were about to attack white settlements on the South Carolina frontier.
The only locations, where Bartram mentioned seeing Creek Squares (as we think of them today) was in the region between the Tallapoosa River and present day Columbus, Georgia . . . or East Central Alabama. Elsewhere, he saw town and village plazas quite similar to what was built before the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the Southeastern United States. Below is a model that I built for the Muscogee-Creek Nation, based on a drawing by Bartram of a large Hitchiti-speaking Creek town on the Lower Ocmulgee River.
What is particularly fascinating is that even as late at 1776, there was very little difference in a Creek town in Middle Georgia or Southwest Georgia than a similar sized town of the Olmec Civilization in 800 BC. The Tamatli-Creek town on the Ocmulgee River (below) is virtually identical to those of the Chontal Mayas of Tabasco State in Mexico around 200 AD to 1500 AD.
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