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Video: How your Creek ancestors really danced

Video:  How your Creek ancestors really danced

 

Footloose Singing and Dirty Dancing!

This particular video from Peru caught my eye because the Caushibo youth are performing a dance that was described over 400 years ago by French explorers on the coast of South Carolina.  Caushibo is also what the Native peoples on the South Carolina coast called themselves.  The British changed that to Cusabo.  The Cusabo eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.  Note that the young ladies are carrying palmetto fronds, while the young men are carrying paddle shaped war clubs.  The men are wearing “Creek” long shirts, while both genders are wearing turbans.  That is exactly as the French described them. 

Cultural connections

Conibo –  Swift Creek Pottery – Apalache, Conas, Conasee, Cullasee and Coweta branches of Creek Confederacy

Shipibo – Napier Pottery –  Apalache, Abikara and Koasati branches of Creek Confederacy

Caushibo –  Kusa and Cusabo branches of Creek Confederacy

Ossabaw Island, GA –  Anglicization of Caushibo word, Asebo, which means “Place of the Yaupon Holly.”   The Conibo, Shipibo and Caushibo still today make the Sacred Black Drink from a South American cousin of the Yaupon Holly.  Most South Americans call this popular beverage,  mate‘.

Introduction to the video of Conibo-Shipibo-Caushibo dancing

The slow mournful songs and slow, shuffling dances that you see today in Oklahoma have no relevance to the vibrant cultural traditions that their ancestors once enjoyed in the Southeast.  French explorers such as La Roche Ferrière (1565) and British explorers such as John Lawson (1700) all described ancestral Creek songs as exuberant, plus full of shouts, bird calls and war whoops.

Lawson stated that Creek young people, unlike virtually all other tribes he had known, “dated” and practiced “free love” from five to ten years before marriage, so they would have no wanderlust after settling down.  Young Creek women used herbal contraceptives before and after marriage so that they typically did not have their first child until around 24-25 years old.  Whereas in all other tribes, he had known, the women were expected to have as many babies as possible, since many children died before adulthood,  the Creek ideal was to have 2-3 healthy children.   They sound quite modern, don’t they?

European missionaries were horrified at the syncopated, suggestive dancing of the young people and especially the practice of women going topless in the warm months.  Both European men and women became nervous when they heard the shouts and whoops that accompanied traditional Creek songs . . . they assumed that the singers were doing war dances.  More likely, knowing the Creeks, they were merely thinking about the hot date they had the night before.  LOL

Eventually, the successive waves of plagues, wars, land  and forced migrations broke the spirit of the people . . . erasing much of their cultural memories and joy for life.  By the 1840s,  missionaries were able to remake many of the Native peoples, resettled in Oklahoma, into melancholy clones of boring 19th century New England Puritans.   What is called today, “Traditional Muskogee songs” are really mid-19th century Shaped Note Protestant hymns, translated into Muskogee.

 

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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.

2 Comments

  1. mfwp.40@gmail.com'

    Richard, I enjoyed very much this video, but must tell you of my surprise at the dance style. Truly believed that style was of recent vintage. LOL.
    Kudos for all you do for all of us.

    This is my new email address; unsubbed from the other, long-standing address.

    Cheenkypeenk

    Reply
    • Hey Fran
      I received a personal email from a Creek elder in Alabama, who confirmed that everything I said was absolutely correct. He agreed that the Creeks, who were deported to Oklahoma were so sad, that they forgot their happy music and joyous dancing.

      Reply

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