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Indian Pioneer Papers

Pushmataha County

Indian Pioneer Papers

An interview with
Islin Wright
Age 68 years.
A Choctaw Indian Baptist Minister for the Choctaws.

Post office: Snow, Oklahoma

Investigator Field Worker's name: Pete W. Cole
Date of Interview: December 13, 1937
Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young

THE TRADITION OF THE CHOCTAWS CONCERNING THE
“OKA FALAMA” (RETURNED WATERS ---- THE FLOOD)

The traditions of the Choctaw concerning the Oka Falama (Returned waters -- the Flood) is as follows:

In ancient time after many generations of mankind had lived and passed from the stage of being, the race became so corrupt and wicked, brother fighting against brother and wars deluging the earth with human blood and carnage. The Great Spirit became greatly displeased and finally determined to destroy the human race; therefore sent a great prophet to them who proclaimed from tribe to tribe, and from village to village, the fearful tidings that the human race was soon to be destroyed. None believed his words and lived on in their wickedness as if they did not care, and the seasons came again and went. Then came the autumn of the year, followed by many succeeding cloudy days and nights, during which the sun by day and the moon and stars by night were concealed from the earth; then succeeded a total darkness, and the sun seemed to have been blotted out; while darkness and silence with a cold atmosphere took possession of earth. Mankind wearied and perplexed, but not repenting or reforming, slept but to awake in darkness; then the mutterings of distant thunder began to be heard, gradually becoming incessant until it reverberated in all parts of the sky and seemed to echo back even from the deep center of the earth. Then fear and consternation seized upon every heart and all believed the sun would never return.

The Magi of the Choctaws spoke despondently in reply to the many interrogations of the alarmed people, and sang their death songs which were but faintly heard in the mingled confusion that arose amid the gloom of the night that seemed would have no returning morn. The people went from place to place with torch light; the food that they had stored away became moldy and not fit for use; the wild animals of the forest gathered around the fires as though tame and even entered towns and villages, seeming to have lost all fear of man, when all at once a fearful crash of thunder, louder than ever before, seemed to shake the earth, and light was seen glimmering far away to the North.

Then the wailing cry was heard coming from all directions. Oka Falama, The Returning Waters. Stretching from horizon, it came pouring its massive waters forward. In a short time the earth was entirely overwhelmed by the mighty rush of waters which swept away the human race and all animals, leaving the earth a desolate waste. Of all mankind only one was saved, and that one was the mysterious prophet who had been sent by the Great Spirit to warn the human race of their near approaching doom. This prophet saved himself by making a raft of sassafras logs by the direction of the Great Spirit, upon which he floated upon the great waters that covered the earth, as various kinds of fish swam around him, and twined among the branches of the submerged trees, while upon the face of waters he looked upon the dead bodies of men and beasts as they across and fell upon the heaving billows.

After many weeks floating he knew not where, a large black bird came to the raft, flying in circles above his head. He called to it for assistance, but it only replied in loud croaking tones then flew away and was seen no more. A few days after a bird of bluish color, with red eyes and beak came and hovered over the raft, to which the prophet asked if there was a dry spot of land anywhere to be seen. The strange bird flew around for a few moments and flew away in the direction of that part of the sky where the sun seemed to be sinking into the rolling waves of waters. All at once a strong wind sprang up and blew the raft in that direction. At night the moon and the stars shone and the next morning the sun made its appearance and the prophet, looking around, saw an island in the distance toward which the raft was drifting. The next morning when he landed, he found it covered with all kinds of animals, excepting the mammoth which had been destroyed. There were birds, fowls of every kind in vast numbers on that island. He found a black bird identical with the one which had visited him upon the waters and then left him to his fate; and as he regarded it a cruel bird he named it Fulashto (Raven), a bird of ill omen to the ancient.

He also discovered the bluish bird which had caused the wind to blow his raft on the island and because of this act of kindness and its beauty, he called it “Puchi Yushuba” (Lost Pigeon.) It is also noted that the cooing of Pigeon or dove was adopted when during the flood the water was rising above the top of highest trees and mountains, that there was no place where one can reach to be safe, and how the wicked people in distress crying and hollering for help swimming in the water begging and pleading for help that the cooing of pigeons is an imitation of cries that were heard in their perils during the flood. But after many days the waters passed away, and is the course of time Puchi Yushuba became a beautiful woman whom the prophet married and by them the world was peopled again.

There is another story of their traditional flood (Oka Falama) as told by the old aged Indians as follows. Long ages ago, the people whom the Great Spirit had created became so unruly and very wicked what the Great Spirit decided to do away with them, except one Oklatabashi (Mourning People) and his family who were the only ones of the people who lived right. The Spirit told Oklatabashi to build a great boat and make preparation for the safety of his family and take with him into the boat a male and a female of all animals
living on the earth, birds, and all living creatures. He went out into the woods to bring all the birds, but was not able to catch a pair of biskinik (sapsucker), fittukhak (yellow hammer) and bak bak (red headed wood pecker). These birds were so quick in dodging and hopping around from one side of the trees to the other that it was impossible for him to catch them. He gave up the chase and returned back to the boat when the rain began and continued for several days and nights when all living creatures that lived on the land perished.

During the several moons the great boat drifted around in the water until one day Oklatabashi sent out a dove but it came back which was a sign that there was no dry land in sight. Sometime later another dove was sent out and it returned with a twig in her beak. Oklatabashi rewarded her for her discovery by mingling a little salt in her food. After there was a dry land the inmates of the boat went out and repealed another earth.

The dove took the liking of salt during the stay in the boat so that finding salt lick which then abounded in many places, to which the deer and cattle frequently resorted, she would every day after eating make a trip to the salt lick to eat the salt to aid her in digestion of her food. The offspring became accustomed to the eating of salt that the grandmother took great delight in feeding to her offspring. One day after some grass seed she forgot to eat a little salt as usual. For this neglect she was punished by the Great Spirit that is the hereafter she was forbidden the use of the salt. When she returned home the children began to coo for salt but the grandmother had been forbidden the use of salt that they had to coo in vain. From that day to the present the offspring of dove everywhere are still cooing for salt. This is the tradition of the Choctaws of the origin of cooing of doves.

The fate of the three birds who eluded capture by Oklatabashi; they flew so high in the air as the Oklafalama advanced, and as the water rose higher and higher, they also flew higher and higher until finally the rising water began to recede. While these three birds, sitting on the sky their tails projecting downward, were continually drenched by the dashing waters and this caused the end of their tail feathers to become forked and notched and thus it is the fate of the shape of the tails of biskinik, fittukhak and bak bak.

The skill that these birds possessed in escaping from Oklatabashi before the flood delighted the Great Spirit that he appointed them to forever be the guardian birds of the red men. Since their commission by the Great Spirit these birds, especially the biskinik, have often made their appearance in their villages on the eve of a ball play and when everyone of the three twittered in happy tones, that was a sign of good luck. In war time one of these birds always appeared in the camp of the party as a sign of approaching danger, by its chirping and flitting from tree to tree around their camp.

This is not a fiction or fable but he actual tradition of the ancient Choctaws as related by the missionaries in about the year 1818. The flood as written is about the flood of the Bible.

(Note: This manuscript remains as written by Pete W. Cole, Investigator, who carefully follows the Indian expression of knowledge and of ideas held by the one interviewed.)

Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young
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