An interview with
full blood Choctaw Indian.
Also, a Baptist minister, age 68 years of age
Post office: Snow, Oklahoma
Investigator Field Worker's name: Pete W. Cole
Date of Interview: December 9, 1937
Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young
Reverend Islin Wright, a full blood Choctaw Indian, who for several years
has been a minister among his race of people, in an interview relates of
what he has seen in his young days and heard of what the older people have
talked about as he remembers. He has lived in Oklahoma all of his life and
has made several trips to Mississippi State to the Choctaw Indians in that
state and has heard much about the ways of the Indians. The subject as
interviewed on “Indian Dance” is as follows. Some of the stories are as told
by Islin Wright’s father-in-law. A dance for the sick as related by Chambers
Johnson, an Indian medicine man, who has been dead several years.
The Choctaws and the Chickasaws, like all of the rest of the people in the
world today, indulged in that time honored amusement --- the dance. These
two tribes of Indians and their ancient national dances were the same. They
had several different ways of dancing, each dance had its meaning and
imitation of the name of the dance was usually performed while the dance was
There was Hoyopa-hihla (War dance), Hakshup-hihla (Scalp dance), Tolihe
hihla (ball game dance), Tanchoshi hihla (popcorn dance), or the Green corn
dance, Yunush hihla (buffalo dance). For entertainment social or fun making
dances there are akanka hihla (chicken dance), Issuba hihla (horse dance),
and Shut-un-nih hihla (Tick dance) all of which furnished great
entertainments which excelled in purity of sentiments.
In a few only of their social dances, all of which were performed in the
open air, men and women participated together. Hardly ever more than one
musician furnished the music, and only one was engaged in that department of
the entertainment whose music usually satisfied the ear of the most
fastidious. He at first was furnished a box where he sat at the beginning of
the program, until the entertainment began to liven up and when the musician
began to feel and notice the excitement of other people he would move to a
block of wood and sometimes on the bare ground. Usually when getting late in
the night, and the musician began to feel tired some stimulants made out of
certain kind of weeds by boiling until it had the color and taste of whiskey
was sweetened and given him, and in a few monuments when the liquid began to
take action he would tune up his instrument and the dance began. When there
is only one musician, a treat of this kind is furnished their musician so
that he may keep awake and furnish music during the night.
The Chickasaws had only two dances sacred to the women alone and in which
they only engaged. One of the dances is called Itti lusa hihla (blackwood
dance), the other Itakla lusa hihle (blackmouth dance), which no doubt might
justly dispute for rivalship with the pale face sisters when in their
partners embrace in their performance in the fashion of the round dance.
There is also another dance called tanchi pechifah hihla (crushed or pounded
corn dance). This pounded corn is prepared in various meats mixed in the
cooking known as pashofa in the Chickasaw language or tanchi lobona, a
Choctaw name. This performance is for the sick patient and is usually asked
by the medicine man (alikchi) who is attending the sick. The dance though
has now been discontinued. It was performed at the request of the medicine
man who would lay the patient before the door of the house. When the doctor
was called to see a patient, after exercising his skill in the knowledge of
medicines known to nature if the patient grew worse, he ordered the tanchi
pechifah hihla. The messengers would break the news in the community and at
the appointed day the friends would assemble. The doctor (alikchi) would
order a straight line be drawn from the center of the doorway of the house
where the sick patient was confined, to a smooth and straight pole fifteen
or twenty feet in length that had been firmly set up eight or ten rods from
the door. Here two guards (Tisho) each armed with a long switch were each
stationed at the opposite side of the line. The purpose and the duty of
these two tisho were to see that no one should pass or cross the line. No
man, beast, chicken, or cat was allowed to cross this line. If the line was
accidentally crossed by some man, woman or child, it was immediately known
to the medicine man, who at once prepared more solution of medicine and gave
it to the one who had crossed the line.
Near the pole, where it was set up, a fire was built and a vessel filled
with pounded corn and meats was suspended over the fire. The ground near
this place would be swept clean on each side of the line to the door.
Everything is set for the dance, the bed upon which the patient is lying
would be drawn into a position in the room fronting the door to give the
patient a clear view of the merry dancers. The tone of the little drum was
respondent to the quick strokes of the musician. The alikchi would bring two
women decorated with ribbons and beads of different colors, also having
thimbles or rattles made of dry turtle shells tied to their shoes or skirts
of their dresses. He would place them on each side of the line, while
several men stationed themselves on the opposite side of the line. The
alikchi returned to his duties in the sick room, the musician starts the
music and the dancing begins. The men were to remain only on one side, while
the two women dance, each being extremely cautious not to step over its
magic bounds. One and two women only danced at the same time; when tired
they gave place to others to whom were handed the bells or luksi hakshup
(turtle shells) taken from their ankles and dresses, which the fresh dancers
attached to their persons.
The leader or director of the tanchi pechifah was called Tikba heka (first
leader). The dance usually began about two hours before sundown and
continued until dark when they would adjourn for the pashofe feast.
After the refreshments, dancing was resumed but in the house instead of the
yard, where it was kept up until late hour of the night. The tinkling and
rattling of the thimble balls and turtle shells mingling with the music and
the voices of the dances chanting E-yan-he-yah-ha-yah, E-yah-he-heh was the
cry to scare the evil spirit away.
(Note: Pete W. Cole, the field worker, when interviewing a full-blood
Indian, writes as the Indian talks and in such manuscripts no change to
better English is made.)
Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young
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