Creek Ceremonies

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A number of festivals were held during the year determined by certain phases of the moon. Anciently it was customary to hold such meetings every month to give and receive counsel and also for enjoyment. There were two principal festivals, a lesser and a greater.

The former took place in the spring, usually early in April, and in the south generally at the time when berries, such as mulberries, were getting ripe. The town chief notified his people, and particularly the medicine man, when it was time to hold it. Then the people assembled at the bush ground after dark and danced all night–men, women, and children. In the morning the men swallowed the medicine (pasa) which soon caused violent vomiting, but the women and children merely washed their hands and faces in it. This was prepared during the night, the medicine man blowing into it and a weak solution of miko hoyanidja (red root) was prepared and carried home for those unable on account of sickness to be present. During the morning the people all went home carrying some of this medicine with them to the sick who were not required to take the strong emetic (the pasa). The assembly was dismissed after the rehearsal of the several duties which devolved upon each one.

The great festival, called Poskita or Busk, which signifies “to fast,” was held when the corn was large enough for roasting ears, generally in July or August, and at a certain time of the moon. Towns differed as to the time of the moon but each always held it at the same time annually.

The town chief first called a meeting to dance and during the night of the dance he delivered bundles of sticks of seven each to the Tastanagi, who then proclaimed that the “broken days” were made, i. e., that the time was appointed and the sticks ready for distribution, and that the people must prepare to hunt before the great ceremony took place. This was perhaps the assembly called Hĭlĭs-čĭnet-kita, “Medicine overnight,” at which they took medicine to prepare their bodies for the reception of the maturing crops and the ripening fruits. At these meetings the same ritual was observed, an important feature being the rehearsal of the chief points of their laws, in the nature of an epitome. The speakers would point out in what respects they feared the young and unruly among them were going against the provisions of their laws, and the penalties that must follow such infractions.

Each of the principal men for whom the bundles had been prepared took one, threw a stick away the first day and continued doing so until the seventh day, when all assembled at the Square Ground again and danced all night. They could hunt during the entire intervening period or at any time within it. On the next day, the eighth, the town chief again delivered bundles of sticks to the Tastanagi and he announced that the broken days were “made” for the Great Festival. They threw away one stick as they began to clean up the Square Ground, a proceeding which generally took them not more than an hour, and then they went home to breakfast.

On the next day, the second of the busk series of “broken days,” all remained at home making preparations to move to the Square Ground.

On the third day the people assembled at the Square with the game which they had killed already prepared, like the rest of the provisions, so that it would keep during the busk. That night there was an ordinary dance, lasting about two hours, participated in by men, women, and children. There were no important dances on that night.

On the morning of the fourth day a fire was kindled in the Square by the medicine man with the use of two sticks rubbed together, medicines also being used. The men then assembled in the Square, and sat around, and the women brought provisions there and laid them down. The men ate in the Square that day but the women had to eat at their camps. The best of the provisions were supplied but no new vegetables, no new corn. If persons from other towns were present they were also invited to eat. At midday, while the men were eating, the women danced the Its-hopunga, “Gun Dance,” each woman standing alone and circling about the fire. Before they began, a speech was made by the Great Tastanagi of the town, in which he rehearsed briefly the traditional history of the people, emphasized the importance of the festival they were observing, and informed them that it had existed from immemorial times. He gave the traditional story of the founding of the town and the origin of the festivals, detailing briefly the rules governing them. He called the attention of the people to the importance of preserving them because they tended to preserve their health and prolong their lives. He exhorted his people to follow their leaders and keep in the ways of their fathers. He also told them that this was the right time for the festival. These speakers always referred to a long-past home in the east where the sun rises. This form of expression was used even when they lived in Georgia.

In preparation for their dance the women put on their finest costumes, with plumes, shells around their necks and ankles. There were three leaders who wore terrapin shells. Three men were stationed in the south cabin, and when the women leaders were ready these musicians began to sing, accompanied by drums and rattles made of terrapin shells or a coconut filled with pebbles and provided with a handle. The women danced around the fire four times. Then they retired and rested, returned and danced around the fire four times more, and continued in this way until they had danced four several and separate times, making four circles around the fire each time. The men sang and kept time to the music of the drum and shells, and the women kept time with their feet and by rattling their shells. It took about two hours to complete this dance.

Meanwhile, after the chief had finished his address, a number of young men, who lead been standing about a hundred yards away, around the mound in the tadjo, gave a whoop and ran away to the prairie to obtain the medicine. In about an hour they returned bearing this on poles and delivered it to the chief medicine man. This medicine was the pasa (button-snake-root) and it is a very violent emetic.

That night there was another ordinary dance by the men, women, and children. The men sang as they danced but the women and children only whooped.

On the fifth day no woman and no man who was not undergoing the purification was allowed to enter the Square Ground. The medicine being now ready, the fasting men drank it, beginning at daylight; certain chosen men bringing it to them. Each drank until he was full and vomiting was induced. That night the fasters danced and kept it up all night. They ate nothing all that day. Many different dances were performed and if anyone fell asleep he, had to pay a fine.

On the sixth day the men drank a decoction made from the leaves of the asi (Ilex vomitoria). This was taken at intervals until midforenoon, perhaps 9 o’clock, and they danced the Feather Dance. Then they ate, or rather drank, a thin gruel made of corn called sofki, the water and corn being simply cooked together. No salt must be used. They could now eat the new corn, but without salt, and melons and similar food might also be eaten. They continued to dance the Feather Dance during the rest of the day but remained in the Square Ground and might not touch anyone who had not partaken of the medicine (pasa?). That night they slept in the cabins or on the Square Ground.

On the seventh day they began dancing the Feather Dance early in the morning. Each dancer bore a pole decorated with feathers, half of them, belonging to the White Clan Cabin, having white feathers, and half, belonging to the Red Clan Cabin on the north side of the Square, having black feathers. There were two dance leaders and all followed them in two rows, a white-feathered pole being followed by a black-feathered pole, and so on. The men sang while they danced. After this the ground was swept clean, preparatory to admitting all the other people.

The notes are confusing at this point, but I understand that the women now brought provisions into the Square, but nothing that had been cooked with salt.

Two men were then sent out to tell the women to prepare to dance the Red War Dance, the War Dance, the Paint-Up Dance (“to paint up for war”), the native name of which is Its-atĭtska. Both men and women painted up but only the women danced. The singers painted one side of the face black and the other side red. This was the “War paint.” Just before the women began dancing another long speech was made telling of their wars, of their great warriors, and great deeds, in order to encourage the young men to become great warriors and leaders. If a war was on foot the warriors would be ready to set out, being now purified. Then the women, without any men, came out and danced this War Dance. The three leaders had boards made in the shape of tomahawks, painted red, and decorated with black and white feathers, and they shook there as they danced. They danced around the fire and then rested, repeating this four times. In modern times some of the women have had guns or pistols which they discharged while dancing. This dance was like the first women’s dance. It was controlled by the Red Clans while the other was controlled by the White Clans. The great Feather Dance, however, was controlled by both jointly. This one dance lasted several hours.

Then followed a Buffalo Dance by the men, stripped naked and wearing only their breechclouts, ornaments on their arms, tiger tails, and ornaments and buffalo horns on their heads. It followed the war dance by the women. One man sang and the rest grunted like buffalo, and they stooped down as they danced. They pretended to paw the ground and bellow.

They feasted afterwards.

Then came a rest until sunset. After nightfall they began the night dances with singing and whooping–no war dances-only peace dances. First they danced the Old Dance, participated in by men, women, and children who danced first around the mound in the Tadjo and then inside the Square. It was followed by common amusement dances or “stomp dances” which lasted all night. In these they imitated the cow, horse, quail, etc. They came to an end at daylight and then all left for their homes.

Mention is made elsewhere of the Crooked Arrow Dance and the Dance with Knives. It is also said that they took medicine for four days while the above schedule allows for but three.

Late in the autumn it was customary to assemble the people for the purpose of performing Medicine Dances which were like those performed in the spring.

All these dances were not solely for the old men or solely for the ball players, but as well in order to give the young men and the young women enjoyment. One group of social units commonly sent a challenge to their opponents in ball-play in the following words “Our young men have become lonesome for the lack of pleasure and for this reason we are sending to challenge you to a game of ball.” At all meetings there was dancing and enjoyment for young and old, and when it was time to separate a speaker of known ability addressed the assembly with words of good counsel.

First the speaker would say that they had assembled for amusement and instruction and then he would follow with an outline of the general law of morals observed by the people. He pointed out the great danger to the peace of the community involved in forgetting or overstepping that, law. The penalty for these transgressions was set forth in brief but forcible terms. Afterwards he announced any new law or regulation adopted by the chiefs and councilors with the injunction that it be carefully observed. He summarized the reasons which had moved their leaders to enact it after having given the matter due consideration, telling the people that their chiefs had discussed it at length. He admonished all to obey their leaders without question, for it was intimated that they knew best the principles of their moral law. The people thus received an outline of it and were instructed to carry it out.

Usually the kindred towns were invited to these assemblies. Their representatives were assigned certain places in the Square and took part in the ceremonies performed there. It was merely a matter of courtesy to ask them to take part. in the ceremonies. They had nothing to do with the internal affairs of the town that entertained them.

In emergencies these kindred towns were sometimes asked in to aid if the town itself could not decide on the proper measures to take. Their decision was then accepted as the law of the town in question.

There is a note to the effect that the women danced on each of the four days on which the men took medicine, but this seems to be an error.



MLA Source Citation:

Hewitt, J. N. B. Notes on the Creek Indians. Edited by John R. Swanton. Anthropological Papers, No. 10. Bulletin 123, BAE. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1939. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/creek-ceremonies.htm - Last updated on May 6th, 2013


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