Traditions of the Great Flood by the Choctaw

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The traditions of the Choctaws 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 in darkness 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. Mankind went from place to place only by torch-light; their food stored away became moldy and unfit for use; the wild animals of the forests gathered around their fires bewildered and even entered their towns and villages, seeming to have lost all fear of man. Suddenly a fearful crash of thunder, louder than ever before heard, seemed to shake the earth, and immediately after a light was seen glimmering seemingly far away to the North. It was soon discovered not to be the light of the returning sun, but the gleam of great waters advancing in mighty billows, wave succeeding wave as they on ward rolled over the earth destroying everything in their path.

Then the wailing cry was heard coining from all directions, Oka Falamah, Oka Falamah; (The returned waters). Stretching” from horizon to horizon, it came pouring its massive waters onward. “The foundations of the Great Deep were broken up.” Soon the earth was entirely overwhelmed by the mighty and irresistible rush of the 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 the waters he looked upon the dead bodies of men and beasts, as they arose 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 spoke and asked if there was a spot of dry land anywhere to be seen in the wide waste of waters. Then it flew around his head a few moments fluttering its wing’s and uttering a mournful cry, then flew away in the direction of that part of the sky where the new sun seemed to be sinking into the rolling waves of the great ocean of waters. Immediately a strong wind sprang up and bore the raft rapidly in that direction. Soon night came on, and the moon and stars again made their appearance, and the next morning the sun arose in its former splendor; and the prophet looking around saw an island in the distance toward which the raft was slowly drifting, and before the sun had gone down seemingly again into the world of waters, the raft had touched the island upon which he landed and encamped, and being wearied and lonely he soon forgot his anxieties in sleep; and when morning came, in looking around over the island, he found it covered with all varieties of animals excepting the mammoth which had been destroyed. He also found birds and fowls of every kind in vast numbers upon the island; and among which he discovered the identical black bird, 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 Fulushto (Raven) a bird of ill omen to the ancient Choctaws.

With great joy he also discovered the bluish bird, which had caused the wind to blow his raft upon the island, and be cause of this act of kindness and its great beauty he called it Puchi Yushubah (Lost Pigeon).

After many days the waters, passed away; and in the course of time Puchi Yushubah became a beautiful woman, whom the prophet soon after married, and by them the world was again peopled.

Whence this tradition with such strong resemblance to the account of the deluge as given in the Sacred Scriptures? It is not fiction or fable, but the actual tradition of the ancient Choctaws as related by them to the missionaries in 1818. Whence this knowledge of the flood of the Bible? Does one reply; they obtained it from the early European explorers of the continent? Not so; for the earliest explorers speak of. The North American Indians various traditions of the Flood. May it be possible that their ancestors, far back in the early dawn of the morn of Christianity, received it from some one or more of the apostles, as ours did the ancient Britons? Who knows? It is not a thing impossible, if we admit they drifted ages ago from Asia’s shores to the western continent. If not, whence and how have they this knowledge of the flood?

St. Paul himself declares, in his epistle to the Galatians, that soon after he had been called to preach Christianity among the heathen, he “went into Arabia.” The dissensions which arose in the Eastern church, in the early part of the third century, breaking it up into sects, drove many into exile into remote parts of the East, and planted the Christian faith among the principal tribes of that region.

Another Choctaw version of their traditional flood (Okafalama) is as follows: In the far distant ages of the past, the people, whom the Great Spirit had created, became so wicked that he resolved to sweep them all from the earth, except Oklatabashih (People’s mourner) and his family, who alone did that which was good. He told Oklatabashih to build a large boat into which he should go with his family and also to take into the boat a male and female of all the animals living upon the earth. He did as he was commanded by the Great Spirit. But as he went out in the forests to bring in the birds he was unable to catch a pair of biskinik (sapsucker), fitukhak (yellow hammer), bak bak. (A large red-headed woodpecker); as these birds were so quick in. hopping- around from one side to the other of the trees upon which they clung with their sharp and strong claws, that Oklatabashih found it was impossible for him to catch them, therefore he gave up the chase, and returned to the boat, and the door closed, the rain beg-an to fall increasing in volume for many days and nights, until thousands of people and animals perished. Then it suddenly ceased and utter darkness covered the face of the earth for a long” time, while, the people and animals that still survived groped here and there in the fearful gloom. Suddenly far in the distant north was seen a long streak of light. They believed that, amid the raging elements and the impenetrable darkness that covered the earth, the sun had lost its way and was rising in the north. All the surviving people rushed towards the seemingly rising sun, though utterly bewildered, not knowing or caring what they did. But well did Oklatabashih interpret the prophetic sign of their fast approaching doom. Instead of the bright dawn of another long wished-for day, they saw, in utter despair, that it was but the mocking light that foretold how near the Okafalama was at hand, rolling like mountains on mountains piled and engulfing everything in its resistless course. All earth was at once overwhelmed in the mighty return of waters, except the great boat, which, by the guidance of the Great Spirit, rode safely upon the rolling and dashing waves that covered the earth. During many moons the boat floated safely over the vast sea of waters. Finally Oklatabashih sent a dove to see if any dry land could be found. She soon returned with her beak full of grass, which she had gathered from a desert island. Oklatabashih to reward her for her discovery mingled a little salt in her food. Soon after this the waters subsided and the dry land appeared; then the inmates of the great boat went forth to repeal another earth. But the dove, having acquired a taste for salt during her stay in the boat continued its use by finding it at the salt licks that then abounded in many places, to which the cattle and deer also frequently resorted. Every day after eating, she visited a salt lick to eat a little salt to aid her digestion, which in the course of time became habitual and thus was transmitted to her offspring. In the, course of years, she became a grandmother, and took great delight in feeding and caring for her grandchildren. One day, however, after having eaten some grass seed, she unfortunately forgot to eat a little salt as usual. For this neglect, the Great Spirit punished her and her descendants by forbidding them forever the use of salt. When she re turned home that evening, her grandchildren, as usual began to coo for their supply of salt, but their grandmother having been forbidden to give them any more, they cooed in vain. From that day to this, in memory of this lost privilege, the doves everywhere, on the return of spring, still continue their cooing for salt, which they will never again be permitted to eat. Such is the ancient tradition of the Choctaws of the origin of the cooing of doves.

But as to the fate of the three birds who eluded capture by Okjatabashih, their tradition states: They flew high in air at the approach of Okafalama, and, as the waters rose higher and higher, they also flew higher and higher above the surging waves. Finally, the waters rose in near proximity to the sky, upon which they lit as their last hope. Soon, to their great joy and comfort, the waters ceased to rise, and commenced to recede. But while sitting on the sky their tails, projecting downward, were continually being drenched by the dashing spray of the surging waters below, and thus the end of their tail feathers became forked and notched, and this peculiar shape of the tails of the biskinik, fitukhak and bakbak has been transmitted to their latest posterity. But the sagacity and skill manifested by these birds in eluding the grasp of Oklatabashih, so greatly de lighted the Great Spirit that he appointed them to forever be the guardian birds of the red men. Therefore these birds, and especially the biskinik, often made their appearance in their villages on the eve of a ball play; and, whichever one of the three came, it twittered in happy tones its feelings of joy in anticipation of the near approach of the Choctaws favorite game. But in time of war one of these birds always appeared in the camp of a war party, to give them warning of approaching danger, by its constant chirping and hurried flitting from place to place around their camp. In many ways did these birds prove their love for and friendship to the red man, and he ever cherished them as the loved birds of his race, the remembered gift of the Great Spirit in the fearful days of the mighty Okafalama.



MLA Source Citation:

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/traditions-of-the-great-flood-by-the-choctaw.htm - Last updated on Mar 26th, 2014


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