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Yuchi Town and Town Square
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We now come to the consideration of the Yuchi town. This is the ruling institution in the life of the Yuchi, the same holding true for most of the other southeastern tribes. It has superseded in political importance the other social groupings, and, as far as any governmental activities are carried on at all, they too are the affairs of the town. The societies are represented by officers in town gatherings, while some of the clans have assumed the right to fill the highest town office, as We have seen before. The town is extremely democratic, however, as all of the men are expected to be present at its meetings, having the equal right to express opinions upon public matters which may be up for debate and to acclaim their vote for or against candidates for the town offices. The ritualistic and ceremonial life of the community is also a matter of town interest. The chief religious rites take place once a year publicly in the town square. Here again every male is a common participant in the events that take place, and the leaders of the minor social groups become for the time the ceremonial officials as well. Besides these officials, with double functions as it were, there are several others who do not seem to have any special concern with clan or society, but who have to do chiefly with the town when it is assembled either on religious or political occasions.
The Yuchi town, consisting of families, clans, and societies, forms by itself an independent social group, as has been shown. The identity, politically speaking, between the terms town and tribe has also been mentioned. There are three such towns recognized today, one of them less important than the others: Polecat, Sand Creek, and Big Pond, the last being the least. The town comprises an area of settlement having a common public ceremonial and council square-ground. It has a chief representative, who is called ‘bále”,’ the chief religious official as well. He was also the representative of his town in the Creek House of Kings. Two towns. Polecat and Sand Creek, perform an annual ceremony at which the presence of all townsmen is required, under penalty of a fine which is paid to the four principal chiefs and used to defray the expenses of the attendant feast.1
Membership in the town is decided entirely by birth. But with proper recognition a stranger who marries a Yuchi woman may become a member by being initiated at the annual ceremonies. Initiation merely consists in under-going the ceremonial operations with the men of the town. The town has the power to make peace or war. Redress for individual wrongs inflicted by aliens is demanded by the town, and the town, furthermore, must be party to all under-takings or stipulations with foreigners.
In taking a view of the old town idea and the later developed Creek Confederacy, let us consider the condition of the Yuchi in their original seats, in the east. There they lived in scattered communities, each having a public town square and town ceremony just as today. Representatives were chosen to appear at the tribal gatherings which occurred once a year when all the settlements or villages were assembled. With the inroads of the unorganized Muskogi from the west, and their incorporation of the indigenous southeastern stocks, it would be very natural for them to seize upon a town system which was found on the soil, well fitted to their mode of life and adaptable to a loose protective confederacy. The loose confederacy then, when the Muskogi had completed their conquest of the natives and become properly organized, appeared as nothing more than an improved and extended type of the town system in vogue among themselves and the Yuchi.
The center of the town is a square plot of ground kept free from vegetation and trampled down smooth and hard all over. This plot is known as the rainbow, or big house, yu?ä. Its four sides face north, east, south and west respectively. Here is the sacred ground of the town where civil and ceremonial events take place. The square, moreover, is the town itself in sentiment. It is located near water, and at a point convenient to the townsfolk. Its sides are about 75 feet in extent. Three lodges constructed of upright posts roofed with brush, open on all sides, stand on its borders, one on the north, one on the west and one on the south side of the square. In the center of the square is a spot where the fire is kept burning during night gatherings. Some idea of the general appearance of the town square and the lodges can be obtained from the photographs illustrating the different stages of the ceremonies (Plates XII-XIV). The architecture of the lodges is the same as that of the dwellings figured before. It is commonly reported, however, that some generations ago the lodges on the square-ground were quite different from those of today. They were without roofs, being merely four tiers of logs intended for seats. These were graded in elevation so as to afford all the audience an unobstructed view of the square. The front and lowest seat consisted simply of a log resting upon the ground. The second was several feet higher, supported by crotched or forked posts. The third was still higher, and the last bank of seats was some feet above the ground, enabling those sitting there to see over the heads of the spectators in front.
A diagram of the town square showing the seating arrangement for the inhabitants and for the different groups and officials is given in Fig. 33. It should be added that the ordinary members of the Chief society are ranged on log seats behind their leaders 1, 2, 3, 4 in the west lodge A. The other two lodges, B, are for the Warriors whose leaders are seated at 5, 6, 7, and 8. The clans of the various officials are given with the explanation of the figure, to show how these are represented among the leaders at the time of this writing. No particular arrangement in the location of different clans and societies about the square seems to have been thought of. Aliens and strangers are allowed on the square-ground at all times except during the second day of the annual ceremony.
Only the political aspect of the town square has been thus far dealt with. Its religious aspect, however, is even of greater importance It has already been said that the square-ground symbolizes the rainbow. In this sense it represents the rainbow as the town square of the supernatural beings, the idea having been brought to earth, with instructions to perpetuate it, by the tribal deity, the Sun. In emulation of the supernatural lacings who were holding a meeting upon the rainbow in the world above when the Sun himself was born, the earthly people now congregate upon the earthly rainbow-shrine for their communal events. At the time of the annual ceremonies the square-ground is decorated in places with colored material, ashes, paint and vegetation to carry out the symbolism, the place becoming, for the time, a great religious emblem. As this, however, is more closely connected with religion than with the present heading, the description of the square as a tribal shrine is reserved for another place.
Town Officials. – The following deals with various town officials and their functions, as far could be learned. The officers are given in the list in the order of their rank.
Bálen gabidáne. – A tribal chief having this title is chosen for life to represent the tribe in the Creek confederacy councils.
Baicneá‘. – This is a town chief elected from the Bear clan as the civil and religious head. He must be of Chief class. A worthy clansman of his is chosen to assist him and to inherit his place. This man, too, has an important place in the ceremonies and is called also bálen.
Bálen. – Three Chiefs having this title comprise the town chief’s staff.
Goconé. – This is a master of ceremonies from the Panther clan and represents the highest official of the Warrior society. He is the treasurer, so to speak, of the town and possesses the power of a kind of policeman. He is the master of dances and the fire guardian at the night ceremonies. His duties cease at the beginning of the ball game which concludes the annual ceremony.
Goconé or Sänbá.- – Three other Warriors comprises the staff of the preceding officer, being called also goconé. They, with the master-of-ceremonies, form a sort of Warrior committee.
All of these officers are both the civil and religious functionaries upon ceremonial occasions. The qualifier yueahee, ‘square ground,’ is prefixed to their titles, as in yueaho’álen.
The following few officers seem to have had occasion for employment only at the annual ceremonies, in the various capacities mentioned.
Yatcigi’. – Four young men about to be initiated were given their first official duties under leadership of one of their number, i They were the actual police of the public square, their badges of office being staffs about seven feet long. They had to keep women and dogs from the square and to prevent men from sleeping or leaning against posts during ceremonies. They handled the sacred fire materials and procured and prepared the emetic. They will be mentioned again later. This town square ceremonial service was really the culmination of their initiation period, and the young men entered into full tribal manhood after it was over.
Gondiné or Yatsá. – The scratcher, one of the four goconé, was chosen from the Warrior society to perform the ceremonial scratching operation upon the men.
Ka’ká, ‘white man.’ – Two butchers had entire charge of the feast preparations at the ceremony. Their insignia were also staffs. They were also the heralds for the town at this tune.
All of these offices are given by simple election or appointment in council in the public square, and are held for life unless deposition is warranted on grounds of inefficiency or for some other good reason. The yatcigi’, however, leave their office when they marry and other boys take their places.
The Council. – The Yuchi council is the town assembly under the charge of the officials. It is held in the public square at intervals appointed by the town chief, as a rule lasting all day. Every townsman is expected to be present and seated in either the Chief lodge or the Warrior lodges, according to his society. The four principal chiefs occupy the front log of their lodge and the four ‘goconé ‘, two in each opposite Warrior lodge, are seated upon the front log of that lodge. The town chief is the first to speak announcing the purpose of the assembly. From the fire, which is started in the usual place in the center of the square, a pipe is lighted by a member of the Chief society and passed around. After due deliberation in smoking a speech can be made by anyone wishing to do so. It is usual, however, for the town chief to be the first to make an address. He rises from his seat and states the subject under consideration, at the same time giving words of advice and asking for serious thought in connection with the matter. Should the town chief for any reason not wish to make the speech himself, he can dictate it to an assistant, who will commit it to memory and, at the proper time, deliver it in public as though he were the town chief himself.
In times of the election of officials, speeches are made by the supporters of the candidates, or those opposing them, until a majority is reached in the case of each candidate. This is necessary in all elections to office. In the actual election or casting of ballots, the men of the town assemble on the town square in a long line. Then, as they start to walk toward the town chief, those “who are in favor of the candidate step out of the line to one side. A man of the Warrior society, usually the gocon4, counts them and reports the result to the town chief, who concludes with a speech of inauguration. Councils and elections of this sort are usually ended by nighttime and the towns folk then fall to dancing in the square-ground until daybreak. The seating in the council is the same as that in the ceremonies. The decisions of the body are made public throughout the town and carried into effect by the goconé. Two Warriors often serve as heralds during council meetings and during the ceremonies. These are the ka’kà. They are a sort of police as well.
The Yuchi tribe has a head chief who is known as its highest representative. His town, the Polecat settlement, is now the center of religious and political activity.
Every individual not a Yuchi by blood is held as an inferior, and a separate pronominal gender in the language distinguishes the Yuchi from all other tribes and races. Nevertheless, men of other tribes often marry Yuchi women and thenceforth are obliged, under penalty of a fine, to take part in tribal activities. Such however, are not often elected to offices. They sit in the Warrior society lodges in the square. A few Creeks and Shawnees are thus intermingled with the Yuchi. As a part of the Muskogi confederacy, the Yuchi tribe occupied an equal place with the various other tribes and stocks that composed this body. Officially it was called in Creek, Yuchi Town, Yu’tsi tálwa, and sent one representative to the Creek House of Kings and four (sometimes called Commissioners) to the House of Warriors at Muscogee, I. T., the then capital of the Creek Nation. Yuchi Town is looked upon as quite an important one in the confederacy, for it always has been somewhat aggressive.
If in conclusion we interpret the social conditions correctly it would appear, from what has been said, that certain of the clans had established their own prominence in the village community, made up different totemic groups, and assumed the prerogative of filling the highest governmental office, namely that of town chief. From this point on, we may venture to say, the various social elements of the town obtained representation in public offices until a balance of power was reached and the present town organization resulted.
In the 1905 ceremonies, the goconé, through intoxication, was unable to undergo the scratching operation. For this, he and several others were each fined $2.50 by the chiefs. If money is not forthcoming the equivalent in stock or property is exacted. ↩
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