Tasahce-Rakko, “Big Spring”

The dominant culture in North America tends to make a big deal out of the vernal equinox, around March 20, when night and day are about equal in length. Among those who define seasonal change according to strictly astronomical criteria, this marks the beginning of spring—a welcome relief from the cold and dreary conditions of a temperate-zone winter.

Of course, there are other ways to conceptualize the seasons. In Mvskoke country, you may know, we’re already a month into tasahcē, “spring,” the third of three seasons in the ancient Mvskoke calendar. The vernal equinox comes at the transition from Tasahcuce, “Little Spring,” to Tasahce-Rakko, “Big Spring,” which are the first two months of this four-month season.

Thanks to cokv-walv Mvskoke, we get an extra month of spring! Please try not to brag in the presence of your non-Mvskoke neighbors.

Last month’s column featured writings by Alexander Posey, the renowned journalist, poet, and humorist. Complementing his affection for birds, flowers are another favored topic of Posey’s nature poetry.

In his poem “For Me,” for example, the Mvskoke bard celebrates a personal relationship with the environing world: “The blue of the sky and the green branches waving— / The sweet invitation of nature to rest / Seem to satisfy all of the soul’s eager craving / To live in a land by eternal spring blest.” It is the heyday of flowering plants, a time for new growth in every domain. “The mountain, the river, each flower, each tree,” this stanza concludes, “Had a love-song to sing and all, all was for me!”

Although some critics would dismiss these lyrical sentiments as garden-variety romanticism, Mvskoke people have always personalized their connection to the natural environment.

Think of our various clans, which express a fundamental sense of kinship: Kaccvlke, “Tiger Clan” (literally, “Tiger People”); Fuswvlke, “Bird Clan”; Vhvlvkvlke, “Sweet Potato Clan”; and Hotvlkvlke, “Wind Clan,” to name just a few. Or consider the many animal dances still enjoyed at our ceremonial grounds, including Yvnvsv-Pvnkv, “Buffalo Dance”; Setahvyv-Pvnkv, “Feather Dance”; Cetto-Pvnkv, “Snake Dance”; and Ēsapv-Pvnkv, “Gar Dance.”

This indigenous personalism is also evident in modern surnames and in the playful monikers given to individuals by family and friends. Natural names are a venerable tradition in Mvskoke country, one sometimes extended even to transient guests.

In April of 1774, the Alachua Seminoles were visited by William Bartram, an Anglo-American naturalist from Philadelphia. Bartram’s specialty was botany, the study of “the tribes of plants and trees,” and he particularly liked tracking down native flora in bloom.

Arriving on the outskirts of Cuscowilla, Bartram and his party were met by “the women and children,” who “saluted us with cheerfulness and complaisance,” he noted in his journal. “We were welcomed to the town, and conducted by the young men and maidens to the chief’s house,” where Ahaya—called “Cowkeeper” by the colonists—”attended by several ancient men, came to us, and in a very free and sociable manner, shook our hands, or rather arms.”

After the requisite formalities of Mvskoke hospitality, the mēkko “was then informed what the nature of my errand was, and he received me with complaisance, giving me unlimited permission to travel over the country for the purpose of collecting flowers, medicinal plants, etc.” Ahaya also dubbed him “Puc-Puggy” (pvkpvkē, “flower,” though the word has undergone subtle changes in both pronunciation and meaning since the eighteenth century; in modern Mvskoke, “flower” is pakpvkuce). This gesture was probably at least partly in jest, and Bartram only compounded the irony by construing his new nickname as “the flower hunter,” perhaps one of the earliest examples of playing Indian in American history.

The following year, while travelling through the Mvskoke heartland, Bartram learned more about their agricultural practices. This communal tradition was surely as beautiful as any fragrant flower:

“In the spring, when the season arrives, all the citizens, as one family, prepare the ground and begin to plant, commencing at one end or the other, as convenience may direct for the general good, and so continue on until finished; and when the young plants arise and require culture, they dress and husband them until the crops are ripe. . . . The design of the common granary is for the wisest and best purposes, with respect to their people, i.e., a store or resource to repair to in cases of necessity. Thus when a family’s private stores fall short, in cases of accident or otherwise, they are entitled to assistance and supply from the public granary.”

Muscogee Nation News, April 2011

Sources:

A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin

Song of the Oktahutche: Collected Poems, by Alexander Posey

Travels and Other Writings, by William Bartram

English and Muskokee Dictionary, by R. M. Loughridge and David M. Hodge

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Hotvlē-Hvse, “Wind Month”

The last month of the winter season brings blustery weather to Mvskoke lands, an annual turn as predictable in Indian Territory as it was in the old country. Today this is still the windiest part of the year in northern Alabama and Georgia, and anyone now living in eastern Oklahoma knows it’s the time of year when the wind starts to pick up.

So it makes sense that the eighth month of the Mvskoke year is Hotvlē-Hvse, “Wind Month.” The name was formed by combining the words hotvlē, “wind,” and hvse, “month.”

Hotvlē is cognate to the verb hotvletv, “to blow (of the wind)” or “to be breezy, windy.” It is also the more general word for “air” and appears in compound terms involving the movement of air, which suggests that Mvskoke people have always appreciated the dynamic nature of atmospheric conditions. For example, hotvlē-rakko—literally, “big wind”—can refer to a hurricane, tornado, or other storm characterized by violent gales.

Curiously, Hotvlē-Hvse is one of only three months in cokv-walv Mvskoke whose name includes the word for “month.” Most Mvskoke speakers today take hvse to mean “sun,” but it probably had a broader meaning in the past. The Miccosukee language—one of our closest linguistic relatives—still uses haashe to refer to either the sun or the moon, adding a modifier to specify “day” or “night” luminary. The lunar cycle is the natural basis for months in the Mvskoke calendar, so the name for “Wind Month” preserves this older usage of hvse.

Even more distinctively, Hotvlē-Hvse is the only Mvskoke month whose name corresponds to that of a Mvskoke clan. Hotvlkvlke designates the “Wind clan,” which figures prominently in a portion of the Mvskoke origin account. This story is nicely presented in English by “Este Mvskoke (The Muscogee People),” a documentary produced in 1983 by the Communications Department of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

It is said that, “in the beginning, the Mvskoke people were born out of the earth itself. They crawled up out of the ground, through a hole, like ants.” They found themselves near high mountains, “the backbone of the earth,” but then a thick fog obscured their vision. “They wandered around blindly, calling out to one another in fear.” Soon they were “separated into small groups, and the people in these groups stayed close to one another in fear of being entirely alone.”

Finally, Hesaketvmesē took mercy on them. “From the eastern edge of the world, where the sun rises, he began to blow away the fog. He blew and blew until the fog was completely gone. The people were joyful and sang a hymn of thanksgiving to the Master of Breath.”

Then the people in each group “turned to one another” and vowed the loyalty of kinship. “They said that from then on these groups would be like large families. The members of each group would be as close to each other as brother and sister,” parent and child.

“The group that was farthest east and first to see the sun praised the wind that had blown the fog away. They called themselves the Wind family, or Wind clan.” As the fog cleared, other groups named themselves after the first animal they saw: bear, deer, alligator, raccoon, bird, and more.

Thus the various clans have come into being. Together they form the bedrock of Mvskoke civilization, organizing social relations in much the same way that cokv-walv Mvskoke illuminates the passage of time. And like the names of the Mvskoke months, the clan names symbolize the environmental consciousness of our indigenous forebears.

It would be a tragic mistake to regard these totems as little more than team mascots. Fans of the Texas Longhorns, for example, don’t refrain from eating beef; in fact, they consume more cattle than most humans on the planet. And they don’t disavow marrying other Longhorns fanatics (though it might improve the gene pool if they did). Hotvlkvlke and the rest of the Mvskoke clans remind us of our fundamental kinship with the natural world, regulating how we interact with other-than-human persons—and with one another.

Wind Month blows fresh air through Mvskoke country, bringing to mind the origin of clans and heralding a seasonal turn from dormancy to new growth.

Muscogee Nation News, February 2011

Sources:

“Average Wind Speed,” NOAA Comparative Climatic Data

“Tulsa, Oklahoma Climatology,” National Weather Service

A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin

English and Muskokee Dictionary, by R. M. Loughridge and David M. Hodge

Este Mvskoke (The Muscogee People),” MCN Communications Department