Mvskoke Country

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Cokv-Walv Mvskoke

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If you subscribe to the Muscogee Nation News, then you’ve probably received one of the wall calendars produced by the Communications Department.  The current edition is titled Mvskoke Etvlwv 2010 Nettv Vhvnkatv, or “Muscogee Nation 2010 Day Counter.”

That’s an interesting turn of phrase, “day-counter,” and there are at least two other ways to express the English word “calendar” in the Mvskoke language.

The term hvse-onayv combines hvse, which can mean “sun” or “month,” and onayv, “one who tells (a story).”  Of course, the sun and the (lunar) month are both related to how we keep track of the passage of time.  So a colloquial translation might be “date-teller,” another pretty good expression for calendar.

My personal favorite is cokv-walv, a contraction of cokv and owalvCokv refers to a book or some other form of written text, while owalv is a prophet or fortune-teller, one who can predict the future.  So the literal meaning is “book-prophesier,” though the phrase makes more sense in English if we translate it as “text that predicts the future.”

This strikes me as a reminder that any calendar offers only a prediction, not a promise, of days to come.  It’s easy to see something in print and assume it must be true.  But there’s no guarantee we’ll be around tomorrow, which is why it’s important to live each day as our last.

Incidentally, the English word calendar comes from the Latin kalendarium, “moneylender’s account book.”  So take your pick, nettv-vhvnkatv or hvse-onayv or cokv-walv, they’re all more suitable than calendar.  Better to live by a day-counter, a date-teller, or a text that predicts the future than according to a moneylender’s account book.

Previous editions of cokv-walv Mvskoke reproduced photos of Mvskoke historical sites and ceremonial grounds.  Mvskoke Etvlwv 2010 Nettv Vhvnkatv features a dozen images of Mvskoke churches, including Butler Creek Indian Baptist Church, where I have family ties.

It also shows Mvskoke names for the days of the week and the months of the year.  This is helpful for those of us who did not grow up speaking the Mvskoke language, and these names can teach us about Mvskoke country as well.

For example, the seven-day week is a cultural tradition from ancient Europe and the Middle East—it has no basis in natural phenomena, unlike the lunar month and the solar year.  Mvskokes adopted this periodic cycle in recent times to accommodate the dominant culture.

A century ago, the names for the days were mostly loanwords:  Monday became Mvntē; Tuesday was either Tustē or Mvntē Enhvyvtke, “the day after Monday.”  Today we also have descriptive terms based on each day’s position in the weekly rotation:  Wednesday is Ennvrkvpv, literally “half of” (the week) or “its middle”; Thursday is Ennvrkvpv Enhvyvtke, “the day after the middle of the week.”

The names for the months, on the other hand, are much older and reflect Mvskoke familiarity with the natural world.  They are listed here beginning with the month of posketv (Green Corn), the new year ceremony traditionally held around summer solstice:

Hvyuce, “Little Harvest”

Hvyo-Rakko, “Big Harvest”

Otvwoskuce, “Little Chestnut”

Otvwoskv-Rakko, “Big Chestnut”

Eholē, “Frost”

Rvfo-Rakko, “Big Winter”

Rvfo ‘Cuse, “Winter’s Younger Brother”

Hotvlē-Hvse, “Wind Month”

Tasahcuce, “Little Spring”

Tasahce-Rakko, “Big Spring”

Kē-Hvse, “Mulberry Month”

Kvco-Hvse, “Blackberry Month”

Six of the Mvskoke months are named for seasonal weather:  frost and winter, wind and spring.  The other six months bear names related to food production:  berries, harvest, chestnuts.

Seasons and staples—our ancestors knew their environment and understood their dependence on the provision of nature.  They survived by marking time with a system that rooted them in the annual round of subsistence.

Why bother with such things in a modern world of comfort and convenience?

Mvskoke terminology is much more than linguistic trivia or ethnic nostalgia.  Our indigenous forebears were keen observers of earth and sky, and cokv-walv Mvskoke conveys some of their most vital agricultural insights.

This is just one example of what scholars call “traditional ecological knowledge,” the distilled wisdom of generations and the land-based way of life that generates it.  As among other indigenous peoples, Mvskoke ecological knowledge addresses practical, social, and religious concerns.  These are valuable traditions that can help us meet the challenges ahead.

Muscogee Nation News, June 2010

Sources:

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

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

Beginning Creek / Mvskoke Emponvkv, by Pamela Innes and others