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Indian Pioneer Papers

Pushmataha County

Indian Pioneer Papers

An interview with
Islin Wright
full blood Choctaw Indian.
Also, a Baptist minister, age 68 years of age
Post office: Snow, Oklahoma

Investigator Field Worker's name: Pete W. Cole
Date of Interview: December 9, 1937
Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young

Reverend Islin Wright, a full blood Choctaw Indian, who for several years has been a minister among his race of people, in an interview relates of what he has seen in his young days and heard of what the older people have talked about as he remembers. He has lived in Oklahoma all of his life and has made several trips to Mississippi State to the Choctaw Indians in that state and has heard much about the ways of the Indians. The subject as interviewed on “Indian Dance” is as follows. Some of the stories are as told by Islin Wright’s father-in-law. A dance for the sick as related by Chambers Johnson, an Indian medicine man, who has been dead several years.

The Choctaws and the Chickasaws, like all of the rest of the people in the world today, indulged in that time honored amusement --- the dance. These two tribes of Indians and their ancient national dances were the same. They had several different ways of dancing, each dance had its meaning and imitation of the name of the dance was usually performed while the dance was in progress.

There was Hoyopa-hihla (War dance), Hakshup-hihla (Scalp dance), Tolihe hihla (ball game dance), Tanchoshi hihla (popcorn dance), or the Green corn dance, Yunush hihla (buffalo dance). For entertainment social or fun making dances there are akanka hihla (chicken dance), Issuba hihla (horse dance), and Shut-un-nih hihla (Tick dance) all of which furnished great entertainments which excelled in purity of sentiments.

In a few only of their social dances, all of which were performed in the open air, men and women participated together. Hardly ever more than one musician furnished the music, and only one was engaged in that department of the entertainment whose music usually satisfied the ear of the most fastidious. He at first was furnished a box where he sat at the beginning of the program, until the entertainment began to liven up and when the musician began to feel and notice the excitement of other people he would move to a block of wood and sometimes on the bare ground. Usually when getting late in the night, and the musician began to feel tired some stimulants made out of certain kind of weeds by boiling until it had the color and taste of whiskey was sweetened and given him, and in a few monuments when the liquid began to take action he would tune up his instrument and the dance began. When there is only one musician, a treat of this kind is furnished their musician so that he may keep awake and furnish music during the night.

The Chickasaws had only two dances sacred to the women alone and in which they only engaged. One of the dances is called Itti lusa hihla (blackwood dance), the other Itakla lusa hihle (blackmouth dance), which no doubt might justly dispute for rivalship with the pale face sisters when in their partners embrace in their performance in the fashion of the round dance.

There is also another dance called tanchi pechifah hihla (crushed or pounded corn dance). This pounded corn is prepared in various meats mixed in the cooking known as pashofa in the Chickasaw language or tanchi lobona, a Choctaw name. This performance is for the sick patient and is usually asked by the medicine man (alikchi) who is attending the sick. The dance though has now been discontinued. It was performed at the request of the medicine man who would lay the patient before the door of the house. When the doctor was called to see a patient, after exercising his skill in the knowledge of medicines known to nature if the patient grew worse, he ordered the tanchi pechifah hihla. The messengers would break the news in the community and at the appointed day the friends would assemble. The doctor (alikchi) would order a straight line be drawn from the center of the doorway of the house where the sick patient was confined, to a smooth and straight pole fifteen or twenty feet in length that had been firmly set up eight or ten rods from the door. Here two guards (Tisho) each armed with a long switch were each stationed at the opposite side of the line. The purpose and the duty of these two tisho were to see that no one should pass or cross the line. No man, beast, chicken, or cat was allowed to cross this line. If the line was accidentally crossed by some man, woman or child, it was immediately known to the medicine man, who at once prepared more solution of medicine and gave it to the one who had crossed the line.

Near the pole, where it was set up, a fire was built and a vessel filled with pounded corn and meats was suspended over the fire. The ground near this place would be swept clean on each side of the line to the door. Everything is set for the dance, the bed upon which the patient is lying would be drawn into a position in the room fronting the door to give the patient a clear view of the merry dancers. The tone of the little drum was respondent to the quick strokes of the musician. The alikchi would bring two women decorated with ribbons and beads of different colors, also having thimbles or rattles made of dry turtle shells tied to their shoes or skirts of their dresses. He would place them on each side of the line, while several men stationed themselves on the opposite side of the line. The alikchi returned to his duties in the sick room, the musician starts the music and the dancing begins. The men were to remain only on one side, while the two women dance, each being extremely cautious not to step over its magic bounds. One and two women only danced at the same time; when tired they gave place to others to whom were handed the bells or luksi hakshup (turtle shells) taken from their ankles and dresses, which the fresh dancers attached to their persons.

The leader or director of the tanchi pechifah was called Tikba heka (first leader). The dance usually began about two hours before sundown and continued until dark when they would adjourn for the pashofe feast.

After the refreshments, dancing was resumed but in the house instead of the yard, where it was kept up until late hour of the night. The tinkling and rattling of the thimble balls and turtle shells mingling with the music and the voices of the dances chanting E-yan-he-yah-ha-yah, E-yah-he-heh was the cry to scare the evil spirit away.

(Note: Pete W. Cole, the field worker, when interviewing a full-blood Indian, writes as the Indian talks and in such manuscripts no change to better English is made.)

Transcribed & Submitted by Teresa Young
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