Chief Tuskaloosa and Alabama Choctaws.

Ever since Max decided that he wanted to have a Cherokee birthday party, we’ve been exploring all things Native American. Fortunately, the Moundville Native American Festival takes place in Moundville this weekend, and everything, including the acorns and the seasons, are falling together to make this a perfect theme for the month. So why not share it?

Almost every space and place on this continent has its own specific Native history, so we started with the local. The name “Tuscaloosa” comes from the Choctaw language and means “Black Warrior”. Coincidentally, the Black Warrior River runs through Tuscaloosa and provided our city’s initial impetus for existence back in the days when all trade and commerce used rivers for transportation.

The Dreams Of A Young Chief: Chief Tuskaloosa by Maggie Geist with illustrations by Cliff Ballard is out of print, but provides a beautiful introduction to Chief Tuskaloosa, the namesake of our town and a local history worth exploring. According to an archived article in the Tuscaloosa News which surveys local Native history, the famous Chief Tuskaloosa probably never actually lived here but his legend is alive and well.

Maggie tells the story of a young Choctaw boy who always knew he would one day be a chief. She describes his experience with the Black Drink Ceremony and the Green Corn Ceremony, tribal events which ritualized harvest practices and shaped individual identities and roles within the tribal structure. In her words:

When the braves returned home, it was time for the Green Corn Ceremony- an exciting time. This ceremony took place only when the last corn crop became ready for harvest. It was a time to purify the village. Before the feasting began, four to eight days were spent in fasting.

The men repaired items that needed repairing. The fasted and they drank the black drink. The women cleaned their homes and discarded all their broken pots.

The lighting of the new sacred fire was the main event. The High Priest rubbed two pieces of wood together until there was smoke, then he fanned the small flame with the wing of a white bird. Only the men could watch this ceremony. This was Tuskaloosa’s first time to witness the event. Only the men who took park in the Black Drink Ceremony could watch.

The High Priest forgave all the braves for their wrongdoing except he had no power from the Great Spirit to forgive those who had killed others during the year. The women were then asked to come and light new fires from the sacred flame to carry to their homes for the home fires. The High Priest challenged women to behave and be good housekeepers for the coming year.

The Green Corn Ceremony took place every year and marked the change in seasonal activities from summer to fall and winter. Tuskaloosa grew into a tall young man whose height helped him excel at all the ball games and markmanship games, like chunkey. He assisted his tribe in making dugout canoes to help them get up and down the Black Warrior and smaller streams.

As a member of the Maubilian tribe of the Choctaw, Tuskaloosa learned how to hunt and protect his people from more warlike neighbors, including the Chickasaws and the Creeks. He proved himself as a warrior in battle against the Creeks. To become chief, Tuskaloosa needed more than war skills- he needed peacemaking skills.

It would be necessary to have self-control before he could control his people. Peace would be hard to keep. A peacemaker would need to have the strength to hold back th desire to control- the need to be in charge of others. Tuskaloosa knew he must lead with gentleness yet with firmness.

Tuskaloosa proved his ability to lead when he made peace with the Creeks. The Choctaw culture deserved some additional exploring, so Max used colored and used the following handouts to explore the Eagle Dance and Choctaw ball games.

Choctaw Ball and Eagle Dance Writing Exercise (PDF)

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