Many Creek stories, and those of their neighbors, are world famous nowadays. Seldom do the people who love these stories know their actual origin.
Creeks had considerable influence on folklore in the Old South, especially Black folklore. In Southern White folklore, there is often a merging of Creek and African traditions. Creeks, and others, tell of a spirited "Trickster," often, a mischievous little fellow usually represented by the Rabbit. Early slaves brought with them African stories about Anansi, a similar trickster who was always causing problems for someone somewhere somehow! In the Southern United States, this tricky little sneak easily merged with Creek traditions and charmed the world ever after as "Br'er Rabbit," with his complement of equally comical miscreants and mavericks.
A lawyer, W. O. Tuggle worked for the Creek Nation in Oklahoma from 1879 to 1882. He filled his journals with wonderful stories about Creeks and their ways; that journal has now been published under the title Shem, Ham and Japheth. Joel Chandler Harris used Tuggle's original journals when he came to write Nights with Uncle Remus, first published in 1883. These stories became Walt Disney's film, Song of the South. Many raise controversy regarding the Black narrator and the film's stereotypical portrayal of an earlier era. However, serious scholars of Native American tales find no fault with the fidelity of the stories kindly told cross-culturally. We withhold our own judgement for the moment until more capable scholars do their work and nnounce their findings.
Traditional stories are very important to Creeks and all Native Americans. In the Southeast, they can be roughly divided into three catagories: Tradtional Tales, Personal Narratives and Sacred Precepts. Often, tales intertwined these catagories in imaginative ways to meet several purposes at once. Thisis possible in the Southeast where boundaries between different realities as nearly as pronounced as those of the Anglo-world. Whatever the catagory, stories serve to transmit cultural values to the young. They strengthen tribal ideals, reinforce community traditions, teach morals and lessons, and explain the inexplicable. And, of course, they are excellent entertainment. Stories vary from Tribal Town to Tribal Town. Messages and meanings remain the same--clear, concise and conscionable. In addition to the obvious points of a tale, there seems to always be hidden meanings scattered about as well
"There is much to telling a Creek story properly," said Louise Nix and her brother and sister Gus Allen and Barbara Allen Conway. "If not done properly, bad will come of it." There are many ways to initiate story-telling in different Creek Towns. When telling a story at our Fire, Pine Arbor, one usually spits quietly to the left four times and announces, "I am going to tell a story," or "It happened like this, so I was told." At least four stories must be told at a sitting; one person doesn't have to tell them all. Stories are divided into Summer Stories and Winter Stories, Day and Night Stories. Winter Stories must be told in summertime, and Summer Stories must be told in wintertime or "bad will come of it." Day Stories can be told only at night, and Night Stories told only during the day. Otherwise, the characters involved might hear you and "get you" for revealing their secret lives. Or, they might carry bad tidings against you. Or worse, they may steal your crops--Rabbit's good at that!
Yes indeed, there is much to know about telling Creek stories properly. Storytelling is not a task given to just anyone. The storyteller is a person of great responsibility and importance. It is not we who keep the stories. It is the stories that keep us. If we lose our stories, we are in danger of losing all we hold dear and sacred. In fact, it is oft said that "If there is no story, there was no occasion." Such is the Muskogee Way.
We adhered strongly to proper traditions. You will find several sets of four stories each--maybe more--among these articles and lessons from our forthcoming publication, "Muskogee Words and Ways, The life, Language and Culture of the Eastern Creeks," (Volume 6, The Muskogee Press). One of the following stories explains an important reason why the Canine Nation howls. Another warns of dire consequences surely to engulf those who mishandle their words. An old standby is an account (said to be actual) of how Rabbit helped humans get Fire. It is an old favorite at Pine Arbor Tribal Town (The Apalachicola Creeks) and is told often--but, only in winter. And yes, we spat four times to the left and typed the stories at night in current colloquial English. Ci! We wonder, though, if it was okay to edit them during the day? We'll know soon enough, now won't we!
(Ci! Pronounced Chi as in chives, rhymes with "die!)
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