Saturday, January 18, 2014

LOL, Heh.
And the White Man Thought
He Could Improve On This System

Chahta Tribal Government in the 18th, 19th Centuries

Iti Fabvssa (Our History)
Question:
   "What was the Chahta political structure like
at the time of Chief Pushmataha?"
(signed) Todd

In the past, just like today, the political structure of the Chahta (Choctaw) Tribe reflected the makeup of the communities that sustained it. The political structure was designed to support the values commonly held between these communities and to direct their interactions with each other and with non- Chahta groups. It has always adapted and changed to fit the needs of each new generation.


   Pushmataha (1764? -1824) served as a Chahta Chief during the first decades of the 1800s. Before this time, Chahta government was decentralized with individuals and settlements having a great deal of leeway in making their own decisions. Sometimes, this saw different Chahta towns supporting opposing parties during military conflicts, and even fighting each other in the Chahta Civil War (1747-1750). By Pushmataha's time, this decentralized form of government was slowly being shaped into a structure with leaders who could speak for the Chahta people as a whole.

From the earliest written texts on the subject (1702), and still during the early 1800s, the Chahta Tribe was comprised of three geographic and political districts:
Ahepvt ("Potato eaters") was located in the northeastern part of the Chahta homeland,
Okla Falaya (literally "Long People," referring to the geographical shape of the district) was located in the west,
and Okla Hannali "Six Towns" was located in the south.

Each of the three districts had a Miko, or "Chief." Pushmataha was Chief of the Okla Hannali District from 1800-1824. During many of the same years Apukshunnubbee was Chief of the Okla Falaya District, and Mushulatubbee was Chief of Ahepvt District.

Each of the three Districts maintained their own fires (highly and symbolically important), and normally functioned autonomously. However, they consulted with each other on external matters that affected the whole Tribe. In the 1700s, the French began referring to one Chahta leader as the "Principle Chief." 
This reflected their own concept of a "King," however, the position was not recognized within Chahta society itself until immediately before the Trail of Tears, 1830-31.

Nevertheless, during times of major war, a single leader, such as Pushmataha, would emerge to temporarily coordinate the efforts of Chahta forces.

The political structure within each Chahta village consisted of several positions.
The village chief presided over the village, welcomed visitors, and represented the village in dealings with other Chahta villages.
The village Tvshkamiko, or "warchief", presided over war endeavors. He was assisted by two Tvshkamikushi "little war chiefs," who served as his lieutenants.
The Tishomiko, or "servant chief," acted as the speaker for the chief and arranged dances, feasts, and ceremonies. Men holding the office of Tishomiko, often became village chiefs.

In reality, this structure of leadership organization probably varied somewhat between villages, but the above positions appear to have been a widespread Chahta form that was maintained into the early 1800s.

Within traditional Chahta society, men were further divided into four political ranks, which were given relative preference in decision-making meetings.
The first rank was comprised of individuals holding the offices just described, these were the leaders.
The second was, Hattak Holitopa or "Beloved Men," respected elders who carried the traditions of the Tribe.
The third rank was Tvshka, or "warriors," individuals who had proven themselves in battle and received a war name (this is the origin of today's Chahta surnames that end in "abi," meaning to win or kill).
The fourth rank was Hattak Himitta, or "Young Men," males of any age who had not proven themselves in battle.

For a young Chahta man, the path up the political scale could begin with proven success in men's activities, such as stickball and warfare.
It continued with success in local leadership positions,
such as leading a war party,
or speaking for the village chief.
With success in these roles, a young man could become a village chief by popular consensus. Under the right circumstances, a successful and popular village chief could become a District chief.

Meetings of the Chahta government were highly symbolic and spiritual events. Major decisions at the village and at wider, Tribal levels were made in a council of leaders. Important matters were discussed either around a blazing fire, or when the sun was shining brightly.

If the meeting was to discuss civil matters or peaceful relations, symbolism involving the color white was prevalent. If the meeting was to discuss war, the symbolism incorporated the color red. Before the speaking began, a pipe was passed between participating parties, the belief being that the tobacco smoke would carry their words up to God. During the meeting, speeches were delivered and, as time allowed, all individuals' points of view given on the matters at hand without interruption. After listening to the talks, the leader gave his opinion, which was usually approved by the council.  Such council meetings were often lengthy, and accompanied by stickball games and dances.

When Chahta leaders met with the leaders of other Districts, or of other Tribes,
they employed a standardized greeting, which included the words, "Holitopa chia-hoke,"
meaning "you are very beloved."
Today, this has been shortened to the present, common Chahta greeting "Halito."

Ceremonies were often conducted as a means of fostering positive diplomatic relationships between Chahta representatives and the people with whom they were negotiating.

This sometimes involved adoption of the outsiders into a Chahta Iksa, and swapping the fire of a Chahta District with the fire of the other group. Chahta representatives are documented to have carried a District Fire several hundred miles for this purpose when first establishing formal ties with the United States, in 1786.

The political roles of Chahta men were complimented by those of the women. Recognized as the givers of life, women traditionally had a great deal of power in Chahta society. Iksa membership was handed down through the female, rather than male line.
Women were the major food producers and property owners, and they traditionally had a great deal of say in the distribution of resources within the village. Chahta women also traditionally accompanied their men on diplomatic missions and took part in the associated ceremonies.

Nevertheless, by Pushmataha's time, women's formal leadership power within Chahta society had diminished as a result of interactions with Euro-American groups who believed women were incapable of filling such important positions.

Not in this Chahta household.... 
Right, Leticia?? Babe??  Honeybear?
And this post dedicated to 
a future Chahta Miko, named Dillon.

2 comments:

Jeffro said...

Learn something new every day! Thanks for the lesson!

The Local Malcontent said...

To be perfectly honest, Benjamin Franklin admired Indian Tribal government so much, that he emphasized copying it to a great degree, to the framers of the U.S. constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. ~!
LookItUp.