Choctaw Tribe Essay

Choctaw Tribe Essay

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When a Choctaw tribal member became terminally ill, it was common practice for the medicine man to inform the family of impending death (Swanton 1931:170). Upon death, the Choctaws believed that the spirit of the dead continued on a voyage to either the good hunting ground or the bad hunting ground. This journey would take many days, which would require the proper provisions. A dog would sometimes be slain in order to accompany his master on the long journey. After the introduction of horses, they, too, were killed so that the spirit had means of transportation. Food, drink, clothing and shoes were also offered (Cushman 1999:302, Swanton 1931:170).
After death, the corpse was placed on a scaffolding about five or six feet above ground. The platform was constructed of timber and placed on poles. The body was then covered with a blanket made of animal skin and tree bark so not to attract scavenging animals. The body remained in this position until the flesh decayed, approximately four to six months (Cushman 1999:302-3). During this time, immediate family was considered to be in formal mourning. Each day for a short period of time, family members would be found weeping at the scaffolding (Fogelson 2004:507).
Once the flesh had decayed, the bone picker began his ritual. “The Bone-Picker never trimmed the nails of his thumbs, index and middle fingers which accordingly grew to an astonishing length – sharp and almost hard as flint – and well adapted to the horrid business of their owner’s calling” (Swanton 1931:176). The remaining flesh, tendons, muscles and nerves were ripped from the skeleton, bundled up and placed on the corner of the platform and burned, or disposed of in a field (Cushman 1999:303, Swanton 1931:1...


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... the spirit would feel guilt or fear, and attempt to dodge the stones. Slipping from the log, he would fall into the raging river and over the waterfall, landing in rapidly swirling pool of water.
Pulling his beaten, tattered, and unclothed body from the water, the shilup, begins his journey into the bad hunting grounds. Every step is filled with the pain from briars, thorny trees, chestnut burs. The sun never shines and cold winds are always present. Every spirit encountered is an enemy with no safe place to take refuge. Food is scarce, due to unfertile soil, and hunger is constant. The bad hunting grounds are perpetually lonely, with only the joyous sounds coming from the other side of the mountains. The doomed spirits constantly struggle to climb the treacherous mountains, but to no avail. They are eternally destined to an afterlife of desolation.

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