Mortuary Practices and Afterlife of the Choctaw Essay

Mortuary Practices and Afterlife of the Choctaw Essay

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The Choctaws thrived in the fertile sandy, red-clay soil, rolling hills, and dense forests, located in the Central Hills of the east-central region of Mississippi. The estimated population after early European contact was between 15,000 and 20,000 and was the second largest group of Native Americans in the Southeast (Blitz 1988:127).
The Choctaws in the Southeast were a matrilineal society. Traditionally, women preformed tasks related to domestic life. Among these responsibilities were creating pottery and utensils, food preparation, and planting and harvesting crops. The majority of their diet consisted of agricultural products such as corn, pumpkins, squash, and beans. Women would also accompany men on hunting excursions in order to provide food preparation. After the hunt, women were responsible for transporting the slain animal back to the village for processing of skins, bone, and meat (Carson 1995:495-6).
The greatest responsibilities of the Choctaw men were hunting and warfare. During the fall and winter months, their primary food source was deer. Their accomplishments on hunting adventures directly reflected upon their social status and importance within the tribe.
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 t...


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...uilt 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 (Campbell 1959:149-52).

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