Introduction and Overview
Before the "Journey Toward the Setting Sun," the Indian removals, the South was home to Muskogee Creeks, their related tribes and allies, who were organized into a simple but workable confederacy.
Social scientists call patterns by which a people are organized their "socio-political organization." For the Creeks, their basic unit of socio-political organization was the "Tvlwv," pronounced as “DUHL-wuh.” This Muskogee word means a group of people who generally share common traits, language, and kinship. They live under one authority made up of the Mekko (MEEK-koh) and other officials, both traditional and elected. As a whole, each Tvlwv possessed and defended common territory. In essence, each Tvlwv was a mini-state. Association and cooperation with other Tvlwv was largely voluntary. Their support of the overall national organization, the Creek Confederacy, and adherence to its edicts and requests, was voluntary, consensual or by persuasion only. Forced conformity was not a major factor.
A smaller individual community or satellite settlement of the Tvlwv was often called a Tvlofv. Tvlofv (duh-LOF-uh) is a contracted form of Tvlwv plus "-ofv," (within, in, inside of). Tvlofv, therefore, signified "within the Tvlwv," within its protection or kinship circle, or within the reach of its authority.
Tvlofv would often have a dancing ground or ceremonial ground called a Paskofv or Pvnkofv (pahs-KOH-uf, buhn-KOH-uh). Here were held ceremonials, dances or frolics. Here, too, people met to conduct their business or attend matters of government. Tvlwv, considered as the unity of various tvlofv, can be translated as "Tribal Town," the basic unit of the whole of Muskogee. At least two languages were spoken in several Tribal Towns. Some Towns saw the use of at least four languages regularly: Creek proper, Hitchiti and Mobilian along with a neighboring language such as Cherokee or Choctaw.
At one time there were at least fifty-five separate Tribal Towns. These autonomous Tribal Towns, in the larger unity, made up the Creek Confederacy, Tvlwv-vlke or Ocesvlke Tvlwv-vlke. Essentially, Tvlwv were smaller, related tribes which confederated to form a larger greater nation, the Creek Nation. Later, some of these Tribal Towns would become the Seminole Nations of Florida and Oklahoma, the Miccosukee Nation and others as well.
However, Tvlwv were not just "socio-political organizations." More importantly, they were (and remain) the very heart of Things Muskogee. It is the whole system of government, protection, education, philosophy, religious belief and practice, kinship, citizenship - everything! Do not be misled by the translation "Tribal Town." A town, in modern America, is only a physical location of residences and businesses.
From the preceding, it is apparent that Tvlwv were much more. Tvlwv may also be translated "Ceremonial Ground, Square Ground, Stomp Ground or Town Square." By the word Tvlwv, a tribe named not only its living unity, but also the location of its ceremonial entity through which its people celebrated, practiced and strengthened that unity. It was, and is, the place where the Sacred Fire resides, in the presence of whom (not which) most ceremonies were held, as well as social functions and political activities. It also named the common ancestor and place of origin from the time of Creation.
There was, and still is, great formality associated with all ceremonial grounds. Very strict rules of behavior exist for being in the presence of the Sacred Fire. This Fire, the Sun's Little Brother (itself an ancient Muskogee's perfect symbol for the symbolic presence of the Master of Breath, Perfect Creator) has always been regarded as the main spiritual embodiment of One Above, "the Place where Ohfvnkv (oh-FUHN-kuh, the ONE ABOVE) dwells among us." The central Sacred Fire is regarded, not just as a convenient method of obtaining heat and light but as a living being, sometimes like a child requiring careful attention, sometimes as a grandparent, old and full of wisdom. Now, let us turn our attention briefly to one of the major annual Tvlwv ceremonies, called the Busk or "Green Corn Ceremony." Hopefully, this will clarify an understanding of Muskogee communal and ceremonial life.
Green Corn Ceremonies end the old year and begin the new. People from each settlement, each tvlofv within a Tvlwv, gather at their Tvlwv's principal community, often called (in English) the "Mother Town." Here, their Sacred Fire burns, a visible symbolic embodiment of God. All the various Muskogee and Euchee (or Yuchi) people refer to themselves as "People of One Fire." In remaining conservative Creek and Seminole communities still practicing traditional ceremonies, people speak of their kinship as belonging to a certain "Fire."
Busk, the Green Corn Ceremony, is a community affair. "Busk" is a modern corruption of the Creek word Posketv or Pvsketv, "to fast," (BOHS-gi-duh). Fast they do! A long and arduous fast is the center of this several days ceremony. The turning of the year for Creeks and Seminoles, is the time to put in order one's personal affairs, make right all wrongs and settle all grievances, so that both community and individual can begin the New Year with a clean slate. Throughout the proceedings, people are exhorted in several speeches and the "Long Talk" to acquire and practice right and moral living in their lives.
Thanksgiving is a constant co-theme with purification and renewal. Laws, customs and traditions, folklore and other collectively defining habits of the Town are rehearsed in the original sense of that word. Although great similarity exists, each Tvlwv, independent Tribal Town, has its own unique history, philosophy, customs and beliefs—rigorously defended against all others.
Many Ceremonial Grounds have a Court Day to institutionalize this internal cleansing process. A Green Corn Busk is the reaffirmation of the life of the whole Nation. At every Tribal Town the Sacred Fire is prominent witness to all things, the visible link connecting Humankind and One Above, the Father Spirit. It is the Altar Muskogee and the heart of the people burning as one. The igniting of the Green Corn New Fire restores order to the cosmos out of the chaos developed in the past year. It is Creation re-enacted annually.
Formerly, representatives from each Tvlwv, each Tribal Town, met together annually (or more often, if needed) to govern the whole Confederacy. These meetings were conducted by the same formalities as used in the Tvlwv. At different times in history, this central government met in different places; thus, many Tvlwv have been the "capital" of the Creek Nation at one time or another. Tradition, both eastern and western, holds that the Creek Confederacy was founded when four Tribal Towns met together and formed a common alliance shortly after a major migration from the west. Ancient Apalachicola Tribal Town, Tvlwv Pvlvcekolv, was seat of that ancient meeting. Pine Arbor, as it is called in the east today, and its mixed blood people, are among those descended from ancient Tvlwv Pvlvcekolv (Apalachicola) which provided the Grounds for the Confederacy's birth. According to all sources, the Apalachicolas existed in the East before the arrival of the founding Towns. Muskogees first took "White Drink" at our Town.
Rudiments of the Confederacy were already in place and working prior to European Contact. However, early contact provided the impetus, which caused this informal system of rule, by mutual consent, to crystallize into a formal confederacy, bringing together approximately fifty-five small nations who acted for their mutual defense and growth. There is no question that the foundations of the Confederacy were laid in pre contact times; it is historical fact that the final formation took place as a result of the European invasion of Vnewetv (Please read the related article, Vnewetv).
All Tvlwv were similar but not identical. Consequently, ceremonies were similar but not identical, as customs, traditions and beliefs were similar but local practices varied. Some spoke languages completely unrelated to languages of other Tvlwv. For instance, some Creek Towns spoke Cherokee in everyday life and a few Cherokee Towns spoke Creek. Yuchi, Alabamu, Koshartie, Shawnee, Hitchiti, Naktche (Natchez) and others were among the common tongues of many Tribal Towns. In typically Muskogean fashion, language, political unity or loyalty were not always the same. However, Muskogee Creek was the common tongue or Lingua Franca used in national affairs and between Towns. Muskogees were, and still are, a people in unity, not uniformity.
Today, in Creek and Seminole Nations, there are still ceremonial Tvlwv that practice their ancient ways. Fourteen Creek Tvlwv continue in East Oklahoma; there is one Tvlwv, Pvlvcekolv, in North Florida. As of this writing, about eight Oklahoma Seminole Squares are ceremonially active; some are momentarily dormant. Seminole and Miccosukee Indians in Florida maintain about four Square Grounds. Each Tvlwv carefully maintains its own distinct history and traditions while sharing much in common with the other Tvlwv. Florida boasts five legitimate Tvlwv, Pine Arbor and four Seminole and Miccosukee Tribal Towns.
The use of Arbors ("Topv" or "Topa" in Creek, often called Vpette, shade, sheds, now) is an example of differences between the united Tvlwv. Arbors are brush covered sheds or ramadas containing benches and are placed on the cardinal sides of a Square Ground. Some Towns use three Arbors on the Ceremonial Ground, some use four, others use two and some use none. In many Towns, the Mekko would sit in the West; it would be the North, South, or even the East in others. Three-Arbor Tvlwv generally omitted the East Arbor.
One exception was Paken Tallahassee. Re-activated Paken Tallahassee is a three-Arbor Town without a North Arbor. In most Tribal Towns, women possessed no assigned seat on the Square Ground. Pine Arbor was originally a four-Arbor Tribal Town with one Arbor was assigned to women and visitors. After removal of most Creeks from the East, use of that Arbor was discontinued. It was restored about a generation ago as a result of community wishes, council edicts, need, and prophecy. In addition, the women said they would no longer cook or dance without the restoration of their proper seat on the Square!
As with many non European societies, Creeks were divided into clans. The number of clans was very large, probably as large as the number of clans in any group of Native Americans. In some communities only one or two clans might be represented; in large communities, all clans might be represented. All clans were divided into two groups; social scientists call these divisions "moieties." Clans within a moiety were bound together by strong feelings of kinship and obligations of mutual help. One did not marry within one’s own moiety.
Though many Oklahoma and Florida Creeks and some Seminoles no longer know their Tribal Town, clan or moiety, these divisions are still well preserved by Tribal Town conservatives. Unique among Muskogees, new clans have been occasionally created because of curious localized situations; a clan merger is not unknown either. Among Florida Seminoles there currently exist two different Bird Clans. Much clan lore has been documented by John R. Swanton in his prolific writings on southern Indians.
Originally, members of one moiety married "across the Fire" into the other moiety. A man or woman could not marry into his or her own clan, nor into any clan traditionally kin or aligned. For example, when asked clan membership one might respond in such a manner: "I am born to the Turtle Clan for the Bear Clan." Thus, the speaker told that his mother (and therefore himself) were of the Turtle Clan but his biological father was of the Bear Clan. That speaker would not marry into the Turtle Clan and its collateral or linked Clans such as the Wind; likewise, neither would he marry into the Bear or any of their linked or collateral clans. Furthermore, married couples lived with the wife's family, or at least in the same community. Children were always raised as members of their mother's clan.
A woman's brother (or other close male relative) exercised authority over her children; a woman's husband bore responsibility for the education, training, and discipline of his sister's children (or the children of another close female relative). Considered psychologically, this interweaving provided a very sturdy system of relationships, giving children very definite role models, a sure sense of personal identity and that all-important Muskogee concept of “Proper Place and Purpose.”
Children grew up knowing and feeling their proper relationships at every level with every other member of their Tvlwv and with members of all other Tvlwv. At no time were they in a limbo between life's four stages; there were very clear signs, procedures and rites of passages to completely spell out and announce each progressive stage and its various rights and responsibilities. They were spared the identity crises which have become a common feature of adolescence in modern America. It is precisely this type of community, with its well defined, reliable inter-relationships, that many younger Americans have been trying to reestablish in the communes, rural communities, and other experiments in social re-definition that have sprung up since the late 1950's.
In different Tribal Towns, principal officers were chosen from different clans. In one Tribal Town the Chief, Mekko, might come from the Bear Clan, another Tribal Town may choose from the Wind Clan, and so forth. Through different generations, Chiefs were generally chosen from the same clan, and often from the same family. However, leadership was not primarily hereditary. Simply, a young man who had grown up in the family of a Chief was more likely to meet the requirements of chieftainship than one who had not lived so close to the daily problems of leadership. If the family or clan did not, in a certain generation, produce a fit candidate for the position of Mekko, the Tvlwv would simply select whatever man seemed suited to the job regardless of his clan or station. It happened often.
A Chief ruled not by enforced power but persuasion; he was not a dictator. Therefore, it was customary among the Tribal Towns to elect--or, in the case of seeming hereditary leadership, to affirm--only those in whose presence people found it easy to reach decision and agreement. Universally, people of Tribal Towns shunned those in whose presence it was easiest to find discord and strife. Unfortunately, this wise habit has not always carried over into modern tribal political life.
Red and White Divisions
A Tvlwv would be designated a "White Town" or a "Red Town." White Towns are places of refuge and peace--no blood must ever be spilled there; Red Towns are defenders and fighters. Warriors were raised up from Red Towns; only a Red Town could declare or direct a war. It is in White Towns that peace is negotiated and settlements to claims are made. Since each Tvlwv was essentially an individual tribe or small nation, each was independent, not bound to any other Tvlwv by anything but mutual consent.
Moreover, no Tribal Town was obligated to join others in war or in peace--often they didn't! This factor played heavily in the destruction of the old undivided Creek Nation when it resided in the East. If Creeks from a warring community opened or engaged in any hostilities with the Americans, settlers or troops often retaliated against nearby peace towns that would be somewhat disadvantaged, due to their position within Muskogee political structure.
Division into White Towns and Red Towns provided gentle internal competition within the Creek Nation, without the bitterness that often accompanies such rivalries. Red and White Towns played each other in stickball games (War's Little Brother) called match games and in other sports. They traded produce and other goods; they intermarried. One reason for no bitter rivalries, was that Tribal Towns could and did change their status: Red Towns could become White and White Towns could become Red. Some Towns, ever the practical, turned to whatever color was convenient at the time; others remained staunch and true to their historic designation.
There is one Muskogee practice which we would do well to consider in these times. A Chief who had led a war or ruled during war could not negotiate peace; no Chief who had ruled during peacetime could not rule during a war. Separate leaders with clearly different talents and values led the people at different times. This system worked well during times when wars were fought honorably "by the rules." Separate leaders for separate functions guaranteed that neither would ever have total control or unchecked rule and power over the people.
Pine Arbor, 1760's - 1990's
Pine Arbor was originally a White Town. However, during the 1700's, an unjustified slaughter of white traders and their Creek families occurred. They had taken refuge there during an outbreak of hostilities. Pine Arbor (Apalachicola) was forced, by a specially called national council, to become a Red Town. It lost much of its early prominence and was stripped of its unique privileges including its former title "Big Town." Other privileges lost included the right to build a shade cover of woven mats over its Square Ground, and none of its citizens could serve as a national leader for ten generations. Moreover, they could be heard indirectly but were not allowed to vote in National Assemblies. They could only speak once per assembly and then only through a daughter or sister Town or someone designated by the "King" for that purpose. After the removals to Indian Territory known today as Oklahoma, they could, and did, continue to send representatives to National Assemblies of both the Creeks and Seminoles, later called the House of Warriors and House of Kings for the Creeks and the Seminole National Council.
Other restrictions were also levied against the whole Tvlwv for ten generations. Every year an Elder is required to rehearse this ancient dishonorable deed. Annually, at a Busk, an Elder broadcasts this sad tale and counts the passing generations. This usually occurs at the First Frost of Winter, the Harvest Busk or on the day mulberries "go to red," the Berry and Arbor Busk.
Pine Arbor waits, watches and hopes. Although it has had minimal formal contact with the Oklahoma Seminole Nation since about 1958 and no formal participation in the affairs of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma between 1980 and 1992, it still wonders if the national councils of the Seminoles or the new Creek Government in Oklahoma will remember to rescind and forgive our past wrong doings. Or, does this task of "welcoming back" fall to the surviving traditional Tribal Town governments? It is a question Apalachicola ponders deeply at each Busk.
Pine Arbor is the only Red Town in the East. Families who did speak out and attempt to prevent the traders' slaughter were allowed to withdraw to form an unrestricted satellite town. This, they did. Immediately afterwards, those families joined relatives in a sister town near present day Montgomery, Alabama. That sister town today is commonly known as "Big Town." Its Muskogee name is Thlopthlocco in I.T. (Indian Territory, now Oklahoma). Because they attempted to prevent the spilling of blood in a peace town, they were allowed the continuity of the ancient name, Rvp-Rakko in Creek, which means a species of "tall canes" from which blowguns are made.
Today, Thlopthlocco is a prosperous community of well respected Creeks. Until Reuben Cook's death, an elder from Oklahoma's Thlopthlocco visited Pine Arbor at least once every four years. Visiting elders in the early 1900's were largely responsible for the establishment of Methodism among the newly Christianized families of Pine Arbor. Upon his own conversion, Reuben Cook sent some of the "power items" for which he was custodian back to Pine Arbor's Fire and Bundle.
Few at Thlopthlocco realize that Reuben had preserved portions of one of the last Creek tribal "Medicine Bundles" in Oklahoma throughout his life. "Out of love and respect for One Above, whose name I have now learned," said the note that accompanied the Town Bundle items returned to the Mother Bundle now in the custodianship of Pine Arbor and the Turtle Clan, collateral equal of Wind Clan.
Today, in Oklahoma and West Florida, the traditional Muskogee organizational pattern continues to function among those who count themselves "People of One Fire." For those Creeks who no longer know or actively follow traditions of their ancestral Tvlwv, the new system of governing by districts will prove effective with practice. After all, this is an American style governance to serve a people who have been forced into an American life-style. There are problems, as is not surprising, considering that this is a great body of people who form one nation but subscribe to, and are divided by, two different principles of rule.
The traditional system works most effectively for those who are carriers of tradition in their faith and life, while the district concept is quite effective for the Muskogees who no longer know their own clan or what Tvlwv to which they belong. In the future, very adaptive Creeks will, as in the past, find a compromise suitable to both. That is characteristic of the Muskogee Way--Nenē Mvskokē. --END: Part I