Dance essay speaks for itself. The manner by which it came about does warrant
a brief word or two. Its author is the whole community. Over the past 40
years, women of Pine Arbor Tribal Town were asked about their personal
experiences, thoughts and beliefs concerning this Dance. Most responded,
usually in writing. Their collective reactions were finally brought together
to create this essay in the late 70s. One particular letter has been kept
intact because it seemed an appropriate introduction. It properly sets
the tone for the reader and gives some indication of the many responses
tendered. The Ribbon Dance at Pine Arbor Tribal Town, is one of the most
important public statements made about Apalachicola1
Creek Philosophy. The worldview of the people of Pine Arbor, especially
their Women, is clearly put into focus by this thoughtful community
essay. Asides and sidebars from the original article have been restored.
Footnotes appear at the end of this article and also as a separate article, Ribbon Dance-Notes
* * *
It's Wednesday. I'm just now finding time to answer your request. The world is still too much with me. It is always such a shock to return to the swing of modern life. You ask me to write some about the women's participation in the Busk from my own view. I hope these few things put down on paper will help. It is very hard to verbalize our quiet ways.
Once at the Square, we try not to have direct contact with men, especially through the main or Fast Day of the Busk. On the first evening, it is our collective task to designate the log bearers for the Sacred Fire. We discuss the choices among ourselves with each woman suggesting male candidates for her own reasons.2 Much effort and deliberation accompanies this process.
We're usually the first to get up; we prepare for the washing at the East Arbor.3 Then we spend the early morning time quietly in individual thoughts. As the men begin to stir, wash according to their "early morning" rites, and start their own duties, we begin preparation of the feast. Some outsiders may look upon this as "the women in the kitchen," syndrome while men are out doing the important things.
In reality, it seems to us that cook camps are extensions of the Square itself. Nvyokv, others and I have often discussed this. Is this in part because of the Square's Sacred Fire in the stoves and we really are in the presence of One Above? The things we are doing [in the cook camps] are really prayers [disguised as work] and preparation of the physical for the spiritual. Out of necessity, we talk some during morning about special prayers and requests for the Ribbon Dance but always in quiet subdued tones. After all, you constantly remind us about the voice of silence!
We usually ignore the first calls for the Ribbon Dance, a long-standing tradition. But, with each additional call, I can feel quieting in preparation for the Dance itself. At the third call, we begin to dress. I keep my Ribbons from ceremony to ceremony, spending some alone time before each Busk to review my special prayers and duties as a woman of this community. Soon, we are assembled in our Arbor with Shakers ready for the Dance. “Hokvs-cë!” “I’m ready now.”
We select a Willow branch to carry in our hand; it will be offered to One Above through the Fire at the end of the Dance. Willow, sister to cedar, embodies our special requests, the "living" prayers of the group as opposed to our individual ribbon-laden prayers. We don't talk publicly about the Dance or requests. There does seem to be a very keen communication between us all at this time that supersedes spoken words. I do not know what other women take into this Dance. I personally don't consciously try to think or not to think; usually, my thoughts become a flowing rhythm, like dancing, itself. This is very hard.4
In some Dances, a particular person or thought seems to shout [at my mind] with each step. Sometimes, an individual may carry a sprig of Sweet Gum to signify a special troubledness. The strongest feeling or emotion is usually one of strengthening and closeness (as in merged spirits) between the women and the Town. As the Dance ends, I am totally elated, drained and yet strengthened—all at once!
I'm sure there are other "woman" things that are done during the Busk weekend; they elude me now. We talk very little among ourselves about what we are doing, but we seem to operate on the same wave length during the Busks; this especially applies to those who attend the entire ceremony regularly.
After reading this, I'm sure it can't be what you need. If you could write some specific questions, I would try to answer. What you are doing is important; I want to help if I can. We must not loose our ways.
THE RIBBON DANCE
The people of Pine Arbor regard women and their Ceremonial Dance as one of their most important cultural elements. In modern times, observers have reserved the English title "Ribbon Dance" for the women's main part in the Busk. Busks celebrate the renewal of life through public thanksgiving and fasting. A rite of spiritual cleansing, improvement and uplift, it remains today the most important event of many Tribal Towns. Through Busk, cosmic order is re-established, renewed and affirmed for the individual and the community. The word comes from Posketv5 which in Muskogee means "a fast" or "to fast." The Ribbon Dance is called Hoktvkë-Pvnkv, Woman's Dance or Hvse-Pvnkv, the Sun's Dance". By some, it is called Etske-Pvnkv, Mother's Dance or Hvketv-pvnkv.6
Pine Arbor Tribal Town accords women a unique status that belies the comments of earlier observers concerning the "servitude" position attributed them. In contemporary times and earlier, such a low station has never been the norm for our Hoktvkë7 (women). Once, Apalachicola even had women warriors who bested the Spaniards.
It is our belief Woman was created first, then children and man last. First Woman arose from the union of Life and Earth, that is, from a bonding of the Spiritual and Material (Energy and Matter?). To citizens of Pine Arbor Tribal Town, First Woman and all her female descendants (along with females of all species) stand closest to One Above, Master of Breath, Creator and Source, as Co-Creators of life. They are a continuum; they form an unbroken chain from One Above to us today. They are both the physical and spiritual conduit of Life.
Women, Co-Creators or Life-Carriers, are Power-laden8 by nature. They periodically withdraw during menses in order to exercise control, protection or restraint of their life-giving Power marked by menses. There is no feeling that they are dirty, unclean or polluted. Contamination is a misinterpretation by early observers unable to understand the concept of "too much Power" or beliefs that such Power might neutralize sacred objects by being too strong for an object's ability to contain it or for the user to control it. Men must be careful and not be exposed to more Power than they can handle; Woman protects Man! Menstruation is regarded as a periodic cleansing, renewing and strengthening, not only of woman, but all her male kin as well.9 At this time, there is a potential "in-flowing" of Power and strength; Creator is fully with her--Great is her responsibility, greater her obligation.
During Busks, ritual is geared to need and not to some artificial time frame. Women, circling the Fire mound in the Town Square, draw the old year to a close. Their circling line cuts off the outside world and moves the celebrants into an inward spiritual state. Their Dance joins the physical and spiritual planes. Through women, Busk grounds are cleansed and participants made ready for the reception of the New Year and New Fire, 10 a renewal of Power. For this Town, any New Year, new birth or renewal must begin with the women. Because women could create life, it was they who decided a prisoner's fate, too.
At Pine Arbor's Green Corn Busk, Turtle Dance11 occurs the first evening. Social dances, renewing of friendships, visiting and preparation for Fast Day on the morrow fill evening's remainder. Rest and sleep follow with an early rising mandated. Work begins immediately with sunrise. After preparing the Grounds for the forthcoming fast and celebration, ceremonial elements and their accompanying dances begin in earnest. The sounding of a conch shell trumpet from the Square Ground both announces and initiates sacred happenings now beginning. Many Creek churches also retain the use of a shell horn12 to call their services to order. A low shell impregnated earthen ridge surrounds the ceremonial ground proper to demarcate the sacred from the common. 13 Some older rural churches in Creek country also exhibit a similar boundary created from sweepings of frequent yard cleanings.
The order of the Woman's Ribbon Dance varies from town to town. In some, it occurs as the only activity late in the first day, usually Friday, followed by the men's Feather Dance, Tafv-Sopvnkv, 14 on the next day. The Feather Dance occurs later the same day at some Squares. Several Grounds have incomplete cycles where the Ribbon Dance, Feather Dance or other major features are missing or only occur occasionally.
It varies Busk to Busk at Pine Arbor but at each Green Corn, Ribbon Dance must precede the kindling of the New Fire, 15 which Pine Arbor maintains for the whole year. Woman's life-giving and nourishing Power, circling the empty Fire Mound, is necessary to cleanse and purify the Grounds and make them ready to sustain the birth of the new Holy Fire which is regarded as One Above’s visible presence and abode in our midst. At the other three Busks, the Matriarch may choose the time and order of the Ribbon Dance.
As time nears for the Woman's Dance, older men (who are quite anxious by now) send two young Emarv16 from the South Arbor, bearing tall feathered wands of cane called Koha-hvtkë, Koha-tafv or Koh-tafv, 17 to call the women for their Dance. The First Call, as it is known, is totally ignored by the women, who continue with their own tasks of the moment.
A short while later, these same men again move through the camps with wands in hand to give a Second Call to the women. Once again, they are ignored. In fact, at this point many of the women pretend to act annoyed while others merely turn their backs and giggle quietly. Some women do leave their camp tasks or other activities and begin unpacking their dresses and hang them up for all to see.
Soon, men complete their preparations for the Busk. Tension and anxiety may be felt throughout all Hvpo, the camps, in sacred anticipation. Two Emarv course the boundaries a third time with the feathered canes. This time, they are careful to encircle the entire Paskofv18 or Dance Ground, Ball Post and all campsites.
At this Third Call, women often act agitated and occasionally shout at the camp criers. They've been known to chase them from campsites or threaten to hurl nearby objects at them, in mock seriousness. However, immediately after the third pass, women drop whatever they are doing and hurry to dress. 19
Each woman hurries to be the first ready; this brings luck to her family. No woman dares dress before Third Call for fear of being regarded most unpleasantly. The thought of being last to dress is equally disconcerting, although no one seems to know why. Each woman, therefore, helps the other. No one announces "I'm ready!" until each dancer is ready. When fully attired, women sometimes respond in unison, "I am ready!" No woman was last. All were prepared at the same time. Now, each household, through the women, shares luck for the New Year. This is typical of the way things should be done at Pine Arbor; unfortunately not all things work as such.
Men are careful not to send the Fourth Call until sure that all participants are ready. As the last Call rolls loudly through the Town, Dancers quickly tie on Shakers, leg rattles that sound so crisp as feet meet Earth in the rhythm of the Dance. This last act of readiness [attaching Shakers] produces cascades of Ribbon and a sudden quietness throughout the camps. Only two sounds are noticeable: one, the sharp report of the Shakers and the vocalic prayers chanted across the Square Ground.20
Men quickly take their seats according to their position, rank or appointment. Not only do women dress for this Dance, but men are required to don their finest traditional shirts and sashes as well. Men must also rise and stand respectfully to honor all women in the Ribbon Dance as the file of Dancers passes their Arbor.
Visitors are asked to accord the same respect from their appointed places. Loose animals are tied. What is a Native American camp without dogs underfoot? Disregard or interruption of this Dance by anyone, Native American or visitor, results in swift punishment or a heavy fine. Rude or unpleasant people are asked to leave or, are forcibly escorted from the grounds. A sacred moment approaches!
Among true devotees, the sight of free flowing Ribbons causes a sudden change from hustling mundane activities to a deep reverential quietness of hushed expectation. Symbolically, Ribbons preserve strong cultural memories from the past. Ribbons collectively represent war trophies, great accomplishments, personal battles and cherished moments. Various colors and lengths of Ribbon hold personal significance for the participants and their relatives.21 These personal associations aren't shared outside the family or local female community; they're not even shared with men. They are forever the woman's private domain.
It is not unusual for a man to ask a woman to wear a Ribbon for some special petition of his own. This request obligates the man, or men of the Town, to offer a gift to the Dancer or someone she designates. The most common gifts are first Tobacco, then cloth, beads, ornaments, food or other items. Any, or all, may be offered to a Dancer or to all women participating.22
At Pine Arbor, Ribbons are visible memories that a woman wears; they help to keep alive and preserve her family history. Women of some Creek Towns no longer attribute any special meaning to this Dance or the Ribbons beyond a "That's the way we have always done it" attitude. Many women have used the same Ribbons since their first Dance, replacing them only when they have frayed severely through repeated use. A few women use new Ribbons at each Busk. A Ribbon not to be worn again is carefully halved during Nettv Kvckv, 23 the "Broken Days" preceding the New Fire. The bottom end [worldly portion] is split to "kill" or deactivate the special sacred characteristics assumed through usage. The bottom half and all it represents, is consigned to the family's individual cooking fire or the Square Ground Fire. The upper portion is frequently divided up, with the following dispositions commonly noted:
1. A portion may go into a woman's personal bundle, that collection of spirit laden objects to be passed on eventually to the younger generation with all their connected stories and events. A key word or phrase is often written on the Ribbon to aid memory. 24
2. An upper portion, or a piece of it, may be given to a relative or close friend unable to participate that year. It may also be hung in the room where the woman spends most of her time. Occasionally, it is hung above the entrance most frequently used.
3. A portion is often buried with some member of the community when death occurs. Any undesignated portion is interred with the woman or tied (nailed) to the southeast corner post of the Square or the ball post after the Harvest Busk in Fall.
Whether kept or distributed, the bottom portion of every Ribbon, that part which reaches into the active daily world is destroyed by Fire when it is to be used no longer. Fire is a purifier, an active agent of One Above, Master of Breath, Creator and Source. There are additional attachments, associations and deep memories attributed to these ornaments of the Woman's Dance; women refuse to discuss these beyond the close circle of the East Arbor.
There are several styles of dress traditional to this occasion. The Pine Arbor garment is always made of two pieces: skirt and blouse after the Seminole or Sakeyv (Sauk & Fox) fashion, or yoke and dress similar in manner to the neighboring Cahtv (Choctaw). Any yoke dress would have a ruffle trim. The material from which all ceremonial clothing is made is also regulated by tradition, especially the colors or calico prints used, but that's material for another article. Occasionally, a cape is worn over an under dress which resembles modern Florida Seminole attire. Older women have suggested several possible reasons for the requirement that calico ceremonial dresses be of two distinct pieces. Two pieces may represent the spiritual and material worlds by top and bottom parts. The division into Red and White Towns may be signified. The all-pervasive Muskogean duality may be the reason: summer and winter seasons, youth and maturity, life and death, or other couplets may be symbolized The old clan moieties may be remembered by the two pieces. "Because that's how it's always been done" may be the real reason for this practice. Of course, this dress survives from the common clothing worn by American in 1800s.
Ornamentation is often cut-fold ribbon work or broad patterned patchwork like that which adorns the traditional man's shirt. No rule seems to govern footwear other than personal comfort. Shoes, sneakers, moccasins, and bare feet are all seen.
Most women and young ladies wear aprons during the Dance. There is a pattern to apron wearing. Mothers always wear them; young girls almost never wear aprons. With young women in their teens, apron wearing begins after first menses or some related criteria of their own clan that is not openly discussed.
Dressed with final touches of colorful Ribbon, Dancers not forbidden to enter the Square for ceremonial reasons gather in the East Arbor, 25 reserved for women, children, and guests. In many towns women are not provided a designated Arbor; they assemble on the edge of their Square. 26
From Third Call until final assembly, seldom more than twenty-five minutes (Indian time) elapses. After this Call, a man is sent to sweep the Arbors, including posts and benches, with an herbal brush or gallberry broom. Women help each other get shakered and be-ribboned. Last minutes are a flurry of colorful activity. At her Arbor, a woman often appears with a fresh sprig of Willow or Sweet Gum in her left hand. All men quickly gather around the Square in their own finery. They are now anxious for the whole proceedings; anxious that all go well and nothing be omitted. The entire Town listens intently to prayers being intoned by Este-vcake, 27 the Beloved One, or others from the West Arbor, Mekko-emtopv. 28
An ancient Atasse, 29 a ceremonial flint, reminiscent of a war club or the flint blade used to sever umbilical cords, is procured from the Town's Ceremonial or Medicine Bundle, a collection of sacred objects ancient and recent. Placed before the assembled women, it is rested on the ground in front of the Arbor; it is never handed directly to First Woman, as the Matriarch of the Dance is called. Other objects to be used are laid out, too. Occasionally, Some or all the other women carry miniature wooden blades of a gray-green color in the Dance; no rule is publicly mentioned concerning these. Men and women must be careful not to come into physical contact with each other during this time; this separation is to be maintained throughout the Busk from sunrise until after the Fast is broken. 30 In this, Pine Arbor is more lax than it should be nowadays.
An appointed Town Speaker, Opunayv, 31 usually of the North Arbor, approaches the assembled women to deliver a short address in quiet tones. Women are thanked for their participation in the Busk. They are praised for their Power with which they imbue the Town by their Dance, for bringing the cleansing purity of the Sun to sanctify the grounds and for the real comfort they bring the community. Dancers are charged with keeping clean hearts, pure thoughts and remembering the needs, hope, prayers and thanksgivings of the Town during their ceremonial dance. Other charges or commendations may also be given at this time; the general community is not privy to these more quietly spoken words intended for the Woman's Arbor alone.
Dancing is ordered by seniority: oldest to youngest. Years which see large numbers of Dancers adhere tightly to the age rules; in years with very few Dancers, the line up is more informal. Young girls at the end of the line often supply quiet amusement as they fall behind and struggle with their shorter legs to keep up the vigorous pace. Rare exceptions to the order of oldest to youngest are babes-in-arms and, occasionally, very special visitors who are being honored, are invited to dance. They may dance in line behind their hostess. 33
The woman chosen to lead, First Woman, is always exempt from the seniority rule. She represents women collectively. However, she is normally the Matriarch or oldest woman kin of the male leader capable of dancing. She initially takes her place at the head of the Dancers and then stays one Arbor ahead of the other women. Her second, called the Leading Lady, heads the actual dancing line. In recent years, the dance leadership has rotated among several women, many of whom do not share a blood lineage. How these are chosen and by what criteria, is never spoken of beyond the bounds of the women's East Arbor.
After the Opunayv, Town Speaker, has completed his address to the women, he returns to his Arbor by way of the Fire, where he makes an offering of Tobacco. Sometimes the women may direct him toward some special purpose in his offering.
When the Speaker is seated, the two Emarv step from the South Arbor and circle the Paskofv one time; other South Arbor men have carefully sprinkled the ground with water and herbals, especially if the day promises to be hot, dry, and dusty. The two Emarv stop at the edge of the Woman's Arbor and face around the circle clockwise; they have now become forward protective honor guards for the women and are called First Children.
In some years, the Emarv draw two guidelines to mark the dancers' path; they also line the "crossing place." Viewed from above, one sees the shape of the Wheel of Life where women's feet will tread happily for their Tribal Town and all its citizens. The same pattern can be seen in the placement of Tobacco on the Fire Mound at the Green corn Busk. A photograph of this pattern is provided at the end of the article.
First Woman, Matriarch of the Dance, takes her place before her Arbor, the signal for the line up. She is followed by her second, Leading Lady, who will actually lead the line of Dancers. Since the Speaker's talk, the grounds have been quiet. There is now only the sound of Shakers as the other women step into line in their appointed order. The women now face outward, towards the Sun, with their backs to the cooled cleaned Fire Mound, where the New Fire will soon be kindled. 34 Women are vehicles of Life and Light via the Sun35 and One Above; they give birth and renewal to all things.
When all are ready, The Emarv (who previously cleared the grounds for the Dance) proceed counter clockwise with a lively running step to the next Arbor. They turn back toward the line of women and pause, facing the Dance lineup. First Woman, who has now turned to her left, advances toward the Emarv with a light walking step called the "old woman's pace." One by one, the line of Dancers begin a kick step matching the sturdy step begun by Leading Lady in place. Each woman takes up the step and turns leftward behind Leading Lady. They will follow Leading Lady who will guide the line of Dancers on the path marked by the First Woman after the Emarv.
First Woman advances with her pacing step to the next arbor, stops and faces the Fire until the line of dancers reach the edge of that arbor; she then turns and quickly moves on to the next arbor. Often, Emarv are one arbor ahead of this first matron of the dance. In some years, they are all one behind the other. Of course, other procedures prevail at other grounds; each Square keeps council with its own traditions.
Slowly - methodically - rhythmically, the line moves out around the path set by the Emarv and First Woman, each of whom continues an Arbor ahead of the other. Many women have expressed the belief that these Emarv represent the children brought forth by the original First Woman. For this reason, the women sometimes present gifts to these two after the Dance.
Following the path set by the honor guards and First Woman, the Leading Lady and her Dancers move in ever quickening pulsating unison around the Square. Sometimes the two men draw marks in the ground to count the rounds. At other times, small sticks, used for keeping ball game scores, are placed in front of the Chief's Arbor to mark the rounds. Each round produces its own distinct rhythm from variations in dance steps chosen for that course.
After a set of four rounds, First Woman stops and turns to face the front of her Arbor at its northern end. She waits for Leading Lady and the Dancers to move up next to her. The line dances in place facing her. She raises high the Atasse in her hand. At this high signal, women execute four small jumps; then swiftly, First Woman cuts downward with the blade on the last jump. The women respond with the exclamation "Huh!" or "Hae!" The women turn outward (to the East) toward the Sun's door again. 36 They stand and rest in place a few brief moments. Usually, if a longer a break is to occur at this point. First Woman takes her seat, followed by the others in order. The Emarv return to their seats. Fresh water containing sprigs of crushed mint is now served to the women by a South Arbor Vfvstv (attender) appointed to the task. After women, the entire Town may now take water if they're part of the assembly on the Square Ground.
Some years, eight rounds are accomplished before a seated rest. If eight rounds are to be concluded the Emarv stop after four rounds until all have rested a few moments and taken water in place. Then, they turn toward the dance path and step forward. First Woman turns and follows. Women catch their step again from Leading Lady and four more rounds are completed. After eight rounds, a seated rest is required in order to break the Dance into the two required distinct parts37 (four sets are the ancient preference). Each round or set varies in its own tempo, the dance steps executed, the jumps or intensity according to the particular goals of the Dance set by the Matriarch or Town. The last round is always the most invigorated.
During the next to last round, a movement peculiar to Pine Arbor is executed. The Emarv continue in their regular journey, but First Woman crosses from the North to the South Arbor, completely encircling the Fire Mound on the way. Leading Lady and her line of Dancers proceed in their usual circular path at the outer edge of the Square. All become joined again at the South Arbor in proper order and continue on for the last round. On the last circuit around the Square, First Woman crosses from the West Arbor to the East, again completely encircling the Fire Mound as she goes. The pattern produced on the ground by this regimen is that of the Muskogee knot, often called the Wheel of Life.
First Woman stops - Dancers stop - four jumps - a shout - it is finished. Women rest from their last set. Additional prayers are heard. Singularly or in groups, women approach the Fire Mound to leave their Willow or Sweet Gum to be consumed in the Sacred New Fire. Most seal their prayers and thanks by sprinkling Tobacco, the visible "amen," onto the Mound or later into the Fire when it is kindled and brought to life. Some men then go onto the Square to leave an offering in the Fire. The Long Dance or a Stomp Dance usually follows immediately. 38
Preparations for Ribbon Dance are quiet and reverent; women continue this attitude into the Dance, itself. Often, they enter a deep prayerful state, laden with burdens of the past year. They believe in themselves as Co-Creators and Sanctifiers. The men believe they are, too. In spite of the seriousness, men of the community are allowed to openly tease women during the first few rounds, a privilege they frequently exercise. Often, men shout "Hvce"39 at those near the end of the line. Hvce means "tail" in Creek. As the rounds proceed, all teasing halts.
Men not finely dressed by the first rounds hasten to become so attired at once. Across the Square, subdued emotions reflect the deep importance of this simple but powerful Dance. Tears are not unusual among participants and observers. Throughout the encircling rounds, a heavy feeling lifts as the old year and all its burdens wither. To be a Woman of Pine Arbor Tribal Town is to be Special...
On the last night of the old year, people sprinkle Tobacco into the now dying Old Fire with prayers of thanksgiving and a vow to forgive wrongs, make amends for errors40 and practice better lives. Much thought is required--easily spoken promises are promises not easily kept.
Encircling the ashes or cleaned mound of the now extinguished Fire that had burned since the previous Green Corn , the Dance ends the old year. That Fire had grown old, weak and weary; it had become heavily polluted carrying burdens of the people. This pollution had been made complete on the last day of the old year by the custom of placing in the consuming Flames, dregs from households, yards, and larders. [Some new items are often given to the dying Old Fire representing a sense of sacrifice by a people taught to own things and not to be owned by things.]
For the Apalachicola Creeks, the Fire is the final recipient of all worldly things of Town life. With the Fire's death on the last night of the old year, also occur the deaths of all mundane wrongs and of the old year itself. The building of the New Fire on the day of the Woman's Dance is a new beginning, a time of renewal and rebirth. Wood is physical; flame is spiritual. Body is physical; life is spiritual. An extinguished flame can be kindled anew. A body is perishable, the spirit is not. Like flame, it is rekindled each year. In Pine Arbor's view, wood is not just consumed to ash to be no more. It is transformed by Fire into heat and radiant light!
The New Fire is not born strong enough to carry the Town's burdens through the New Year unless its foundation is empowered by the Woman's Dance. Shamanistic treatment, passing Breath of the Master of Breath to the Fire through Corn sacrifice, represents only half the necessary action. The Square remains defiled until women have encircled it. As they do so, all old things become entrapped, brushed aside, or destroyed by Woman's creative life-giving Power that She brings to Her Town from One Above, the Creator and Source.
As women face Sunward and turn inward, they bring to the Square, the purity, Power and sacredness of the Sun, perfect symbol for Perfect Creator, Sun is the Hand and Eye of One Above. The New Fire of Green Corn is Sun's Little Brother; it is Grandson to One Above and Grandfather to us. 41 Awesome is our responsibilities in this matter. Women are agents of Light; they conduct strength from the Upper [spiritual] World to the Earth. With or without child, they are universally Mothers, nourishers and sustainers. They are necessary.
Woman gives man strength, courage, and the purified state necessary to tend New Fire duties. New Fire is the materially symbolic residence of One Above, Creator and Source. The Fire is One Above’s physical home in the midst of the community; each heart is an individual spiritual residence. Like a child that becomes an adult, the Fire grows to immense strength. Though mortals did kindle it, a mortal still must be bolstered in order to properly approach and care for this Earthly Temple of Ohfvnkv, the One Above. 42 So sacred is Creator's Fire in the Town's regard, that no one would dare to willingly let a personal shadow fall between Fire and Sun to perchance interrupt that mystical unseen, powerful intra-family communion between Father Spirit and Mother Earth--our elders, our parents. 43
Words can only hint at what The People of Pine Arbor experience emotionally and acknowledge while women dance in their flowing Ribbons. As the Dance draws to a close at the last round, one feels the full emotional trauma of all events of the past being drawn into one moment. Time crystallizes into a single point and place, visible to all. With the final jump at the end of that last round, that crystallized sequence of time is shattered. It is no more! The past, with all its profaned associations, is disarmed, cast aside. Expended, it no longer controls us. Now, there is no tension, only peace. At the last step of the Dance a great shout goes up from people. "Mvto! It is well done!"44
Women circling a little plot of cleared earth, the actual Dance, is a simple affair simply executed. Results are complex, powerful and sustaining, anything but simple. Soon, it is over. Women sit or stand quietly in a reflective moment. The Speaker removes the Atasse and other implements carried in the Dance. They are returned to the Medicine Bundle. Broadened smiles flood weary faces. One at a time or in groups, women now approach the Fire Mound and offer their sprigs of Willow or Sweet Gum, symbols of life and growth. They say a prayer and return to their Arbor. These prayers will ascend with the first white smoke of the forthcoming New Fire. Church going women who participate say a quiet traditional prayer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit at this time. The deep symbolism of Fire is shared by both beliefs. Even first time observers of this dignified but simple Dance, who don't fully grasp the ritual significance or understand the symbology, never fail to note and experience the inexplicable peace that radiates throughout the Town.
It concludes with family hugs and handshakes from female to female. Happy New Year! Good wishes are shouted everywhere. The Busk proceeds smoothly with peaceful anticipation. Even the Scratching Ceremony will be relaxed. Woman has completely fulfilled herself. Men are brimful too. It is our way! It is Nenë Mvskokë, The Muskogee Road.45
of the Atasse at Pine Arbor. The blade is wrapped in leather; Berry &
Arbor Dance, Spring, 1995.
Ribbon Dance Notes:
Koha (GOH-hah): cane, river cane; Koha-Tafv (GOH-hah DAH-fuh) feathered
wand or cane; not the same as Rawv or Rvp Rvkko (Thlop-thlocco, H'lop h'lock-koh),
the larger red cane used for blow guns. It is also the name of an important
Tribal Town, "Thlopthlocco," also called "Big Town." Many believe it to
be an original daughter town to old Apalachicola according to Remus Cook,
Tallahassee, and Rueben Cook, Thlopthlocco.
Paskofv (bahs-GOH-fuh): swept clearing used as a fasting place; the Square
Ground; Hvpo (HUH-poh): camp.
If a woman appears genuinely angered, out of sorts, rude, bitter or unhappy,
other women or the ceremonial leaders quietly put her aside or try to send
her away from food preparations. A pot stirred by such a person will embitter
or sicken all who eat from it to some degree--so it is said. In all things
Tribal, the common weal, not the individual's weal, comes first.
Shakers were formerly made of Turtle shells or dew claws. Many women now
use milk, juice or snuff cans. This community is forbidden to take a Turtle's
life. In the past, we traded for Turtle shells. Southern states no longer
have other traditional Towns to occasionally gift us with a set of Turtle
Shakers in exchange for crafts and herbs picked in our locale. Our southern
Seminole relatives largely use can shakers, too. Few of either community
now own Turtle Shakers. At Pine Arbor, the Town, itself, and not individuals,
own primary ceremonial equipment. This was one of several reasons for establishing
"THE MUSEUM," Inc. It is a central repository and archive center for Pine
Arbor, the traditional Town and the Florida Tribe of Creek Indians, the
Local tradition holds that in ancient times, perhaps in the "Mexico Days,"
Muskogees were a most cruel and vengeful lot. After a battle or war campaign,
whole heads, scalps or other grisly trophies were brought home. Women adorned
themselves with this bloody plunder and danced most savagely. At some unknown
point in our collective history, the four original Teachers, the Hvyahvlkë,
Hvyayvlkë [Beings of Light] revisited and re-instructed the people.
An understanding of a real inward peace came to be known. Over time, our
understanding grew with the ever-increasing light of One Above’s Sacred
Fire. The woman's gruesome war-trophy dance gave way to a celebration of
Life, Light, Wisdom, Renewal and Knowledge. Ribbons replaced death trophies
and women ascended to their full responsibilities as "Co-Creators," "Life
Givers" and "Nourishers." From this past, Ribbon Dance evolved into today's
celebration of hope, joy and peace. Dean C. Engstrom, who has studied Pine
Arbor musical traditions since the 1970's, hypothesizes that dance traditions
of early Spanish colonizers may be responsible for the modern use of ribbons.
Ornamental use of ribbon is prominent in the Morris Dance (Moor’s) traditions
of some early Spanish and other European invaders.
Anciently, a woman dancing by a man at stomp dances gave him a small carved
or decorated stick or other emblem with her clan sign on it; within the
same moon, he could redeem his trinket for a meal. In later times she gave
him a quarter. Unfortunately, for single males, these practices have fallen
into severe disuse just when "two-bits" and a good free meal are hard to
come by! But, if you received no token you got a definite opinion, too!
Nettv Kvckv (NIHT-duh GUHG-guh): Broken Days. A twenty-day period preceding
Busk. The name comes from the 20 small sticks sent out as the "day counters"
marking the ceremonial preparation period before a Busk encampment. These
were sent from the Mother Town to all the outlying areas. One stick was
broken to mark each passing day. At Pine Arbor, the sticks are reddened.
Their manufacture and distribution is the responsibility of the Tvstvnvke
Rakko or someone appointed by him. From these sticks comes the origin of
the phrase "Red Sticks."
24. Except for "medicine" practitioners, Pine Arbor Families and some Florida
Seminole Families are the only remaining Muskogee who regularly continue
the practice of maintaining Clan or Family Bundles in association with
25. Women physically unable to dance for non-ceremonial reasons sit in
the East Arbor as the Dance unfolds. If physically possible, they walk
slowly at the end of the line on the last round of the third set or the
first round of the fourth set. Women in menses do not enter or even approach
the Square Grounds. They remain in their appointed retreat or behind some
In fact, Tribal Town Squares come in a variety of architectural arrangements.
Many have only three Arbors. Some have two, one or none. A couple have
a fifth Arbor just at the edge of the grounds from where their Ribbon Dancers
emerge and return. See Swanton, 1928, for complete diagrams of all major
Creek and Seminole Town Squares. Swanton also revisited the Oklahoma squares
in the 1930's and published a set of revised diagrams.
Este-vcake (ihs-DEE uh-JAH-gee): a Beloved One; a wise experienced elder
of good heart, sound learning and richly steeped in tradition. The Este-vcake
are the final earthly authority, judge in all matters temporal and the
a check on Makers of Medicine and Mekkos. This term applies to both the
female matriarch and male patriarch.
Mekko-emtopv (MIHK-goh ihm-DOH-buh): The King's arbor. Pine Arbor's West
Atasse (ah-DAHZ-she) also Vtvse (uh-DAHS-zhee): a ceremonial flint knife,
war club, scalping knife and the blade used to sever an umbilical cord.
If metal is used to free a child from the mother at birth, the child will
most likely die by metal (lead bullets?), or so it is said in Pine Arbor's
oral tradition. The article, "A History of the Blades," recounts full details.
One should not even scratch an itch directly during this time but should
use a small stick or twig to accomplish the need. One definitely does not
physically touch another during those hours when mind, body, spirit and
soul are each being separately readied for renewal. To do so is to risk
personal contamination or discomfort that in turn, may pollute the Town
and weaken its Fire.
Opunayv (oh-bu-NAH-yuh, oh-BU-nah-YUH): Speaker, also em-punayv. Sometimes,
this role is called the Tongue, Tvlaswv, or the chief's second or twin.
However, indiscriminate invitations for visitors to participate are discouraged--disaster
may result. The Town may be severely affected by visitors' hidden or unworthy
attributes. This may inadvertently bring negative forces to bear on the
New Fire or Sacred Bundle. This is a very difficult concept to communicate,
especially to casual Creek participants who come from non-traditional homes
and who don't fully grasp the powerful significance or the deadly consequences
of such action. Damage to Pine Arbor's internal spiritual structure could
result from improper proximity of menstrual blood, pregnancy or other woman
borne Powers "intruded upon the Busk" by visitors. Creek women who practice
traditional ways are careful not to come in contact with ceremonial leaders,
cooking fires or sacred areas. Medicine Bundles, their holders or
other men could suffer dreadful consequences or some spiritual weakening.
Previously, a woman new to the community sat out several Busks before participating
in Ribbon Dance. In the mid 1980's, Town members not well versed in their
own history or ceremonial practices began bringing others into the dance.
Many problems have come out of this but current elders see no way to undo
the damage without causing greater damage in the area of human interaction.
Restraint must be exercised regarding these easily tendered dance invitations
to visiting women. Busk activities, other than Ribbon Dance, are not as
critical or potentially damaging. Visitors are welcome in these. Desire
and interest alone are not enough; worthiness must be considered, too.
The future of Pine Arbor depends on wise adherence to these ancient and
effective traditions that have sustained and nourished the community over
the centuries. Appropriate visitors are traditionally an integral part
of Busks. However, Busks are not "show and tell" stuff. They are deeply
moving spiritual experiences that Pine Arbor is willing to share under
proper circumstances. [Please take no offense for this digressive paragraph.
It is important for the reader to understand this about Pine Arbor's collective
beliefs and ancient ceremonial traditions that have sustained us for generations.]
In all things occurring within the Square, male leadership is generally
This, of course, is at the Green Corn Busk. The Fire is already present
at the other three Busks: the "Berry & Arbor Dance" in Spring, "Little
Green Corn" (now called the Cold Busk) in late Summer and "The Harvest
Ceremony" which occurs in Fall at the time of the first frost.
People of Pine Arbor are not Sun worshipers but Sun respecters. The Sun
is their supreme natural symbol for the Supreme Being, One Above. Christians
do not worship Cross and Bible but regard them as necessary and supreme
symbols of their faith. It is the same with the people of this Tribal Town.
If held late in a day, Dancers may line up at the West Arbor in order to
face Sunward at the start. In times past, though the Dance began in the
eastern orientation, women would mark time before the West Arbor facing
outward to the Sun for a moment and then resume. This hasn't been done
since the early 1970s. The western stop is seldom done if no singers sing
for the Ribbon Dance. Usually, two singers with hand-held rattles are used.
The rest period as a dividing point, it has been suggested, reflects an
ever-present duality permeating all Creek beliefs. Several women have stated
that they prefer going the eight rounds before a full break. The extra
effort, hardship and the necessary endurance makes them feel stronger and
more accomplished in their appointed tasks as Life-Givers. Such is sacrifice.
A small hand drum or rattles occasionally accompany ribbon Dance. In years
gone by, when the town was considerably larger, a group of specifically
designated men sang for this Dance. For fulfilling this privilege, they
received gifts of Tobacco from the community at large. Few singers have
been used since 1956. In some recent years one man has sung an occasional
song. There have been a few years in which the entire Dance proceeded without
any accompaniment. During World War II, women refused to wear Shakers or
allow the use of rattles. Several explanations seem plausible for this
action, but none have been put forth publicly. Women with sons in Korea,
Viet Nam or other active military campaigns, did wear shakers either.
Hvce (HUH-jee, HUH-tsee): Tail, rear end, derriere and other unmentionables;
end of a line.
Murder cannot be forgiven by the Fire's pledge. The women, givers of life,
must avenge it. Only the mother, sister or daughter (or other close female
kin in their absence) of a victim can make an exception and accept a pledge
and offer forgiveness for murder.
In symbolic representations of all things spiritual, lines of kinship are
inherently found in things Muskogee. Could these lines be the cords that
bind dualities into oneness?
42. Even though a man kindles the physical New Fire, he must be clean
and in a state of grace to approach the Fire after it has ignited and is
growing. The Fire becomes its own Being. Woman purifies man for the task.
Ohfvnkv (Oh-Fuhn-guh): One Above, God.
People of Pine Arbor, and all Muskogees, call themselves "People of One
Fire." They are Children of the Sun. Yuchi (Euchee) also speak of themselves
of Children of the Sun. The Sun originally burned away the deep fog of
ignorance in the First Times. Then, all could see and come to know Ohfvnkv,
the One Above, the Father Spirit, Master of Breath, Creator and Source.
By way of the Sun and its offspring, the Sacred Fire, Ohfvnkv, through
whose creation all that is, was or will be, is both a symbolic and actual
presence. Pine Arbor's people are not Sun worshippers, idolaters or heathen.
They merely know that God is in and of all things. What they do is for
their own uplift and spiritual improvement. They do these in the manner
given them in the ancient times by the sacred teachers [Dr. Michael Hittman,
Mvto (mvh-DOH): "That's the thing! That's the proper way. That's as it
should be. That's it - that's really it." In other words, it is more than
Thanks or Thank you. It is an acknowledgment and recognition that everything
is as it should be and in proper order, too. It is a simple but powerful
word in Creek. The last syllable is drawn out with a raised ascending pitch.
Even the sound is powerful when uttered in unison.
45. More has been left out of this article than has been included. Only an intimate conversation with knowledgeable citizens of Pine Arbor will really bring a fuller understanding to this great annual happening. You will greatly increase your comprehension and appreciation of the symbolic nature of the Woman's role at Apalachicola's Pine Arbor Tribal Town by reading the short articles on "Thoughts of the Elders," "Power'" and "The Muskogee Cosmos."