Tag Archives: purification

Oka Falalla

Main Piece: 

Informant: The Choctaw of old tell the story of Oka Famalla, “the returning waters.” This story has been told among the Choctaw for as long as we know.

Interviewer: What is the “returning waters?”

Informant: Long ago, the Choctaw began to be influenced in a bad way by other people. And they began to lose traditional Choctaw values, like taking care of each other. The Creator, Hashtala, had warned the people that they needed to return to our ways, or something bad would happen to them. One man, though, was a good man. He tried to keep our traditional ways. So Hashtala told him to make a large raft out of limbs from the sassaphrass trees, a tree common to the Choctaw lands. He made this large raft, and then it began to rain. It rained for many days, no one really knows how long. Then it stopped. The man floated on the raft for many days after the rain stopped. Then he saw a small blue bird. This bird’s name translates into the English phrase of “turtle dove.” This small bird stayed with the man and as it would fly, the man paddled his raft in the direction the bird flew. Then they came upon land. The bird became a female and she and the man stayed together, had children, and began to populate the earth.

Interviewer: That story sounds a lot like the Bible story of Noah and the ark.

Informant: Yes. When the Choctaw heard the Bible story, they wondered how the writers of the Bible knew the story of Oka Famalla. But we also knew that many tribes had similar stories, so it was not a complete surprise when the white man had a story like theirs also.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

From Deucalion and Pyrrha of Greek Mythology to the story of Noah and the Ark in Judeo-Christian culture, flood stories have been a central theme in cultures all around the world. The Great Flood has pre-biblical origins, the oldest known account featuring Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia. After hearing the story of Oka Famalla, it was interesting to see the commonalties between these stories. They usually involve humanity becoming corrupt and a deity sending a flood to destroy the world as a result, a sort of a global baptism if you will. A morally righteous person is set apart and tasked to build a large boat to preserve his species. I thought it was interesting how the bird is featured in all of these stories, specifically the dove. This particular story stood out in that it has the bird transforming into a woman but other than that the similarities are quite note-worthy

Swedish Sauna

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota and is of Swedish and Finnish decent.

Over Easter Brunch, the informant provided me with this unique Swedish sauna tradition.

“One time, when I was little, I went with my mother to Minneapolis where there was a Polish community to go to the sauna. It was the one and only time I went. There were too many naked women running around for me to want to go back. Anyways, what you did in the sauna was essentially take a steam bath. After you got all sweaty and steamy, in the old country, you would run out and jump in a snow bank. In Minneapolis, we just poured ice water over ourselves. In the old country, after this you would hit yourself with pine branches, but we didn’t do that here. The point was to open up your pores, and invigorate yourself—to stay healthy.”

Like the informant said, this ritual seems to be about purification and rejuvenation. I would guess that the steam is meant to cleanse the body. Following a steam bath with cold water would also cause pores to snap shut, blocking out any future dirt. I’m not sure what function the pine needles would have served but perhaps it also had something to do with invigorating the flesh.