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.
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.
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.
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