This has been a week of cultural exchange and friendship that we will never forget. The story sort of begins in the 1800s, when some Choctaw families moved to Bayou Lacombe in southeastern Louisiana. Here they were able to carry on their traditional way of life with less interference from land-hungry neighbors. Decades later, anthropologists visited them to record what they though was a vanishing way of life (e.g. Bushnell 1909). Disliking the outsiders' pushy questions, these Choctaw people left a great deal unsaid.
In the 1960s, the Johnson's, an elderly Bayou Lacombe Choctaw couple, befriended local youth Tom Colvin. In him they found a sincere heart and a life-long commitment. Over a number of years, they shared a great deal of Choctaw traditional knowledge with Tom in a very hands-on way. If you want to know exactly how to set up a traditional Choctaw house and ride it out through a hurricane, if you want to know how Choctaw people hunted bears with bows and arrows, if you want to know how to hunt ducks on open water with cane arrows, Tom can tell you. The Johnson's also taught him how to make the old style of Choctaw rivercane and palmetto stalk basketry. They asked that Tom pass this information back to the Choctaw community when opportunities arose later in life, and he has been doing this for years.
Tom (third from the left in the above photo) has spent the last several days with us, teaching a class on making the old style of Choctaw basketry, joining us for a traditional pottery firing, and yesterday, teaching a class on traditional Choctaw dyes at the Nan Awaya Heritage Farmstead for the Choctaw Textile working group. About half of the participants are pictured above.
The day began with the group processing some of the dogbane and yucca fibers that had been retted in our creek several weeks back. It was amazing to see how much faster the fibers processed after being retted than they do in their fresh state. Jennifer, the organizer of the class, gave lessons on using the drop spindle for those who were new to it. Next, we took a walk to dig the roots of some sassafras trees that were invading the fence line. We chopped up the cleaned roots and boiled them in one of Ian's Choctaw clay cooking pots hanging over the fire. The rootbeer-like smell was heavenly. We also made two other dye baths from black walnut hulls and bloodroot. Participants dropped in everything from processed dogbane to wool yarn to t-shirts to try out the native dyes.
It was a really fun day of exchange. Together, the participants brought a wealth of knowledge about traditional textiles, dyes, traditional pottery, Choctaw language, foods - you name it. The best part of the day goes beyond something that can be fully described in words, its something that involves being out on the land, interacting with the spirits of such generous and engaged people from our community. For a few hours, we got to experience the old Choctaw sense of community. We'd like to thank everyone who came out and shared the day, and to Tom "yakoke" for bringing a part of the Bayou Lacombe Choctaw community to Oklahoma..