Creek language treasures

Creek beaded pouch, early 1800s, from the Ulster Museum collection.
The Creek Language Archive just gets better and better. The website recently added Creek Texts by Mary R. Haas and James H. Hill, a trove of transcribed manuscripts in the Creek language on a variety of interesting subjects.

…este nak kērrvlket hvsoss-elecv sehokēpofv tat,
nake kērrulke ensukcv fvcfvkē omet sehok’t omvtēt omēs.

…and when gitlalgi (“knowers”) were in the southeast,
it was as if their pockets were full [of knowledge].

That’s from “Belief about the ihosá” [PDF]. Creek Indians gave the name ihosá to the being that causes people to get confused and lose their way in the woods. But for those who know, the ihosá can also give power.

The “pockets” mentioned in the text would have resembled the beaded pouch shown in the picture. These were usually attached to a broad, decorated shoulder strap. In fact, the colors in this pouch are subdued compared to most I’ve seen. I guess old-time Creek hunters would not have gone for Mossy Oak gear. (This pouch is further described here, although it’s wise to be skeptical about the specific provenance, i.e., “made for Tuskina, Chief of the Creek Indians, by his daughter”.)

Out of the weeds

I’ve spent hours with these Haas-Field documents over the last few days. There is one turn of phrase I think historically minded people might find as striking as I did. Hafapí ófan, “in the weeds,” is an expression for the condition of things that have been neglected and lost to memory. Margaret Mauldin, a native Creek speaker and lexicographer, remarked, “Old people used to refer to neglected things as being lost in the weeds and it clearly meant the weeds of time!”1

Mary R. Haas (1910-1996) was a great linguist who devoted much of her career to the Creek and Natchez languages. James H. Hill of Eufaula, Oklahoma was a Creek elder who worked with Haas in the late 1930s and contributed a large number of documents in Muskogee to her collection.


1 “A visit of the Shawnee” [PDF], told by I. Field (V:63-77). Hafapí ófan is spelled hvfvpē ofvn in traditional Creek orthography. The phrase is semantically translated “in the woods,” but the idiomatic translation and footnote make it “weeds.” I guess “woods” was a transcription error. Mauldin’s comment is footnote 8. 

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