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Belk: There are so many misconceptions about them
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Belk: There are so many misconceptions about them

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Belk: There are so many misconceptions about them

Mary Belk

Back before Auburn was Auburn, Creek Indians filled the piney woods.

The first people to live in the Southeast had the richest culture of any of the native people north of Mexico. But most Americans don’t know anything about what the ancestors of the Creek Indians were like as people or how they lived their day-to-day lives.

The aboriginal inhabitants lived on the land for thousands of years before the Europeans showed up. Archaeologists have uncovered crude stone tools in Alabama. The hunting and gathering Paleo-Indians made projectile points, flakes and scrapers. They hunted large animals by throwing their spears. These artifacts were buried with them, showing that they might have believed in an afterlife.

The Archaic tradition began to replace the Paleo-Indians tradition around 8000 BC. The gradual change is seen in the foods they ate, particularly acorns and hickory nuts. They fished and hunted and trapped small animals. And, they caught fish using well-formed bone fishhooks.

What’s known as the Woodland tradition appeared in the heart of the Southeast around 1000 BC. It added pottery, ceramic figurines, burial mounds and cultivation of plants, including corn. Slippers made of twilled fiber were found at excavations.

Around 700 AD, the Mississippian tradition began, adding intensive agriculture, large permanent villages, flat-topped earthen mounds where temples and other ceremonial structures were built. Mounds were often arranged around plazas. Their political system, called the Chiefdom, was formalized with centralized leadership, headed by a chief. Religious beliefs centered around an omnipotent being, usually the sun.

Their towns were laid out with a plaza surrounded by public buildings and the houses of townspeople. The households were neatly placed along wide streets leading to the square.

Creek households were matrilineal extended families consisting of a woman, her husband, daughters and unmarried sons.

The main subsistence technique was farming. The men cleared the fields, and the women planted and gathered. They grew corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, tobacco and gourds. Nuts and wild fruits were important to their diet. The men hunted and fished.

These Muskogean speaking Indians had a rich and complex social system with plenty of art, music, dancing and recreation. Tattoos and body painting were common, as well as decorated pottery, copper, intricate beadwork, basketry, stonework, pipes and conch shell masks. The favorite game, stick ball, was a fierce game often called the “little brother of war.”

Great public religious rituals took place in the ceremonial centers. The Green Corn Ceremony, the climax of the religious year, included feasting, fasting, drinking the “black drink” and ceremonial stick ball and chunky games. Drums, singing and rattles accompanied the horned-owl dance.

There are so many misconceptions about the Southeastern Indians. People love to tell stories about Native Americans, tales they heard as children. Most of those colorful fables aren’t true. They’re simply myths. Like the old game of “operator,” they change with each telling.

But the truth about the Creek Indians is much more fascinating than the old wives’ tales that are passed along.

Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.

Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.

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