Ancient Chickasaw Culture & the Muskogean Clan System
Native American philosophy is centered on observations of the world and is an integral part of deeply held spiritual beliefs. For the Muskogean tribes of the southeast United States and the Chickasaw people, animal symbols were used as a way of listening to the innate wisdom of animals. Animal and man were considered as being the same—neither one above the other—and all things are considered different, but equal, from nature’s perspective.
The Chickasaw people believe that The Creator ( Aba' Binni'li' , “sitting above”) gave them the need for the clan system with special animal guides . Over the years, the number of active clans waxed and waned, but the ancestral Chickasaws had over 15 clans that determined their social organization. The list of fifteen included the Nita’ (Bear), Shawi’ (Raccoon), Foshi’ (Bird), Chola (Fox), Issi’ (Deer), Koni (Skunk), Loksi’ (Turtle), Noshoba (Wolf), Kowishto’ (Panther), Nani’ (Fish), Fani’ (Squirrel), Acho’chaba’ (Alligator), Chalhlha (Blackbird), Minko’ (Leader) and Oshpaani’ (Spanish) clans.
Certain characteristics were attributed to each Chickasaw clan . These characteristics could describe where and how the clan members lived, their personalities, temperament, physical traits, village occupation and status in society. For example, and according to Chickasaw tradition, members of the Iksa' Shawi' ’ or Raccoon Clan were often chosen as leaders, liked to dance, loved to eat fish and all kinds of fruit, were very cunning, and had great faith in their leaders and elders. Additionally as an example, the Iksa' Kowishto' Losa' or Panther Clan were proven hunters, lived in hills or mountains and close to water (but not too close), owned plenty of property and horses, and invited all of their neighbors when holding a great feast.
Clans were an organizing force from this Mississippian era until the late 1800s. Like other southeastern tribes, the Chickasaws had strict rules that defined and governed acceptable unions. One of the main functions of the clan was to provide kinship with clan members in other villages and the clan was the most important group to which a person belonged. Tribal prohibitions against marrying near kin differed from modern Euro-American concepts in the sense that the notion of close kinship for the earliest Chickasaw included those in one’s moiety ( iksa’), clan ( okla), and house group ( chokka’), as well as members of one’s immediate household ( chokka’ chaffa’ ).
The military clans also had chieftaincies whose responsibilities to their own kinship group, and to the tribe at large, were determined by birth into one of the matrilineal clans —rather than by participation in war and earned promotions in rank. Those similarities of clan government indicate that marriage occurred outside of the war-peace dualities. Peace-clan wives were taken by war-clan men and vice versa. Some of these unions produced first-born males who became clan minko’ (leader) by virtue of matrilineal inheritance.
Family histories have become increasingly important for Chickasaws in today's society because they connect the Chickasaw people to their history and culture. A family’s clan, just like their language, is an integral part of the Chickasaw identity. The preservation of family information is fundamentally important in understanding their culture, and, like oral tradition, it must be passed on to future generations of Chickasaws.
To learn more about the Chickasaw clan system and the history of the Chickasaw people, visit the Chickasaw.tv History & Culture Channel .
By Chickasaw TV