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The Green Corn Ceremony (Cherokee:ᎠᎦᏪᎳ ᏎᎷᎤᏥ) is an English term that refers to a general religious and social theme celebrated by a number of American Indian peoples of the Eastern Woodlands and the Southeastern tribes. The Green Corn festivals are also known to have been practiced by the Mississippian Mound builders as part of their Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.

Green Corn festivals are still practiced today by many different native peoples of the Southeastern Woodland Culture. The Green Corn Ceremony typically coincides in the late summer and is tied to the ripening of the corn crops. The ceremony is marked with dancing, feasting, fasting and religious observations.

Contents

Ceremony

The Muscogee Tradition

In the Muscogee tradition of the Southeastern Creek and Seminole peoples, the Green Corn festival is called Posketv (Bus-get-uh) which means "to Fast". This ceremony is celebrated as the new year of the Stomp dance society and takes place on the central ceremonial Square Ground which is an elevated square platform with the flat edges of the square facing the cardinal directions. Arbors are constructed upon the flat edges of the square in which the men sit facing one of the four directions. This is encircled by a ring-mound of earth outside of which are constructed the clan houses. In the center of this is the ceremonial fire, which is referred to by many names including 'Grandfather' fire. Ceremonially, this fire is the focus of the songs and prayers of the people and is considered to be a living sacred being who transmits our prayers to Ofvnkv (the One Above) and Hsakvtvmes (the Breathmaker). The whole general ceremony centers on the relighting of this ceremonial fire.

The Posketv is the Creek and Seminole New Year. At this time all offenses are forgiven save for rape and murder which were executable or banishable offenses. Historically nearly everything would be torn down and replaced within the tribal town. In modern tribal towns and Stomp Dance societies only the ceremonial fire, the cook fires and certain other ceremonial objects will be replaced. Everyone usually begins gathering by the weekend prior to the Posketv, working, praying, dancing and fasting off and on until the big day.

The first day of the Posketv is the Ribbon or "Ladies" Dance in which the women of the community perform a purifying dance to prepare the ceremonial ground for the renewal ceremony. Following this there is a family meal and by midnight all the men of the community begin fasting. The men sleep right outside the ceremonial square to guard it from intruders.

The men rise before dawn on the second day and remove the previous year’s fire and clean the ceremonial area from all coals and ash. There are numerous dances and rites that are performed throughout the day as the men continue to fast in the hot southern summer. During this time the women clean out their cook-fires as the central ceremonial fire is relit and nurtured with a special medicine made by the Hillis Hiya. Many Creeks still practice the sapi or ceremonial scratches, a type of bloodletting in the mid afternoon. Then the head woman of each family camp comes to the ceremonial circle where they are handed some hot coals from the newly established ceremonial fire, which they take back to their camp and start their cook fires.

During this time, men who have earned the right to a war-name are named and the Feather Dance is performed. This dance is a blessing of the area and a rite of passage for youths becoming men. It consists of 16 different performances including a display of war-party tactics and virility.

The fasting usually ends by supper-time after the word is given by the women that the food is prepared, at which time the men march in single-file formation down to a body of water, typically a flowing creek or river for a ceremonial dip in the water and private men’s meeting. They then return to the ceremonial square and perform a single Stomp Dance before retiring to their home camps for a feast. During this time, the participants in the medicine rites are not allowed to sleep, as part of their fast. At midnight a Stomp Dance ceremony is held, which includes fasting and continues on through the night. This ceremony usually ends shortly after dawn, part the participants in the previous day’s rites do not sleep till mid-day.

Posketv the "Ceremonial Fast," commonly referred to as “Green Corn” in English is the central and most festive holiday of the traditional Muskogee people. It represents not only the renewal of the annual cycle, but of the community’s social and spiritual life as a whole. This is symbolically associated with the return of summer and the ripening of the new corn.

The Cherokee Tradition

Among the Cherokee people, the Green Corn Ceremony (Cherokee:ᎠᎦᏪᎳ ᏎᎷᎤᏥ) honors Selu (ᏎᎷ), the Corn Mother. In ancient times it lasted for four days. The ceremony consisted of sacred dances which were performed by the dancers within the sacred circle. The ceremony would begin with all the members of the town going to a running body of water and washing themselves.

Within the sacred circle, a deep pit would be dug and a branch of wood from a tree struck by lightning would be lit and used to bless the grounds for the ceremony. The coals from this thunderwood would be used to kindle the sacred fire in the pit in the center of the circle.

The dancers would then perform several rounds of sacred dances which typically lasted from 2-4 hours. The War Dance was also performed by the men. Several other dances which symbolized the planting of and harvesting of the corn were performed.

Within the dance circle, the dance leader and priest would make offerings to the Thunder Beings and the ancestor spirits as a gesture of thanks for a fruitful corn harvest. The final dance of Green Corn was the running dance, which would involve not only the sacred dancers, but also the entire assembly in a combined social dance, who would enter the circle and form a snaking, sinuous line of dancers circling the fire.

The dancers would use rattles made from gourds which were filled with small rocks and a stick of wood from a lightning struck tree during all the dances with the exception of the war dance and the running dance, which was accompanied by a drum made from a hollow log and covered with deerskin.

During the ceremony all the clan matrons would take coals from the sacred fire in the circle to the new year's home fires.

In many tribal towns, all the residents would bring out their furniture and shared living items and destroy them as a symbol of renewal of the new corn harvest. They would then remake new furniture and shared items for their clan dwellings.

Minor infractions of the religious and clan law, as well as debts were typically forgiven during green corn between parties as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings, which Chickasaws also include in their ceremony, which allowed minor deviations from the ancient religious laws in deference to community bonding and cohesion as part of traditional Cherokee culture in ancient times.

References

  • Howard and Lena, Oklahoma Seminoles, Medicines, Magic and Religion, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1984
  • Hudson, Charles, The Southeastern Indians, University of Tennessee, 1976
  • Lewis and Jordan, Creek Indian Medicine Ways, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 2002
  • Martin and Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek, University of Nebraska, Lincoln and London, 2000
  • Weisman, Brent Richards, Unconquered People—Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, University Press of Florida, 1999
  • Wright, Jr., J. Leitch, Creeks and Seminoles, University of Nebraska, 1986

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