I recently had the opportunity to visit the annual Choctaw Indian Fair near Philadelphia, MS with my family. It was a wonderful cultural experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives. With Native American Indian in the history of both mine and my husband’s ancestral heritage, we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about that culture with our children. We both had great grandparents of native Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek heritage.
While there at the fair, we got to participate in some hands on activities with the kids, who each got to learn the art of Indian drum making, beading bracelets, medallion making, and pottery making. We also toured their museum, the Choctaw Museum of the Southern Indian, where we learned about basket weaving, and the cultural dress making of the MS Band of Choctaw Indians. There we met the grand daughter of the famous Chief Pushmataha, who showed us how to make the diamond shapes on a traditional Choctaw Indian dress. The diamond shapes represent the diamond back rattlesnake, which eats the insects that destroyed their crops.
The Choctaws were known for their gardening knowledge as well, and were able to answer a couple of questions I had about gardening techniques. Earlier this year, I had tried a Native American technique of planting the three sisters of corn, beans, and squash together, but the corn, nor the beans germinated well. I found out that instead of planting them at the same time, I should have planted the corn a little earlier, then the beans, and lastly the squash. Then the beans could grow up the corn stalk, and the squash would shade out the weeds. I also learned to plant the corn in a circle and when they are tall enough, to tie them together at the top to make a teepee, then let the beans climb the corn, and lastly plant the squash or melons in the center to give them some shade.
On the Choctaw Ways Path, we also saw some of the Choctaws traditional houses and other structures they used while traveling. Their huts were made of large saplings, sticks and daub, with woven walls and thatch type roofs and were quite interesting to see. The kids really enjoyed playing in and around them and I enjoyed learning about the architecture of the Choctaws. I might just try to build one for fun with the kids.
We also got to view some of the Native American Indian social dances and hear some of their beautiful flute playing. The Hopi/Choctaw hoop dancer, Derrick Suwaima Davis, was absolutely awesome. He had five hoops, something like a small hula-hoop, which he somehow manages to weave himself in and out of in the shape of certain animals during the dance ceremony. We had our picture made with him after the dances and got his autograph. The flutist, Ryon Polequaptewa, was another excellent cultural representative of his people. His music was as graceful and entertaining as the hoop dancers dancing was vividly beautiful. You can find his music at www.longhousemedia.com and all proceeds go to Native Preservation.
We also learned about their rabbit sticks that they hunted with and their stick ball game sticks that are still handmade by their craftsmen today. The stickball game is something similar to lacrosse but a little different. They have two sticks with a woven scoop on the end which they use to catch and throw a gold ball sized woven leather ball and try to hit the goal posts on the ends of the playing field. We watched the Choctaw Stickball World Series stick ball game and saw the Beaver Dam team take the trophy, though it was a very close game. One team had hit the goal post just as the whistle was blown and the point was not counted. The point would have tied the game. Afterwards, they had a nice award ceremony and then ended the fair with a fireworks display for us all to enjoy.
Needless to say, we all had a great time enjoying the sights and sounds of the traditional Native American Choctaws. We had toured through their crafts booths earlier in the day and viewed many of their handmade arts and crafts, which were all very beautiful. One of the highlights of the fair is the introduction of the Choctaw Indian Princess each year. The fair also included several musical concerts in their large amphitheater, which was one of the biggest attractions of the fair. This year in 2011, Leann Rimes, a native Mississippian, and Chrystal Shawanda from Ontario, Canada, were in concert. The fair had something for everyone, whether adult or child, Native American or not. Having Native American deep in my own cultural heritage, I thoroughly enjoyed this cultural event of my native Mississippi. If you have the opportunity to go in the future, I highly recommend it as an inexpensive and educational family vacation. You can find more information on the fair and the Choctaws at www.choctaw.org.