Published on January 4, 2013 by Casey
A Choctaw Legend
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In Choctaw history, solar eclipses were attributed to black squirrels, or a black squirrel, supposed to be eating the luminary, and they must be driven off if mankind were still to enjoy the heat and light. Cushman says:
The Choctaw . . . attributed an eclipse of the sun to a black squirrel, whose eccentricities often led it into mischief, and, among other things, that of trying to eat up the sun at different intervals. When thus inclined, they believed, which was confirmed by long experience, that the only effective means to prevent so fearful a catastrophe befalling the world as the blotting out of that indispensable luminary, was to favor the little, black epicure with a first-class scare; therefore, whenever he manifested an inclination to indulge in a meal on the sun, every ingenuity was called into requisition to give him a genuine fright so that he would be induced, at least, to postpone his meal on the sun at that particular time and seek a lunch elsewhere. As soon, therefore, as the sun began to draw its lunar veil over its face, the cry was heard from every mount from the Dan to the Beersheba of their then wide extended territory, echoing from hill to dale, “Funi lusa hushi umpa! Funi lusa hushi umpa,” according to our phraseology, the black squirrel is eating the sun! Then and there was heard a sound of tumult by day in the Choctaw Nation for the space of an hour or two. Far exceeding that said to have been heard by night in Belgium’s Capital, and sufficient in the conglomeration of discordant tones terrific, if heard by the distant, little, fastidious squirrel, to have made him lose forever afterward all relish for a mess of suns for an early or late dinner.
The shouts of the women and children mingling with the ringing of discordant bells as the vociferous pounding and beating of earsplitting tin pans and cups mingling in “wild confusion worse confounded,” yet in sweet unison with a first-class orchestra of yelping, howling, barking dogs gratuitously thrown in by the innumerable and highly excited curs, produced a din, which even a “Funi lusa,” had he heard it, could scarcely have endured even to have indulged in a nibble or two of the sun, though urged by the demands of a week’s fasting.
But during the wild scene the men were not idle spectators, or indifferent listeners. Each stood a few paces in front of his cabin door with no outward manifestation of excitement whatever – so characteristic of the Indian warrior but with his trusty rifle in hand, which so oft had proved a friend sincere in many hours of trial, which he loaded and fired in rapid succession at the distant, devastating squirrel, with the same coolness and calm deliberation that he did when shooting at his game. More than once have I witnessed the fearful yet novel scene. When it happened to be the time of a total eclipse of the sun, a sufficient evidence that the little, black epicure meant business in regard to having a square meal, though it took the whole sun to furnish it, then indeed there were sounds of revelry and tumult unsurpassed by any ever heard before, either in “Belgium” or elsewhere.
Then the women shrieked and redoubled their efforts upon the tin pans, which, under the desperate blows, strained every vocal organ to do its utmost and whole duty in loud response, while the excited children screamed and beat their tin cups, and the sympathetic dogs (whose name was legion) barked and howled – all seemingly determined not to fall the one behind the other in their duty since the occasion demanded it; while the warriors still stood in profound and meditative silence, but firm and undaunted, as they quickly loaded and fired their rifles, each time taking deliberate aim, if perchance the last shot might prove the successful one; then, as the moon’s shadow began to move from the disk of the sun, the joyful shout was heard above the mighty din “Funi-lusa-osh mahlatah! ” The black squirrel is frightened.
But the din remained unabated until the sun again appeared in its usual splendor, and all nature again assumed its harmonious course.