STORIES BY THE FIRE: Native American storytellers entertain guests at Grand Village
Published 10:49 am Wednesday, January 25, 2023
NATCHEZ — Saturday evening rain did not dampen the mood of a fireside storytelling at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
The stories were moved indoors with an artificial campfire on stage and projected onto a screen. Despite the change, the auditorium at The Grand Village was packed.
Guests refreshed themselves with popcorn, cookies and hot chocolate as they listened to the ancient stories of two native tribes. Eli Langley, a member of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and Dan Isaac, a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, told remarkably similar stories about “Chukfi,” which in the native language means rabbit.
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“Everyone has stories,” Issac said. “You have stories within you.”
In both cultures, Chukfi is a trickster and plays pranks on his animal friends like “Nashoba,” the wolf. In one tale, Chukfi, while still a trickster, becomes the hero. Langley told of how Chukfi brought fire to North America by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, where he discovered people gathered around a campfire. He waits until they fall asleep, and slaps his head against a pine tree to collect the sap. Then he slaps his head against the embers of the fire to collect the flame.
“The people run out of their camp amazed at how the rabbit’s head is on fire, but he is unarmed,” Langley said. But before they can stop him, he runs back into the ocean and swims back to North America, delivering fire to the land for the first time.
Many stories, like Chukfi discovering fire, are legends that describe how things came to be the way they are, Issac said. Other stories are fun tales told to make people laugh.
“In my culture, we love to laugh. If you find yourself stuck, we will help you but we will laugh at you first,” Issac said. He told of how Bear laughed at the rabbit when he got his tail stuck in a frozen lake. After he laughed, he tugged on Chukfi’s ears. That didn’t work, but his ears were longer. He then grabbed him under his arms and pulled and with a “pop,” Chukfi came out of the lake but his long fluffy tail was reduced to a little stuff.
“Bear fluffed the tail to make it look better, and now Rabbit now has a short fluffy tail,” Issac said.
The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians was the main ceremonial mound center of the Natchez people from 1682 until 1730. The 128-acre National Historic Landmark features three mounds, a plaza, nature trail, museum, and store.
Administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Grand Village is located at 400 Jefferson Davis Boulevard and is open free of charge to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sundays 1:30 to 5 p.m.
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