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Choctaw Prophecy

A Legacy for the Future

Written by Tom Mould

Publication Year: 2003

This intriguing study explores the power and artistry of prophecy among the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, who use predictions about the future to interpret the world around them.

This book challenges the common assumption that American Indian prophecy was an anomaly of the 18th and 19th centuries that resulted from tribes across the continent reacting to the European invasion. Tom Mould's study of the contemporary prophetic traditions of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians reveals a much larger system of prophecy that continues today as a vibrant part of the oral tradition.

Mould shows that Choctaw prophecy is more than a prediction of the future; it is a way to unite the past, present, and future in a moral dialogue about how one should live. Choctaw prophecy, he argues, is stable and continuous; it is shared in verbal discourse, inviting negotiation on the individual level; and, because it is a tradition of all the people, it manifests itself through myriad visions with many themes. In homes, casinos, restaurants, laundromats, day care centers, and grocery stores, as well as in ceremonial and political situations, people discuss current events and put them into context with traditional stories that govern the culture. In short, recitation is widely used in everyday life as a way to interpret, validate, challenge, and create the world of the Choctaw speaker.

Choctaw Prophecy stands as a sound model for further study into the prophetic traditions of not only other American Indian tribes but also communities throughout the world. Weaving folklore and oral tradition with ethnography, this book will be useful to academic and public libraries as well as to scholars and students of southern Indians and the modern South.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title page, Copyright page

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xvii

This book is a record of the oral traditions of a community, of prophecies known by many but narrated by few. Those men and women who have shared their stories are named throughout this book but deserve specific recognition here not only for their knowledge, skill, and artistry in narration but for sharing their traditions with a larger audience. ...

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pp. xix-xxxiv

Driving west along Highway 19 in the dark, you can imagine how odd the first casino in Las Vegas must have looked: shimmering glass, cool blinking neon, a raucous visual display dropped surreally in the middle of miles and miles of desert. In Mississippi, there is the same jarring effect—an explosion of light in the middle of Mississippi pine. A two-mile stretch of highway ...

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Note on the Texts

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pp. xxxv-xxxvi

I have used the term “prophetic discourse”—rather than “prophetic narrative,” for example—because of the conversational nature of this genre. While there is clearly a form to how prophecy is performed, there is no simple term to define it accurately. In this way, the notion of “text” is already problematic. ...

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pp. 1-18

Harold Comby woke up tired. He had spent the previous day and much of the previous night keeping the peace in his role as captain of the Choctaw tribal police. “I was just talking to my mom about that this morning. I didn’t get enough rest last night, with all the people out at the mound. I was tired and she said that they used ...

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1: Choctaw Verbal Art

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pp. 19-30

She squints into the bright sunlight as she opens the door. Behind her lies a cocoon of cool darkness. Heavy curtains shield her home from the July Mississippi sun, making life bearable in a home with no air conditioning. The hum of fans stirs the quiet. Mallie Smith has been expecting us. She nods and ...

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2: The Genre and Performance of Prophecy

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pp. 31-70

From our survey of Choctaw narratives, we find prophetic discourse rooted firmly within the talk of the elders. With the initial boundaries of the genre realized, we can begin to work more closely with the material, exploring its unique system of aesthetics, forms, and functions. Prophetic discourse, like much of the historical discourse among the Choctaw, is, for the most part, ...

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3: Interpreting Prophecy

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pp. 71-110

All communication demands interpretation, from the casual hello on the street to an epic ballad sung in a Serbian coffeehouse. Sometimes interpretation is facilitated with relatively unambiguous texts; other times it is made difficult, whether unintentionally or not, by speakers who strive to raise questions and engage in debate rather than declare a particular view. ...

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4: The Origin of Prophecy

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pp. 111-155

The question of the origin of prophecy demands attention to a series of related questions for its answer. Perhaps the most obvious is a question that virtually every Choctaw narrator asks during the performance of prophecy: “How did they know?” In performance, this question often functions rhetorically, more important to raise than ...

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5: The Future in Prophecy

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pp. 156-207

One of the largest avenues of discourse opened by prophecy so far has been an analysis of the past and the present. In performance, the narrator moves back in time to perform prophecy from the vantage point of first hearing it. Drawing connections and noting changes between past and present allows the narrator to interpret the prophecy and create meaning. But prophecy is nonetheless ...

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pp. 208-213

This book began broadly, with the whole of Choctaw verbal narrative. Slowly, we moved to the more specific, focusing on prophetic discourse at the level of the individual performance. Then, with our discussion of the origins of prophecy, we began to move outward again to illuminate the broader themes that underlie Choctaw prophecy. ...


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-241

References Cited

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pp. 243-255


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pp. 257-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384159
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817312268

Page Count: 303
Publication Year: 2003