Long ago, the Choctaw became so corrupt that they displeased Achafa Chito—the Great Spirit. He sent storms and earthquakes to warn them, but the people would resume their wicked ways as soon as the storms and tremors ceased. Finally, Achafa Chito sent forth a great prophet who went from iksa to iksa—village to village—warning the Choctaw that all would be destroyed if they did not return to the path of light, but none believed his words.
Only Oklatibishi—He Who Holds Himself Apart from People—heard and heeded the words of the great prophet. (In other versions, his name is Oklatabashih, which means “Mourner for the People.”) Oklatibishi had withdrawn from other men and built a small house high up on a mountainside, from where he could observe the evil of mankind.
Achafa Chito called the spirit of Oklatibishi into the mid-world between life and death and instructed him, saying, “You must fell the eight largest sassafras trees to be found upon your mountain, trim them and make a great raft. Upon this raft, you will construct a house. You will stock your house with enough corn, nuts and dried meat to feed you and those you take with you for three times as many days as you have fingers and toes. With you, you will take three doves: two gray and one white. You must complete this task before Hashi—the Sun—shows His face on a count of ten times the number of fingers upon your hand. On that morning, you must have your doves in cages, your stores and yourself in your house aboard your raft.”
As soon as his spirit re-entered his body, Oklatibishi began his labors as instructed by the Great Spirit. One day, a group of hunters chanced upon him and asked him what he was doing.
When he told them, they called him a crazy old man and laughed because he was building such a large raft so far from the river, saying, “How will you ever get it to the water?”
But even as Oklatibishi labored and the long summer days shortened into autumn, a change came upon the land. The skies grew cloudy, so that the people saw neither the sun by day nor the moon and stars by night.
Finally, all light and warmth withdrew from the earth. The Choctaw had to carry torches to light their way. They went to magic men, healers, spirit talkers and conjurers, but none could tell why the Sun had chosen to hide His face.
The Choctaw became despondent, sleeping in darkness only to awaken to more darkness. Some even began to chant their death songs. Food that had been stored away against the coming of the winter grew moldy and unfit to eat, and the wild animals of the forest gathered around the fires, even entering the towns and villages, seeming to have lost all fear of men.
(Continued in Part 2 tomorrow!)