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Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa

Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa
    Book Description:

    "This book begins where the reach of archaeology and history ends," writes Charles Hudson. Grounded in careful research, his extraordinary work imaginatively brings to life the sixteenth-century world of the Coosa, a native people whose territory stretched across the Southeast, encompassing much of present-day Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.Cast as a series of conversations between Domingo de la Anunciacion, a real-life Spanish priest who traveled to the Coosa chiefdom around 1559, and the Raven, a fictional tribal elder,Conversations with the High Priest of Coosaattempts to reconstruct the worldview of the Indians of the late prehistoric Southeast. Mediating the exchange between the two men is Teresa, a character modeled on a Coosa woman captured some twenty years earlier by the Hernando de Soto expedition and taken to Mexico, where she learned Spanish and became a Christian convert.Through story and legend, the Raven teaches Anunciacion about the rituals, traditions, and culture of the Coosa. He tells of how the Coosa world came to be and recounts tales of the birds and animals--real and mythical--that share that world. From these engaging conversations emerges a fascinating glimpse inside the Coosa belief system and an enhanced understanding of the native people who inhabited the ancient South.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0525-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    This book is intended for anyone who has viewed museum displays of artifacts made by the late prehistoric Southeastern Indians or, even better, stood atop one of their earthen mounds and asked the questions: What manner of people made these things? How did they conceive of the world in which they lived? How did they explain events in their everyday lives?

    Archaeologists and historians can suggest answers to some of these questions, but they cannot tell us definitively about the philosophical or religious thought processes of these people. This book begins where the reach of archaeology and history ends. Blending...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. A Letter
    (pp. 1-6)

    Most Reverend Sir:

    I am writing to tell you what I learned in Coosa. A man of your eminence, who has the responsibility for evangelizing so vast a land, can ill afford to spend time reading about such provincial matters. I can well understand that you might lay these pages aside unread. But even though my brothers and I have failed in our effort to bring the poor lost sheep of Coosa into the Christian fold, how long can it be before others, more fortunate than we, will undertake to build towns and cities in La Florida, and other friars...

  6. 1 The Coming of the Nokfilaki
    (pp. 7-13)

    The Raven would only converse with us at night. During the day, he said, children are always peering through the cracks in his walls, listening for what might pass between himself and his visitors. Women, too, are bad about prying into the affairs of men. Later I learned that Coosas are suspicious of anything that moves about in the darkness, whether animal or human, and since the last thing Coosas want is for suspicion to fall upon them, they do not travel about much at night, and that is the best time for privacy.

    His house lay on the side...

  7. 2 The Contest between the Four-footeds and the Flyers
    (pp. 14-19)

    The next evening Teresa and I returned to the Raven’s house. Our commander, Mateo del Sauz, had forbidden Christians from entering the Coosa town after sundown, but he approved an exception in my case when I explained the purpose of my nightly visits. Fully expecting to breathe the corrupting air of the Devil’s own philosophy, Teresa and I prayed for God’s mercy before setting out on our visit.

    As would be his habit, the old man greeted us and stirred the coals of his fire. His great black bird hopped down from his perch and strode over to the old...

  8. 3 More Animal Stories
    (pp. 20-29)

    When we next went to his house, the old man was waiting for us. As we took our seats, Pruk flew down from his perch and began striding around, trying to get the old man’s attention.

    ‘‘I’m ignoring him,’’ he said.

    Pruk walked over and, with elaborate hesitation, pecked at the old man’s foot. Then he leapt comically into the air as if he were avoiding a strike from a snake.

    A while later, as Teresa and I were exchanging pleasantries with the Raven, we heard a clatter from the corner of the room. Pruk had sauntered over to a...

  9. 4 Rabbit
    (pp. 30-37)

    The next time we entered the old man’s house Pruk was sitting on his shoulder. If I did not know better, I would swear that the bird was talking into his ear. The creature seemed to glare down his great, black beak at us, ruffling his feathers slightly, and then he flew a circuit around the room and lit on his perch. Because he is such a large and ominous bird, Teresa and I ducked as he swooped close to our heads.

    The old man was still perturbed over my impatience when our last conversation ended. ‘‘It is not that...

  10. 5 Master of Breath and the Great Ones
    (pp. 38-51)

    I was anxious for this conversation to begin. Was I at long last going to learn something about Coosa philosophy that would go beyond what the Raven called leaves on the water? Teresa and I settled into our customary places, but the old man would not be hurried. He insisted on brewing up a beverage out of a small variety of holly leaves that he had parched in a pot over a fire. ‘‘This isásse,our beloved white drink,’’ he said, though this made no sense to me because the beverage was very dark in color. Before he would...

  11. 6 Sun, Corn Woman, Lucky Hunter, and the Twosome
    (pp. 52-71)

    Had Teresa truly rid herself of her pagan ways? Back in Coosa, with all the familiar scenes of her youth before her eyes, was she not in her deepest heart torn between the angels of Christendom and the demons of Coosa?

    When I went to fetch Teresa to go to the old man’s house, she was pale and trembling and said that she was ill. But when I touched her forehead, it was cool, and she did not smell of illness. Without her, I could not communicate with the old man, and I insisted that she accompany me. He had...

  12. 7 Horned Serpent, the Clans, and the Origin of Bears
    (pp. 72-85)

    I do not know whether Teresa was in her menses when we made our last visit to the Raven, but for three days afterward she claimed to be sick and stayed in her house. When we finally returned to the Raven, he said nothing about our absence. It seemed to me that he was glad we had stayed away.

    ‘‘I have something I want to show you,’’ the old man said. He reached beneath his bed and pulled out several split-cane baskets covered with close-fitting lids. ‘‘These are the herbs on which Horned Serpent twisted his coils on the Backbone...

  13. 8 The Vengeance of Animals, the Friendship of Plants, and the Anger of the Sun
    (pp. 86-96)

    When we returned to the Raven’s house the next evening, I told him that his bear stories were leading in the wrong direction. I had already heard quite enough animal stories, and I wanted no more of them. He assured me that the ones he was telling now were far more important than the simple stories he had told in the beginning. His serious intent was borne out by the humiliating questions he insisted on putting to Teresa. Indeed, if anything, his questions to her this night were even more insistent than before, and though she was in no condition...

  14. 9 Divination, Sorcery, and Witches
    (pp. 97-119)

    The Raven had informed me that the subject of our next conversation was both difficult and dangerous, and that he had to fast for four days before we could meet again. When Teresa and I went to his house on the appointed night, we found him sitting in his customary place. He showed the effects of his fast, and he did not rise as we entered his house. The room was dark, but when Teresa went to add some wood to the fire, the old man insisted that I do it.

    As I have already written, Coosa people believe that...

  15. 10 Sun Chief and Sun Woman
    (pp. 120-133)

    At the end of our last conversation, as the Raven bid us good night at the door of his house, we agreed that we would allow him two days to rest and repair the effects of his fast. Teresa and I were surprised when he instructed us that on our next visit we should come to his house in the light of day. Nevertheless, we returned on the designated day at just past high noon, as the Sun was beginning her decline toward the west. Pruk was perched on the top of the house, perhaps on the lookout for raven-mocker...

  16. 11 Tastanáke and the Ball Game
    (pp. 134-144)

    When we returned to the Raven’s house the next day, he seemed glad to see Teresa, and the two of them exchanged pleasantries. From the way she responded, I gathered that he was teasing her in a friendly way. When I asked her to tell me what had passed between them, she explained that he had asked her whether her ‘‘mothers’’ and ‘‘sisters’’ were treating her better. It turns out that he himself had put in a good word for her with some of her kinswomen, using his prestige to ease her predicament.

    Then the old man said something more...

  17. 12 Everyday Life Is Their Book
    (pp. 145-151)

    On reading back through my transcriptions of our conversations, I was struck with what the old man had said about the meaning Coosas find in animals when they encounter them in dreams or in waking life. It is obvious that such animals could remind Coosas of events that occurred in their stories of Ancient Days, but he seemed to be saying more than this. He implied that the meaning of life is revealed to Coosa people through the events in their everyday experience. If this is true, it could prove to be very difficult to persuade them of the truth...

  18. 13 Posketa
    (pp. 152-175)

    The day after my most recent conversation with the Raven, I noticed extraordinary activity everywhere in the town. On all sides, people were bustling about, cleaning and refurbishing. They were feasting prodigiously, as if they were trying to eat up all of the remaining food in their larders from the previous year. The women were cleaning their houses, and the men worked alongside them, making long-neglected repairs. I noticed, as well, that the men were making similar repairs to the temple and portico on top of the mound. They even swept the plaza clean, piling up the old dirt and...

  19. 14 The Last Conversation
    (pp. 176-188)

    I should not have allowed Teresa to participate in the green corn feast on the last day of theposketa.It drew her too far back into the Coosa world. I searched for her but could not find her during the dancing that night because she had slipped away to a storehouse with Chola Háácho. I did not have to ask her if they had sinned. Her demeanor gave her away. She was unrepentant, and I endeavored to refrain from condemnation, for I did not want to drive her further toward the Coosa world, where such behavior would not be...

  20. A Note on the Spelling of Creek Words
    (pp. 189-190)
  21. Sources
    (pp. 191-214)
  22. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 215-218)
  23. Index
    (pp. 219-222)