"Hihla (He tha, Choctaw for "dancer")"|
Acrylic painting on canvas - 30 Inches x 24 Inches
Hihla, pronounced as he • tha, is the Choctaw word for "dancer." |
Traveling along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi, we navigated through lands that were once owned by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes. Along the side of the road, there are markers explaining the history of this heavily traveled path. The Trace originally served as a 19th-century route for river boatmen returning north from trips to New Orleans. It crossed through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands as the only direct "road through the wilderness" from the east to the old southwest. The Choctaws adapted to farming and some set up "stands" as rest stops for the white men.
The painting Hihla, was initially inspired by a marker on the trail that explained a legend of a witch dance. The old folks say the witches once gathered there to dance and wherever their feet touched the ground, the grass withered and died, never to grow again. Instead of imagining witches dancing, I thought of the Choctaw Indians and the sacrifices that they were forced to make due to early American settlers.
Under Andrew Jackson, in the treaty of Doaks, Oct. 20th, 1820, the Choctaws reluctantly gave the U.S. about a third of their land (5 1\2 mil. acres). Ten years later, September 27th, 1830, the Choctaws were forced to give up all their lands to make room for white settlements all along the Natchez Trace. Chief Ofahoma or Red Dog, signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, by which the tribe agreed to leave this area and move to Oklahoma.
In titling this painting, I wanted to make sure that the correct translation was used. Since Indian tribes from different areas have separate dialects, it was important to use the Choctaw word. In a search for the translation, I learned that Choctaws in Oklahoma are trying to keep the Muskogean language alive. I ended up calling the Choctaw Nation Language department in Oklahoma, and speaking with Curtis Billy, who shared a little about the language. He taught me that their alphabet does not have the letter "o," and dancer can also be written as hiĺa, with what is called a bar "L." To make the word past tense, they put the word "tuk" (pronounced toke) after the verb. This would make danced, hihla tuk.
This painting is created in memory of a tribe struggling to survive during changing times. The land beneath the dancer's feet represents more than just earth, it is a way of life. While all that remains is stories from this time, none of us can truly understand the hardships that the Choctaws, and all the Indian tribes, faced as they were sent down the trail of tears. Hopefully the dancer's of today understand that we never really own the land, but the land will forever own us.