Bill Grantham. Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. xi + 337. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-2451-6.
Reviewed by Joshua Piker (Department of History, University of Oklahoma)
Published on H-Florida (September, 2002)
Creek Myths and Legends
The anthropologist Bill Grantham has written an interesting book, one that seeks to bring together a wide range of Creek Indian creation myths and legends while, at the same time, providing an introduction to, and analysis, of these Native American religio-historical productions. Creation Myths and Legends is at once a reference work--one that presents almost two hundred pages worth of Creek narratives--and an attempt to provide readers with the information necessary to understand the Creeks' views on the origin and nature of the world. Its value as a reference volume is high; the other aspects of the book, however, are a bit more uneven. Weaknesses notwithstanding, though, I urge subscribers who have an interest in Florida's Native peoples to examine Grantham's book. Its collection of myths and legends--to say nothing of its glossaries and guides--will come in handy both for scholarly and pedagogical reasons.
Grantham's book begins with a relatively brief but ambitious overview of Creek "Beliefs and Rituals." The ten chapters in this section range from "The Role of Mythology" and "Creek Cosmology" to "Souls" and "Ceremony and Ritual." His discussion in this section makes frequent reference to the myths (contained in part 2), so it is relatively easy to move back and forth from his analysis to the relevant myth or legend itself. Moreover, Grantham frequently elucidates difficult material in an effective and evocative manner; for example, his discussion of the elements and meaning of the Busk ceremony is well-handled and informative. Too often, however, part 1 seems overly simplistic. The central problem here is one of voice and audience. In chapter 1, for example, Grantham's treatment of "Sacred Time and Space" relies almost entirely on Mircea Eliade; students and newcomers to these topics will welcome this section's accessibility, but scholars will find little of value in it. By contrast, Grantham's "Historical Sketch of the Creeks" draws solely upon the work of J. Leitch Wright and is devoted almost exclusively to a listing of the different linguistic groups subsumed within the designation "Creek" and their migrations. Specialists might find this discussion useful (although the information is available elsewhere), but students confronting a host of unfamiliar names and hoping for a guide to how these peoples became Creeks will have to content themselves with a single sentence: "All of these diverse tribes eventually coalesced into the Creek Confederacy, a political alliance composed of people from multiple cultural backgrounds" (p. 10). Given Grantham's assertion that "many descriptions of the Creeks... are actually only collections of mismatched bits and pieces of information" (p. 11) from various "Creek" peoples, his lack of engagement with these peoples' histories seems a missed opportunity to place the myths and legends he has assembled in their appropriate contexts.
Part 1 also suffers from a lack of analysis. Grantham asserts in Chapter 1 that "[p]erhaps the most important idea developed in this work is the existence of at least two distinct mythological and cosmological traditions" (p. 12), Eastern Creek and Western Creek. Unfortunately, beyond listing the groups subsumed under these rubrics, he does not immediately explain what distinguishes one group from the other or why these distinctions are so important. The following chapter does make reference to these categories (i.e., Eastern earth diver vs. Western emergence creation myths), but then they fail to appear in chapters 3 through 9. Only in chapter 10, the conclusion to part 1, does he return to these categories, stating that "[a]t least two very different mythological traditions are involved: that of a cultural groups like the Yuchis, Hitchitis, and the Mikasukis, who already occupied the Southeast, and that of the Alabamas, who occupied regions west of these groups, and the Muskogees, who migrated into the region from even further west" (p. 85). He goes on to argue that "the Muskogees did adopt all or parts of a ceremonial complex that they encountered during their migration into the Southeast" (p. 85). This is an interesting and provocative thesis, one that should be more thoroughly grounded in the literature on pre- colonial, colonial, early national, and post-removal histories. It is unfortunate, for example, that the work of such leading scholars of pre-removal Creek life as Michael Green, Claudio Saunt, and Kathryn Holland Braund fails to appear in this book's bibliography; and, given the prevalence of Yuchi myths, it is surprising that Grantham does not refer to Jason Baird Jackson's work on modern Yuchi ceremonialism.
All that said, however, the core of Grantham's book appears in "Part II. Myths and Legends." Here, Grantham presents the historical and present-day narratives which he has painstakingly assembled from, in the words of the book's promotional flyer, "the reports of early ethnographers, sociologists, and missionaries, obscure academic journals, travelers' accounts, and from Creek and Yuchi people living today." The materials in this section are divided once again into ten chapters: earth diver myths, emergence myths, migration legends, relationships between the tribes, journeys into the sky world, visitors from the sky world, snake man legends, man-eating birds, tobacco and corn, and contemporary Creek myths and legends. The book ends with a generous dose of reference material, all of which will aid scholars in evaluating the context of the myths/legends while simultaneously providing guidance on the pronunciation and meaning of key Creek words. All in all, this is a well-thought out and useful collection. Grantham states that "[i]t is my hope that historians, anthropologists, folklorists, and students of religion will find this work a useful reference and that people of Creek descent will find it an accurate repository of their myths, legends, and religious heritage" (p. ix). From this historian's perspective, "Part II" goes a long way toward accomplishing this goal.
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Joshua Piker. Review of Grantham, Bill, Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians.
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Copyright © 2002 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.