In one story from Mvskoke oral tradition, it is said that an old woman was living in a certain place. She lived alone until an orphan boy came to be with her. He learned to hunt and provide meat, while she fed him tasty dishes made from a mysterious ingredient.
One day he spied on her and discovered that the food came from her body: it was corn, and she was the corn mother. She taught the orphan boy how to care for this new grain, and how to use the different varieties. Then she sent him on a long journey.
Later, when he returned with a wife, the old woman’s house was gone. The place was occupied instead by tall, green stalks of corn. And it has been the essential Mvskoke food ever since.
Mvskoke people have acknowledged their dependence on this sacred staple from time immemorial. Even today, the most important annual event at our ceremonial grounds is posketv, known in English as “Green Corn” because it marks the ripening of a new corn crop.
One of the earliest written accounts of the Green Corn ceremony was recorded in 1775 by British-American naturalist William Bartram. He described it as the “principal festival” and “most solemn celebration” in Mvskoke country. Posketv is a “feast of first fruits” that occurs when the “new crops of corn are arrived to perfect maturity.”
Each Mvskoke town celebrates separately, Bartram noted, “when their own harvest is ready.” After a period of cleaning and preparation, of fasting and purification, a new fire is struck in the town square.
“Then the women go forth to the harvest field, and bring from thence new corn and fruits, which being prepared in the best manner, in various dishes, and drink withal, is brought with solemnity to the square, where the people are assembled, apparelled in their new clothes and decorations.”
The men of the town partake together, then the women and children eat at their homes. That evening all “repair to the public square, where they dance, sing, and rejoice during the whole night, observing a proper and exemplary decorum.”
Green Corn thus signals the end of one annual cycle and the beginning of another. It typically happens in the days after summer solstice, initiating the Mvskoke month of Hvyuce, a designation offering further evidence of our agricultural heritage.
The name was formed by modifying the word hvyo, “harvest,” with the diminutive suffix –uce, “little.” So the first month of the Mvskoke year is Hvyuce, “Little Harvest.” Like other months in cokv-walv Mvskoke, it has a counterpart in the yearly sequence—in this case, the month that follows: Hvyo-Rakko, “Big Harvest.”
In modern times, citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation extend these traditions when they participate in the Muscogee Nation Festival, which takes place in Okmulgee following the summer solstice. The first such event was held in 1975, two hundred years after William Bartram learned the significance of Green Corn while travelling through Mvskoke country.
This year’s thirty-sixth annual Festival was bigger than ever, with a long list of scheduled activities. Not many Mvskokes grow their own corn these days, but the sacred staple could still be found at certain places:
Roasted ears and other corn-based dishes were available from vendors serving food on the Omniplex midway.
Fresh, locally grown corn was for sale at the farmers market on the west lawn of the Creek Council House.
Traditional games organized by Cvkotakse Seccvlke, the Mvskoke Bow Shooters Society, included a cornstalk shoot west of the Mound Building.
Senior activities at the Okmulgee Elderly Nutrition Center featured a safke contest.
The Senior Citizens Gift Shop, located in the main building of the capitol complex, has a great selection of homemade ingredients for traditional foods including safke corn, hominy, and dried sweet corn.
It is also worth noting that the meal served before the stomp dance on Thursday evening, the official opening of the Festival, did not include dishes made from fresh corn, since some of those participating were from ceremonial grounds where they are still fasting in preparation for posketv.
Industrial civilization has not been kind to corn and other living things. Mvskoke people bear an age-old responsibility to care for the vital plants that sustained our ancestors, and that will feed us and our descendants if we respect the sources of life.