Living on Mvskoke Time

Every human society has ways of marking and tracking the passage of time.  If you’re a citizen, resident, or employee of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, then you’ve probably seen one of the colorful wall calendars featuring Mvskoke names for the months along with other important information.  Recent editions have been produced by the MCN Office of Public Relations; in years past, they were published by the Communications Department (now Mvskoke Media) with titles such as Mvskoke Etvlwv 2010 Nettv Vhvnkatv, which can be translated literally as “Muscogee Towns 2010 Day Counter.”

That’s an interesting turn of phrase, “day-counter,” and there are at least two other ways to express the English word “calendar” in the Mvskoke language.  The term hvse-onayv combines hvse, which can mean “sun” or “month,” and onayv, “one who tells [a story].”  Of course, the sun and the moon are central elements in how we tell the story of terrestrial chronology.  A colloquial translation of hvse-onayv might be “date-teller,” another pretty good expression for calendar.

My personal favorite is cokv-walv, a contraction of cokv and owalvCokv refers to a book or some other form of written text, while owalv is a prophet or fortune-teller, one who tries to foresee what’s coming.  So the literal meaning is “book-prophesier,” though the phrase makes more sense in English if we translate it as “writing that predicts the future.”  This strikes me as a useful reminder that any calendar offers only a prediction—not a promise—of days to come.  It’s easy to see something in print and presume that it must be true.  But there’s no guarantee we’ll be around tomorrow, which is why it’s important to live each day to the fullest.

Incidentally, the English word “calendar” comes from the Latin kalendarium, “moneylender’s account book,” a derivation that speaks volumes about the modern attitude toward natural rhythms:  “time is money,” as the saying goes.  So take your pick, nettv-vhvnkatv or hvse-onayv or cokv-walv, they’re all kindlier than kalendarium.  Better to live by a day-counter, a date-teller, or a text that predicts the future than under the control of a moneylender’s account book.

Along with the Mvskoke months, older editions of the MCN calendar also included Mvskoke names for the days of the week.  This was helpful for those of us who didn’t grow up speaking the Mvskoke language, and these names can teach us about Mvskoke history and culture as well.  For example, the seven-day “week” is a cultural tradition from ancient Europe and the Middle East—it has no basis in natural phenomena, unlike the lunar month and the solar year.  Mvskokvlke adopted this alien cycle in recent times to accommodate the dominant culture.

A hundred years ago, our names for these days were mostly loanwords:  Monday became Mvntē; Tuesday was either Tustē or Mvntē Enhvyvtke, “the day after Monday.”  Today we also have descriptive terms based on each day’s position in the weekly rotation:  Wednesday is Ennvrkvpv, literally “half of [the week]” or “its middle”; Thursday is Ennvrkvpv Enhvyvtke, “the day after the middle of the week.”

Our names for the months, on the other hand, are much older and reflect Mvskoke familiarity with the natural world [see below]:

The annual round begins with posketv, “to fast” (called “Green Corn” in English), along with two months named for the harvest, Hvyuce and Hyvo-Rakko; it is a time for reaping corn and other produce that will sustain the community through the year to come.  This season of meskē, “summer,” continues with a couple of months announcing another kind of ingathering, Otvwoskuce and Otvwoskv-Rakko, when ripe chestnuts were thrashed down from the branches of a majestic tree now decimated by immigrant blight.

The next season—rvfo, “winter”—opens and closes with single months marking the arrival of falling temperatures and of rising winds:  Eholē and Hotvlē-Hvse.  In between these transitional periods are sibling months named for the season itself, Rvfo-Rakko and Rvfo ‘Cuse, when the organic world lies dormant and rests.

The third and final season is tasahcē, “spring”; it begins with paired months named for the season,Tasahcuce and Tasahce-Rakko, as the land awakens and awaits the sowing of seeds.  These are followed by two months honoring plants that provide edible fruit, Kē-Hvse and Kvco-Hvse, at a time when winter stores are running low and the new crops are not yet ready for harvest.  The reliable return of summer solstice and posketv means the end of one year and the beginning of another in Mvskoke country.

Why bother with such things in a technocratic world of comfort and convenience?

Mvskoke time is much more than linguistic trivia or ethnic nostalgia.  Our indigenous forebears were keen observers of earth and sky, and cokv-walv Mvskoke conveys some of their most vital natural insights.  Like other indigenous peoples, Mvskokvlke “survived by knowing their natural environment well and making direct use of its surpluses,” writes J. Donald Hughes in North American Indian Ecology.  “They kept track of annual cycles, naming the months after the natural changes they observed.  Their lives were closely involved in nature’s rhythms, and they were conscious of this.”

The Mvskoke calendar is one way our ancestors preserved their understanding of natural rhythms and resources.  “The Indian names for the ‘moons,’ or months, show at least a part of their detailed knowledge of the seasonal cycles and rhythms of nature:  when flowers or fruits would appear, when the young of animals would be born, when the lakes would freeze, when the birds would return. . . . The Indians’ science was a blend of observation, reason, insight and nature mysticism,” which is also a good description of modern technoscience if you replace nature mysticism with the profit motive.  And humanity’s great transformation from grounded spirituality to transcendent greed has laid the foundation for our current environmental crises.

The Mvskoke calendar is just one example of what scholars call “traditional ecological knowledge,” the distilled wisdom of generations and the nature-based way of life that generates it.  As among other indigenous peoples, Mvskoke ecological knowledge addresses practical, social, and religious concerns.  The Gregorian calendar used by the dominant culture, by contrast, bears little connection to nature; the English names for the months, for example, are based on a jumble of Latin numbers, Roman deities, and other useless anachronisms.

Not so for cokv-walv Mvskoke.  No money changes hands under this calendar; the only transactions specified herein are ecological, not financial.  Mvskokvlke owe no allegiance to European imperialists—Julius Caesar (July), Augustus Caesar (August)—or to any culture that would try to conquer nature.  Instead, cokv-walv Mvskoke does exactly what a calendar ought to do:  it reminds us where we are in time, just as a map helps us understand where we are in space.  Both schemas work best when they situate a living people in an ever-changing place, orienting us to the means of survival through our natural environment.  These are valuable traditions that can help us meet the challenges ahead.

It is good to have a Mvskoke calendar for Mvskoke country.


Cokv-Walv Mvskoke / Muscogee Calendar

Hvyuce / Little Harvest (≈July)

Hvyo-Rakko / Big Harvest (≈August)

Otvwoskuce / Little Chestnut-Thrashing (≈September)

Otvwoskv-Rakko / Big Chestnut-Thrashing (≈October)

Eholē / Frost (≈November)

Rvfo-Rakko / Big Winter (≈December)

Rvfo ‘Cuse / Winter’s Younger Brother (≈January)

Hotvlē-Hvse / Wind Month (≈February)

Tasahcuce / Little Spring (≈March)

Tasahce-Rakko / Big Spring (≈April)

Kē-Hvse / Mulberry Month (≈May)

Kvco-Hvse / Blackberry Month (≈June)

You can learn more about each month by following the links at MvskokeCountry.online/Mvskoke-Calendar

POME Magazine, Summer 2019

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