Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal

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Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal. By James Taylor Carson. Indians of the Southeast. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, c. 1999. Pp. xvi, 183. $40.00, ISBN 0-8032-1503-7.)

Searching for the Bright Path is a much-told tale, told once again but better. It is the story of Choctaw prehistory and history up to the year of Removal (1830). It is a story of cultural persistence and change. It is also a story fraught with political intrigue. It is written from a Choctaw-centric perspective, not as a chapter in American history. The genius of the work is the author's ability to weave the account of Choctaw history around major themes in Choctaw tradition, or what he calls "moral economy" (pp. 4-5). These themes include Choctaw division of labor, matrilineal kinship, a chief-dom type of political organization, and a religious system rooted in prehistoric Mississippian cosmology. Carson begins his account and ethnohistorical analysis with the story of Oakatibbe, a Choctaw man who fatally wounds another Choctaw in a knife fight, struggles with his conscience, but finally flees to escape retribution. He ultimately returns under his own volition to face the execution that must occur if his victim is to be properly avenged. The author uses the account of this event to raise the question about the persistence of Choctaw culture, that is, its moral economy, during the three centuries prior to Removal and the struggles of the Choctaws to adapt yet maintain the integrity of tradition.

The author's description of the major events of the period are couched in a variety of interesting cultural interpretations. He argues, for example, that Choctaw women were able to accommodate cattle into their traditional economy and work lives by assigning to cattle plant rather than animal terms, such as the Choctaw word alhopa, or fruit trees. This made it legitimate for women to work with animals, a task that traditionally had been the sole responsibility of men. Even though the author leans heavily on "culture" as an explanation for the Choctaw response to the forces of this historic period, he admits that "culture can only go so far toward explaining why things happened the way they did. …