Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Hachotakni Zydeco's Round'a Loop Current: Indigenous, African, and Caribbean Mestizaje in Louisiana Literatures

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Hachotakni Zydeco's Round'a Loop Current: Indigenous, African, and Caribbean Mestizaje in Louisiana Literatures

Article excerpt

"Some of us lived like crayfish. Some of us lived like turtles. Some of us lived like coiled snakes end to end. Some of us lived like people" (31)

--LeAnne Howe "The Chaos of Angels"

Anumpa nan anoli sabvnna. (2) I want to tell a story. A story about land, geographies, diasporas, memories, and how culture rises up from land into people. This story begins, like many stories in our traditions with Luksi or Hatchotakni: Turtle or Sea Turtle. Turtles or tortoises hold much significance in many tribal communities, from their place as familial clan centers, or healers, to tricksters, food sources, and sacred items. We shake turtle shells on our legs, in our hands. We watch these reptiles lounge on the banks of bayous, or scamper from newly hatched eggs on beige beach shores, fighting for survival to reach rushing ocean waves. In my family these ancient relatives hold unique kinship spaces speaking to the nature of interconnected Indigenous diaspora in Louisiana. (3) On one side of family there are the Choctaw-Biloxi, Chitimacha, and Mvskoke whose relationship to Turtle was familial. In these southern Indian communities there are turtle clans, shell shakers, and a sacredness with which Turtle is revered. We also see some turtles as food sources and as sturdy tricksters: those ornery old alligator turtles whose worm-like tongues lure unsuspecting prey to their doom. Among the kinship related Louisiana Creole communities of my family, folks have relied on the sustenance of cowain, snapping turtle soup, while simultaneously evoking the image of turtles zydeco dancing with both joy and wisdom in their narratives, telling stories of the same tricky alligator turtle. These stories and experiences are braided into the everyday realities of my father and his father before him, and passed to my sister and me, as we navigate these waters, neither fresh nor salt, neither fluent in languages nor absent of homescape heritages.

We were nourished by Creole grandfathers prepping snapping turtles for cowain and Choctaw-Biloxi and Mvskoke grandmothers telling Dad turtle stories. Father and grandfather standing on boat decks with us, pointing down into the green gray Gulf water to the one great turtle we all respected, revered, our nets carefully pulled up: we watched Hachotakni move gracefully, flying through the water alongside our boat. She had survived the journey from hatchling on Gulf shores, affixed herself to algae, seaweed debris, rode the loop current, the mosaic pattern of her back a story of the land she was birthed on, patterned and fractured, yet whole, much like my family. Turtle is at once amazingly graceful yet awkward, resilient yet fragile, Indigenous to our Louisiana homelands yet impacted and seasoned by her transnational travels. Remembrances of the times we would hang over my father's boat bow or my grandfather's dock watching loggerheads and green sea turtles are more than memories defining my southern Gulf childhood from Louisiana to Florida. These memories of Hachotakni, her fractured yet resilient shell, her transnational travels, and our Indigenous traditional stories meet at intersections of my Indigenous and Creole (i.e. mestizo) identity. As Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) says the "earth is a turtle / swimming between stars" ("Chambered" 33-34), so I locate myself through these stories as a member of the Gulf Indigenous diaspora ridding on Turtle's back. Just as Turtle travels the loop current, and returns to the shores to lay her eggs, impacted and impacting our geography with her travels, our Indigenous and Creole (mestizo) authors are impacted by the ebb and flow of the transnational, transracial, and paracolonial histories written, experienced, absorbed, and overcome, within our geographic homespace. The works of Carolynn Dunn, Sybil Kein, and LeAnne Howe are a study in the patterned literary traces of the complex relationships of our occupations, evolutions, travels, and survivance (survival plus resistance) within transitional Indigenous narratives and cultural diasporas of Indigeneity in Louisiana's global south. …

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