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The Muscogee are a group of related indigenous peoples of the Southeast woodlands that originally stretched from Tennessee through Georgia, Alabama and northern Florida, until Andrew Jackson began the forced relocation (the Indian Removal of the 1830s) to Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas.
On a warm, sunny Saturday, people gathered in an open grassy area next to the Jefferson County R.J. Bailar Public Library to see “Drums of the Descendants” and learn some of the history behind the songs performed by Robert Obuck, Mekko (meaning “chief”) Ken Allen, and David Phillips, all of whom have Muscogee ancestors – their village name is the Sage Wolf Tribal Grounds.
The Muscogee people were themselves descendants of an even older culture of indigenous people, the Mississippian Cultures who lived in and around the Mississippi Valley, constructing large earthen mounds at their regional chiefdoms.
The songs (most sung in the Muscogee language although some contained English lyrics) to accompaniment on a large ceremonial drum, included “The Cripple Boy Dance,” telling the story of a boy who longed to be able to walk, and was granted his wish, only to lose that ability once he became too proud; “The Chicken Dance;” “The Oklahoma Two-Step,” a humorous dance song containing a few English lyrics (“Just returned from Tallahassee, where the girls are fine and sassy.”); “The Lakota Victory Song” (“Which basically means, ‘I’ve been out shooting arrows all day,’” explained Allen); “The War Mothers’ Song” and “The Warrior’s Song” including the names of major wars in the 20th century – WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm. While it is usually performed at pow-wows, it is also sung in honor of all veterans of those wars.
In connection to “The Warrior’s Song,” Allen explained the use of vocables in the lyrics, which usually come about because the original words have been lost due to the antiquity of the language. Vocables come as close to the sound of the original words as possible.
There are people who still speak the old Muscogee language, but they are few and far between; the language has an alphabet of 20 letters, adopted by the tribes in the 1800s, although some of the letters function differently than they do in English; for example, the letter “V” functions as a vowel, and “Muscogee” with this alphabet is spelled “Mvskoke.”
For some of the songs, the group invited audience members to join the drumming, and several, especially children, were happy to oblige. The three men also answered questions from the audience.
Of the three performers, Ken Allen has been drumming the longest - “forever,” said one of the others in the group. David Phillips has been drumming for five or six years, and Robert Obuck, about three or four years.
They hope to return to Jefferson County some day for another performance, next time with dancers to demonstrate some of the dances that accompany the songs.