Creek Education

The father had no more to do with the discipline and education of his children than an alien. He could not punish their misconduct in any way, but he had such a right in some other man’s family, i. e., in the family of the man who had married his sister. It was the mother’s clansmen who might punish the children of their sister. The husband might sit around and talk in his wife’s house but he had no authority there. He had full authority if he wished to exercise it in the house of his sister and her husband.

When children arrived at a certain age the sexes were kept strictly apart. This age was not definitely fixed, but probably it was when there might be danger that the children would think of having carnal intercourse with one another. The girls were controlled by the elder women. They had to sleep apart and to bathe in pools separate from those used by the boys. The girls had to bathe in streams of flowing water below the point at which the boys and men were bathing if necessity compelled them to use the same stream. The boys and men must not cross the path by which the girls and women went to the stream. The boys were kept strictly from the girls until they obtained wives or until they had passed the age of indiscretion.

In every town there was an old man who taught the children. It is implied that there was only one in a town, but it is evident that he was identical with the Ancient or Elder Man and that he was a clan functionary or functioned over a group of related clans. He went from house to house, gathering the children around him and telling them tales, singing songs, instructing them first in their duties at home, obedience to their superiors, their mothers, their uncles (the fathers were not often present), instructing them that they must not tell falsehoods, must not steal, must not injure anyone, must not fight, must not quarrel, must not kill, and so on. As soon as they were 6 years old the boys were instructed to bathe in a stream every morning before sunrise, especially in winter. They were taught to play ball, and once every year they were “scratched,” that is, the muscles of their calves and their thighs in front were scratched until the blood ran out in order to make them grow and to harden them. This was continued until they were 15 and it was regarded as an honor for a young man at the ball games to show his scratches in regular order on his arms and legs.

When he was 15 a boy on attendance at a night festival would hear a strange name called out several times and then his own name, after which some friend would come for him, take him from the shed of the women and children in the Square Ground, and conduct him to one of the men’s sheds, and after certain ceremonies an old man would give him some token, make him an address, and tell him that he was no longer a child but a man. The boy then waved the token over his head and uttered his first war whoop, shouting “Hi-yo-ke-toh,” the war whoop.

The object of all instruction was to develop a fine body and a good character. The girls were instructed in their ditties by the same old man, but they were not required to bathe every day. There was a girl’s game of ball, different from that of the men. It had a single pole and the ball was thrown by the hand at a mark on the pole, every hit counting one.

When a boy had been detected in an offense, let us suppose it to be theft, he was brought up for trial and the question was put to the old man, “Has he been taught not to steal?” The reply might be, “Yes, over and over again. He is a bad boy and would not heed instructions.” And then, if he was proven guilty, he would be punished severely, generally with the “long scratch,” a deep and ugly incision extending from his arms down over his breast and down each leg, or down his back, or both these scratches were readily distinguishable from those given boys at the annual festivals.

But if the teacher said that the boy (or girl) had never been taught, no punishment would be inflicted.

These teachers taught young people about the laws and the penalties attaching to the infringement of them, for though the children would hear the laws proclaimed at every festival, they would not understand them, and so the teacher had to explain them carefully.

If it became evident that a teacher was neglecting his duty another would be put in his place. There was no formal appointment. The people simply sent for him to come and instruct their children. He was usually a medicine man.

Sometimes a woman would study medicine and become a doctor but no woman held any office.

Boys were early instructed in the ball play, as it was considered the best means of developing their muscles, since it was accompanied by running and wrestling. The old men said it was invented at a time when there was no war and therefore there were no enemies to fight. They called it the “Little War.” The name of it was Po-ko-its it-ten, “Hitting at a ball,” and sometimes Ah-fats-kee-tah, “Amusement,” (Related by L. Perryman, December 14, 1882.)


Hewitt, J. N. B. Notes on the Creek Indians. Edited by John R. Swanton. Anthropological Papers, No. 10. Bulletin 123, BAE. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1939.

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