Green Corn Dance

Busk (Creek: púskita, ‘a fast’). A festival of the Creeks, by some early writers termed the green-corn dance. According to Gatschet 1 the solemn annual festival held by the Creek people of ancient and modern days. As this authority points out, the celebration of the púskita was an occasion of amnesty, forgiveness, and absolution of crime, injury, and hatred, a season of change of mind, symbolized in various ways.

The day of beginning of the celebration of the púskita, which took place chiefly in the “town square,” was determined by the miko, or chief, and his council; and the ceremony itself, which had local variations, lasted for 4 days in the towns of less note and for 8 days in the more important. Hawkins 2 has left a description of the busk, or “boos-ke-tau,” as it was carried out in the white or peace town of Kasihta in 1798-99. The chief points are as follows:

First day: The yard of the square is cleaned in the morning and sprinkled with white sand, while the black drink is being prepared. The fire maker, specially appointed, kindles new fire by friction, the 4 logs for the fire being arranged crosswise with reference to the cardinal points. The women of the Turkey clan dance the turkey dance, while the very strong emetic called passa is being brewed; this is drunk from about noon to the middle of the afternoon. Then comes the tadpole dance, performed by 4 men and 4 women known as “tad poles.” From evening until dawn the dance of the hiniha is performed by the men. The “old men’s tobacco” is also prepared on the first day.

Second day: At about 10 o clock the women perform the gun dance, so called from the men firing guns during its continuance. At noon the men approach the new fire, rub some of its ashes on the chin, neck, and belly, and jump head foremost into the river, and then return to the square. Meantime the women busy themselves with the preparation of new maize for the feast. Before the feast begins, the men as they arrive rub some of the maize between their hands and then on the face and chest.

Third day: The men sit in the square.

Fourth day: The women, who have risen early for this purpose, obtain some of the new fire, with which they kindle a similarly constructed pile of logs on their own hearths, which have previously been cleaned and sprinkled with sand. A ceremony of ash rubbing, plunging into water, etc., is then performed by them, after which they taste some salt and dance the “long dance.”

Fifth day: The 4 logs of the fire, which last only 4 days, having been consumed, 4 other” logs are similarly arranged, and the fire kindled as before, after which the men drink the black drink.

Sixth and seventh days: During this period the men remain in the town square.

Eighth day: In the square and outside of it impressive ceremonies are carried on. A medical mixture concocted by stirring and beating in water 14 kinds of plants (the modern Creeks use 15), sup posed to have virtue as physic, is used by the men to drink, to rub over their joints, etc., after the priests have blown into it through a small reed. Another curious mixture, composed chiefly of the ashes of old corncobs and pine boughs, mixed with water, and stirred by 4 girls who have not reached puberty, is prepared in a pot, and 2 pans of a mixture of white clay and water are likewise prepared afterward by the men. The chief and the warriors rub themselves with some of both these mixtures. After this 2 men, who are specially appointed, bring flowers of old men’s tobacco to the chief s house, and each person present receives a portion. Then the chief and his counselors walk 4 times around the burning logs, throwing some of the old men’s tobacco into the fire each time they face the E, and then stop while facing the w. When this is concluded the warriors do the same. The next ceremony is as follows:

At the miko’s cabin a cane having 2 white feathers on its end is stuck out. At the moment when the sun sets a man of the Fish clan takes it down and walks, followed by all spectators, toward the river. Having gone half way, he utters the death-whoop, and repeats it 4 times before reaching the water’s edge. After the crowd has thickly congregated at the bank each person places a grain of old men s tobacco on the head and others in each ear. Then at a signal repeated four times they throw some of it into the river, and every man at a like signal plunges into the water to pick up 4 stones from the bottom. With these they cross themselves on their breasts 4 times, each time throwing 1 of the stones back into the river and uttering the death whoop. They then wash themselves, take up the cane with the feathers, return to the square, where they stick it up, then walk through the town visiting. After nightfall comes the mad dance, which conclude the púskita.

The 4 days busk, as performed at Odshiapofa (Little Talasse), as witnessed by Swan, whose account seems to have been really made up by McGillivray 3, adds some details concerning the dress of the fire maker, the throwing of maize and the black drink into the fire, the preparation and use of the black drink, and the interesting addition that any provisions left over are given to the fire maker. Other travelers and historians, as Adair, Bartram, and Milfort, furnish other items concerning the ceremony. Bartram says: “When a town celebrates the busk, having previously provided themselves with new clothes, new pots, pans, and other household utensils and furniture, they collect all their worn out clothes and other despicable things, sweep and cleanse their houses, squares, and the whole town, of their filth, which with all the remaining grain and other old provisions, they cast together into one common heap and consume it with fire. After having taken medicine, and fasted for 3 days, all the fire in the town is extinguished. During this fast they abstain from the gratification of every appetite and passion whatever. A general amnesty is proclaimed, all malefactors may return to their town, and they are absolved from their crimes, which are now forgotten, and they are restored to favor.” According to Gatschet 4 it appears that the busk is not a solstitial celebration, but a rejoicing over the first fruits of the year. The new year begins with the busk, which is celebrated in August, or late in July. Every town celebrated its busk at a period independent from that of the other towns, whenever their crops had come to maturity. In connection with the busk the women broke to pieces all the household utensils of the previous year and replaced them with new ones; the men refitted all their property so as to look new. Indeed the new fire meant the new life, physical and moral, which had to begin with the new year. Everything had to be new or renewed even the garments hitherto worn. Taken altogether, the busk was one of the most remarkable ceremonial institutions of the American Indians.

Consult Further:

  1. A Letter About the Green Corn Dance
    This letter was written by the late John Howard Payne to a relative in New York, in 1835. The Green-Corn Dance which it describes was, it is believed, the last ever celebrated by the Creeks east of the Arkansas. Soon after, they were removed to the West, where they now are.
  2. The Annual Creek Busk
    The solemn annual festival held by the Creek people of ancient and modern days is the púskita, a word now passed into provincial English (busk); its real meaning is that of a fast. In the more important towns it lasted eight days; in towns of minor note four days only, and its celebration differed in each town in some particulars. The day on which to begin it was fixed by the míko and his council, and depended on the maturity of the maize crop and on various other circumstances.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. Gatschet, Creek Migr. Leg., I, 177, 1884[]
  2. Hawkins, Sketch, 75, 1848[]
  3. Gatschet, Creek Migr. Leg., I, 181, 1884[]
  4. Gatschet, Creek Migr. Leg., I, 182, 1884[]

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