Osage mark months with moon references

By: Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Calendar months for the Osage were marked by references to the moon. For example, the month of February was “Light of Day Returns Moon,” according to the book “Osage Life & Legends” by Robert Liebert.

After the winter, in February Osage people resumed food gathering. The men when to hunt deer, elk and bear, whose fur was sleeker at this time, Liebert said.
March was the “Whimsical Moon,” when women gathered new greens to add to soups and stews, he said. Wild onions are still gathered in the spring and are served with scrambled eggs and ham at wild onion dinners held by the Osage and other tribes.

April, when the Osage began their new year, was referred to as “Deer Giving Birth Moon” and “Planting Moon,” said Liebert.

Sweat baths were taken at the year’s start — to purify the mind and body, he said. Also at this time the two grand chiefs would go to “the lodge of a man who owned a shrine” to pray for peace and health in the tribe.

April was a time of planting seeds. Corn, a staple crop, was planted in a very particular way.

Liebert wrote, “it was the planting of corn that kept them anchored to their villages rather than being continual nomads, as were some of their relatives out in the plains.”

The planting was done by women, but men could help under their direction, because it was the women who were considered wise to the ways of earth and in tune with Grandmother Earth, Liebert said.

“There was a class of men who, usually in response to a potent dream or vision, … excelled at gardening. … They were called mi-xu-ga, which translates “instructed by the moon,” said Liebert.

Family gardens were located in bottomlands along rivers and were about one-half acre in size, he said.

When they planted, the women would paint the part of their hair red, something the women did when they came of age, and painted blue lines down their faces to signify the sun and the rain, Liebert explained.

Corn, saved from special, sacred ears of corn, was planted in seven hills. As the women planted they sang and kept time with their planting sticks. The song told of the sacred act of planting and the significance of her tamping the soil.
“Poking a hole into the south side of the hill, she planted a seed and tamped the earth with her foot. She then placed two kernels in the second hill, three in the third and so on,” Liebert wrote.

After the sacred corn was planted, the women went on to plant the rest of the field with hills for squash between the corn hills. They also planted beans, which climbed the corn stalks. Later, pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers and melons were planted, Liebert said.

This planting method reminds me of the method being used by Osage tribal member Scott Lohah who grows Osage corn specially for the In Lonshka Dances held each June in all three Osage Villages — Hominy, Grayhorse and Pawhuska. Lohah is from Hominy.

Lohah plants more than one seed in one hole. This is called clump farming. He shared an article with me from the Sept. 2011 issue of Progressive Farmer Magazine, which bears out the advantages of this planting method.

Although the article doesn’t credit the Osage, this is the way they have planted the corn for generations, Lohah said. The article states that experiments conducted in 2003 at the USDA ARS conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, showed that the grain yields for both corn and sorghum were 70 percent, to more than 100 percent greater, when clump-seeding was used compared to the single-seed planting method.

Liebert’s account seems to agree — “Osage corn was famous among many tribes, for it often grew ten feet tall and could have as many as eight or nine ears to the hill.”

After planting, the focus shifted to bison hunting.

The month of May was referred to by the Osage as “Little Flower-Killer Moon,” because this is when “little flowers that poked up from the forest floor and brightened the prairies disappeared as the trees leafed out and the grasses grew,” Liebert wrote.

This Osage reference to the month of May became the inspiration for the title of David Grann’s bestselling book about the Osage Murders entitled “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Next week’s column will focus on Osage courting and arranged marriage customs.

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