Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mother Mound

The big boss man, Malcolm White, and I traveled northeast on March 18 for a meeting at the Tribal Headquarters of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI). We were graced with a gorgeous day, good coffee from Cups in Fondren, and an inadvertent new route to the Pearl River Reservation. We were welcomed upon arrival by our new friend Fred Willis, an intern in the Public Information office of the MBCI, and taken back to the conference room. The path to the conference room was lined with shelves of Choctaw baskets and portraits of past Princesses.

After a great meeting with representatives from the Choctaw Cultural Preservation Program, Roseanna Thompson and Bobby Smith, as well as the Public Information Director Wilma Simpson, we took a tour of the Chahta Immi Center in the Town Center of the Pearl River Reservation. The Chahta Immi Center is in the middle of an exciting expansion where a new archive is being built, as well as an interpretive center and performance space. Right now, the Center is home to various courses in traditional craft (open to both Tribal members and the public), as well as youth education center where the wee Choctaws are taught their original language.

Malcolm White, Roseanna Thompson (MBCI Cultural Preservation Program), myself & Fred Willis (Public Information Office) at the Chahta Immi Center on the Pearl River Reservation.

During our meeting, Wilma shared with us that the Choctaw Nation is a very young tribe. Of the 10,000 members, 50% are age 25 or younger. Nearly 200 Choctaws are born every year and about 100 die. As many of you may have seen in the papers, Chief Philip Martin, who started gaming on the Reservation died in February, just two years after being defeated from his 28-year reign as Chief. Tribal Miko Beasely Denson took office in 2007, becoming the third democratically-elected Chief since the adoption of the Tribe’s modern constitution.

Truly, though, the highlight of our excellent day in Neshoba County was a journey across the county line to the Nanih Wayia Mound, the Mother Mound, in Winston County. Before the journey, Malcolm, Fred and I stopped in for lunch at Peggy's in Philadelphia where we talked family, friends, and food over a gracious plenty of fried pork chops, rice and gravy and corn bread sticks laden with butter. Again, the drive from the Pearl River Reservation to that of the Bouge Chitto Reservation was beautiful. Flowering quince and jonquils dotted property lines. We must have come on leaf burning day, because old men, small families and little ladies alike were all raking the remnants of winter into small, smouldering piles in their front yards.

The Mother Mound sits at the mouth of the Pearl River, a tiny little swamp where the Nanih Wayiah Creek and the Pearl Creek meet to form the river than runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mother Mound was returned to the Choctaw Nation from the state of Mississippi on August 8, 2008, and is considered to be the sacred ground from which the Choctaw people emerged. I won't try to retell the hitory of this hallowed land, but you can read it for yourself here.

The mouth of the Pearl River.

From atop the Mother Mound, the world was quiet and the air was cool. We saw hawks and egrets and little strange mounds of spiked grass that hurt to the touch. We walked around the top of the mound, wondering how many others had since been destroyed by time, weather, man. Fred told us stories of the mound and its connection to the creation of the Choctaw people. He told us of the great joy and celebration upon the return of the mounds to the Choctaws, and the funny tales of people too afraid to enter the cave that neighbors the Nanih Wayia Mound.

Fred and Malcolm at the foot of the Mother Mound.

Malcolm once canoed the length of the Pearl River. Maybe I'll hike the innards of the cave.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's Time: Myles Family Singers on Arts Hour

My Arts Hour interview with the Rev. Marvin K. Myles aired on March 7 on MPB Radio. Rev. Myles is the patriarch of the Myles Family Singers, a family gospel group out of Kosciusko, Miss. The Myles' are originally from Friars Point, a tiny Delta town not too far from my hometown of Drew.

After starting a family in the late '60s, Rev. Myles and wife Olivia moved to Memphis to work. They continued to travel home to Friars Point for Sunday church, and after several years, Rev. Myles could no longer deny his calling to the ministry. Rev. Myles began his ministry in Friars Point, but now serves in Kosciusko at Christian Liberty Baptist Church.

Download the podcast of our interview, and hear about Rev. Myles experiences growing up in a rural community where church was the center of life. Listen to how he raised his children to be singers, and how their family group's repertoire has evolved and developed over the years. Learn more about gospel music as Rev. Myles explains the difference between hymns, gospel songs and Southern gospel music.

Contact the Myles family directly at Christian Liberty Baptist Church to purchase their new album, It's Time, or click here to purchase, MyleStone, their 2001 release.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I have a lot of respect for Como-based artist Jimbo Mathus. He was one of my first guests on the Arts Hour, and has been a big supporter of my work here at the MAC. Back in July 2009, Jimbo invited me and friend Spooky Cole out to his Delta Recording Service to cut a few tracks. Spooky and Jimbo made fast friends, sharing stories about rural Mississippi music. Spooky plays on Friday nights at the Sparta Opry, a dinner theatre of sorts in Houston, Miss.

Starting tonight, Jimbo is taking the stage in his own original musical theatre production, "Mosquitoville: Mississippi Songs and Stories." The production will debut this evening with two show times, 6:30 & 8:30 p.m., at the Panola Playhouse in Sardis.

"Mosquitoville is based on some local history around the 1880s in Quitman County in the early timber industry before the cotton was planted," said Mathus in Scott Barretta's weekly Clarion-Ledger column. "It's based on a journal of a guy from Sledge, Miss., named John Parrot.

While Jimbo's reputation often precedes him as a rapscallion, anyone who's spent time with the man knows he's a kind, gentle soul with a deep connectedness to his Mississippi roots. He's used blues, country, rock and rap as avenues to tell his story, and that of the Mississippi people. The thing I like most about Jimbo, is that he's always trying something new; whether it be a new alias (he's gone by Jas. Mathus, James Mathus, Jimbo Mathus, the Knockdown Society, the Tri-State Coalition), a new musical genre or a new approach to music altogether. Lyrics from past albums prove he's a storyteller, but the Mosquitoville project affirms he's as much a folklorist as he is an entertainer.

To bring Mosquitoville to your community theatre, contact Jimbo's guitarist/studio manager and get ready for a true heritage experience that'll have you laughing, dancing and above all, feeling what it means to be a Mississippian.