Choctaws are an ancient people, but by their own account, they were the last of earth’s inhabitants to appear in this world.
According to Choctaw belief, the first people to appear upon the earth lived a great distance from what would become the Choctaw homeland. These people emerged from deep beneath the earth’s surface through a cave near the sacred mound, Nanih Waiya. They draped themselves on bushes around the cave to dry themselves in the sunshine, and then went to their distant homes.
Many others followed the same pattern, finding homes closer and closer to the cave. Some of the last to emerge were the Cherokees, Creeks, Natchez, and others, who would become the Choctaw’s closest neighbors. Finally, the Choctaws emerged and established their homeland around the sacred mound of Nanih Waiya, their mother.
Another Choctaw legend holds that they migrated to the site of Nanih Waiya after a great long journey from the northwest, led by a hopaii who carried a sacred pole that was planted in the ground each evening.
Every morning the people continued their journey toward the rising sun, according to the direction in which the pole leaned. Finally, they awoke one morning to find the pole standing upright. They built Nanih Waiya on that site and made their home there.
In another version of the migration story, two brothers, Chahta and Chicksa, led the migration. After arriving at the site of Nanih Waiya, the group following Chicksa became lost for many years and became the Chickasaws, the Choctaws’ nearest northern neighbors.
Today, Nanih Waiya is a state park near the headwaters of the Pearl River in the east-central portion of Mississippi. “Mississippi,” from the Choctaw word Misha sipokni, means “older than time,” the Choctaw name for the great river of the North American continent.