“With the Choctaws…[w]hen the sun began to get less in his brightness, and grew dark and obscure, they believed that some ethereal black squirrels of large size driven by hunger, had commenced eating him and were going to devour him. With this belief, they thought it was their duty to make every exertion they could to save the great luminary of day from being consumed by them.
Therefore, every person…who could make a noise, were called upon to join in the effort to drive the squirrels away. To do this they would begin in the same manner as persons generally do in trying to start a squirrel from a tree. Some would throw sticks towards the declining sun, whooping and yelling, at the same time shooting arrows
toward the supposed black squirrels.”
(Halbert, Box 4, Folder 10, Page 13, Henry S. Halbert Papers, 1821-1918)
When was the Choctaw New Year? It is possible we did not celebrate a single New Year. Our ancestors may have emphasized the beginning, or end, of two longer seasons: Onáfa hicha Toffa, Winter and Summer. Let’s consider this etymologically. The names Onáfapi hicha Toffapi, Fall and Spring, are derivatives of the names for Winter and Summer. Respectively, they mean something like stem of Winter, and stem of Summer. The Choctaw season Onáfa was known to start with the autumnal equinox, and Toffa with the Vernal equinox, so the names for Fall and Spring may have just been created to match outside cultures that named four seasons. We are required to shift our perspective to even consider the initial question. And then the only answer we may find, is to keep watching the moons, because that’s how our ancient relatives measured their years.
Here is an alternate interpretation of Choctaw months found in the Henry S. Halbert papers at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. This text was transcribed directly from Henry Halbert’s written notes in the folder labeled “Choctaw Divisions of Time” (Henry S. Halbert papers, 1821-1918, Box 5, folder 2).
“The Choctaws began the year with the first new moon of the vernal equinox: Hence it began some time in March. They divided the year into four seasons: “Tofahpi,” spring, “tofa,” summer, “hʋshtolahpi,” fall, and “hʋshtola,” winter. They subdivided it into thirteen lunar months: Chafo chitto, luak mosholi, hʋsh koinchush, hʋsh koi chitto, hʋsh watulak, tek in hʋshi, hʋsh mahli, hʋsh bihi, hʋsh bissa, hʋsh kʋf, hʋsh takon, hʋsh hoponi, and chafiskono.Chafo chitto was the first month comprising a period beginning at some day in March and ending in early April. In fact, the first new moon in early spring was the beginning of this month. As a conjecture, the first part of this month’s name may be an abbreviation of “hochafo,” hunger, making the name mean Big Hunger, having reference perhaps to the scarcity of food at this season, the corn and other products being sometimes exhausted.
Luak Mosholi means fire extinguished, meaning that the weather was now so warm that there was no need of fires. This month then generally begins toward the latter part of April. Tek in hʋshi, meaning women’s month and corresponding somewhat to September, was some times called Sheki hʋshi, Buzzard month. Hʋsh kʋf was the first winter month.
Footnote: The names of the Choctaw months, and facts connected with them were derived from conversations with old Hemonubee in 1884. The names of the months are also to be found in Byington’s Choctaw Definer.”