Kowi Anukasha: Choctaw Forest Folk

Alfred Boisseau, "A Choctaw Man in Louisiana," 1844–48

Alfred Boisseau, “A Choctaw Man in Louisiana,” 1844–48

Kowi Anukasha (also kówi anúkvsha, kwanokasha) are the little people Choctaw folklore. Their name literally means “forest dwellers.” They have powerful magic and can be very dangerous, although they are more often mischievous than malicious. They are often equated with another Choctaw figure, Bohpoli or “Thrower.” These beings were never seen by the common Choctaws, only the prophets and herb doctors. These reported that the kowi anukasha assisted them in the manufacture of their medicines. Some stories even give the account that Bohpoli would “steal” little young boys (from two to four years old) and take them into the woods, to teach them about herbs and medicines. The initiation follows a distinctive pattern:

When the little one is well out of sight from his home, “Kwanokasha,” who is always on watch, seizes the boy and takes him away to his cave, his dwelling place…. When they finally reach the cave Kwanokasha takes him inside where he is met by three other spirits, all very old with long white hair. The first one offers the boy a knife; the second one offers him a bunch of poisonous herbs; the third offers  a bunch of herbs yielding good medicine. If the child accepts the knife, he is certain to become a bad man and may even kill his friends. If he accepts the poisonous herbs he will never be able to cure or help his people. But, if he accepts the good herbs, he is destined to become a great doctor and an important and influential man of his tribe and win the confidence of all his people. When he accepts the good herbs the three old spirits will tell him the secrets of making medicines from herbs, roots and barks from certain trees, and of treating and curing various fevers, pains, and other sickness.

A Muskogee equivalent is called este fasta or fastachee, guardian spirits associated with Seminole shamanic practices, providing the medicines contained in a medicine bundle and acting as intermediaries between the Creator and the people. They are said to provide both corn and medicine.

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