Chapters 1–2 Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190

Chapter 1: Blood Sacrifice

Yanàbi Town, September 22, 1738: The narrator, Shakbatina, is an Inholahta woman, a “Shell Shaker’’ and peacemaker.

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In the time of their tribal grandmother, the Inholahta lived far away in a town championed by their grandfather, Tuscalusa, the Black Warrior. Food was plentiful. One day, they heard that an Osano, or “bloodsucker,” had arrived with weapons and would soon threaten the tribe. Grandmother built a fire and strapped turtle shells to her ankles, beginning a fire dance that lasted four days as she prayed and her ankles became bloody. Itilauichi, the autumnal equinox, responded to the prayers, giving Grandmother a song to sing and telling her the tribe would be saved. For twelve days, the tribe practised ceremonies, until it was time for Tuscalusa to leave to meet the invader. He gave Grandmother a black stone to swallow, which contained his spirit.

Hispano de Soto, the invader, took Grandfather to Mabila. The Spaniards thought Grandfather had surrendered—until battle began. The Spanish attacked the Mabilian town and killed many Mabilians.

At home, Grandmother threw up the stone and realized that Tuscalusa was dead. She told the women of the tribe that they must put away their mourning until they could save themselves. Singing the song she had been given, Grandmother and her sisters turned into birds and dropped excrement on the Hispanos, then flew away, eventually reaching the present homeland. After this, Grandmother became a peacemaker—a Shell Shaker—like the narrator. Today, the narrator must represent her daughter, Anoleta, against charges of murdering a Chickasaw Red Fox woman.

The narrator is prepared to be executed for Anoleta’s sake. If this happens, Anoleta’s name will be cleared. The narrator sent Anoleta to the Red Fox village, after all, where Anoleta was accused of flirting with the murdered woman’s husband, and then of the murder. The narrator waits for the Inholahta to speak to her and agree that she should be killed to assuage the clan feud. She chants, and the group chants, but her proposition is not accepted.

The narrator’s grandmother, Onatima, stopped speaking to her after the narrator came to watch a warrior, Ilapintabi, thrust the head of a victim onto a post and dance around it. After this, Ilapintabi covered himself in white chalk. He “slipped out of his body and into na tohbi” (“the something white,” a trancelike state). Wanting to join him, the narrator stole vermilion from Onatima’s cabin and painted her face. Onatima was furious for a month, until finally she relented, saying that red was for warriors, not peacemakers. Vermilion was for revenge.

Now, wars are more common. The narrator insists that her daughter’s innocence be accepted and is relieved when it is. She will take her daughter’s place as a blood sacrifice. She asks her brother, Nitakechi, to invite the Red Fox people to eat with them.

But the Red Fox people are jealous, not like the narrator’s clan. They had run at Anatola, cut her hair, and forced her to flee on the morning before the Red Fox woman was found murdered, her heart torn from her body. Blood was demanded for blood.

Nitakechi says that the Red Fox people want the Inholahta land. To go to war against the Red Fox would mean being attacked by the rest of the Chickasaws, after which the Inkilish okla (English people) can take everyone’s land. The Inholahta try to negotiate: Nitakechi explains that Anoleta is neither a witch nor a murderer, but his methods of peacemaking fail, and the Alibamu Conchatys, who pass judgement, do not believe him.

Awaiting her death, the narrator thinks of how she once danced with her husband Koi Chitto before Anoleta was born. Returning to her cabin, she finds her other daughters, Haya and Neshoba, crying, saying that she...

(The entire section contains 1190 words.)

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Chapters 3–4 Summary