American Indians •  History and Women

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Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast

Michelene Pesantubbee

Prior to European contact, the Choctaw's matrilineal society supported women's contributions in all areas of community life. Evidence of Choctaw women's participation in religious and political concerns, however, declined drastically early in the eighteenth century. Michelene Pesantubbee traces the changes in women's roles in Choctaw society from the late 1600s to the mid-1700s during the French colonial period in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
Before the arrival of the French explorers, Choctaw women could earn recognition as "beloved," an esteemed designation that indicated sacred status. Pesantubbee relates the decline of women's status to the religious, economic, and military interests of the French colonial church and state. She focuses on the increased violence in the Southeast, the demise of the Green Corn ceremony, and the declining importance of the symbol of Corn Woman to explain changes in women's roles.
Pesantubbee draws on oral history, religious practices, archaeology, mythology, and documentary sources to expand our understanding of the concept of "beloved woman." She examines the women's roles in Choctaw funeral traditions well into
the nineteenth century as an example of the ways in which women continued to carry out beloved functions in the face of drastic changes in gender roles.
As a Choctaw woman, Pesantubbee is especially sensitive to the absence of women from many tribal histories. By offering new ways to view this facet of Choctaw society, she provides insight into the dynamics of simultaneous change and continuity in a relatively short period of time.


Michelene E. Pesantubbee is an assistant professor of Native American religious traditions, University of Iowa, Iowa City.


" Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World remains a valuable example of ethnohistory at its best, and provides us insight into a world heretofore obscured by gendered myopia."


Journal of the West

"Pesantubbee provides a compelling picture of Choctaw women who shared with men in economic, political, and social power. . readers are challenged to examine their own concepts of gender, perhaps bringing to a conscious level their own gender stereotypes for examination."



"(Pesantubbee) brings substantial research in the documentary records, along with her own background and cultural knowledge as a Choctaw woman, to bear on the lives of Choctaw women during the French colonial regime. . . As a whole, the book is engaging and provides a great deal of food for thought. Pesantubbee's familiarity with modern Choctaw culture allows her to raise questions and arrive at conclusions that would elude a non-Choctaw scholar. . This book contributes greatly to the scholarship on Southwestern Indian women and should be required reading for any scholar interested in the region."


H-Net Reviews

6 x 9 in. 224 pages 4 halftones, 1 maps