Mohataha

Character Key Number: 
111
Display Name: 
Mohataha
Sort Name: 
Mohataha
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 
Yes
Biography: 

In most of Faulkner's references to the tribe of Indians who lived in Yoknapatawpha when the white settlers began arriving, the culture is very patriarchal; the tribe's chief is even called "The Man," and that's a title that descends from father to son. But this character disrupts that hegemonic pattern dramatically in "A Name for the City" and again in Requiem for a Nun, which provide the most sustained accounts of the settlement's early existence. In the first five texts that mention her she is referred to as either "The Man's|Issetibbeha's sister" or "Ikkemotubbe's|Doom's mother," roles defined by the line of male succession that stands in the way of her son's ambitions. How he solves that problem is a story Faulkner often re-tells. She is also either the great-grandmother (in "The Old People") or (in Go Down, Moses) the grandmother of Sam Fathers, but not named in either case. It isn't until the early 1950s that Faulkner develops her story, by giving her a name and describing her as the "Chickasaw matriarch" in Requiem (210). Even as the tribe's leader, however, her role is still constrained, in this case by the historical circumstance of dispossession and exile. After signing "all the conveyances as her son's kingdom passed to the white people" (17), she leads the tribe away to the land they have been promised west of the Mississippi, riding "in a wagon behind two mules, under a silver-handled Paris parisol held by a female slave child" (25). A number of scholars have noted how the Mahataha of these late texts is loosely derived from a real Chickasaw matriarch named Hota, who similarly signed land conveyances for much of the property in Oxford, Mississippi.