Friday, March 27, 2009
This article represents a brief introduction to the seven sacred ceremonies of the ancient Cherokee. For the most part, this information comes from Tribes that Slumber Indians of the Tennessee Region. It is never a good Idea to present information from a single source, especially with such a complex subject; however, time limited the ability to do more research.
Undoubtedly, each ceremony deserves several pages. Hopefully, in subsequent articles more in depth research will be possible, and details from a variety of sources can be included.
Two numbers are sacred to the Cherokee. Four is one number, it represented the four primary directions. At the center of their paths lays the sacred fire. Seven is the other and most sacred number. Seven is represented in the seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, bellow, and "here in the center" (Lewis & Kneberg, p. 175), the place of the sacred fire. Seven also represented the seven ancient ceremonies that formed the yearly Cherokee religious cycle. Six of the ceremonies took place every year, the seventh was celebrated every seventh year. They were held between March and November, based on the phases of the crescent or new moon. The First New Moon of Spring Ceremony was the first.
The First New Moon of Spring Ceremony took place "When the grass began to grow and the trees send out their pale new leaves..." (Lewis & Kneberg, p. 176-77), around the first new moon of March. This festival initiated the planting season and incorporated predictions concerning crop success or failure. It lasted seven days and included dancing and the re-lighting of the sacred fire by the fire maker. The ceremony included sacrificing a deer tongue in the fire. All the home fires were extinguished and rekindled from the sacred fire’s coals.
In August came the Green Corn Ceremony. It was performed when the new corn was ripe enough to eat. New corn was not to be eaten until after the ceremony took place. Messengers were sent to notify the towns of the nation about when the celebration would take place. Along the way they gathered seven ears of corn, each from a field of a different clan. After the messengers returned, the chief and his seven councilors fasted for six days. The ceremony began on the seventh. Again, the sacred fire was extinguished and rekindled. As with the First New Moon Ceremony, a deer tongue was sacrificed in the sacred fire. Kernels from the seven ears of corn that had been gathered from the clans were also sacrificed. A powder made from tobacco was sprinkled over the fire. Afterward, the Chief offered a prayer, dedicating the corn to the Creator. Food that was made from the new corn was brought to the townhouse and everyone was fed. The Chief and his councilors could only eat corn from the previous year’s crop for another seven days.
The Ripe Corn Ceremony was held in late September. It was the only ancient ceremony that survived into the 20th century. It celebrated the maturing of the corn crop and was held outdoors in the square ground. In the center of the ground a leafy tree was set. The celebration lasted four days and was also marked by feasting. During the ceremony a special dance was performed by the Chief’s right-hand man, as he danced he carried a green bough. A man’s dance was also performed in which each man carried a green bough. While it was taking place women were excluded from the square.
The third ceremony in the cycle was the Great New Moon Ceremony. It took place in October when the new moon appeared. Since autumn was the season when Cherokee stories say the world was created, it represented the new year celebration. Each family brought some produce from their field to share, such as corn, beans and pumpkins. Ceremonies included dancing, purification by immersing seven times in water, called "going to water" (Mooney, p. 230). The purification ceremony included predictions of health for the coming year by the "priest" using the sacred crystal.
Ten days after the New Moon Ceremony "Atohuna" was held, the reconciliation or "Friends Made" ceremony. The ceremony dealt with relationships between two people of the same or opposite sex. According to Tribes that Slumber, "these relationships were bonds of "eternal friendship in which each person vowed to regard the other as himself as long as they both lived." (p.183) It was a ceremony that was a pledge of universal fraternal or paternal love. It also "entailed reconciliation between those who had quarreled during the previous year." (p. 183) It symbolized the uniting of the people with the Creator and purification of body and mind. The New Moon Ceremony was said to have been the "most profoundly religious" (p. 183) of all the ceremonies. As with other observances, it also involved the rekindling of the sacred fire.
The sixth ceremony in the cycle was the Bounding Bush Ceremony. Few details are now known about this ceremony. Apparently, it was non-religious in nature and was celebrated by feasting and dancing. In the dance, men an women alternated in pairs. Two male leaders carried hoops with four spokes, each with a white feather at the end. The remainder of the dance is described as follows: other pairs in the center and at the end of the dancing column also carried hoops. All of the remaining couples carried white pine boughs in their right hands. The dance movement was circular, and in the center was a man with a small box. He danced around within the circle, singing as he did so, and as he passed by the dancers, each dropped a piece of tobacco in the box...(Lewis & Kneberg, p. 185)
The dance ended at midnight and was repeated on three successive nights. On the fourth night there was a feast before the dancing. Dancing resumed at midnight. This time people dropped pine needles into the box. At the end of the dance, near daylight, the dancers formed a circle around the sacred fire: "One by one, they advanced three times toward the fire, the third time tossing both tobacco and pine needles into the flames." (Lewis & Kneberg, p. 185)
Every seventh year the Uku Dance replaced the Great New Moon ceremony. In this dance the Chief, or Uku, led the nation in a ceremony of thanks giving and rejoicing. At the conclusion of the four day observance, the Chief was "reinvested with his religious and civil powers by his right-hand man. "Uku was one of several titles conferred upon him. During ‘Friends Made’ ceremony, for example, his title meant ‘one who renews heart and body.’ " (Lewis & Kneberg, p. 185) Before the chief performed his dance, he was ritually bathed by his councilors with water warmed by the "Honored Woman." He wore special regalia for the occasion and performed a dance around a specially prepared circle in the center of the square ground. Prior to dancing, the Chief was carried from a specially prepared throne, painted white. His feet were not allowed to touch the ground until he was brought to the circle. As he danced, he moved slowly around the circle, inclining his head to each spectator. Each spectator bowed in turn to the Chief.
As was stated at the start, this is only a brief description of the ancient Cherokee ceremonial cycle. There were also a number of other dances performed for special purposes throughout the year. It is hoped that more information on these, and Cherokee cosmology in general, can be presented in the future.
by Rob Wood
Sources:Lewis, Thomas M. N. and Madeline Kneberg. Tribes that Slumber Indians of the Tennessee Region. Knoxville, Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press, tenth printing 1994; 196 pp.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The Trail of Tears is a tragic tale of force winning over decency and power winning over justice. While the focus today remains on the route traveled and the journey itself, for eight years prior to the event Cherokee were confronted with their future on a daily basis. Illegal stockades were built on Cherokee land, intended to house Cherokee people long before their forced journey on "The Trail of Tears."
"Cherokee Forts are built "
Earliest of the forts in Georgia, known as Camp Hinar Sixes, was built in September, 1830, shortly after the Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This camp was used to house members of the infamous Georgia Guard who took it upon themselves to brutalize the Cherokee even though at this time the settlers were illegal immigrants. In one instance in 1830, during the construction of the camp the Guard, without provocation, destroyed equipment that Cherokee miners were using to extract gold. The Georgia Guard did not officially exist until December of that year.
After Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, in which the Supreme Court refused to hear a case about Georgia extending its laws on the Cherokee, construction on the forts sped up. A year later the settlers were stunned when the Court ruled that Georgia could not extend its laws on a sovereign nation such as the Cherokee, but were again heartened by Andy Jackson's rumored statement (he probably never said it), "Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."
"Georgia Settlers and Removal "
Settlers were greatly divided on the issue of removal. Families that had lived in the Nation before the Georgia Gold Rush tended to be more supportive of the Cherokee. One reason for the strong bond was the acceptance of them by the tribe. White settlers were easily accepted into Cherokee society. The reverse was not true. In general, Georgians viewed the Cherokee as somewhat higher on the social level than slaves, but not much. Another reason that settlers were greatly divided was the support Cherokee had given struggling early settlers in their time of need.
Some settlers would taunt the Cherokee, telling them the forts were to be their new home. With great concern, Principal Chief John Ross and Whitepath, among others, journeyed to Washington to meet with Jackson. Jackson hypocritically told them "You shall remain in your ancient land as long as grass grows and water runs." In early 1835, before the Treaty of New Echota, work began on road improvements to move the Cherokee to the starting point for their removal.
"Military Operations begin "
After Major Ridge and other members of the Treaty Party sign the Treaty of New Echota, The Principal People hoped their leaders would get it modified so they might stay on their ancestral land. Even while a Cherokee delegation was in Washington Governor George Gilmer of Georgia and Secretary of War Joel Poinsett were plotting the invasion.
Local operations began on May 18, 1838, mostly carried out by Georgia Guard under the command of Colonel William Lindsey. The first Cherokee round-up under orders from United States General Winfield Scott started on May 25, 1838 with General Charles Floyd in charge of field operations.
General Scott was shocked during a trip to inspect Fort New Echota when he overheard members of The Guard say that they would not be happy until all Cherokee were dead. As a result, he issued meticulous orders on conduct and allowed actions during the action. Troops were to treat tribal members "with kindness and humanity, free from every strain of violence." Each Cherokee was to receive meat and flour or corn regardless of age. Scott's orders were disobeyed by most troops that were not directly under his control.
"Occupying the Forts "
Some Cherokee reported to the forts, not knowing the fate that awaited them, simply because John Ross had told them this is what they should do. Others stayed and were working in the fields when the soldiers came. The Georgia Guard had identified Cherokee homes. Aided by troops from Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee, Georgia militia would typically approach a home and enter the house. The resident(s) would then be forced to leave. The amount of time given residents to collect belongings varied greatly.
Some were forced to leave immediately while others had enough time to sell valuables to local settlers at bargain rates. There are numerous instances where settlers attempted to intervene when the Guard was being particularly rough on a family.
Conditions at the forts were horrible. Food intended for the tribe was sold to locals. What little the Cherokee had brought with them was stolen and sold. Living areas were filled with excrement. Birth rates among the Cherokee dropped to near zero during the months of captivity. Cherokee women and children were repeatedly raped. Soldiers forced their captives to perform acts of depravation so disgusting they cannot be told here. One member of the Guard would later write, "During the Civil War I watched as hundreds of men died, including my own brother, but none of that compares to what we did to the Cherokee Indians."
"Towards the Trail "
For a number of reasons nothing seemed to go right during the removal. The round up that began in mid-May was completed on June 2, 1838. Some Cherokee were forced to live in these conditions for up to five months before the start on the journey whose name is "Nunna daul Tsuny (Trail Where They Cried)."
As many as one-third of the 4,000 deaths as a direct result of the removal can be attributed to conditions in the prisons. Unfortunately, many of the Cherokee Removal Forts are unmarked and lost to time.
Monday, March 2, 2009
One summer a long time ago, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped. The sun was strong and the people were starving for there was no game.
Two young men went out to hunt. Along the way, the two men met a beautiful young woman dressed in white who floated as she walked. One man had bad desires for the woman and tried to touch her, but was consumed by a cloud and turned into a pile of bones.
The woman spoke to the second young man and said, "Return to your people and tell them I am coming." This holy woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped the bundle giving to the people a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. "With this holy pipe, you will walk like a living prayer," she said. The holy woman told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the women and the children. "You are from Mother Earth," she told the women, "What you are doing is as great as the warriors do."
Before she left, she told the people she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times, turning into a white female buffalo calf. It is said after that day the Lakota honored their pipe, and buffalo were plentiful. (from John Lame Deer's telling in 1967).
Many believe that the buffalo calf, Miracle, born August 20, 1994 symbolizes the coming together of humanity into a oneness of heart, mind, and spirit.
- Native American Indian Books(Cherokee)
- A great place to get books about Cherokee
- Through the Eyes of a Cherokee
- Tree Of Life Guardianship
- Wolf Song of Alaska
- The Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Human Rights Advocacy
- Get Blogging Group
- Cherokee Women
- News.--- Indian Country news
- FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
- Support Native American Poetry -Art
- Yosemite Native American Indian life before 1900
- AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY.-As told by American Indians
- Pine Ridge Reservation
- Cherokees Fact Sheets
- Cherokee Dreams.( a very lovely site)
- A beautiful site worth looking at..
- A Beautiful site of Cherokee poetry and things
- America IS a "Nation In Distress"
- The Cherokee Voice
- Native Circle ~
- One Nation, "walking Together"
- Native American Tribes of Ohio
- Walking the Red Road
- Cherokee of the Smoky Mountains
- Cherokee Indians - Tsalagi - Tsa-la-gi - Ani-yun-wiya - Anikituhwagi - Keetowah
- The Lone Wolf Band of Cherokee Indians-Indiana's Cherokee people
- Turtle Island (Lake Erie)
- Turtle island,"native indian teachings"
- Turtle Island Native network
- Bear Butte is a sacred site located in the Black Hills
- slide and video show of chiefs