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The most familiar name, Cherokee, comes from a Creek word "Chelokee" meaning "people of a different speech." In their own language the Cherokee originally called themselves the Aniyunwiya (or Anniyaya) "principal people" or the Keetoowah (or Anikituaghi, Anikituhwagi) "people of Kituhwa." Although they usually accept being called Cherokee, many prefer Tsalagi from their own name for the Cherokee Nation (Tsalagihi Ayili). Other names applied to the Cherokee have been: Allegheny (or Allegewi, Talligewi) (Delaware), Baniatho (Arapaho), Caáxi (or Cayaki) (Osage and Kansa), Chalaque (Spanish), Chilukki (dog people) (Choctaw and Chickasaw), Entarironnen (mountain people) (Huron), Gatohuá (Creek), Kittuwa (or Katowá) (Algonquin), Matera (or Manteran) (coming out of the ground) ( Catawba), Nation du Chien (French), Ochietarironnon (Wyandot), Oyatageronon (or Oyaudah, Uwatayoronon) (cave people) (Iroquois), Shanaki (Caddo), Shannakiak (Fox), Tcaike (Tonkawa), and Tcerokieco (Wichita).
The Cherokee religion drove the sense of balance, which created a moral system for the human to follow. What drove the revenge system was the sense of balance. When a delict was committed, it created imbalance and tension on the jurisdictional unit. The acceptance of responsibility and paying of the cost restored that balance. Once the balance was restored, the relationship between the jurisdictional units or clans continued as if nothing happened. There were to be no hard feelings expressed between family members of the victim or killer. Balance had been restored and any friction was to end with the restoration of balance.
The creation of imbalance was tied to the Cherokee religion. It was believed that the murdered "soul" or ghost would be forced to wander the earth, unable to go to the next world. This created the imbalance. The acceptance of responsibility and the death of the killer or one of his clansmen restored balance by freeing the innocent ghost, allowing him to go to the next world. That is why it did not matter who paid the cost for the delict of the wrongful killing. Any death from the responsible clan would suffice to free the innocent man's ghost from this world. An enemy scalp might suffice as well.
In international law, the Cherokee system worked much the same way. If an international delict occurred, then anyone from the that jurisdictional unit, in this case, the foreign nation, would suffice to pay the cost. Taking responsibility for the international delict and paying the cost were exercised in the face of swift vengeance. There was no time for contrition. Thus, interloping settlers took their chances by moving onto Cherokee territory, because they might be called to pay the cost for someone else's actions or the actions of their nation. Cherokees saw it as their responsibility, whether or not the settlers saw it that way.
The Cherokee (ah-ni-yv-wi-ya in Cherokee) are a people native to North America who at the time of European contact in the 16th century inhabited what is now the eastern and southeastern United States before most were forcefully moved to the Ozark Plateau. They were one of the tribes referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes.
The Cherokee speak an Iroquoian language which is polysynthetic and is written in a syllabary invented by Sequoyah. For years, many people wrote transliterated Cherokee on the Internet or used poorly intercompatible fonts to type out the syllabary. However, since the fairly recent addition of the Cherokee syllables to Unicode, the Cherokee language is experiencing a renaissance in its use on the Internet. It is now believed that a more ancient Syllabary that predated Sequoyah and may have inspired his great work for the Cherokee people was handed down through the Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni, an ancient priesthood of the Cherokee people.
Beginning at about the time of the American Revolutionary War (late 1700s), divisions over continued accommodation of encroachments by white settlers, despite repeated violations of previous treaties, caused some Cherokee to begin to leave the Cherokee Nation. These early dissidents would eventually move across the Mississippi River to areas that would later become the states of Arkansas and Missouri. Their settlements were established on the St. Francis and the White Rivers by 1800. Eventually, there were such large numbers of Cherokees in these areas the US Government established a Cherokee Reservation located in Arkansas, with boundaries from north of the Arkansas River up to the southern bank of the White River. Many of these dissidents became known as the Chickamauga. Led by Chief Dragging Canoe, the Chickamauga made alliances with the Shawnee and engaged in raids against colonial settlements. Other Cherokee leaders who lived in Arkansas were The Bowl, Sequoyah, Spring Frog and The Dutch.
By the late 1820s, the Territory of Arkansas had designs on acquiring the land held by the Arkansas Cherokee. A delegation of Arkansas Cherokees went to Washington, D.C., and were forced to sign a treaty to vacate the Arkansas Reservation. Arkansas Cherokees had two choices: cooperate with the US government and move to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), or defy the US Government and refuse to leave the Arkansas Reservation area. Around 1828, the tribe split, some going to Indian Territory. Others disobeyed the US Government and stayed on the old Reservation lands in Arkansas. Those who stayed on the old Arkansas Cherokee Reservation lands have lobbied the US Government since the early 1900s to be considered a Federally recognized Cherokee tribe. The US Government has ignored their pleas. Today, there are thousands of Cherokee living in Arkansas or Southern Missouri who are relatives of these pre-Trail of Tears Cherokee. (see "We Are Not Yet Conquered" by Beverly Northrup, "The Cherokee People" by Thomas E. Mails, "Myths of The Cherokee" by James Mooney, and The Lost Cherokee Nation)
John Ross was an important figure in the history of the Cherokee tribe. His father emigrated from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War. His mother was a quarter-blood Cherokee woman whose father was also from Scotland. He began his public career in 1809. The Cherokee Nation was founded in 1820, with elected public officials. John Ross became the chief of the tribe in 1828 and remained the chief until his death.
On June 14, 2004, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted to officially define marriage as a union between man and woman, thereby outlawing gay marriage. This was a decision made in response to an application for a union of a lesbian couple that was submitted on May 13. Furthermore, the decision kept Cherokee law in line with Oklahoma state law, which outlawed gay marriage as the result of a popular referendum on a constitutional amendment in 2004. Numerous elders were consulted and no one could find concrete examples of same-sex marriage in Cherokee traditions, although same-sex cohabition occurred and both polygamy and divorce were common in pre-contact times.
There were several famous Cherokees in American history, including Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee writing system. Sequoyah may be the only known person in history to invent a widely used written language single handedly. Sequoyah never learned to speak, read or write the English language. Famous Cherokee politicians include Chad 'Corntassel' Smith, Wilma Mankiller and Ross Swimmer. The American blues-rock guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, was of Cherokee descent via his paternal grandmother, Nora Rose Moore. Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal evangelist in the 1950's through the 1990's, is also of Cherokee descent.
- Ah-ni-ga-to-ge-wi or Wild Potato Clan - Were known to be farmers and gatherers of the wild potato plants in swamps (hence the name gatogewi = "swamp"), along streams, and swamps to make flour or bread for food, and were so named after them. They are keepers and protectors of the earth. The Wild Potato Clan have also been known as the Bear Clan, Raccoon Clan and even "Blind Savannah" in different regions. The Clan color for the AniGatogewi is Green and their wood is Birch.
- Ah-ni-gi-lo(la)-hi or Long Hair Clan - This Clan, also known as Twister Clan, Hanging Down Clan or Wind Clan. Gilahi is short for an ancient Gitlvgvnahita, the warrior women's society, meaning something that grows from the back of the neck". Those belonging to this Clan wore their hair in elaborate hairdos, walked in a proud and vain manner twisting their shoulders. They are teachers and keepers of tradition. Peace chiefs usually came from this clan at one time in Cherokee history and wore a white feather robe. The Clan color for the AniGilohi is Yellow and their wood is Beech.
- Ah-ni-(k)a-wi or Deer Clan - Those belonging to this Clan were the keepers of the deer, deer hunters and trackers, tanners and seamers, as well as keepers of the deer medicines. They were known to be fast runners and foot messengers. The Clan Color for the Ani Kawi is Brown and their wood is Oak.
- Ah-ni-tsi-sk-wa or Red Tailed Hawk Clan - Those belonging to this Clan (also called the bird clan) were the keepers of the birds, sacred feathers and bird medicines. They were messengers and were very skilled in using blowguns and snares for bird hunting. Their color is Purple, and their wood is Maple.
- Ah-ni-sa-ho-ni or Blue Holly Clan - Those belonging to this clan were keepers of all children's medicines and caretakers of medicinal herb gardens. They became known for a medicine from a bluish colored plant called a blue holly, and were so named after it. This Clan has also been known as the Panther or Wild Cat Clan, in some regions. Their color is Blue and their wood is Ash.
- Ah-ni-wo-di or Paint Clan - Those belonging to this Clan made red paint. The tribe's medicine men, Dida:hnvwi:sgi (healers) and Adawehi (wise men), traditionally came from this clan at one time in Cherokee history. The Clan Color for the AniWodi is White and their wood is Locust.
- Ah-ni-wa-ya or Wolf Clan - The Wolf Clan is the largest clan today and the most prominent clan, providing most of the war chiefs, and warriors. True ah-ni-wa-ya are protectors of the people. The wolf clan are keepers and trackers of the wolf and the only clan who could kill a wolf through special ceremonies and wolf medicines. The Clan color of the AniWaya is Red and their wood is Hickory.
In ancient times, the clan names represented to the Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni the balance between the spiritual forces that shaped and guided the human spirit on its journey and development through life in preparation for entry into the spirit world. The Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni teach that life is made up of four distinct sections and paths, 1) development in the womb 2) childhood 3) marriage and parenting 4) elders (grandmothers and grandfathers) and the perpetuation of the culture through the ancient ceremonies. Each section or quadrant of life was represented as part of the ancient sun symbol or crossed circle commonly seen in ancient mississipian culture. It was taught by the Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni that following entry into the spirit world, all of the people still continued their dances, ceremonies, and family relationships in the afterlife in a place set apart for the people. Cherokee traditionally buried their dead in the earth as they believed that the plants fed the animals, the animals and plants fed the people, and the people, at their death, should return to the earth and feed the plants.
Membership in a particular clan did not mean that the members of the clan were in some way blocked or held at a particular level of spiritual development or attainment. Clan membership and the existence of the clans was simply meant to represent a balance of the spiritual forces that made up the world of the Ah-ni-yv-wi-ya. All members of the society could participate in the ceremonies and were all viewed as equals. Since the Wolf Clan represented the final level of attainment and was also the clan of the warrior class, it membership over time continued to grow in ancient times until is became the largest of the Cherokee Clans. It was believed that if an Ah-ni-yv-wi-ya did not fully complete these levels of development, they would not be able to find their way to the place set apart for them with their people in the spirit world and would wander in darkness on the Earth after death as a spirit.
The Cherokee society is historically a matrilineal society; meaning clanship is attained through the mother. Prior to Oklahoma statehood, the women were considered the Head of Household among the Western Cherokee in Oklahoma, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from a husband. The knowledge of a person's clan is important for many reasons; historically, and still today among Cherokee traditionalists, it is forbidden to marry within your clan. Clan members are considered brother and sisters. In addition, when seeking spiritual guidance and traditional medicine ceremonies, it is necessary to name your clan. Seating at ceremonial stomp dances is by clan, as well. Ceremonies which require the Cherokee to address to fire or perform washing in the sacred circle of an Ah-ni-ku-ta-ni ceremony requires the name the clan to which the Cherokee belongs.
Cherokees born outside of a clan or outsiders who were taken into the tribe in ancient times had to be adopted into a clan by a clan mother. If the person was a women who had bourne a Cherokee child and was married to a Cherokee man, she could be taken into a new clan, and her husband was required to leave his clan and move to her new clan. Men who were not Cherokee and married into a Cherokee household could simply be taken into his wife's clan.
The Ah-ni-go-te-ge-wi or the Wild Potato Clan's subdivision is Blind Savannah . Historically, members of this clan were known to be 'keepers of the land,' and gatherers The wild potato was a main staple of the older Cherokee life back east (Tsa-la-gi U-we-ti). At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wild Potato arbor is to the left of the Wolf arbor.
The Ah-ni-gi-lo-hi or the Long Hair Clan, whose subdivisions are Twister, Wind and Strangers, are known to be a very peaceful clan. In the times of the Peace Chief and War Chief government, the Peace Chief would come from this clan. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others with no Cherokee tribe were often adopted into this clan, thus the name 'Strangers.' At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Long Hair arbor is on the East side, and also houses the Chiefs and other leaders of the ground.
The Ah-ni-(k)a-wi or the Deer Clan were historically known as fast runners and hunters. Even though they hunted game for subsistence, they respected and cared for the animals while they were living amongst them. They were also known as messengers on an earthly level, delivering messenges from village to village, or person to person. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Deer arbor is to the left of the Wild Potato arbor.
Ah-ni-tsi-s-qua or the Red Tailed Hawk (Bird) Clan were historically known as messengers. The belief that birds are messengers between earth and heaven, or the People and Creator, gave the members of this clan the responsibility of caring for the birds. The subdivisions are Raven, Turtle Dove and Eagle. Our earned Eagle feathers were originally presented by the members of this clan, as they were the only ones able to collect them. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Bird arbor is to the left of the Deer arbor.
The Ah-ni-sa-ho-ni or the Blue Clan's subdivisions are Panther, or Wildcat and Bear (which is considered the oldest clan). Historically, this clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Blue arbor is to the left of the Long Hair arbor.
The Ah-ni-wo-di or the Paint Clan were historically known as a prominent medicine people. Medicine is often 'painted' on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Paint arbor is to the left of the Bird arbor.
The Ah-ni-wa-ya of the Wolf has been known throughout time to be the largest clan. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue arbor.
Cherokee Marriages were as much between the Grandmothers of a clan as between the couple themselves. It was not permitted to marry within your own clan. A potential suitor had to select a young woman from another clan. Typically, the clan leaders would be consulted before such a selection was made.
When a young man had chosen a girl he wished to marry he would kill a deer and bring a offer of deermeat to the home of the girl he was interested in. If she chose to marry him, she cooked the deer meet and offered it to him. If she rejected the deer meat, it was assumed to be a denial of this suitor. This courtship required approval of both clans before courtship could occur. It was only permitted to court one woman at a time. Although there are examples of polygamy in the ancient culture, this practice was not generally engaged in. There were also instances of same-sex cohabitation, however, there was never a concept of same sex marriage or same sex courtships. There are historical instances of "extended families" where another male or female would cohabitate with a married couple. Provided all parties were in agreement, including the clan leaders, this conduct would be allowed. These are the only examples of same sex relationships known to have existed in ancient times. The age of consent for Cherokee young people was typically fifteen for girls and seventeen for boys, but was not a strict practice.
If the couple chose to marry, the groom had to obtain the approval of his clan leaders to complete the marriage. Typically, he required the approval of his Clan Grandmother and her relatives. The bride had to obtain the approval of her mother's sister, or if unavailable, her Grandmother or Great Aunt. If all parties agreed, then the couple was permitted to marry.
Once a couple had married, they lived with the wife's clan. Since any children born to the couple were of the same clan as the woman, her brothers or male relatives typically were responsible for the social and cultural development of the children. It was the wife's male relatives who typically disciplined and taught the children, and not the father. The father's clan did have the priviledge of choosing the names for the couples children. This was generally done by one of the father's sisters or Clan grandmothers.
If a womens husband failed to please her, was unfaithful, or disgraced her clan, she could divorce him by simply placing a deerskin outside of their dwelling and placing his belongings on it, at which point, he was expected to leave. He could return to his own clan or move in with the unmarried men of her clan.
The early Europeans, after their first contacts with the Cherokee people, were confused by the Cherokee men's inablity to make quick decisions in counsel and trade meetings. It was later learned by the Europeans that the men were required to return home and discuss these matters with their wives and obtain their approval. This resulted in the early Europeans commenting and recording that the Cherokee had a "petticoat government." In a traditional Cherokee Household, the wife owned all property and the children, and the husband was always required to obtain her approval on family or clan matters. Contrary to many myths from the early Europeans, Cherokee wives were not permitted as part of the culture to "beat their husbands with a stick" for disobediance to the wife. Although it is recorded that this type of behavior did occur in instances of domestic disputes, it was not a socially approved or sanctioned practice, nor was any form of spousal abuse, whether involving the husband or the wife.
The wife was required to obtain her husbands approval on matters of their children and clan affairs and work as partners in their relationship. Wives were not allowed to divorce their husbands for frivilous reasons. Divorce, as other elements of Cherokee Clan life, typically required the approval of the Clan leaders and also required a sound basis for the married woman's decision. Men were not allowed to divorce their wives or end a relationship without the approval of their clans, although a husband could request to end a marriage or relationship for valid reasons of incompatibility or infidelity.
When important matters required the entire township to meet for discussion in Cherokee communities, and it was a matter that required group concensus, or a clan internally had a group meeting on an important matter, each person would bring both a black and white stone or shell bead for voting. A basket would be present for the individuals to cast their votes. A white shell or bead signaled a postive vote, a black stone or bead signalled a negative vote. The voting system was not democratic in this case. If there were a proponderance of votes one way or the other, the minority voters were expected to discuss their reasons for being the minority vote and both sides were expected to come to balance and compromise and the votes would be recast. The voting would continue over and over again until the majority of the members voted en masse one way or the other. Votes were not secret, and was an open affair with all other members knowing who was casting the deciding vote. After the final vote was cast, any members who refused to change their votes were subject to sanctions, which could include banishment from the township, or the entire tribe, depending on the nature of the seriousness of the topic being decided.
The Cherokee in ancient times believed that all things must be balanced and that agreement was always possible. When this was not the case, those members who refused to compromise were usually asked to leave the community. This was the reason for the numerous Cherokee townships that existed, and the method by which the Cherokee seeded new communities. When groups could not agree, they separated and created a new Cherokee township. This system worked and over time resulted in the Cherokee occupying huge areas of the Southeast.
There were many instances in ancient times when a young couple fell madly in love and wanted to marry and were unable to obtain permission from their clans to do so. These couples could, and at times did, run off into the woods together and cohabitate as husband and wife. If they remained until the next Green Corn Ceremony, they could return to the community and be taken back as husband and wife to live with the woman's clan. Green Corn was the high religious ceremony of the Cherokee People, and all debts and minor infractions of the law were typically forgiven between parties at this time. This practice allowed slight deviations from the ancient religious laws to be tolerated in the interest of the preservation of Clan and family relationships, should disagreements arise between clans over minor matters. Serious crimes were not forgiven and required severe punishments. Certain classes of offenses required either the offender to present themselves for punishment, or another member of their clan to take the place of the offender. In ancient times, if a Cherokee committed a major offense, such as murder, the people most likely to hunt him down and bring him to the Grandmothers for judgment were the members of his own family or Clan.
The exact place and date of Sequoyah's birth are unknown, as no written record exists. Speculation and guess-work by historians place his birth at some point between 1760 and 1776. As for the location, speculation places it in either Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama or South Carolina. James Mooney, a prominent anthropologist and historian of the Cherokee people, quotes a cousin in saying that Sequoyah and his mother spent his early years in the village of Tuskegee in Tennessee.
he name Sequoyah or Sikwâ'yǐ is believed to be derived from the Cherokee word Sikwă meaning pig. Possibly this is a reference to a child-hood deformity or a later injury that left Sequoyah crippled. Again, scholars agree that he was crippled but the reason is disputed.
Of his mother, it is known that she was a Cherokee and belonged to the Paint Clan and Mooney states that she was the niece of a Cherokee chief. His father was either white or part-white and part Native American. Again, sources differ as to the exact identity of Sequoyah's father, but many (including Mooney) suggest that he was possibly a fur trader or the son of Christopher Gist, a scout for George Washington.
There is some indication, however, that Sequoyah and his mother were abandoned by his father, this may be indicated by the fact that Sequoyah did not speak English. At some point before 1809, Seuqoyah moved to the Wills Valley in Alabama. There he established his trade as a silversmith. He may have fought in the Creek War between 1813 and 1814 against the Red Sticks. Of course if he was crippled, likely he would not have fought, but historians speculate that he may have been wounded in battle, thus leaving him crippled.
As a silversmith, Sequoyah dealt regularly with white people who had settled in the area. Often, the Native Americans were impressed by their writing, referring to their correspondence as "talking leaves." Around 1809, Sequoyah began work to create a system of writing for the Cherokee language.
After attempting to create a character for each word, Sequoyah decided to divide each word into syllables and create a character for each syllable. Utilizing the Roman alphabet and quite possibly the Cyrillic alphabet, he created 85 characters to represent the various syllables. This work would take Sequoyah 12 years to complete.
There was some doubt amongst his fellow Cherokee as to the worthiness of his alphabet. In order to prove his creation, Sequoyah taught his daughter Ah-yo-ka how to read and write in Cherokee. After amazing locals with his new writing, Sequoyah attempted to display his feat to tribal medicine men only to be rebuffed by them for being possessed by evil spirits. Sequoyah finally proved his feat to a gathering of Chickamaugan warriors. Quickly news of the syllabary spread and the Cherokee were filling schools in order to learn the new language. By 1823 the syllabary was in full use by The Cherokee Nation. The language was made the official language of the Cherokee Nation in 1825.
Link about Cherokee language: http://www.wehali.com/tsalagi/index.cfm
History of the Cherokee: http://cherokeehistory.com/