The Traditional Cherokee Belief
In a search for order and sustaining that order, the olden Cherokee devised a simple,
yet seemingly complex belief system. Many of the elements of the original system remain today. Although some have evolved
or otherwise been modified, the traditional Cherokee of today recognize the belief system as an integral part of day-to-day
Certain numbers play an important role in the ceremonies of the Cherokee. The numbers four and seven repeatedly
occur in myths, stories and ceremonies. Four represents all the familiar forces, also represented in the four directions.
These directions are east, west, north and south. Certain colors are also associated with these directions. The number seven
represents the seven clans of the Cherokee, and are also associated with directions. In addition to the four cardinal directions,
three others exist. Up (the Upper World), down (the Lower World) and center (where we live, and where 'you' always are).
The number seven also represents the height of purity and sacredness, a difficult level to attain. In olden times,
it was believed that only the owl and cougar had attained this level, and since then, they have always had a special meaning
to the Cherokee. The pine, cedar, spruce, holly and laurel also attained this level. They play a very important role in Cherokee
ceremonies. Cedar is the most sacred of all, and the distinguishing colors of red and white set it off from all others. The
wood from the tree is considered very sacred, and in ancient days, was used to carry the honored dead.
of these early beliefs, the traditional Cherokee have a special regard for the owl and cougar. They are the honored ones in
some versions of the Creation story. They were the only two who were able to stay awake for the seven nights of Creation.
The others fell asleep. Today, because of this, they are nocturnal in their habits and both have night vision. The owl is
seemingly different from other birds, and he resembles an old man as he walks. Sometimes, the owl can be mistaken for a cat
with his feather tufts and silhouette of his head. This resemblance honors his nocturnal brother, the cougar. The owls' eyes
are quite large and set directly in front like a persons, and he can close one independent of the other. The cougar is an
animal whose has screams which resemble those of a woman. He is an animal who has habits that are very secret and unpredictable.
The cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees have leaves all year long. These plants, too, stayed awake seven
nights during the Creation. Because of this, they were given special power, and they are among the most important plants in
Cherokee medicine and ceremonies.
Native Americans are people indigenous to the Americas,also known as American Indians. This was
the name given by Christopher Columbus, as he thought they came from the Indies.
It is estimated that 90 million
people inhabited North and South America when the europeans arrived. By the time censuses started the population was reduced
by war,famine and diseases, brought here by the europeans.
Native Americans physically are similar to Asians.
Due to mixed breeding some may be fairer or darker than expected. They have scattered into many local populations, each differing
from their neighbors. On the Great Plains they tend to be tall and heavy of build, whereas the lowland Indians tend to be
short and broad chested. Same as every population, there are people who vary from the norm, some are influenced by diet and
Evidence indicates that the first people came from N.E. Siberia, carry stone tools, living in clans
of about 100 people, fishing and hunting, probably using hides from Mommouth for tent shelters and clothing. Being nomadic
in nature they would run into other tribes and share information, food and women for wives, not of their clan.
earliest evidence of Native Americans would have been about 50,000 years ago. It has been determined that the first natives
used plant life to survive, which would most likely make them vegetarians, thus low protein diet. Artic region people were
heavier due to whale, seals and fish diets. First Southwest Indians ate mommouth, then buffalo, also they used plants and
herbs. Next came deer and small game through the years. About 500 years ago Maize (corn)came from Mexico, but only as a minor
food source . About 400 years ago corn, beans and squash came from Mexico to the south Arizona ancestors of the Pima.
Among the elements of the traditional ways of life are the social and political organization, the economic and other
activities as well their religions, languages and art.
Since 2000 B.C.most Native Americans have lived by agriculture.
Maize was the most important, but other grain-like plants were also used like Amaranth in Mesomerica and Quinos in the Andes.
Beans, squash, peanuts, chili peppers, cotton, cocoa and avacoda were also developed and cultivated by the Native Americans.
Livestock was less important than to the people of other continents, here protein came from fish and small game.
Little importance was placed on the covering of the body, especially in the warmer climates. In cold climates robes and poncho
were used for warmth
Shelter also was adapated to the climate, some were sophisticated such as the Chickee of
the Florida Seminole or as simple as the Inuit igloo.
To all Native Americans trade was very important as an
economic activity, trading everything from seashells to canoes. Recreation consisted of guessing games, to tests of skill
such as foot races, wrestling and archery.
For religious practices most Native American believe that in the
universe is an Almighty...a force that is the source of all life, not pictured as a man in the sky but a spiritual and formless
spirit that exists throughout the universe. There is less interest in the afterlife than by Christians. To the natives every
day was a day to give thanks to the Great Spirit for another day on the earth, regularly giving thanks to the Creator was
a way of life.
About 1000 distinct languages are spoken by native peoples in the north and south Americas.
Flint knapping is the earliest known American art. Long ago stone spear and dart points were produced with great
skill. Flint and Obsidian were used and highly prized. Other arts were: pottery,basketry,weaving and metalworking. The hunting
people used leather to work with. Others worked with bark and wood for carving. Pollen, pulverized charcoal and sandstone
were used for sand painting by the southwestern tribes.
Singing is the dominant form of music for Native Americans,
as well as flutes and drums. The exception is the North American, he played his loves songs on a flute. The southern sang
in a softer voice then the northern.
The disease smallpox, lung diseases and gastrointestional disorders were
unheard of before the european invasion. The Native Americans were vulnerable to all the microbial infections. The death from
disease was most visible in the Latin American area. Due to the over population there, those that survived the diseases were
taken, often as an entire village, to work the silver mines or to plant the fields. Many sought refuge west of the Appalachian
When the American Revolution ended the Constitution was to give the "new way" to the Indians.
It read,..."The Congress shall have the power...to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states,
and with Indian tribes".This is the law from which 200 years of federal legislation and programs would be set up. This
allowed "new" Americans to travel onto Native American lands and settle, even though the land was already settled.
Only one outcome could have been expected. WAR. Soon Native Americans were to be thought of as "children of the forests"
by some..by others as savages.
From these attitudes came the Removal Act. This empowered the president of the
United States to remove Indians to what was called Indian territory. This was to be voluntary but ended up mandatory whenever
the federal government felt it necessary. Forced marches and reservations, a lot of bad memories for those who survived. All
this and more brought about the slaughter at wounded Knee, Dec. 29, 1890. The Native American was close the extinction by
this time, so treaties were abondoned and help would be given to the Indians. By help, the Allotment Act was passed. Communally
owned reservation land would be parceled out to invividuals. After the 160 acre allotments were used up, the rest of the acres
were sold to land hungry whites. It all turned out to be a disaster. In addition to losing tribal lands a lot of the natives
last the allotted lands as well. In June of 1924 the origial Americans became United States citizens. Many whites still consider
them privitive, mostly because the New American could not understand the culture and the society of the Indian tribes.
It wasn't until the 1960's that the Indian was recognized as the first ecologists!
Long ago Indians, nor animals were subject to death. They lived forever, yet there was enough room for
everyone. Only the coyote complained. He walked around grumbling,"If only the old ones would die, we'd be far better
off" .No one paid attention as he was always making trouble for everyone. Only this time he got louder and louder with
his complaininig. He couldn't get the idea out of his mind.
Finally the Shaman heard the coyote's idea and became
very angry and wanted to punish him, but he decided to call a meeting of the people hoping it would prove the coyote disagreeable
and end the subject forever.
The Indians and the animals gathered at the foot of the sacred rock, with the great
Shaman sitting on a tree stump on top of a cliff. His headdress was touching the sky when he raised his head to talk to the
people. He said, "My children, I can no longer stand to listen to the coyote with his yelping and proposing death in
this world. Tell him what you think of his idea."
They all got together to discuss the problem. The coyote
sat alone, scratching behind his ears and trotting around close hoping to hear what they were saying. All of a sudden he cried
out, "I never suggested any harm, I just think we could make a hole into heaven, and all the dead can move there , then
we can call them back after a time, like when food is plentiful enough for all of us."
When they couldn't
figure out how this could be done he said, "I have thought this out and if every marksman would bring his bow and arrows
and shoot an arrow to the sky, then a second arrow to join the first then a third and a fourth, until they link heaven to
earth, anyone can climb up there, and it will be easy for them to get back home again."
All this sounded
sensible enough. A little too sensible for a coyote, thought the Shaman. But he could think of no objections, so the marksmen
were called and they did as coyote said. Not a single arrow went astray. Finally the Great Shaman tested the link to heaven,
it held firm, strong enough to hold bears weight. Finally they all went home to bed for the night. The Shaman told them to
go to sleep, death was with them as they had decided upon.
During the night an old badger died and a lonely
settler in his cabin and an eagle high up in his nest. The dead walked to the sacred rock and before dawn the last had vanished
into the hole in the sky. Much weeping took place in the world as the dead were missed terribly.
night the people watched the skies for the return of their dead. Only the coyote was nowhere to be seen. He was in his cave
sharpening his fangs to the point of cutting his tongue. Then he went to the sacred rock and caught hold of the lowest arrow
and gnawed until it broke apart, to catch the next arrow he had to pull and swing on the link, suddenly it fell to the earth
and crashed all about him. He ran off yelping. Everyone came out to see what happened. There was nothing to be done.
The Shaman pronounced the judgment on the coyote to prevent more of his mischief by banishing him from the people
to live out his days in in the prairie alone. Coyote wandered for days and then stopped, there was not a creature around for
miles, he was so afraid he began wailing and begging to return. No one had pity on him as no one heard him. You may hear him
still yelping and howling in the prairies. When you hear him, now you know why!!!
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