TSALAGI: Cherokee


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circa 2000                                                                 Dec. 2006

By Soaring Hawk

     Cherokee is a name bestowed by others and is derived from mispronunciation by White traders' from the east of Choctaw and Creek words meaning "Cave-Country People" because of their penchant for residing in mountainous areas. Spaniards arriving from the south called them Chalaque because the Overhill and Kituwah dialects of Cherokee residing west of the Appalachian chain use an "L" sound in place of the "R" that occurred in the "eastern" dialect. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina now call themselves Tsalagi (pronounced Chah-lah-kee or Jah-lah-kee depending on the dialect of the speaker.) The original name that these people used to refer to themselves was Aniyvwiya (pronounced Ah2-nee2-yuhn2-wee4-yah1) and has been translated as "True People, Real People, or Pure People." Aniyvwiya represents the people called Cherokee whereas Aniyvwiyai (pronounced Ah2-nee2-yuhn2-wee2-yah4?ee1)represents all Native Americans and is frequently translated "native people."
See Cherokee syllabary page for explanation of pitch and glottal stop in Cherokee grammar.

     Prior to occupying the southern Appalachian region, the Cherokee were inhabitants of the Allegheny area of Ohio and Pennsylvania surrounding the Great Lakes not far from the territory of their relatives, the Haudenosaunee, who are now called Iroquois. The name Allegheny is derived from the Delaware name for the Cherokee, which is A-le-ge-wi. The northern Ohio area is still covered with earthworks erected by the Cherokee during their protracted war with the Delaware who were rapidly expanding eastward and would eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean. It was as a result of this war that the Cherokee moved south seeking a new home in keeping with their mountaineer disposition.

     The Cherokee are part of a large collection of tribes east of the Mississippi River known as Eastern Woodlands Tribes. They were distinguished from the Western and Plains tribes in that they were primarily agricultural people living in wooden houses, were matrilineal in genealogy, democratic in government and monotheistic trinitarian in spirituality.

     The primary crops were corn, squash, gourds, and beans. This diet was supplemented by foraging for nuts, roots, and berries and by fishing and hunting for turkey and deer. As matrilineal, and in some cases matriarchal, societies, women of the Eastern Woodlands Peoples were the government and retained all rights in property collectively and in offspring individually. Property belonged to all the women collectively and a house belonged to all the women of an extended family and a married male lived with the clan of his wife. Regardless of what a child's father was, a child was the offspring of the mother and retained her tribal and clan heritage and children's genealogy was counted through the mother and her mother. Government consisted of a council of women elected by the members of a clan, village, or band presided over by a clan mother which was a position similar to what we know as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

     The women also elected men to serve the will of the council much as we elect politicians to serve the will of their constituents today. These men were not rulers¾they were servants. Called Uku (pronounced oo-koo) by the Cherokee or Sachem among the Haudenosaunee, they served at the council's discretion and could be impeached by the women of their clan at any time for ineffective or unfaithful service. They were the first to deal with outsiders with whom the clan or village came into contact and were sent as emissaries by the council to investigate and negotiate. The white men with whom they came into contact made the mistake of assuming that these men were leaders, "chiefs," in the manner of clan chieftains of Ireland and Scotland where a clan was ruled absolutely by the oldest male of the clan. It is a shame that the People have come to adopt this European concept of "Chief," replacing in many cases the Uku's traditional role as Servant of the People.

     In religious practice prior to assimilating much of European culture and practice, the Cherokee believed in One Creator, a Spirit, who made the world and all creatures in it. They are the only indigenous people for whom I have seen a written record of their belief in a Trinity in Heaven, which they called the Elder Fires Above. These similarities to Christian faith made the assimilation of Christianity by the Cherokee relatively easy. This evidence, along with their reputation as "civilized" people, make it impossible to view the Cherokee as either "pagan" or "heathen" but supports the presumption which they have always maintained¾that they are "children of the One God. "

I am including this message from Lawrence Sampson with his consent to show a different perspective from someone else's point of view.

I have enjoyed your site, however I would like to relate something to you. I am a person of Delaware and Eastern Band Cherokee heritage. Much of what we know about the ancient days, comes from the Delaware, with their penchant for writing in pictographs. The Cherokee and Delaware were allies, not enemies. The Cherokee had been driven south by the other Iriquois speaking peoples, and may actually have been one of the primary factors behind the Iriquoian conferacy being formed. It seems the Cherokee were the largest and most warlike of those nations. The Cherokee were already living in the southern mountains when the Delaware at last made it to the sea. As they had crossed the continent, they had intermittently fought and befriended the Iriquois, who were migrating from the Mexico area. The very name Iriquois comes from the French translation of what the Delaware called them-the snake people. ( This is also where the Sioux got their name ) They had together, defeated the Natchez people, at the Mississippi river, who fled south to form much of what was later the Creek confederacy-and perhaps even Choctaw, and Chickasaw cultures. Again, much of this comes from the Delaware stories.... Thanks for your time

Lawrence Sampson

Haudenosaunee Prophecy

syllabary (Cherokee writing)
Ahnentafel genealogy report for Darryl Earls
( including links to family photos)

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Cherokee Beliefs and Practices of the Ancients---Out of the Flame  by James Adair,
Edited by Willena H. Robinson
pub. 1998 by Cherokee Language and Culture 4158 East 48th Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74135-4739
Note:  Adair's Twenty-three arguments in favor of the Southern Tribes being descendants of ancient Hebrews originally published 1775 London as part of a larger work entitled History of the American Indians
Hawk comments:  One man's observations of Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee cultures of the American South during the middle of the 16th Century.  Contains random comparisons of local words with Hebrew words in Hebrew text with some transliteration and translation.  Adair's observations on Southeastern Tribes culture, language and religion is remarkably subjective yet laced with his ethnocentric views of European superiority.  The exception is his vitriolic hatred of French, Spanish and Italian Roman Catholics, especially in argument twenty-three.  He lambastes the "Romanists and Papists" ferociously, citing early Spanish writings as examples of ethnocentric excess and exaggeration.  One commentator stated that it is questionable as to where Adair got his information on Spanish texts considering that he never learned the Spanish language.

Native American History   by Judith Nies
pub.1996 by Ballantine Books
Note:  Parallel American-World History from 28,000B.C. to 20th Century.
Hawk comments:  Excellent example of historical-archaeological information in chronological format.  Author stated that this work was not her original intent; that she had intended to focus on contemporary strip-mining of Hopi and Navajo lands in the 20th Century that resulted in the largest removal of American Natives since the 1800s.   We can only be thankful that she yielded to the guidance of whatever muse was pushing her.

History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees   by James Mooney
pub. 1992 by Bright Mountain Books 138 Springside Rd. Asheville, North Carolina 28803
Note:  Complete text of two separate books republished as one volume.  Mooney was an Irish immigrant employed by the American Bureau of Ethnology and lived among the Cherokee and Kiowa long enough to learn their languages and document their culture during the latter part of the 19th Century.
Hawk comments:  While Mooney lived among the tribes long enough to achieve a measure of empathy for them, he never assimilated to the point that some Europeans did as depicted in the popular movie Dances With Wolves. Although Mooney never stopped being an employee of the U.S. government while living among the tribes, he did not always act in accordance with government objectives.  Most notable is his role in incorporating the Native American Church in Oklahoma, an action that led the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ban him from setting foot on any reservation in the country for the remainder of his life since he was perceived as being too sympathetic to Native causes.

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Copyright 1999 Darryl R. Earls            Last revision 06 May  2007