Thursday, August 30, 2012

Clans of the Cherokee, part 6 -- The Paint Clan

In ancient times, the Dida:hnvwi:sgi (deed-ah-hnew-wee-sss-gee), the healers and medicine men, and the Adawehi (odd-ah-wee-hee) or wizards came from the Ani Wodi clan.  They were most famous for making red paint used in ceremonies, for war paint, or sacred rituals and they made the red dyes used in clothing and costumes.  Only the Ani Wodi were allowed to make this special red paint or dye.  Curiously,although today their flag is black with red stars, their traditional color is white and their wood is locust.  The wood of each clan is important for their sacred fires.  The Ani Wodi were typically the keepers of the sacred fire.  An Ani Wodi priest typically was allowed to create a fire lit from the sacred fire.  Fire was believed to signify the separation of man from the animals. 
Paint Clan ceremonial mask

If a ceremony called for “magic” or illusion or intrigue, the Ani Wodi were the masters at setting it up and the tools needed to carry it off.  They were reputed to have extrasensory perception capable of seeing things hidden to others like visions of the future or events that might happen far away.
The Red Paint or Paint Clan were also known as the "Corn People".   They were responsible for teaching the knowledge of life, birth, death and regeneration.

As I mentioned in Part 5, The Bird Clan, many Cherokee descendants no longer know their clan.  Also, since the clan is passed down by the mother, if a Tsalagi (Cherokee) man married a white woman, his children would have no clan.  There are currently attempts to restore the clan tradition to all Tsalagis.  Following are notable surnames of the Paint Clan:

 A: Adair (Dorothy or Dotty), All Redd, Artt B: Berry (Ann), Berryhill (Neil), Breamer, Bunch (Doe), Byrd C: Candie, Cash, Caulunnah, Chandis, Chrichfield (Hattie), Colbert (Saleckie), Colbert (Tuskiehootoh), Craft, Cummins D: Double Head (Jr.-Taliwuasku), Duck (Teal) E: Easton, Ebanoy F: Face Painter, Foose (Louissa) G: Gillam (China), Gist (Wurthe), GoForth (Lisa) H: Hardgritts, Hartley, Hollow Horn, Hudson J: Jinis, Jolly (Annie), Jump K: Keeper (Keep), Kettle, Kingsman, Knight L: Lee, Ligon (Toy), Linder M: Macky, Mankiller (Waite), Manystriber (Llyod), McCoy, McDougal, Mckissic, Morrison N: Nettle Carrier O: Ohmaohla P: Parrot (Faith), Polson (Olivia), Poolay, Porkeater, Proctor, Pumpkin Boy Q: Quinley, Quintin (Sara) R: Redman (Quattie), Reily (Grace), Richardson, Rickhart, Riddle, Roundtree S: Samauls, Sasadeehee, Sasafracs, Shaman (Joe), Sharp (Jugie), Simons, Snapping Turtle (Dory), Sparks, Stephens, Stockup, Stone T: Tassel (Geo), Taylos, Telontaskee (Susie), Tohquah, Towle, Turnkey U: Ulam (Don), Underhill (Luciell) W: Watts (John), Williams, Wistawasto, Woods (Major) Y: Yahne, Yellowhammer


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Inconvenient Arrogance -- Part 1

The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.
-- Rachel Carson

Throughout history, man has repeatedly reached a point in the development of his society where he has determined that he influences nature.  And time after time, nature humiliates him. 

What I am presenting in this series is the affect that climate change can have on society.  There have been many times throughout the history of man when the earth has experienced abrupt climate change.  And what interests me is how often man has presumed that he was the cause of the climate change or that he can somehow prevent it or reverse it.  And what is alarming to me is how often that assumption has lead to catastrophe – not climatic catastrophe, man-made catastrophe!  Time and time again, we see the complete downfall of great cultures with grand cities and extensive economic networks.

During periods of climate stability, man has learned to adjust to the climate and flourish.  Those that have had the genius to coordinate their efforts to maximize the potential offered by a stable climate have often risen to great heights culturally.  And those who lead their societies to these momentous achievements have been rewarded with tremendous power and wealth.  It begins with a breakthrough understanding of the seasons and the climate associated with those seasons.  Over time, patterns are recognized and eventually predicted.  Astronomers learn that when the sun rises at a certain point it is the beginning of spring or summer or fall or winter.  This information is invaluable for determining when to plant, when to harvest, when to prepare for winter.  Regular spring rains are prepared for and farmers learn to contain excess water to use for irrigation between rains.  As these regular patterns come to be relied upon, they become vital to the success of the society. 

Often favorable weather is attributed to proper behavior and unfavorable weather as punishment for improper behavior.  But when the climate significantly changes, these same leaders are looked to for guidance to protect the status quo.  Having taken credit for favorable weather, they are now blamed for unfavorable weather.  Seeking to maintain their power and control, they turn the blame around.   They blame the people for bringing on bad weather with bad behavior.  And they often resort to extraordinary measures to "appease the gods" to retain control.

Pueblo Bonita in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, Ancient Anasazi Capital
When we look back at the Moche culture or the Mayan culture or the Anasazi culture it is easy to judge them as simply arrogant to believe that they had any influence over their climate.  But, the fact is, they had good reason to believe that they did and the greatest minds of the time thought that they did and the general public believed their leaders and the experts.  It was this arrogance, however, that may have brought them down.  Their stubborn persistence to try to regain control of the climate and thereby maintain their credibility with the citizens, led them to extraordinary and extreme actions.  Actions, that we look back on and find atrocious.  But, if we look closer, we can find very striking parallels in the way we are reacting to our current perception of climate change.

In the articles that follow, I will reach back in time and take a closer look at some of  the cultures of the past that have gone through climate change and present what I think is credible evidence that the arrogance of Man can significantly contribute to his downfall!

Continue to Part 2

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Clans of the Cherokee part 5 -- The Bird Clan

The Cherokee had great respect for all living things and tried to live in harmony with them.  In  Part 4, The Deer Clan, I talked about how a hunter would apologize to a deer before killing it and explain why he needed the meat to feed his family.  The same held true for birds.  The Ani Tsiskwa, The Bird Clan, was responsible for keeping the birds.  It was believed that birds were the messengers between the world and the upper world or between human beings and the spirits, therefore the Ani Tsiskwa were usually called upon to be the messengers for the village.    They were keen observers and adept at interpreting the messages brought to dreams by birds.

Only the Bird Clan was allowed to provide bird feathers for the tribe.  The most sacred bird for the Cherokee was the eagle and its feathers were considered sacred and vital to many ceremonies especially anything relating to war.   In ancient times, killing the eagle for its feathers involved the entire village, but under the tutelage of the Bird Clan and conducted by one special individual, the Eagle Killer, who was trained in the proper method for killing an eagle.  The eagle had to be killed only in winter or late fall after the crops were gathered and snakes had retired to their dens.  If an eagle was killed in summer, an early frost would kill the corn and the eagle dance would so rile snakes that they became extremely dangerous!  When an Eagle Killer was called in, he would set out alone with his bow and arrows into the mountains where he would pray and fast for four days.  Then he would hunt down and kill a deer.  He would carry the carcass to an exposed area on a cliff, then hide and chant softly the song to call in the eagle.  When the eagle landed on the carcass, the Eagle Killer would shoot it with an arrow and then pray to it to not seek vengeance on his tribe.  In later times, he would tell the dead bird that a Spaniard had killed him, not a Cherokee!  Then he would return to the village and proclaim that he had killed a “Snow Bird” (to insure against the vengeance of any eagles that might overhear) and then return home, his work completed.  The villagers would wait for four days to allow the insect parasites time to leave the carcass, then a delegation would go to the cliff and skin the deer, remove the feathers from the eagle and wrap them in the fresh deerskin.  Both carcasses were left as a sacrifice to the eagle spirits.  The feathers were placed in a special”Feather”  hut near the dance field and a special dish of venison and corn provided to “feed the hungry feathers”.  That night, the Eagle dance was  performed.  In addition to bow and arrow, the Ani Tsiskwa were skilled in using blowguns and snares for hunting birds. 

It is believed that the Ani Tsiskwa were once three clans since the clan had three subdivisions – the Eagle, Turtledove and Raven.  The clan was represented by the color purple, their sacred wood was maple and their flag is blue with red stars. 

Each clan was responsible for teaching the life lessons for achieving higher levels of development for the upper world.  There were seven levels of development, just as there were seven clans.  The Tsiskwa were responsible for teaching the importance of both the positive and negative events on the harmony of life.

The Cherokee were very conscious of their clan heritage and could readily tell of their degree of relationship to their relatives.  Today, however, many Cherokee no longer know their clan.  Think you might be of the Ani Tsiskwa?   Here are some notable surnames related to the Bird Clan:

Adair, Alexander, Alred, Angus, Arkensas Baker, Barr, Bear, Bell, Bird, Bolin, Boss, Brasheres, Brown, Brownwater, Bunch, Burk, Burntwing, Byles, Choate, Cody, Cooper, Cousart, Crouch, Cummingham, Cuthand, Cutting Dalondeegah, Danedeesdee, Davis Eades, Eagle, Ewery, Fair Hair, Feather, Field(s), Finley, Frost, Ghigooie, Gibson, Goingbird, Goosey, Grant Hill, Hull, Jarrett, Jimmesen, Joran, Justice (Ooweena), Kee, Ketcher, Kingsnake, Leflor, Leuking, Light, Lipe, Little, Love, Mayes, McCraken, McCrigger, McDaniel, McDonald, Miller, Moore, Moss, Negro, Old Tassel, Oowodagee, Otter Lifter, Owl, Perry, Pigion, Pool , Quail Raincrow, Rains, Rainwater, Ray, Red Crow, Red Eagle, Reid, Reynolds, Rogers, Sanders, Saughtery, Scofield, Shory, Sinnawah, Stalking Turkey, Starr, Terripin, Thomas, Toy, Turky, Waters, Webb, West, Young Bird

For more information refer to:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Death of a Cherokee

The way death and burial is treated by other cultures can be very different from how we are accustomed.  The following description of the ancient Cherokee’s traditional funeral has been taken from Thomas E. Mails’ summation of an interview with John Howard Payne by G. Hicks.

 “When a father, especially an aged one, was convinced he was about to die, he called his children to gather about him.  He told them about his situation, gave them advice and instruction concerning their future life, repeated the ancient traditions and reminded them about the Cherokee customs they should never forget.

Peachtree Mound
“When death was at hand, all of the children were sent away, and only the priest and the adult relatives spent time with the dying person. Females wept exceedingly, commencing at the moment of death a most doleful lamentation in which they sang over and over, with only brief pauses, the name of the deceased for as long as they could hold their breath. Male relatives seldom wept, but put ashes on their heads and wrapped themselves in worn clothing.  During the seven days of mourning, no one was to be angry, speak in a light or trifling manner, or drink anything but the lightest kind of food and liquid. Circumstances surrounding the death determined whether the expressions of grief were greater or lesser.   Sometimes mourners seemed entirely inconsolable and gave the impression they would weep all the way to their own graves.

“A near relative closed the deceased's eyelids and washed the entire body with water or a purifying washing mix made by boiling willow root.  In each town there was a priest whose task was to bury the dead.  He came soon after death to the house where the corpse was and usually buried it either in the floor directly under the place where the person had died, under the hearth, outside near the house, or in the case of a distinguished chief, under the seat he had occupied in the town council house.  In instances when burial was outside, the priest, followed by an adult relative of the deceised, carried the body to its place of internment.   Sometimes the corpse was laid alongside a large rock, and a wall about eighteen inches high was built on the other side of the corpse to enclose it. Then, a covering of wood or an arch of stone was laid over it as a roof and stones were heaped over the whole to create what was in essence a small tomb. Other times, a corpse was covered by two overlapping wooden boxes then piled over with stones. Some people were buried in graves that were dug in the earth, and rocks were laid over the graves to keep animals from getting into them.

“When death occurred, everything in the house, including the surviving family became unclean. The personal belongings of the deceased were either buried with him or burned at the grave site. Food and furniture were smashed and thrown away.  As soon as the corpse was buried, a priest was sent for to ritually cleanse the house.  He entered the house alone to destroy everything that had been contaminated, and to thoroughtly clean the hearth.  He then kindled a new fire and put on it his water-filled medicine pot that he used for purifications.  He put in the pot a certain weed and later gave the tea he brewed to the family members, who drank it and washed themselves all over with it.  He also sprinkled the inside of the house with the tea.  Then he smoked and further purified the house interior by building a fire with cedar boughs and a certain weed.  When this was done, the priest took what remained of his purifying items away and hid them in a hollow tree or rock cleft where they would not be found.

“Finally, the priest took the defiled family members to a river or creek, where on the bank he prayed for them and then ordered them to immerse. They did this by entering the water and alternately facing east and west as they immersed seven times. They either put away their polluted garments before going into the water, or while in the water let them loose to drif away and take their uncleanness with them.  When the people left the water, new clothing was put on, so that when they returned to their house the mourners were entirely clean.  Shortly thereafter,  the priest's principal assistant sent a messenger to them with two gifts -- a piece of tobacco that would "enlighten their eyes", so they could bravely face the future and a strand of sanctified beads to comfort their hearts. He also asked them to take their seats in the town council house that night. The bereaved always accepted this kind invitation, and when they went to the council house they were met by all the townspeople, who in turn took them gently and understandingly by the hand. Once everyone had done this, the mourners either returned home or stayed to watch while the other people danced a solemn dance.

“On the morning of the fifth day after death, while family members gathered around him, the priest took a bird that had been killed with an arrow, plucked off some of its feathers and cut from the right side of the breast a small piece of meat. After praying, he put the meat on the fire. If it popped one or more times, throwing small pieces towards the family, sons in the family would soon die. If it did not pop at all, the sons were considered safe.

“Mourning continued for another two days. On those two mornings, the entire company of mourners arose at daybreak and after going to water to immerse, went to the grave site. There the local women set up a most bitter wailing of the kind already described, and neighboring women often joined in. During this time the Chief Priest of the town sent out hunters to bring in meat for the mourning family. With this assistance, the family, with the help of relatives, prepared food and on the seventh night took it to the council house, where a community feast of consolation was held.”

“When the deceased was a husband, the widow was expected to remain single for a long time, and for as much of ten months to let her hair hang loose and uncared for. She neither washed her body nor paid any attention to herself and her clothed were thrown carelessly on. When her friends believed she had mourned enough, they went to her, combed and dressed her hair and changed her garments.

“A far as the afterlife concerns, views differed according to what individual Cherokees believed about the powers who created and ruled the earth. Worshippers of the sun believed that at death the soul assumed different appearances and at first lingered about the place where the person had died for as long as the time as the person had lived there. The soul went there to its prior place of residence and remained there for a similar time. This continued until the deceased ha moved to its birthplace when, after remaining for as long a time as it had lived there, it took its final leave - either into nonexistence o to a place far away in the west where the deceased was always miserable because it was away from its natural home.

“Others believed that at death the soul entered a mystical but living body that was larger or smaller than its own. Whatever the case, the body the soul entered grew smaller each year, until at last it vanished and ceased to be. This group also believed that adulterers and women who destroyed their infants would in some way after death be punished more than other persons.

Those Cherokees who prayed only to the three Divine Beings above believed that all who were free from certain sins and vices would at death go to be with those beings and would dwell with them forever in a place that would always be pleasant and light. But people with big sins would go to the Place of Bad Spirits, where they would always scream in torment.”

Burial in the earth was, for the Cherokee, pay back to the plants and animals that had provided vital nourishment in life.  Animals and man eat plants for nourishment.  Therefore, when a man dies, he should be buried to provide nourishment for plants!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sacred Fire and Things

Swimmer, Cherokee Medicine Man

Cherokee Sacred Fire, as told by
Swimmer to James Mooney, 1887-1890.

"The mound was then built up with earth, which the women brought in baskets, and as they piled it above the stones, the bodies of their great men, and the sacred things, they left an open place at the fire in the center and let down a hollow cedar trunk, with the bark on, which fitted around the fire and protected it from the earth. This cedar log was cut long enough to reach nearly to the surface inside the townhouse when everything was done. The earth was piled up around it, and the whole mound was finished off smoothly, and then the townhouse was built upon it. One man, called the Firekeeper, stayed always in the townhouse to feed and tend the fire. When there was to be a dance or a council, he pushed long stalks of atsil sun ti (fleabane), "the fire maker" down through the opening in the cedar log to the fire at the bottom. He left the ends of the stalks sticking out and piled lichens and punk around, after which he prayed, and as he prayed, the fire climbed up along the talks until it caught the punk. Then he put on wood, and by the time the dancers were ready there was a large fire blazing in the townhouse. After the dance he covered the hole over again with ashes, but the fire was always smoldering below. Just before the Green corn dance, in the old times, every fire in the settlement was extinguished and all the people came and got new fire from the townhouse. This was called atsi’la galunkw it’yu "the honored or sacred fire." Sometimes when the fire in a house went out, the woman came to the Firekeeper, who made a new fire by rubbing an ihya’ga stalk against the under side of a hard dry fungus that grows along locust trees.

"Some say this everlasting fire was only in the larger mounds at Nikwasi, Kitu’hwa, and a few other towns, and that when the new fire was thus drawn up for the Green Corn dance it was distributed from them to the other settlements. The fire burns yet at the bottom of these great mounds, and when the Cherokee soldiers were camped near Kitu’hwa during the Civil War, they saw smoke still rising from the mound."

In ancient times, individual sacred fires in the villages were extinguished and restarted from the
sacred fire from the Townhouse.  This was done in conjunction with the Green Corn Ceremony honoring "Selu", the Corn Mother.  No corn was eaten before the ceremony.  Before the ceremony, each clan would supply seven mature ears of corn.  The chief and seven councilors began fasting seven days prior to the ceremony.  On the seventh day, fires were extinguished and rekindled from the sacred fire.  Kernels from the corn from the clans were sacrificed with a deer's tongue.  A feast was prepared in the Townhouse from the clan corn the chief and councilors and villagers feasted.  For the next six days, the chief and councilors could only eat corn harvested the previous year.  For the great dance, a pit was dug in the center of the sacred circle and a wood struck by lightning was lit to start the great fire.  Dancers would perform rounds of sacred dances and the men performed the War Dance and other dances symbolizing the planting and harvesting of the corn.  Finally, all villagers joined in on a "Running Dance" around the fire.  Minor infractions of the religious and clan law, as well as debts were typically forgiven during green corn between parties as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings.

Video of Cherokee Corn Dance