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The history of man dates back from million of years ago divided into different eras that highlight the journey of man from his origin to the present state. Throughout history, man can be seen to engage in various activities from hunting and agriculture to the present utilization of technology in order to ensure his survival. This has been enabled by creation of associations with other humans by creation of social groups as well as physical settlements to enable them to survive better. The entire history of man from the earliest civilizations of Egypt to Rome traces and provides a foundation of the present day sophisticated society and the associated elements such as language among others.
Tracing the origin of humans shows the rise of various human societies in different times. Human societies can be viewed as groups of people occupying the same geographical area, but most importantly related to each other and usually associated with distinct political authorities as well as sharing of similar cultural elements. Additionally, societies are sometimes divided through formation of internal sub-groups and sub-cultures according to the different predisposing factors such as different and distinctive norms and values. This designation of societies as well as their progression to better and sophisticated entities applies to various Native American Indian tribes in North America.
1.0 Historical Overview: The Cherokee
The history of the Cherokee Indians shows that they inhabited the Southeastern part of North America close to the states of Tennessee and Carolina. According to Indians.org (par.1), the Cherokee were part of five major Native American tribes originating from the Great Lakes area located in the North-eastern part of North America near the border of Canada and the United States. Their language, the Iroquan, is said to be linguistically related to the Iroquois language but different to the other Iroquan languages which can be traced to Iroquois historic homeland, what is now referred to as upper New York State.
The Cherokee were mainly hunters and gatherers until in the time of adoption of agriculture among other activities with the arrival of Europeans. Watkins (par.5) proclaims that the tribe had seven clans, where marriage was only allowed between clans, a matrilineal family structure and setting that prevented discrimination of children not born of Cherokee fathers. The tribe was quite spiritual and religious and led by chiefs. With coming of the European and the American Revolutions, the Cherokee entered the war and fought alongside the British and eventually ended up adopting the white man’s culture in 1800’s. This also saw them forced out of their land when the Europeans discovered gold on their land where women, men and their children trekked to other locations to find new homes what is famously known as the Trail of Tears.
2.0 Literature Review
Conley (1), among other scholars agrees that it is most probable that the Cherokee originated from Asia and moved to America through the Bering Strait land bridge before the link between continents was severed as migrants from Asia were big-game hunters like the Cherokee. After this migration the All Smoky Mountain Vacations (par.1) states that the Cherokee made their original home in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the general area that includes the Western North and South Carolina, Northern Georgia and Alabama, Cumberland Basin of Tennessee, Southwest Virginia as well as Kentucky and Northern Alabama. The All Smoky Mountain Vacations website adds that the Cherokee arrived in the Smoky Mountains Circa 1000 A.D.
However, the Eastern band of the Cherokee Indians proceeded to occupy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is referred to as the Cherokees sacred ancestral home. The name Cherokee means in Creek "people of a different speech," however, in their own language they called themselves the Aniyunwiya "principal people" although they are referred to use other names. Since their migration to their homeland, their number has reduced greatly due to many events such as the epidemics of 1674, series of smallpox (1729-1753) and the American Civil War which greatly decimated their number (Sultzman par.1-4). The seven tribes are aptly named as Bird, Paint, Deer, Wolf, Blue, Long Hair and Wild Potato.
In the old times, the Cherokee primarily settled down and became agriculturists living in on average about 200 big villages. The homes were made of wooden circular frames covered with woven vines and saplings plastered with mud. Every village consisting about 50 log cabins and mud huts grouped around a town square known as the council house, where meetings were held. The villages evolved to Cherokee towns with 30-60 houses with an additional large council house for the chief elders meetings. In daily living matters the villages were mainly independent entities with the entire tribe meeting for in times of war and during ceremonies with different chiefs presiding in times of war and peace (Sultzman par.4-8).
As with all major movements, in terms of migration the Cherokee moved from their original homeland due to various reasons. The major reason for their migration was because they were forced by the government from their land when gold was discovered in their lands. Before, they had fought some European Carolina settlers whereby they eventually withdrew to the Blue Ridge Mountains. In time the Tennessee Cherokee Indians adopted the new culture as well as the weapons, tools and customs, significantly changing their lives as the new culture enabled them to hunting animals for food and skin for personal use and also for trade.
There was a lot of conflicts between the tribe and the newcomers, while war and diseases killed many Cherokees and eventually forced out of their homeland by the British as well as the United States governments. After the gold was found, the government through the Andrew Jackson's 1830 Removal Act relocated all native people including the Cherokee Indians to the east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma. This happened after the Cherokee Indians aided the British revolutionary force to defeat American settlers encroaching on the Cherokee`s land. The Cherokee migration cannot be fully discussed without mentioning the Trail of Tears.
The Trail of Tears refers to the trek by almost 14,000 Cherokees men, women and children westward in October 1838. It is said that more than 4,000 people died from cold, hunger, and disease during the six-month journey. Before the trek, some Cherokees known as the Oconaluftee Indians in the Western North Carolina had already received permission from being forced out. In all this, some (who came to known as the Eastern Band of Cherokees) resisted the move, hiding in the Great Smoky Mountains wilderness to avoid the authorities and finally given rights over their lands in the Western North Carolina in 1870's. After some years, the land occupied by the Oconaluftee Indians though presently a mix of Indian tribes, a 56,000 acre sect of land was chartered providing home to about 11,000 descendents and presently known as the Qualla Indian Reservation (Ehle 177).
3.3 Present Day Homeland
Before the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee had adopted a democratic form of government with a Chief, Vice-Chief and 32 Council Members elected by the tribe members. They even established a constitution and a code of law and eventually invented a system for writing the Cherokee Indians language, which enabled the Cherokee's to read and write (Starr 43). Additionally, the Council resolved to establish a newspaper for the tribe, where a printing press was ordered as well as a type cast for the Cherokee syllabary. After the war, all this was destroyed and the Cherokee were forced to move to Oklahoma.
Although the Cherokee are distributed across the United States, majority of them were in the state of Oklahoma with three major communities composed of Cherokee residents being federally recognized (Indians.org par.3). The Eastern Band of Cherokee that remained in the Western North Carolina still maintains their reservation which was named the Qualla Indian Reservation. Conversely, the Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory was recognized by the state of Missouri and comprised by approximately 12,000 Cherokee members. Like 2,500 members of the North Alabama Cherokee, other Cherokee groups can be found in the states of Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia even though they are not federally recognized (Sultzman par.2).
3.3.1 Cherokee Indians: Relics and Artifacts
Major tribes and societies seek to preserve their culture and the associated elements for passage to the coming generations. This responsibility is more emphasized by minor and marginalized tribes probably due to the risk inherent in the proneness of rapid disappearance of their culture. To preserve the culture, like most cultural preservation efforts people relied in preserving relics, places of dwellings such as huts and cabins as well as various artifacts and documents. This applies to the Cherokee Indian community among other tribes and communities, which had utilized various techniques.
For instance, the government has aided the community to establish the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma State. The center provides exhibits, cultural workshops as well as organizing various events to showcase the different aspects of the Cherokee culture. The center houses of the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery, which enable many people to understand the Cherokee people in terms of the history, language, art, legends as well as other aspects of their culture. Additionally, the center has a documentation center, which preserves important publications which highlights various aspects of the Cherokee people`s life.
The Cherokee have also established lots of websites such as the Indians.org and the Cherokee preservation foundation, which provide useful information about the history of the Cherokee people in addition to important information about the Cherokee. Additionally, the sites provide highlights how the Cherokee Indians helped each other. Various sites and information mentioned in the sites include the Cherokee heritage trails, historical and cultural information on the Cherokee nation including history about the Great Smoky Mountains. Other places, where one can find resources such as relics include the Junaluska Museum and Memorial Site, Sequoyah Birthplace Memorial, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian as well as the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (Cherokee Preservation Foundation 2012).
To preserve their culture, the Cherokee Indians utilized various time-tried cultural aspects such as writing down various stories and legends to keep their culture alive. Additionally, their culture was defined by various spiritual symbols, a unique alphabet as well as a culture full of mythology, folklore as well as documentation of the tribe’s ceremonies among other important cultural aspects.
4.1 Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends
The Cherokee Indians had various mythological figures that enabled passage of the Cherokee culture to the younger generations including myths about the creator, little people, the rabbit, dragons and giants birds of prey among others. Without a written language, although it came later, the stories were passed through the word of mouth to the younger generations but later documented (Alderman 11). The Unktena was a dragon-like horned serpent of the Cherokee legend, which was said to have transformed from a man as a result of failure in a failed assassination attempt on the sun with the most Cherokee heroes slaying the monsters. The Creator referred to as the "Great Spirit," and spelled as Unelanvhi is considered to be a great divine spirit usually not personified in the Cherokee mythology and with no human form or attributes (Native Languages of the Americas par.1-5).
The rabbit is usually highlighted as the trickster figure in the Cherokee folklore as well as in other Southeastern tribes. The folklore includes traditional stories such as one on the Great Flood, the Spider and the Sun, which tell about the origin of light, the origin of the Pleiades, a legend about boys who became stars as well as the legend of the Cedar Tree outlining the origin of day and night. Many writers, especially Mr. James Mooney, have written a lot of myths and legends of the Cherokee folklore ((Mooney 24). The mythical legends and stories range from historical and wonder stories, myths on animals, especially birds as well as quadruped and cosmogonic myths.