Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring's Here!!!

Sunset on the Sangre de Christo Mountains
Every year, when the sun sets precisely due west, the spring season begins! This event is called the “Spring Equinox”. The term “equinox” comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because on the equinox, the night and day have approximately equal length. This year, the Spring Equinox occurred on March 20th at 11:14 MDT. This event has been watched for and celebrated by almost all cultures since the beginning of time.

 In conjunction with the sun’s movement, the Moon also played a big role in marking time for the ancients. The Cherokee Moon Ceremonies were ceremonies practiced by the Ani Yun Wiya, the Cherokee People, in the ancient culture. We observe 12 months in a year, but the Cherokee observed 13 “moons” per year. They considered the number 13 to be very significant. They often referred to “earth” as “turtle island” and were quite aware that there are 13 scales on a turtle’s shell and related the back of the turtle to the moon phases!

The first “New Moon” near the equinox, which would be in March by our calendar, was called Anuyi, meaning “Windy Moon”. During this new moon, the Cherokee celebrated the “Feast of the Deer” as the start of 13 festivities related to food cycles. At the next new moon, strawberries, then “little” corn, watermelon, peaches, mulberries, “great” corn, turkey, bison, bear, ducks, chestnuts, and finally nuts (used in bread). The Windy Moon also signaled the beginning of the planting season and the restarting of the sacred fire. Underneath the Council House in each village was a deep pit where the sacred fire was kept burning year-round. Traditionally, the Sacred Fire would be restarted during this ceremony and the tongue of a deer was sacrificed in the new fire. Then each villager would restart their individual fires with coals from the Sacred Fire. This symbolized fresh beginnings and renewal of life.

The ceremony lasted for seven days and including dancing and consuming fruits from the previous fall harvest to honor the continuation of and renewal of blessings from the earth.

I like the idea of a seven-day holiday! Happy Spring everyone!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When Women Ruled!

Before the Europeans brought their chauvinistic attitudes to America, Cherokee women enjoyed an unbiased equality in their culture.  It was not uncommon for a woman to be peace chief of their village or nation.  Women were war chiefs, high priests, and doctors.  Women were just as likely to be a witch or a wizard as a man was.  Even the most feared killer witch, the Raven Mocker, could be a woman!

And in some arenas, women clearly held a superior role!  The Cherokee were a matriarchal society.  The children were born to the woman’s clan, not the man’s.  It was the woman’s family who taught the children their role in society.  If a woman of the Ani Kawi, “Deer Clan”, married a man from the Ani Waya, “Wolf Clan”, the children would be raised to be hunters, not warriors.

In times of war, the fates of prisoners were determined by the Ghigau (Ghee gah oo), “Beloved Women”!  A prominent woman from each clan would meet, dance, smoke sacred tobacco, and judge prisoners or criminals and set their punishment.

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Nanyehi drawn by Caitlan
The European culture viewed the role of women in Cherokee government with disdain!  In the early 1700’s, the trader Adair coined the phrase “petticoat government” to describe the prominence of the women’s role.  By this time in history, Beloved Women were becoming rare.   But, in 1738, in the Cherokee town of Chota, a most remarkable woman was born.  Her name was Nanyehi (“one who goes about”).  At age 14, Nanyehi married a Cherokee named Kingfisher.  They fought side-by-side at the Battle of Taliwa against the Kusa (Creek) Tribe in 1755.  When Kingfisher was killed, Nanyehi picked up his rifle and led the Cherokee to victory.  For her bravery, she was given the title of Gighau (Beloved Woman).  In 1781, when the Cherokee met an American delegation to discuss white settlements on the Little Pigeon River, Nanyehi was surprised to find no women in the American delegation and confronted the leader, John Sevier.  Sevier countered that he was equally appalled to find a woman involved in such important work!  Nanyehi’s moving response was, “"You know that women are always looked upon as nothing; but we are your mothers; you are our sons. Our cry is all for peace; let it continue. This peace must last forever. Let your women's sons be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

When Did Leprichauns come to America?

When Did Leprichauns come to America?

Fellow Cherokee, Will Rogers, used to say, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” 

When the Irish came to America, they brought the stories and legends of their “little people”, the Leprechauns.  A mischievous dwarf full of tricks and magic and charged with guarding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But “little people” were already a legend among Native Americans.  The Navaho and Ute told stories of the “Pitukupf”, a mischievous spirit-dwarf that lived in a badger hole.  Author James D. Doss has brought the Ute “Piticupf” back to life in his Charlie Moon murder mystery series.  His wonderful character, shaman Daisy Perika, sees and talks to the ornery, magical, Piticupf, to learn about the future or to clear up a mystery.  But she is often tricked out of her bribes and left frustrated.

The Cherokee called their legendary little people “Yunwi Tsunsdi”.  These little people were magical and mischievous, as well.  But sometimes they were quite kind-hearted.  One legend credits them for giving the Kingfisher bird his long beak after he killed the snake that ate the eggs of a Yellowhammer bird.  When James Mooney chronicled the myths and legends of the Cherokee in the late 1800’s, he described the Yunwi Tsunsdi as follows:

“There is another race of spirits, the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or “Little People”, who live in rock caves on the mountain side.  They are little fellows, hardly reaching up to a man’s knee, but well shaped and handsome, with long hair falling almost to the ground.  They are great wonder workers and are very fond of music, spending half their time drumming and dancing.  They are helpful and kind-hearted, and often when people have been lost in the mountains, especially children who have strayed away from their parents, the Yunwi Tsunsdi have found them and taken care of them and brought them back to their homes.  Sometimes their drum is heard in lonely places in the mountains, but it is not safe to follow it, because the Little People do not like to be disturbed at home, and they throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way, and even if he does at last get back to the settlement he is like one dazed ever after.  Sometimes, also, they come near a house at night and the people inside hear them talking, but they must not go out, and in the morning they find the corn gathered or the field cleared as if a whole force of men had been at work.  If anyone should go out to watch, he would die.  When a hunter finds anything in the woods, such as a knife or a trinket, he must say, “Little People, I want to take this,” because it may belong to them, and if he does not ask their permission they will throw stones at him as he goes home.

Once a hunter in winter found tracks in the snow like the tracks of little children.  He wondered how they could have come there and followed them until they led him to a cave, which was full of Little People, young and old, men, women, and children.  They brought him in and were kind to him, and he was with them some time; but when he went back to the settlement and his friends were all anxious to know where he had been.  For a long time he refused to say, until at last he could not hold out any longer, but told the story, and in a few days he died. 

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day and watch out for the “Little People”!