Cherokee people

Cherokee (Tsalagi, Aniyvwiyai) Native American people mainly live in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and in the east of Tennessee. At the moment there are about 300,000 Cherokee people.

Flag of the Cherokee Nation
Flag of the Cherokee Nation

Number 4 and 7 have special importance in the life of Cherokees. They believe that there are 4 basic directions – east (ka-lv-gv), west (wu-de-li-gv), north (u-yv-tlv) and south (u-ga-no-wa). There is a connection between some colours and these directions. The colour of east is red which symbolizes victory and power. The colour of west is black which symbolizes death. The colour of north is blue which symbolizes sadness and defeat. The colour of south is white which symbolizes peace and harmony.

old Cherokee woman
Old Cherokee woman

Seven on the other side includes the already mentioned four basic directions, above, bellow and "here in the center" - the place of the sacred fire. There are seven ancient ceremonies which together made the yearly Cherokee religious cycle. The number seven also represents level of purity and holiness. Some plants (pine, cedar, spruce, holly and laurel) and animals (owl and cougar) reached this level and that is why they are very important for the Cherokee people. Rivers or even creeks have sacred status. They are places where some Cherokee rituals are still organized.

Cherokee man
Cherokee man

Very important part of the Cherokee spiritual life are the Little People. They look more or less the same as the Cherokees. They have very long hair that sometimes reaches the ground. The Little People live in different places like caves, for example. They enjoy music and dance. It is believed that they often find lost children. Still, from time to time, they do cause trouble. That is why they should be treated carefully. There is whole set of rules about it. Night is not a good time to talk about them. The Cherokees believe that is bad to search for The Little People. They themselves decide when they like to be seen. People who accidently see them are not allowed to talk about it for at least seven years.

In time of sickness many Cherokees still visit the traditional medicine men or women and combine their services with those of traditional medicine. The medicine people use manuscripts written in Cherokee syllabary. The Cherokee syllabary is a writing system invented by Sequoyah. Sequoyah (circa 1767–1843) was a Cherokee silversmith. He finished the syllabary in 1821. It was officially accepted it 1825. The Cherokke syllabary includes 85 characters. Each character represents a syllable. Cherokee people use syllabary writing system. Their language is called Tsalagi. It belongs to the Iroquoian group of languages.

Cherokee syllabary
Cherokee syllabary

Cherokee society has been traditionally divided into clans. Some still observe clan traditions in matters of marriage and some social events. Nowadays there are seven Cherokee clans – Anigatogewi (“Wild Potato Clan”), Anigilo(la)hi (“Long Hair Clan”), Anikawi (“Deer Clan”), Anitsiskwa or Anijiqua (“Bird Clan”), Anisahoni (“Blue Holly Clan”), Aniwodi (“Red Paint Clan”) and Aniwaya (“Wolf Clan”). Each clan has its own colour and wood. For example, the clan colour of the Anikawi is brown and its wood is oak. It has to be mentioned that the Cherokee society is a matrilineal one. That means that a person becomes a member of certain clan through mother.

The most tragic event in the history of Cherokee people was the Trail of Tears. They themselves call it Nu na da ul tsun yi (“the place where they cried”) or Tlo va sa (“our removal”). Between 1836 and 1839 they were forced to move from their land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina to the Indian Territory (which is today Oklahoma). During this event some 4,000 people died.

Let's finish this article with bit of trivia. Quite many personalities from the world of show business have or had Cherokee ancestors. Here are only few examples. Famous singer and actress Cher is a Cherokee through her mother Georgia Holt. Nora Rose Moore, a maternal grandmother of legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, was a Cherokee. Steve Tyler, singer of the band Aerosmith, is partly Cherokee through his mother. Actor Johnny Depp had a Cherokee maternal grandfather. There is no proof, but former American President Bill Clinton claims that he is one-sixteenth Cherokee.