The History and Culture of the Cherokee Civilization


The Cherokee, a very large tribe, lived in the region of the Smokey Appalachians Mountains. The Cherokee were forced to relocate to the Appalachian Mountains after they were defeated at war by the Delaware. The tribe was divided into seven clans. The tribe’s men were not allowed to marry within their ethnic groups, this was a great taboo in the Cherokee society. The seven ethnic groups inhabited North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Georgia. Once the man married he left his tribe and went to live with his wife’s tribe. They spoke the Iroquoian language.

Way of living

The Cherokee had the highest standards of living and level of education among the ethnic groups living in Sothern East United States (Perdue 115). They lived in communities with thirty to sixty households. The different Cherokee communities carried on their daily activities independently. They only came together in time of war and major ceremonies. They built their houses such that, they were sunken into the ground partially. The houses were made of barks of trees and wattle. Some of the clans made their houses with logs. The houses had one entrance and with a smoke hole at the top.

The Cherokee made a living through pottery, farming, carving stone and weaving baskets. The Cherokee had special tools and implements which they used when carving. There staple plants include; corn, beans and squash.  Latter started planting cotton to provide wool for weaving. The diet of the Cherokee was mostly made with vegetable but also ate meat from time to time. The Cherokee wore belts made of animal hind and jewelry made of bones.

The Cherokee had their own constitution adopted in the year 1800.  They had their own courts that arbitrated in both civil and criminal cases in the tribe. They had schools for educating their children and their own alphabet with close to eighty two characters. They also had their own published newspaper, the Cherokee Tribune.

Rhythm of the Seasons

The Cherokee people were not time conscious they did not have specified time for rituals and ceremonies. However, despite their laid back nature, the Cherokee people had fours seasons (Perdue 3). Each of the four seasons represented different rituals and ceremonies. The first season was winter; it was associated with cold and sadness. It was symbolized by the color blue. Winter belonged to the north. Spring which has its heritage in the East is represented by the color red. Spring time symbolized victory. It was a new beginning occasioned by warm weather festivities and merry making. Summer was time for happiness where every thing was peaceful and serene. There was plenty of harvest during this season. Summer was symbolized by the color white, the color of peace. Finally autumn which was the end of the cycle symbolized death. Autumn was symbolized by the color black, the color of death. During autumn the Cherokee people did not engage in many festivities each household remained isolated.

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Gender Roles

According to Perdue (135), in the Cherokee community women were associated with the bounty that comes from the earth. The women were mostly concerned with cultivation of land and ensuring that their families had enough crop to sustain them even during dry seasons. The women could take up leadership just like their male counter parts. The leadership positions were only granted to women who exhibited leadership qualities. The Cherokee women owned the family land, property and children.

The major role for men in the Cherokee community was the protection of the family’s property and defense of their families honor. The men also hunted to provide meat for their families. The men took part in any negotiations on behalf of the family. The men in the Cherokee community were supposed to participate in any war in the defense of the community and the tribe.

Folkways, Mores and Traditions

The Cherokee believed in sacrifice. Any member of the Cherokee tribe who does not follow this tradition was punished through death. The moral values of the Cherokee were passed on to the younger generation through song and dance (Perdue 115).

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The Cherokee valued the family unit.  The woman’s clan provided the family name and the children were owned by the woman. Polygamy was allowed among the Cherokee but the first wife selected the other wives for her husband. It was taboo for any member of the tribe to marry from their fathers or mothers clan. The first wife could select her sister or clan members to be her co-wives.

The Cherokee encounters and interactions with representatives of white civilization prior to assimilation

The first encounters of the Cherokee with white civilization took place during the Desoto expedition in the year 1540. Prior to this the Cherokee had remained isolated from the rest of the world.  They only started interacting with outsiders after the settlement in Virginia in the year 1609. English traders who had walked many miles to get to the Appalachians Mountains were amongst the first to meet the Cherokee people. A rapport was developed with Virginian Abraham Wood whose intention was to maintain a monopoly of trade with the Cherokee, for hind skin and Indian slaves Zeman (26). His efforts were countered by other traders who made an encounter with the Cherokee along the Savannah River.

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The encounters with white traders were limited but with time increased encounters happened due to the increased demand for the goods traded between the Cherokee and the white traders. This lead to alliances created between the Cherokee and British. The alliances were formed to fight against the Spanish and French.

With time the Cherokee made peace with the French. They started trading with the French; however, the goods traded by the French were of inferior quality compared to the British goods. On the other hand the British wanted to continue their good trading relationship with the Cherokee. The British sent one of their representatives to regulate trade and prevent the Cherokee from trading with the French. The infighting continued amongst the ethnic groups in the Appalachian Mountains continued. The Cherokee lost a portion of their land to white settlers through treaties with the government. The final blow came when President Jackson came into power in 1802 and gold was discovered in the region. Miners encroached most of the land and the president denounced the laws of the Cherokee extending his territory to cover there land. When the Cherokee resisted, the government retaliated by arrest and murder of the Cherokee people.  For fear of the violence most of the families voluntarily started to migrate to the west.  Other families were relocated forcibly by the government to Oklahoma.

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