Food and Culture

The primary unit of Cherokee social structure was the town, which was
the center for ceremonies. Many of these ceremonies revolved around food. The Cherokees were both hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists. Archaeological records show that their diet was very rich but consisted largely of several varieties of corn. Important ceremonies revolved around the planting, growing and harvesting of the corn and other crops. In addition, hunting provided deer, elk, deer, wood bison and bear providing needed protein to their diet. Small game and birds were also plentiful and provided variety

Many types of berries were gathered, along with cattails, and other edible plants. Nuts of many varieties were also gathered and many of these foods were often stored in cache pits for later use.

Another rich source of food was aquatic animals and fish, including bass, carp, catfish crappies, drumfish, pike and trout. Edible sheelfish such as mussels, snails and periwinkles were also on the menu.

Duties for clearing the fields were largely done by the men, while women were responsible for the planting and care of the fields. The harvesting duties were shared by both men and women. The Cherokees understood the need to "rotate" fields so that they could replenish essential minerals removed by crops such as corn which tend to deplete the soil if overused.

Food figured greatly in the religious life of the Cherokee and there were ceremonies, such as for the first corn harvested, the Green Corn Ceremony, that had both social and religious significance. The fact that part of the Green Corn ceremony was to protect themselves from getting sick from eating green corn shows that they were fully aware of the ill effects of eating corn which is not yet ripened. In addition, the Green Corn ceremony symbolically commemorates the death and resurrecion of Selu, the Corn Mother (se-lu 'corn') and included all night dancing. There was another ceremony in the fall for the harvest of fully ripe corn, some of which was dried for storage or ground into flour.

The Cherokees were keen observers of their environment with a deep
knowledge of the uses of all the plants, herbs and animals they encountered in their everyday life. They were also aware of the need for conservation and for living harmoniously with nature.

Ceremonies in the summer were of deeper religious significance than
those in the winter, which could become more humorous or social in
nature. Certain ceremonies recognized the need for ritual purification or for the forgiving of past greivances. One important ceremony, the Cementation or Reconciliation Ceremony, not only involved the purification of the town, but the formal establishment of new friendships through the exchange of gifts. All of these ceremonies lent themselves to reconnecting the social solidarity of the town.

Winter ceremonies occurred on a regular basis and included dances such as the Bear Dance, which could only be performed during the time when the bears were in hibernation. The winter was also the time for storytelling. The Cherokees have a very rich traditon of storytelling which were told for a variety of reasons. There were stories to amuse, to tease, to educate or to instruct children on proper moral behavior.

Religion, work and play were not considered separate and often ceremonies and actvities were of a dual nature, incorporating religion
into every aspect of life.

Question: Given the deep knowledge of the Cherokee of their own environment and the ceremonies that they use to mark the changing of the seasons, what does it tell you about their society and what they view as important?

Question: Is making a special time for forgiving others, making new friendships and for passing on lessons about how to be a good member of your society something we could learn from the Cherokees?