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.
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.
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.
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.
the summer were of deeper religious significance than
those in the winter, which could become more humorous or social
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.
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.
and play were not considered separate and often ceremonies and actvities
were of a dual nature, incorporating religion
into every aspect of life.
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
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?