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History of the Cherokee Indians

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The word Cherokee according to a Cherokee descendant means aniyun-wiga, when translated the name means real people or people of the mountains. However, the Europeans referred to them as the Tsalangi or the Jalagi meaning the people of the caves. The Cherokee later learnt to adapt to the new name given to them by the Europeans. The descendants of the Cherokee people claim that they settled in the South eastern parts of the United States of America in ancient times before the onset of the ice age. They do this by recalling the oral, traditional narratives passed down from their ancestors. Historians and traditionalists do not agree with them, and demand that they have been living in the area for a shorter period perhaps after the 13th century or the ice age period.

According to an insider the Cherokee people were organized into groups of seven clans. Each clan was represented by an elder. The seven members formed the white organization in the society. This most senior people were the elders who were called the ani-Kutani. They had a lot of powers in the community, and they had the power of cleansing the young warriors before they left for any kind of war. The priesthood was hereditary, and they had many duties apart from the one of cleansing the young warriors before they left for war. The other duties included; praying on behalf of the community members, healing the sick, and conducting religious activities in the community.

The younger group of men in the society was those who engaged in fighting. They were sometimes forced to go into war to protect them, even though the community never liked wars and termed it as pollution of their purity. This second group was known as the red organization. Their duty was to protect the community against enemies and conquer new lands. The priests always purified them before they left for any war. They were also purified after they came back from war in order to ensure that the spirits of those they killed in the war did not contaminate the village. 

According to the Cherokee descendants they argue that this method was ruined when the priests started abusing the young warriors by taking their young wives as their own. This enraged the younger men, and they went into battle with the priests. This led to the death of many priests ruining the hierarchy that had been holding the group together for centuries. According to the outsiders they have the same view about the decline of the priests in the community. They say that the decline was as a result of the revolts by the young men against the priests who had developed the habit of abusing them and taking their wives. This was the beginning of democracy in the Cherokee community. When Ethnographers like James Mooney went to the area in the 1800s, a lot of things had changed, and there was no trace of the original organization of the community where the people depended on the priests for guidance. People were now basing their decisions on their own individual believes, and knowledge to make decisions. They were living their lives in an informal manner with no authority to respond to, and no priests to purify them or give them advice.

The Cherokees spoke in Iroquoian language. This backs up their oral myths that they originated from the south because the great lake area was the most common setting or origin for the Iroquoian language. According to outsiders they say that the Cherokees might have broken off from a larger community as they were migrating from the northern region to the southern parts of the United States of America. They believe that this is the reason why they have some common words.  This is because the Tuscarora inhabited the southern parts of the region in the historic times. This communication is believed by the outsiders to be related to other languages like the Seneca, Mohawk and the Cayuga. Sequoyah developed a syllabify to be used in writing the Cherokee language in the years of 1770 to 1843. He used symbols to represent a syllable in a word. However, not all of the Cherokee people accept the fact that Sequoyah was the first person to devise a way of writing the Iroquoian language. They claim that this had been the group’s’ style of writing though this style had been closely guided within the community and the children were sworn to uphold it to themselves.

The outsiders, on the hand, think and believe that Sequoyah was the founder of this writing skill and give him credit for his discovery. This marked a new beginning for the Cherokees. They were now able to read and write and even started writing their own newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix. It made it possible, for Durbin Feeling to write a dictionary in the Cherokee native language and translate it into English. This proved to be a difficult task because the verbs in the Cherokee language may have up to 126 different forms when translated to the English language. The Language has not become extinct like most of the other indigenous languages. This has been due to its constant use by the Cherokees and use in churches, also there are bilingual lessons taught in schools to ensure its continuity. Sources from medicine men, after the myth of how to write the Cherokee language, showed that the writing style was used in highly spiritual matters only.

The Cherokee people claim that there was no abnormality in their community. They have a myth to explain how the diseases that they started contacting began. They claim that it was due to an agreement by the wild animals they used to hunt down for food. This had been made easier by the invention of weapons that assisted them in hunting them down. The animals agreed that the hunter had to appease the spirit of the animal he slain. If he failed to do so them the other animals would strike him down with a serious disease. The plants overheard the plans of the animals and came up with ways to sure them. The Cherokee healers used the plants as herbs to cure the diseases caused by animals and performed peculiar rituals. The outsiders do not have a myth to explain neither how upset originated nor its cause. They, however, recognize the fact that the people of the Cherokee community used herbs from plants to cure diseases.

The citizens of Cherokee according to insiders claim that their main food was meat from wild animals. This was primarily the work of men. The outsiders claim that the main food of this population was crops grown in gardens owned by women. Women also went out to look for wild fruits and roots to use in the preparation of food.

The Cherokees were different outfits according to the seasons, gender or position held in the society. Priests are believed to have been wearing long cloaks decorated with feathers and hats made of feathers. Chiefs wore the same attire. Ordinary men wore breechcloth, leggings and hunting jackets while women wore short skirts only. A noticeable thing about the men‘s appearance was the topknot left at after shaving their heads and tattoos on their faces.

The outsiders and insiders may differ in some aspects of the Cherokee’s history, but they tend to agree on most things. The outsiders seem to put believes of the insiders in a weighing scale. This is because an insider is a member of the community and can be biased at times when stating specific facts about his or her community. The insider explain the history of the Cherokees from a first hand experience and can even back up his points using standard oral narratives or songs that he has been taught ever since he, or she was young and value to be true. The outsider, on the hand, relies on second hand information from the insiders or any other source of information to make his or her interpretation. The outsiders seem to prove or disapprove of the findings of a member and vice versa.

However, most of the historical aspect of the Cherokees does not conflict despite the people who have written them. The difference is inadequate and is there because of the methods used to make conclusions. The outsiders rely on the anthropological findings, and other analytical methods to write about this history while the insider consult the other members of his community to find out things that he is not so sure of before he puts it down on paper. Therefore, it is crucial for the reader to compare the output of an insider and a stranger when doing a research on the history of a group of people or thing. This will help him or her to determine where the truth lies and do more research on the information that seems to differ.

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