Traditions of the Cherokee

Traditions of the Cherokee

Eva Bigwitch, a Cherokee, weaves baskets so graceful that they are featured in several mountain stores and museums. The Cherokee Indians were the first native North Carolinians, occupying the land for thousands of years. While they still live throughout North Carolina, they are most concentrated in the western mountains, especially along the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Their culture is rich with crafts, stories and traditions of living that cannot be matched by today's society. They weaved baskets and made pottery before the first English settlers even landed on the North American continent.

In Folkways Traditions of the Cherokee, you will meet some of these ancient masters who have held onto the old traditions. Amanda Swimmer demonstrates how to form and carve pottery into beautiful vases and bowls--all without the use of a pottery wheel. Eva Bigwitch has been making baskets since she was a child and uses rivercane, which she prepares by hand, dyes and then weaves into intricate designs that she cannot explain how to create. Walker Calhoun shows students at the Earthskills workshops in Georgia how to make a blowgun from rivercane and a dart from thistle and twigs, as Darry Wood interprets his movements. Amanda, Eva and Walker learned the traditions from watching their elders, teaching their children the traditions that are so dear to them. Although Walker plays songs to a banjo, an instrument not native to the Cherokee, he remembers the ancient Cherokee songs and dances and invites the Earthskills workshop students to participate in them with him. As the story concludes, Cherokee men and women talk about wishing to honor not just the traditions themselves, but the spirit behind them and the connection to the elements of the earth.

History of the Cherokeecherokee history
The Cherokee story abounds with trials and sadness. According to archeological finds, the first phase of Cherokee history began about 1000 AD, nearly 500 years before DeSoto first met them. The first two periods of history are the Pisgah phase, between 1000 and 1500 AD, and the Qualla phase, between 1500 and 1850 AD.

The Pisgah lived in western North Carolina, primarily in the southern Appalachian region. They typically built villages that were between one acre and over five acres in size, with houses around an open plaza surrounded by a palisade. Their diet seemed primarily vegetarian, although remains of weapons and knives indicate they also ate meat. They made pottery from local clay, decorated with patterns. They also wore beats and other kinds of trinkets made of shells and animal bone. Shells were also used in their method of burial.The Qualla, marking the beginning of the Cherokee people, lived in a culture quite similar to the Pisgah. This phase includes the merging of cultures between North Carolina Indians and those from east Tennessee and north Georgia.Written records about the Cherokee people began with the diaries of Spanish explorers Hernando DeSoto and Juan Pardo, who encountered the Cherokee in the 1500s. Historic records begin in the mid-17th century, describing Cherokee activities and trading.Cherokee often resided in small communities, which the British government in South Carolina defined in the early 1700s. Two communities of Cherokee lived in bordering states, and three lived in North Carolina. The Overhill inhabited the Overhill Towns along the Tellico and Little Tennessee rivers in east Tennessee. Cherokee in North Georgia, on the Tugalo, Keowee and upper Savannah rivers resided in the Lower Towns. North Carolina housed the Middle Towns along the Little Tennessee River, the Valley Towns on the Hiwassee and Valley rivers, and the Out Towns along the Tuckaseegee and Occonoluftee rivers.As British and French colonists moved into the region, the Cherokee found themselves alternating their alliances between the two in order to fight their enemies, the Tuscarora and Creek Indians. However, in 1730 the Cherokee found themselves subject to British rule as Sir Alexander Cuming met with several Cherokee chiefs and established a treaty at the Town of Nequassee. By 1750 the Cherokee were forced to trade with the British while they continued to lose more and more of their territory. Hostilities progressively flared up through the French and Indian War, in which one English force, commanded by Colonel Archibald Montgomery, destroyed the entire Middle Town community.As the war ended, the British continued to push the Cherokee off their land, serving to anger the Cherokee even more. During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee willingly assisted the British against the American settlers. However, the Americans responded by attacking the Cherokees as a North Carolina militia destroyed the Middle, Valley, and Out Towns; South Carolina armies destroyed the Lower Towns; and Virginia forces destroyed the Overhill Towns. After the war, Americans continued to force the Cherokee into smaller and smaller territories until they were eventually driven out completely on the Trail of Tears.


The Museum of the Cherokee Indian
The museum tells the story of the Cherokee people using technology along with an extensive artifact collection

North Carolina Archaeology Home Page
Provides information about prehistoric and historic archaeology in North Carolina.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians
The official home page of the Cherokee Indian Reservation.