The Cherokee Way of Life

This a general and brief overview of Cherokee beliefs and traditions we practice, written for new players that want just a quick run-through.

Cherokee Villages and Dwellings

Cherokee live in autonomous semi-permanent villages.  Each village has a population of about 200, and would divide if it got too large.  Villages move every 10 years or so to locate fresh garden sites and to allow old ones to replenish themselves.  A village consists of family dwellings, buildings for grain storage, a town house (or council house), a communal garden, individual family gardens, a ceremonial ground, and, on the outskirts, ball fields.

The Cherokee Clans

The Cherokee villages are organized around matrilineal clans, as is Cherokee life in general.  In other words, villages are composed of a mix of clans.  A clan is a family of related people.  As Cherokee society is matrilineal, when a child is born, he or she becomes a member of the mother’s clan.

(If you are role-playing as a Cherokee native, don’t forget to pick a clan and stick with it. 🙂  More in-depth information on the clans can be found in The Cherokee Clans)

Cherokee Government (Peace Chief and War Chief)

The Cherokee live in many villages. Each village had two chiefs – a “white” chief (traditionally known as “Peace Chief”), and a “red” chief (traditionally known as “War Chief”).  They might appropriately be called “the Chief of internal affairs” and “the Chief of external affairs”.  The Peace Chief is in charge of all internal village matters, and the War Chief of not just war, but also trade and other alliances.

Women also have a powerful political voice.  Men always discuss political matters with the Women, and occasionally a woman rises to the role of “Beloved Woman”.  The Beloved Woman has the ultimate power of life and death over captives and other political powers.

Medicine Men and Women

The Cherokee also have Medicine People, who are usually, but not always, men.  Medicine men and women are very skilled healers. Individuals with various physical as well as spiritual problems go to them.  They know how to use natural materials to cure many diseases that the white man’s doctors may not know how to cure during this time. They know how to use roots to make medicine. Some even study with white doctors.

In the Cherokee belief system, there are good Medicine People and evil Medicine People.  The evil Medicine People will do things, for a price, to harm individuals.  A bad medicine person is sometimes referred to as a witch, or tskili or sgili, which means literally “a dusky horned owl”.  A harmed individual must then go to a good Medicine Person who, if strong enough, can reverse the evil medicine back to its origins.

Roles of Men and Women

In the Cherokee culture, men and women are considered equals.  Europeans who made first contact had the wrong assumption to think Cherokee were very slow to make decisions.  In reality, however, it is because after speaking to the Europeans, the Cherokee men would go and consult the women and they would make a decision together.  This is an idea Europeans at this early age could not comprehend.

Cherokee Men

Men cut down trees to clear land for planting. They use the wood to build canoes, homes, and the pole fences around the villages. They hunt and fish. They make traps, nets, and other tools. They fixe moccasins. Sometimes a man moves in with his wife’s family, and sometimes he might build a home for his wife.

Cherokee Women

The role of Cherokee women in the past was very different than the role of white women during that time.

As Henry Timberlake described it:

“(…) women were much more powerful in Cherokee society than European, The reader will not be a little surprised to find the story of the Amazons not so great a fable as we imagined, many of the Indian women being as famous in war, as powerful in the council.”

Women here rule the home. Although the men build the homes, the women own them.  Women have the power to divorce their husband, and often do multiple times if they wish.  Women have power over their families, participate in government, and fight as warriors.  They are very proud of their colorfully designed baskets, which were used to gather nuts in the fall, and store goods. The women are also the farmers. They plant seed, harvest crops, and they store food. Young girls pounded corn into flour. Women use the skins of animals to make clothing and other goods. They also raise the children.

Cherokee Children

The children learn responsibilities of the village at an early age. They are allowed to roam and play, but by their prepubescent years, the girls are ready for marriage and the boys are apprentice warriors.  During those years, they proceed with their vision quest to find out which direction in life they are destined to travel.

Marriage and Courting

You cannot marry someone from your own clan as you are considered to be brother and sister. If you find someone from another clan that you wish to marry, there are other traditions you must follow.

First, you had to ask a family or clan member if this was a good decision and you had to get a positive answer.  If you could not find someone to agree with you, then you could not marry that person.

Then the man hunts a deer and presents it to the maiden, if she cooks the meat and offers it to him, this is a sign that she accepts his proposal.  If she lets the deer corpse lie there to rot, this is the sign that she does not accept his proposal.

The chief puts two roots in his hand, and say a prayer. If the two roots move at the same time, it means good luck, and yes, you may marry. If only one root moves, it means bad luck, and no, you cannot marry.

Cherokee Warriors / Preparation for Battle

The Cherokee have many traditions.  Warriors do not eat before a battle.  In preparation for battle, warriors take a long bath, drink a special tea brewed by the Medicine Woman or Man, and the night before, the warriors dance at the Booger Ceremony.  To become a warrior in our tribe, you must pass the Warrior Tests. (More information coming soon)

The Booger Ceremony

The Booger Ceremony is held on the day before a battle. All the warriors wear the booger masks they had carved. They dance around and made fun of each other, as the masks represent their enemy.

Cherokee Religion

The Deer God: The Cherokee worship the Deer God. They tell him in prayer, “We only kill what is needed to feed our families, and we are sorry.”  This is important to do as they do not want the Deer God to be angry with them, or the Deer God might make all the deer disappear. Just as the buffalo is vitally important to the Plains Indians (Like the Apache and Osage), the deer are vitally important to the Cherokee.

Animal Spirits: The Cherokee believe in many animal spirits. They wear animal skins as clothing so the abilities and strength of those animals would be shared with them. They believe everything in nature had a spirit, and they pray to the spirits for good health.

Festivals

The Cherokee hold many festivals.  Some, like the Green Corn Festival, is held annually. (More information on festivals coming soon)

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