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The Cherokee Indians & Their Rituals

The Cherokee Indians were the largest of the "civilized" tribes in the southeast United States. the Cherokee were a people full of tradition and their religious practices have been carried on through generations of Cherokee inhabitants.

Cherokee comes from the word “Chelokee” meaning “people of a different speech.” They are the second largest tribe in the United States. Today many live in homes in Cherokee communities. They used to travel about the country, living in tepees that were made of sticks and animal skins. Their tepees ranged from ten to eighteen feet high. They would build their fires in the middle of the tepee. The smoke from the fires was let out of a small hole at the peak of the tepee. The Cherokee Indians have many rituals that they perform that may seem unusual to us.

The Cherokee and almost all Indian tribes offer thanks to nature, usually in a dance ritual sometimes called a Sun Dance. In the Sun Dance, elders take the younger men in the tribe, paint their bodies and teach them the simple dance. The dancers would go into a trance and have Vision Dreams, helping them determine their names and meet with the spirits of their elders. Some used the painted skull of a buffalo as a ceremonial artifact when giving thanks to nature for providing food and clothing.

Tribes would also have sweat ceremonies to cleanse themselves of evil spirits. First they would build an enclosed hut. Then they would put hot rocks, which have been sitting in a fire for a whole day, in a small hole dug in one corner of the hut. They would then pour water over the rocks, generating steam. They take off their clothes and sit in the hut for hours to sweat and provoke spiritual visions. When they finally come out of the hut, they pour cold water on themselves, bringing them back to the natural world.

Tobacco was a special and sacred plant to the Cherokee and many other tribes. They had ceremonies for planted seeds and harvesting the leaves.  They had ceremonial pipes that were made of either bone or wood. Smoking was sacred and it was offered to nature, friends and the universe.

Indian tribes, such as the Cherokee, had assigned roles for the men and women. The men were hunters and protectors, and the women would cook, build shelter, make fire, and care for the children. When the men would catch an animal, the woman would immediately cook the heart and the liver and other inner parts of the animal to eat right away, celebrating their fortune and to thank the spirits for a successful hunt. The rest of the meat was cut into thin slices and dried out. The dried strips are like the food that some people still eat today called Jerky.

Because of their belief that you shall not harm anything unless it is necessary for survival, they had a strict liability law for any killing of humans, nature, or animal. They did not waste anything. They believed that an unnecessary death created an imbalance which required revenge or sacrifice to restore harmony. The clan of a killer was to admit and accept responsibility for the wrongful killing by someone in their tribe. Then the clan was expected to pay the cost, sometimes a human sacrifice.

The Cherokee way of life is an interesting topic to learn about. Though the lifestyle seems out of the ordinary to many readers, this was the way of life for the original inhabitants of North America. Though the people and their numbers are waningArticle Search, their traditions should be taught and carried.

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