Monday, February 28, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Southeast: The Cherokee Order of the Universe
Perhaps one of the most well known of the North American Indians is the Cherokee tribes of the Southeast. In fact though the term Cherokee was actually given to the tribe by their neighbors the Choctaw for the Cherokee refer to themselves as the Ani-Yunwiya (principal people). For the sake of this post I will refer to them as the Cherokee since most anthropologists and archaeologists call them by this name to avoid confusion. It is interesting that there are a lot of people out there that claim they have Cherokee ancestry and where some of them are using it to right it on their college application it is not farfetched to think that a good chunk of people are in fact a small percentage Cherokee.
The Cherokee are the largest group in the Southeast and are related to the Iroquois of New York from whom they split over 4,000 years ago. The Cherokee originally lived in the Carolinas but by 1800 they had grown so large they moved into areas across Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas (Rochete 2010).
The most interesting thing to me about this North American group and the subject on which this post will focus on is the beliefs of the Cherokee, more specifically the order of the universe. The first thing to understand is that the Cherokee believed in a dichotomous universe. So basically they believed everything had two sides: war/peace, good/evil, winter/summer, male/female. These categories though had to be maintained equally otherwise they feared a tip in the balance of harmony would disrupt the universe (Rochete 2010).
Also in addition to the dichotomous universe they believed that the world was divided into three planes. These three planes were the psychical world (which is at the center) the upper world (which is at the top a place of order and harmony, deities and the dead) and the underworld (the lower plane which is a place of chaos and pollution). They believe that before the creation of this physical world only the other two existed separated by water (Rochete 2010).
When the world was all water, as the Cherokee believed it was, the animals lived in the upper world but it become over crowded so the new world was created. The way the story went is that Beaver’s Grandchild water beetle dove into the water all the way down to see what the new world was like. When he reached the bottom water-beetle discovered soft mud which he then picked up and smoothed and spread it until it became the great island which is now earth. The Cherokee believed that this island was a literal island that was floating above the sea which was suspended at four points by cords of rock (Rochete 2010).
Over this island the Great Buzzard flew and when the earth was still soft and wet his wings struck the ground creating the valleys and mountains. The other animals stopped him though before he made the whole world mountainous (this is why the Cherokee land in the Appalachians was supposed to be so mountainous). Along with that the Cherokee believed that the first two Cherokee were Kana’ti and his wife Selu. These two are the fixtures of which the Cherokee hunting and farming came from (Rochete 2010).
The stories go that their sons let all the animals escape from the great vault which is why the people have to hunt them. Also Selu got pregnant and gave birth to both corn and beans overnight; because of her son believed she was a powerful witch and killed her. As a result of her death corn and beans sprouted from her blood but as a punishment Selu’s sons had to work to grow and produce it from then on (Rochete).
Like I had mentioned before balance was major part of the belief system of the Cherokee. One of their stories that shows this well is the myth of the origin medicine. This myth starts out with the human populations growing so much that they crowded the animals and killed then greatly reducing their numbers. This chaos through the world out of balance but it was ultimately restored according to the myth. The animals banded together and cursed the humans saying that they had to say a prayer each time they killed an animal otherwise the humans would suffer from disease. This worked for awhile but shortly after humans started dying off as they were forgetting to say a prayer each time. The plants though felt sorry for the humans so they gave them up for cures to the diseases that were created by the animals. Since then these medicinal plants were treasured as gifts from the spirit world (Rochete 2010).
Cherokee believed that mountains were a scared part of the universe. People would journey to the mountains to have religious experience and visions. On the flip side because of their powers mountains were also thought to be dangerous places. To drive this fact home to the young people the story of the Stone Man was told to them. The Stone Man was a shaman but also a terrifying cannibal with the skin of solid rock who stalked the mountains in search of victims (Rochete 2010).
Lastly the Cherokee also believed that water was also a very sacred part of the universe, particularly the river water or Yunwi Gunahita (which means Long Person). Like the mountains, journeying to the water was a great religious experience. Like many other religions around the world they believed water was a sign of purification and rebirth. Mothers would bather their new born children in the river, men would purify themselves before games, rituals and war and the sick would go to the river to cleanse themselves of their ailments. Running water was said to be a conduit or pathway to another world and only women were thought to be pure enough to bear water. In fact men carrying water was considered a disgraceful act (Rochete 2010).
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for September 20, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Southeast: Mound Builders/Southeastern Ceremonial Cult
Welcome to the North American Indian series. For my first post I will be talking about the Moundbuilders of the Mississippian Period and the Southeastern Ceremonial cult within the Southeastern culture area. I will be focusing mostly on the burial sites of the Mississippian period and the artifacts of the ceremonial cult, both of which go hand in hand with each other. Once again if you have any questions or need me to clarify anything feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mississippian period was a period in history of the Southeast, specifically near the Mississippi river valley, that lasted from 800 AD to the 18th century in some parts of the region (which means some chiefdoms in the area were around when the Europeans arrived). It was a period where the societies were classified as chiefdoms. To give you the simple version, chiefdoms is a type of leadership that is characterized by ascribed status. This means that the chief gained his position by inheritance or status and not by earning it. The chief then is loosely defined as a leader who has “inherited a permanently established leadership position within their society” (Rochete 2010).
I won’t get into the intricacies of the chiefdom settlement hierarchy, but the main set up is that there is a major important village that dominates part of the river valley. These important villages almost always contained at least one flat-topped earthen mound usually surrounded by open plazas. These earthen mounds were a fixture of the Mississippi river valley as well as other area in both North, Central and South America and showed the status of the village. These mounds were usually used for burials, temples and sometimes even the residence of chiefs or other important people (Rochete 2010).
One of the most important things that characterized these mounds were the exotic artifacts that were found buried along with important leaders. These exotic goods were traded over large areas mostly by the high-ranking members of the society. The most commonly traded goods were carved figurines and engraved shells that had spiritual symbolism. The figurines and carvings featured the Cherokee concept of the world (cross within a circle) depictions of warriors and the effigy of the birdman that was the symbol of war and authority. These good and trading of the goods is often referred to my archaeologists as the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult or Complex (Rochete 2010).
There are many sites around the Southeast that have these mounds and subsequently have the exotic goods that were buried in the mounds with the high-ranking officials. Perhaps the most well known of these sites are the sites of Moundville in Alabama and Cahokia and Illinois.
Moundville was occupied from around AD 1000 – 1450 and was made up of 20 of the earthen mounds then all surrounded a giant plaza. At its height as a civilization the population of this area reached the peak of 10,000. The main reason that the population was so large for this time period was because of the fertile soil of the river by which the site was located. Another thing that was unique about this site is the village was a large wooden palisade that protected the site from enemy chiefdoms on three sides and then on the fourth side they had the river. On some of the mounds themselves archaeologists have found remains of wooden structures which they have since determined were most likely temples or the residence of the chiefs (Rochete 2010).
Even larger than the site of Moundville is the site of Cahokia (which is right near present day St. Louis). In fact this site is the largest prehistoric North American site with more than 100 mounds and a population of as many as 40,000 people at its peak. The fixture of this site is Monk’s Mound (Pictured Above) which is around 100 feet tall and covers an area of 16 acres. This is the largest mound ever built in North America and also has evidence of a large temple on top of it. There are many other mounds at the site that were used for other building platforms, temples and other purposes (Rochete 2010).
Besides Monk’s Mound the other most important mound at this site seems to be the one that was deemed as “Mound 72.” At this mound 53 people were buried (both men and women) surrounding a Chief who was adorned in a robe that was covered in thousands of shell beads. Along with these individuals archaeologists also found a wealth of arrowheads though void of the shafts they had been attached to since they had rotted away. It was hypothesized then that these individuals were in fact sacrificed to be buried with the chief at his passing (Rochete 2010).
All these mounds including Mound 72 also had a plethora of grave goods such as pots, the figurines mentioned before, shells and other such goods that showed the status of the individual that was buried. Using these sites as models archaeologists can now figure out the importance of individuals in burial sites all around the Americas.
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for September13, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
Friday, February 18, 2011
So for this next round of blog entries I’m going to focus on the North American Indians, since that was one of my main focuses throughout my undergraduate career. The main objective of this series is going to be to educate people on the real information behind these North American tribes and try to drive out the stereotypes that have been pounded into the heads of youth for decades. This entry is going to be just an overview of the North American Indians to kind of give you an idea of what to expect
Want to first lay down the different culture areas that anthropologist broke down the North American Indians. There are 10 of these culture areas: Southeast, Northeast, Great Plains, Southwest, Great Basin, California, Plateau, Northwest Coast, Subarctic and Arctic. These culture areas are obviously geographically based, so for example the Southeast is the area that encompasses parts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana (Rochete 2010).
There are a couple misconceptions of the American Indian that need to be cleared up before this series can continue, starting with the names that they identify themselves as. While most identify themselves by their tribes as a collective there are many different “names” that North American Indians go by all depending on their preference. Some go by “Indian” (which many people assume is offensive) other prefer “Native American,” “American Indian,” “Indigenous Person,” or “Aboriginal.” In Canada the preferred term is mainly “First Nation.” But you get my point; there is very little consistency between Indian groups which is why most go by their tribal names (Rochete 2010).
Another misconception that the populous has on the American Indian is that they are either the “savage” or the “pristine people.” In fact things are not always so black and white and most tribes have parts of each of the labels. In relation to the “savage” label there is this idea that the American Indians were these uncivilized people living only a step up from the animals that they slaughtered. Then according to them (them being the Europeans) the Indians were savages (and I dare you not to get the “Savages” song from Pocahontas stuck in your head after reading this section) and needed to be integrated into a more European way of living (Rochete 2010).
In relation to the “pristine people” there are people on the other side of this argument that say that the American Indians were so peaceful, never fought, regarded their land as sacred and worshipped the ground to the point where they never harmed it. This is just as false as the idea of the savage. Obviously there were wars going on between tribes and the American Indians didn’t always treat the land with respect, especially some of the subarctic tribes that slaughtered animals to the point where the wiped some species out (Hritz 2010). So what to take from this? There were many shades of grey that the American Indians lived in that will be explained to a greater extent in the later posts.
The last major misconceptions of the American Indians are the stereotypes that are facilitated by the media, movies, books, illustrations, etc. Most people think that every Indian wear a headdress, live in teepees, carry tomahawks, carve totem poles, ride horses, chase buffalo and worship “Mother Earth.” This is not true at all and is perhaps my biggest pet peeve when hearing people talk about American Indians. All the things that I listed above are specific to certain culture areas and sometimes specific tribes. For example living in teepees, wearing headdresses and hunting buffalo was mainly done on the Great Plains whereas totem poles were native to the Northwest Coast. Also not all American Indians worship this “Mother Earth” in fact most have tribes have their own deities and spirits that they pray to. This overarching description that has been perpetuated in Hollywood has been deemed the “pan-Indian culture” and is a very dangerous thing to be teaching (Rochete 2010).
There you have it, a very broken down, simplified overview of the North American Indians. From now on I will be focuses more specifically on each culture areas and specific tribes from those culture areas. Once again if there’s anything in particular you’re curious about don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com and I will try to work your thoughts/questions into this series. Hope you all enjoy!
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for August 30, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
2010. Anth 497C Lecture for February 17 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.