Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 4

To complement the previous exhibit, here's an alternate explanation of origins. Cherokees told this story to the trader Alexander Long in 1717. It is an account of their ancestors' arrival in the Southeast long, long ago after a treacherous journey through ice and snow.

Icemen [*see caption below]

It is a remarkable narrative and should be better known than it is. What follows is a fragment of that oral history as recorded by Long (with his archaic spellings modified for the sake of readability):

For our coming here, we know nothing but what was had from our ancestors and has brought it down from generation to generation. The way is thus. We belonged to another land far distant from here, and the people increased and multiplied so fast that the land could not hold them, so that they were forced to separate and travel to look out for another country. They traveled so far that they came to another country that was so cold. . . Yet going still on, they came to mountains of snow and ice.

The priests held a council to pass these mountains, and that they believed there was warmer weather on the other side of those mountains because it lay near the sun setting which was believed by the whole assembly. We were the first to make snowshoes to put on our old and young. We passed over these mountains till we lost sight of the same and went through darkness for a good space, and then [saw] the sun again, and going on we came to a country that could be inhabited.

We multiplied so much that we overspread all this [land ?]. We brought all manner of grains such as corn, and peas, pumpkins and muskmelon as well as all sort of wild fruits we found here naturally growing. On our journey over these mountains we lost a vast quantity of people by the unreasonable cold and darkness that we went through. When we came on this land, first we were all one language, but due to the pride and ambition of some of the leading men that caused [unrest ?] among the tribes, they separated from one another and the language was corrupted.

Moreover we are told by our ancestors that when we first came on this land that the priests and beloved men were writing but not on paper as you do, but on white deer skins and on the shoulder bones of buffalo for several years, but the [defiance ?] of the young people being so great that they would not obey the priest, but let their minds roam after hunting of wild beasts that the writing was quite lost and could not be recovered again. So much for their coming on this land.


*Photo caption - To draw people's attention on global warming and the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) created this event on September the 2nd (2009) with a thousand small men made out of ice, in Berlin, Germany. WWF warns that the melting ice could eventually cause sea levels to rise more than 3.3 feet (1 meter) by 2100 and that it might change weather in many part of the world. The figures were made by Nele Azevedo, a Brazilian artist. The little sculptures melted in half an hour.


Jim Parker said...

"but the [defiance ?] of the young people being so great that they would not obey the priest, but let their minds roam after hunting of wild beasts that the writing was quite lost and cold not be recovered again."

Not much changes, does it.

GULAHIYI said...

True enough. Considering this fragment of a story survived, it makes me wonder how much more was already lost. In the 1880s, Mooney lamented that he had not been here 50 years earlier, because he could have collected much, much more ethnographic information.
What WAS that written language on the shoulder bones of buffalo?

dwbrewin said...

I wonder if they didn't have some type of written language like the symbols on Judaculla and Trackrock. They had such an extensive trading network that maybe it was some type of lingua franca so the different tribes could understand each other.

GULAHIYI said...

For some reason, your mention of that reminds me of the old powder horn maps. I knew about the one that factors in to Cherokee history, but then found these via Library of Congress. Pretty amazing little artifacts.