Saturday, October 01, 2005

Legend of the Cherokee Rose

When the Cherokee were removed from their homelands during what became known as the Trail of Tears, they were forced to leave everything behind that was dear to them as well as everything they had that might have helped them have a better start in a new place.

The women were full of sorrow and began to cry. They cried so hard and shed so many tears that their men were afraid they would lose their strength and not be able to care for the children and for the family. The men were afraid that the women would become so weak from sorrow and crying that they would die. That night the men asked Creator to help the women and give them something to take their sorrow. As they went along the next day and looked back at where they had come from, they saw beautiful green plants with white roses spring up along the trail. Those white flowers jumped up everywhere their tears fell, its seven leaflets representing the seven Cherokee clans, and it had gold in the center like the gold the white men were looking for in Cherokee country. The growth of the strong thorny plants reclaimed some of the land the people had lost and when the women saw the Cherokee Rose, it gave them the strength they needed to bring up their children in a new Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Rose is a heritage rose and it is the Georgia state flower. The number of petals on Cherokee Roses varies from 5 to 7. It is a very hardy flower.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine

Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine

Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayu.sti game, rolling astone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike it. Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayu.sti stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner.When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said,"Since you like the gatayu.sti better than the cornfield, take the stonesnow for your dinner."

The boys were very angry, and went down to the townhouse, saying, "As our mothers treat us this way, let us go where we shall never trouble them anymore." They began a dance - some say it was the Feather dance - and wentround and round the townhouse, praying to the spirits to help them. At last their mothers were afraid something was wrong and went out to look for them. They saw the boys still dancing around the townhouse, and as they watched they noticed that their feet were off the earth, and that with every round they rose higher and higher in the air. They ran to get their children, but it was too late, for they were already above the roof of the townhouse - all but one, whose mother managed to pull him down with the gatayu.sti pole, but he struck the ground with such force that he sank into it and the earth closed over him.

The other six circled higher and higher until they went up to the sky, where we see them now as the Pleiades, which the Cherokee still call Ani.tsutsa (The Boys). The people grieved long after them, but the mother whose boy had gone into the ground came every morning and every evening to cry over the spot until the earth was damp with her tears. At last a little green shoot sprouted up and grew day by day until it became the tall tree that we call now the pine, and the pine is of the same nature as the stars and holds in itself the same bright light.

source: Mooney, Cherokee History

(interesting in all this info is no reference to the River Cane plants they used for making baskets - Selu btw was the first basket user in Cherokee History)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Seven: The Sacred numbers

In every tribe and cult throughout the world we find sacred numbers. Christianity and the Christian world have three and seven. The Indian has always four as the principal sacred number, with usually another only slightly subordinated. The two sacred numbers of the Cherokee are four and seven, the latter being the actual number of the tribal clans, the formulistic number of upper worlds or heavens, and the ceremonial number of paragraphs or repetitions in the principal formulas. Thus in the prayers for long life the preist raises his client by successive stages to the first, second, third, fourth, and finally to the seventh heaven before the end is accomplished. The sacred four has direct relation to the four cardinal points, while seven, besides these, includes also "above," "below," and "here" in the center." In many tribal rituals color and sometimes sex are assigned to each point of direction. In the sacred Cherokee formulas the spirits of the East, South, West, and North are, respectively, Red, White, Black, and Blue, and each color has also its own symbolic meaning of Power (war), Peace, Death and Defeat.
(White was a Peace color and Red a war color)

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas oftheCherokees

(Every Traditional Oklahoma Cherokee Double Walled basket starts with 4 and 7 spokes)

Additional Notes on the First Fire

The first fire: This myth was obtained from Swimmer and John Ax. It is noted also in Foster's "Sequoyah" and in the Wahnenauhi manuscripts. The uksu.hi and the are, respectively, the Coluber obsoletus and Bascanion constrictor. The water-spider is the large hairy species Argyroneta.

In the version given in the Wahnenauhi manuscript the Possum and the Buzzard first make the trial, but come back unsuccessful, one losing the hair from his tail, while the other has the feathers scorched from his head and neck. In another version the Dragon-fly assists the Water-spider by pushing the tusti from behind. In the corresponding Creek myth, as given in the Tuggle manuscript, the Rabbit obtains fire by the stratagem of touching to the blaze a cap trimmed with sticks of rosin, while pretending to bend low in the dance. In the Jicarilla myth the Fox steals fire by wrapping cedar bark around his tail and thrusting it into the blaze while dancing around the circle.

Tusti for, a small bowl; larger jars are called and unti.ya.

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas of theCherokees

The First Fire

In the beginning there was no fire, and the world was cold, until the Thunders ( who lived up in Galun.lati, sent their lightning and put fire into the bottom of a hollow sycamore tree which grew on an island. The animals knew it was there, because they could see the smoke coming out at the top, but they could not get to it on account of the water, so they held a council to decide what to do. This was a long time ago.

Every animal that could fly or swim was anxious to go after the fire. The Raven offered, and because he was so large and strong they thought he could surely do the work, so he was sent first. He flew high and far across the water and alighted on the sycamore tree, but while he was wondering what to do next; the heat had scorched all his feathers black, and he was frightened and came back without the fire. The little Screech-owl (Wa.huhu) volunteered to go, and reached the place safely, but while he was looking down into the hollow tree a blast of hot air came up and nearly burned out his eyes. He managed to fly home as best he could, but it was a long time before he could see well, and his eyes are red to this day. Then the Hooting Owl (U.guku) and the Horned Owl (tskili) went, but by the time they got to the hollow tree the fire was burning so fiercely that the smoke nearly blinded them, and the ashes carried up by the wind made white rings about their eyes. They had to come home again without the fire, but with all their rubbing they were never able to get rid of the white rings.

Now no more of the birds would venture, and so the little Uksu.hi snake, the black racer, said he would go through the water and bring back some fire. He swam across to the island and crawled through the grass to the tree, and went in by a small hole at the bottom. The heat and smoke were too much for him, too, and after dodging about blindly over the hot ashes until he was almost on fire himself he managed by good luck to get out again at the same hole, but his body had been scorched black, and he has ever since had the habit of darting and doubling on his track as if trying to escape from close quarters. He came back, and the great blacksnake, Gulegi, "The Climber," offered to go for fire. He swam over to the island and climbed up the tree on the outside, as the blacksnake always does, but when he put his head down into the hole the smoke choked him so that he fell into the burning stump, and before he could climb out again he was as black as the Uksu .hi.

Now they held another council, for still there was no fire, and the world was cold, but birds, snakes, and four-footed animals, all had some excuse for not going, because they were all afraid to venture near the burning sycamore, until at last Amai.yehi (the Water Spider) said she would go. This is not the water spider that looks like a mosquito, but the other one, with black downy hair and red stripes on her body. She can run on top of the water or dive to the bottom, so there would be no trouble to get over to the island, but the question was, How could she bring back the fire? "I'll manage that," said the Water Spider; so she spun a thread from her body and wove it into a tusti bowl, which she fastened on her back. Then she crossed over to the island and through the grass to where the fire was still burning. She put one little coal of fire into her bowl, and came back with it, and ever since we have had fire, and the Water Spider still keeps her tusti bowl.

(some Traditional Double Walled Baskets have the image of the Water Spider woven into the basket bottom)

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas of the Cherokees

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Weaving today

The majority of modern Cherokee weavers are older women on the Qualla reservation in North Carolina, but this does not mean that basket making among these people is a dying art. None of the presently recognized weavers began to make baskets regularly until they were in their late twenties or older, and there are a number of younger women who are now learning the craft and beginning serious basket production.

North Carolina weavers tend to specialize as to materials used and shapes or designs preferred, but all utilize locally gathered materials and for the most part natural dyes. Among the weavers are: Emma Taylor and Carol S.Welsh. The most skilled cane basket makers are Eva Wolfe, Rowena Bradley and Edmond Youngbird. Oak splint baskets are made by Elsie Welsh Watty, Amanda Smoke and Agnes Welsh. Oak rib basketry is the specialty of eighty year old Julia Taylor and her daughters Dollie Taylor and Sallie Taylor Wade and granddaughter, Mary Ann Ball. Sally Locust, Joyce Taylor, Nancy Conseen and Geneava Tooni are expert weavers of honeysuckle wicker.

Increased production a marked improvement in quality and the re-learning ofthe almost forgotten double-weaving by Eva Wolfe have been positive responses by basketmakers to market demands. Through the years there have been changes in popular shapes and favored materials, an increase in exoticforms, and in the number of styles with handles. The most recent innovation has been the substitution of maple for oak in many of the simpler plaited styles. Maple has a glossy sheen which has been found to have a greaterappeal to the purchaser of baskets at Qualla.

In Oklahoma, where no stable market for baskets developed, there was a brief florescence of the craft in the 1930s and the 1940s followed by a rapid decline. Today there are few well-known weavers and most baskets are made on commission or occasionally for small local outlets. Oklahoma Cherokee basketmakers, particularly Joyce Johnson, Ella Mae Blackbear, Mavis Doering,Thelma Forrest, Shirley Gewein and several living in the Tahlequah area are making some effort toward revitalizing the craft in the state. Quality and production are improving although several weavers work extensively with commercially purchased materials.

Eva Wolfe, an Eastern Cherokee, specializes in cane double-weaving and is one of the most widely known basketweavers in the United States.

source: Basketry of Southeastern Indians by Marshall Gettys, Editor

The Original Weaver

Baskets carry many levels of meaning. They evoke the primeval era, mythological time, and the genesis of the world and the people themselves.They recall the original weaver, Kanane-ski Amai-yehi (Spider Dwelling in the Water), who was, by her very name as well as her habitation and manner of living, literally connected to water. Universally identified as female, the first weaver associated women with water, an association that was born out in the early Cherokee division of labor that gave women the responsibility for carrying water.

The brief narrative of the First Fire identifies certain characteristics of the weaver, "She can run on top of the water or dive down to the bottom,"Swimmer and John Ax explained to James Mooney. The legendary weaver crosses boundaries between world, moving from the surface to the depth, from land to water, from water to fire, and finally, for the sake of the people, from darkness to light and from cold to heat. Crossing and connecting worlds, she posits a relationship between two places, elements, and conditions. As a female, as a being connected to water, and as one who moves from one world to another, she evokes women's ability to be simultaneously one person and two, an individual and also a woman carrying an infant in a sac of water in her belly.

The myth of the First Fire celebrates the weaver, the act of weaving and finally the container itself. The container carries fire, the earthly representation of the sun, who was also female in the early Cherokee pantheon. Kanane-ski Amai-yehi's container of fire parallels early Cherokee households that had central hearths where women maintained fires.

In surviving myth fragments, baskets carry elements of sacred power even in their most common place usage. The first woman, Selu, takes a basket with her when she goes into the seclusion of the corn house. ... Moreover, the story of Selu represents change - from one kind of food production to another, from one way of life to another. By understanding the necessity of change, Selu guarantees the future of the Cherokee people.

The stories of the First Fire, Selu, and How the World was Made are like doublewoven baskets, multilayered and densely textured. They are expressions of the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of women and asset a culture and identity of women that is specifically Cherokee.

Weavers have not simply replicated the work of their predecessors. Basketry has been a living tradition that has changed over time. The most significant changes have occurred in the selection of material.

Weavers have had access to many possible materials. Even with such a variety of resources, they emphasized rivercane above all others for hundreds of years. The material was abundant and it was durable. Their preference for rivercane accompanied a spiritual association with flowing water. Cherokees lived by the water spiritually, psychologically and physically. The historical period when rivercane was their primary basketmaterial correlates with an elaborate ceremonial life that continuously connected them to water.

Although Cherokees adopted various customs of surrounding whites they continued some of their own conventions. These different strands are represented and evoked by the coexistence and intermixing of rivercane and white oak basketry.

Honeysuckle basketry developed in a period of extraordinary discrepancy between the rhetoric of American liberty and the reality of Indian policy.

In the 1940's weavers added a fourth material, the indigenous red maple that grows fast in forest clearings.

Contemporary baskets are decorative items rather than ceremonial or work objects. The ceremonial use of baskets disappeared in the nineteenth century, and domestic functions waned in the twentieth.

source: Weaving New Worlds by Sarah Hill

Lottie Queen Stamper

In 1937 Gertrude Flanagan accompanied boarding school principal Sam Gilliam to the Painttown home of basketweaver Lottie Queen Stamper and asked her to teach basketry at the school.

Lottie Queen was born in 1906 "on a little farm" in Soco. She was the fifth of six children and the fourth of five daughters born to Levi and Mary Queen. They "use to go to the hills" to get white oak saplings for baskets. As a child, she learned from her father "how the log was to be split," andthen "my mother took over and showed me how to make splits."

After she married, Stamper learned from her mother-in-law how to weave with rivercane.

Stamper's school courses were an instant success. Stamper's contribution to Cherokee basketry is immeasurable. For more than thirty years, she taught both young girls and grown women. She worked in the Cherokee Boarding School until it closed in the early fifties, then taught high school classes and adult extension courses.

In the late 1930's someone sent her a photograph of the two rivercane doubleweave baskets Governor Nicholson had carried with him from Charleston back to London in 1725. Stamper painstakingly wove a smaller version of each container using more than 500 splits of cane. The patterns in the baskets were not familiar to her and she had to recreate the designs on paper. "It took me two and one half days to work out the pattern," she later acknowledged. Her effort is dramatic testimony to the intricacies ofCherokee basketweaving.

Stamper collected old patterns, copied them in a notebook, and reproduced them on graph paper. Drawings of rivercane patterns hung on the walls ofher classroom, and her students practiced reproducing them on graph paper in order to learn the numerical combinations for each design. Patterns that once belonged to families became common property. And patterns that once belonged only to rivercane were shared with white oak.

Copying the work of others became common place, but public dissemination of family traditions contravened customs of knowledge and training. Patterns of basketry and life were undoubtedly lost in the process. The old rivercane designs hanging on the classroom walls represented a great deal more than weaving techniques. They were strands that connected family members, expressed identity, documented concepts shared through time, preserved knowledge and experience, and interwove past and present. Patterns were forms of communication and assertions of self. " Some people say if you copied their baskets," one weaver remarks quietly, "they say you're taking their patterns away." The implications are profound.

As family patterns moved into public arenas, they took on new names. Most weavers recall that the names of basket patterns came from Gertrude Flanagan and Edna Groves. The names, like "Flowing Water" and "Chief's Daughter,"tended toward nostalgia. Many say that such names have no meaning to them and that their mothers and grandmothers did not identify patterns by name. Others, however fully adopted the custom and participated in the new practice of naming designs and patterns. After Stamper replicated the Nicholson basket, she claimed that "we basket makers named the bottom part"The Pine Tree" and the the top "The Casket."

In 1951, The Indian Arts and Crafts Board hired Gertrude Flanagan as Arts and Crafts Specialist for the Southeastern region. In her new role, she assumed responsibility for encouraging and directing craftwork amongChoctaws, Seminoles and Catawbas, as well as Cherokees.

source: Weaving New Worlds, by Sarah Hill

Vegetation Dyes

Near each weaver's home, a large iron pot of water sits on a hearth of river rocks or metal and irons. Stoking the fire under the pot until the water simmers, she immerses roots, bark, hulls, berries, or leaves by the handful to make natural dyes that endure for decades or even centuries.

Vegetation for dyes include ripe berries of pokeweed (tsayatika) for pale red, oak galls (atagu) for rich red, anjelica leaves (wane-kita) for green,bark and roots of sumac (kwalaga) for brown, and yellow root (daloni-geunaste-tsi) for yellow. Through the long, complex development of Cherokee basketry, weavers have undoubtedly experimented with many indigenous and introduced plants for basketry materials. Any berry or nut or root that stained the fingers gathering them must have been potential dye.

From earliest memory, however, Cherokee weavers have chosen red, dark brown, and black hues for basketry. Black come from hulls, roots, or bark of butternut or white walnut (ko-hi), brown from hulls, roots, leaves or bark of black walnut (se-di), and red from roots of the bloodroot plant (gigageunaste-tsi). Material from black or white walnut trees can be gathered anytime of year, then dried and stored for use later. Though all parts of the tree can be used, the roots supply the most intense colors. Bloodroot is a nearly spring forb that thrives in the soil of deciduous forests. The fragile blossom that appears in early March is followed by deeply scalloped, blue-green leaves that grow through the summer. The orange-red dye comes from small rhizomes attached to multiple underground stems. The roots must be dug before the plant dies back in early autumn, for it leaves no sign of where it has grown. Weavers can dry and bury roots to store over fall and winter, but mold will cause rapid decay. In modern times, some weavers preserve bags of roots in their freezers.

Each color requires a separate pot of simmering water, which may account for the limited number of colors on baskets. To speed the dyeing and set the color, weavers might add a mordant. Before modern commercial mordants the mordant came from ashes, urine, or alum. Without mordants, splints take at least one full day to absorb brown or black walnut dyes. Red dye from bloodroot sets in a few hours. Weavers submerge the coils of splints into the simmering dye, weighing them down with rocks or heavy roots. Dyeing requires a watchful eye and plenty of time.

source: Weaving New Worlds by Sarah Hill

Baskets Meaning and Reason

Baskets have both meaning and reason. The meaning of Cherokee basketry, evident in legend, custom, and history, relates to the role and work of women as the source of food and life, as providers and sustainers for their families.

The direct evidence, Cherokee baskets, is quite variable. Few baskets have survived from the eighteenth century. Perhaps a dozen remain from the early19th century, before removal.

Toward the end of the 19th century, basket collectors discovered the Cherokees, and accordingly, from the turn of that century to the present, many baskets of rivercane, white oak, and honeysuckle can be found in collections in Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and North Carolina.

The second primary source of information about preremoval Cherokees is government documents. These, however, are most concerned with politics. little information about women and almost none about their transforming work in ecosystems.

Louise Goings says that "everybody has their own way of making stuff.""Their own way" includes details such as basket shapes, split widths, organization of colors, and varieties of ornamentation like rim bindings and curls. There is also something ineffable about their work that basketmakers can't define. In the long run, as one explains, "even my own baskets, I know, they're not two made alike."

Contemporary weaver Agnes Welch says that she makes a basket the way she does because "that's how it is supposed to look."

In a basket, there is both something very personal and something related to a collective consciousness.

source: Weaving New Worlds by Sarah Hill

Basket Periods and Materials

Basket materials correspond to chronological periods. The rivercane period extends from the earliest contact with Europeans until the removal encompassing the era when Cherokees depended most on cane as a basket source. They made and used rivercane baskets for daily subsistence activities, for exchange, and for ceremonies and rituals.

The white oak period begins with removal. 19th century Cherokees fullyincorporated white oak into conventions of rivercane basketry as they recastsettlement patterns, subsistence customs, and social systems on themountainous land that became the reservation. White oak basketry is a European American tradition that includes men as well as women. Access to rivercane, and to all that it had meant, became increasingly limited. By the end of the 19th century, white oak baskets were as much an index of change as rivercane baskets had been signifiers of continuity.

Honeysuckle period develops around the turn of the 20th century, when new federal policies aimed to assimilate Native Americans through formal education, industrial training, and the eradiciation of native languages and customs. Weavers did not relinquish rivercane or white oak basketry, rather, they incorporated a third material and developed a new tradition.

The red maple period includes the New Deal for Indians, a program implemented by the Roosevelt administration and Indian commissioner John Collier and it follows the development of Cherokee dependence on tourism that has continued through the last decade of the 20th century.

source: Weaving New Worlds, by Sarah Hill

Cherokee Patterns

That spring morning, Rowena Bradley was sitting in a kitchen chair at the edge of her front yard. Dogs slept fitfully nearby, a cat stared from the window, and hens pecked nervously at the ground. Looking out toward the mountains as she wove a rivercane basket, Rowena Bradley followed with her fingers a pattern that lives in her memory. Occasionally selecting a cane split from a bucket half-filled with water, she wove quickly, scarcely pausing to examine her work. She knew without looking how the pattern would develop in the basket. She has woven rivercane baskets most of her life. The pattern she was weaving is sometimes called "Flowing Water", but the name has no meaning to Rowena Bradley. "Well now," she says, "I'll tell you just like I've told everybody else. My mother never had no names or no meaning to her designs. she just made them. And that's the way I do."

Among Cherokees, women have been the primary makers and users of baskets.The story of Cherokee basketry and the story of Cherokee women are like a doublewoven basket, interwoven, inseparable, and complex. The stories encompass strands of the past and present, and represent transformations in lives, minds, and landscapes.

source: Weaving New Worlds, by Sarah Hill

Cherokee Materials

Rowena Bradley explains that acquiring material for baskets has long been a problem. "You know, at times, she couldn't get cane." Once Tahlahyeh even made a few baskets of bamboo. A man from the neighboring town of Bryson,six miles west, "put up a craft shop" and brought her some bamboo. He was curious about the material and the weaver. Rowena Bradley smiles with the memory. "He wanted to know if she could make a basket out of it. Well, she did, but she dyed it just like she does the rivercane."

Rowena Bradley's mother was Nancy George Bradley (Tahtahyeh). That craftshop owner keeps one of Nancy Bradley's bamboo baskets in his extensive private collection. He considers it one of his most valuable acquisitions because of the unusual material and because it was made by Nancy Bradley.

source: Weaving New Worlds, by Sarah H. Hill